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School of Medicine Columbia

Neuroscience Concentration

Students in our Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program have the option to pursue a concentration in neuroscience. These students work closely with the faculty in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience. 

About the Concentration 

The study of neurobiology increasingly requires the use of multidisciplinary approaches spanning from molecular to behavioral techniques. To meet these needs, the neuroscience concentration in our Biomedical Sciences Program is designed to give students a thorough background in neuroscience that includes a strong foundation in cellular and molecular principles, but with a clear focus on integrating these principles into an understanding of physiological and behavioral endpoints.  

Students have an opportunity to work with faculty who are engaged in cutting-edge research in a broad range of neuroscience areas in departments across campus. Faculty are committed to mentoring students not only in research, but also in professional skills to prepare them for careers in neuroscience research, teaching and more.  

Students who purse a concentration in neuroscience will work closely with faculty in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience


Neuroscience Curriculum

Students in the neuroscience concentration will work toward obtaining a Ph.D. degree from the School of Medicine. Most students complete the majority of coursework during the first two years of the program. Core neuroscience courses should be completed with a grade of B or better. To meet program requirements, students take a combination of required and elective courses.

Required Courses

  • At least two of the following three neuroscience courses:
    • PHPH 740: Neuroscience
    • PHPH 750: Fundamental Neuroscience I
    • PHPH 751: Fundamental Neuroscience II
  • Biochemistry: Either BMSC 754: Biomedical Biochemistry or BIOL 717: Biological Chemistry
  • Cell Biology: Either BMSC 702: Medical Cell Biology I or BIOL 714: Advanced Cell Biology
  • BMSC 700: Interdisciplinary Laboratory
  • BMSC 706: Ethics in Biomedical Research
  • PHPH 742: Neuroscience Seminar — Professional Development (4 semesters)
    • Scientific Writing
    • Grant Writing
    • Professional Speaking
    • Career Development

Students are also required to regularly attend student presentations and research seminars, and participate in Neuroscience Journal Club.

Elective Courses

Students can also opt to take elective courses in the neuroscience concentration, including:

  • PHPH 741: Special Topics in Neuroscience
  • PHPH 752: Neurobiology Basics Modules
  • PHPH 753: Neurobiology of Disease Modules

These courses offer students training in specific areas of neurobiology, including current techniques in neuroscience, neuropharmacology, quantitative methods in neurobiology, and mechanisms underlying neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders. The topics of these courses are tailored to the specific educational needs of students. Students may also choose to take elective courses offered by programs outside of the School of Medicine.

Program Milestones

In the first year:

  • Students take required and elective coursework.
  • Students complete three 6-8 week long rotations in research laboratories of their choosing. These rotations provide students with opportunities to learn a variety of research techniques and become immersed in a research question. Through these rotations, students can try out different laboratories, identify a research mentor and develop a network of scientists whose expertise they can draw upon throughout their graduate career.
  • Students serve as teaching assistants to gain teaching experience.
  • Students select a thesis advisor prior to the start of the second year of study.
  • After joining a lab, students meet with their thesis advisor to complete an Individual Development Plan (IDP).

In the second year:

  • Students take required and elective coursework.
  • Students prepare for and take the qualifying exam for admission to Ph.D. candidacy. This multiple choice exam assesses the student’s knowledge of material presented in core neuroscience courses. Students must successfully complete this exam to advance to doctoral candidacy.
  • After passing the qualifying exam, students form their dissertation committee.
  • Students apply for predoctoral fellowships for which they are eligible.
  • Students complete the IDP annually.

In the third year:

  • Students complete any required coursework.
  • Students complete their comprehensive exam. This exam consists of a written research proposal on a topic that is distinct from the student’s thesis project. The purpose is to give the student experience researching and planning experiments to test an independent hypothesis. The format of the written proposal follows the guidelines of the NIH Predoctoral NIH fellowship. The student presents an oral defense of their written proposal to their thesis committee.
  • Students apply for predoctoral fellowships for which they are eligible, particularly the NRSA.
  • Students complete their thesis proposal. This requirement consists of a written proposal detailing the design and plan for completion of the student’s thesis research and an oral defense of the proposal. The format of the written proposal follows the guidelines for the NIH Predoctoral NRSA Fellowship.
  • Students continue to complete the IDP annually.

In the fourth year and beyond:

  • Students continue to meet with their thesis committee at least annually.
  • Students apply for predoctoral fellowships for which they are eligible.
  • Students complete their thesis research project.
  • Students prepare and defend their written dissertation. The written thesis demonstrates the student’s competence in scientific research and is required for graduation. A public presentation of their research and a successful oral defense of the written thesis to the thesis committee completes the requirements for graduation.

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