Graduate Studies

Training Program

Aims and Scope

Neurobiology – the study of the nervous system – is a highly integrative science. The modern neurobiologist must be conversant with concepts from molecular biology, cell and developmental biology, systems neuroscience, animal behavior, and mathematical modeling. The aim of the graduate program is to expose each student to this breadth of the discipline. To accomplish this we offer a first-year curriculum with requirements in specified areas, along with a core course that spans many subjects. Students enter neurobiology from many different disciplines, ranging from particle physics to physiology to psychology. Accordingly, each PhD student is paired with a first-year advisor, so the course selections can best complement the student’s background. In later years, the student’s focus is on original research in a chosen specialty. Our goal is that students will graduate with specific research accomplishments--culminating in a dissertation and publications--while also developing the broad understanding required to chart their subsequent forays in brain science.


Applicants are expected to have studied college-level mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. They should also have experience in independent research. Coursework in neurobiology and experience in scientific computing are helpful but not required. Whenever possible, applicants will be invited to campus before final admission decisions are made.

Master's Degree

The option does not admit students for work toward the M.S. degree. A terminal Master’s Degree may be awarded in exceptional circumstances.

Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

First-year advisor

Each incoming student is paired with an academic advisor during the first year. This mentor will guide the student in course selections and other decisions, taking the student’s background into account. Where possible, this advisor will not be one of the prospective rotation supervisors.


First-year students carry out three laboratory rotations, each lasting one quarter. At least two of these should be with faculty participating in the option. By June 30 of the first year students choose a PhD advisor.

Formal Classes

Students take at least 6 quarter courses (54 units) as follows:

  • One course in molecular, cellular, developmental neurobiology;
  • One course in circuits, systems, behavioral biology;
  • One course in mathematical methods (depending on student background);
  • BE/CNS/NB 164, Tools of Neurobiology;
  • Two electives.

In addition students take a short course on responsible conduct of research (Bi 252). All courses must be taken for a grade unless only offered pass/fail.


Students serve as teaching assistants for three terms.

Admission to Candidacy

To qualify for candidacy the student must first demonstrate broad competence by passing each of the first-year courses with a grade of B or higher. Failure here can be remedied by successful second year coursework. By June of the second year, the student must also defend a thesis proposal in an oral exam before a qualifying exam committee of at least 3 faculty. This exam will also cover general knowledge in the relevant field. With special permission the oral exam may be retaken once before the end of winter quarter of the third year. Students that do not advance to candidacy by the end of the third year may not continue in the program.

Thesis Advisory Committee

Once admitted to candidacy, the student chooses a thesis advisory committee of at least 3 faculty. This committee serves as a source of advice independent of the PhD supervisor throughout the student’s tenure. Each year, before the end of June, the student delivers a written progress report, followed by a meeting with the thesis advisory committee.

Thesis Examination Committee

This committee is usually the same as the thesis advisory committee, but this need not be the case. The final oral examination covers principally the work of the thesis, and according to Institute regulations must be held at least two weeks before the degree is conferred.