Course Requirements for Ph.D. Degree
Research & Thesis Credits
Evaluation of Student's Progress
Termination of Student Status/Support
Neuroscience Minor (for Students Majoring in Other
A. Course Requirements for the Ph.D.
The following requirements and procedures are specified for typical
Certain exceptions can be made with the consent of the adviser and
Director of Graduate Studies. See: PhD Checklist for a complete description of the Graduate School requirements from
initial registration to graduation.
First-year students must take the eight core courses listed below,
plus the four required laboratory rotations. The coursework schedule
for the first year is as follows:
NSc 5551: Cell & Molecular Neurobiology Lab at Itasca (4 cr)
NSc 5461: Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience (4 cr)
NSc 5561: Systems Neuroscience (4 cr)
NSc 8334: Lab Neuroscience (variable cr)
NSc 8321: Career Skills and Understanding Responsibilities as a
Neuroscientist (.5 cr)
NSc 5661: Behavioral Neuroscience (3 cr)
NSc 8211: Developmental Neurobiology (3 cr)
NSc 8334: Lab Neuroscience (variable cr)
NSc 8321: Career Skills and Understanding Responsibilities as a
Neuroscientist (.5 cr)
NSc 8320: Neuroscience Seminar Series Journal Club (Section 2)
Register for Journal Club for 1 credit and S-N grading basis
NSc 8320 Course requirement
- All neuroscience graduate students will be required to take two semesters of the journal club. It is a required "core" course . First year students will take the course in the Spring term. The remaining semester requirement must be fulfilled in the Spring term of the second or third year of the student's studies.
Additional coursework that may be necessary during the first year
a. At least one semester of Biochemistry and Cell Biology is strongly
recommended for NSc 5461
b. A statistics course is required.
Supporting Program or Minor
The Graduate School requires that students complete 12 credits in
a minor or supporting program. Typical minors for neuroscience students
include cell biology, physiology, statistics, psychology, and medicine;
the latter minor is primarily reserved for students in the MD/PhD
program. However, the student is not restricted to these topics,
and is free to explore other possibilities depending on his/her
interests and career ambitions. A supporting program can be designed
to fit a student's specific research interests. Courses in the minor
or supporting area may be taken concurrently with neuroscience courses
during the first year, but are usually taken during the second year.
A course in statistics is required. All students are encouraged
to become literate in at least one computer language. If a student
elects to complete a specific minor, all of the 12 credits must
be from a single graduate program and the courses selected must
be approved by the DGS of that graduate program. If the supporting
program option is selected, the courses may be from different disciplines,
but should constitute a coherent program of courses that support
the overall interests of the student.
B. Registration Requirement
All graduate students are required to r egister for 6-14 credits in the Graduate School every fall and spring term in order to maintain active status until they have passed the oral preliminary exam and completed 24 thesis credits (NSc 8888). Register for pre-thesis credits (NSc 8666) to achieve a minimum requirement of 6 credits. Students who fail to register annually will be considered to have withdrawn and will have to apply for readmission (application fee: $40.00).
Students are not required to register for courses in the summer, and registration during summer is not required to maintain health insurance coverage. Indeed, NEVER register for any credits during the summer without prior discussion with the program coordinator and your advisor. Please be aware that FICA taxes will be taken from the paycheck during summer. If a student registers for any credits during the summer, student services fees are charged. Furthermore, tuition benefits are not available during the summer. Thus you or your advisor will be responsible for the full t uition and fees incurred during a summer term. [This directive is based on evidence that the amount of FICA tax for the summer period is usually less than the amount of the tuition and student service fees.]
C. Research and Thesis Credits
1. Research Credits
After the first year, but prior to completion of the preliminary
oral examination, students should continue to register for research
credit under NSc 8666. This course reflects research training activity
and permits the student to maintain a credit load of six credits
required to qualify for a research assistantship and maintain status
as a full time student.
2. Thesis Credits
To obtain a Ph.D. degree, students must register for a minimum of
24 thesis credits (NSc 8888). The Graduate School will not permit
students to register for Doctoral thesis credits until the semester
after the preliminary oral examination has been completed.
Post Thesis Credits
of 24 thesis credits you should register for NSc 8444, which entitles you to full time registration for only 1 credit. Note: Once you register for this you course you can no longer register for any other courses. You will also need to complete an Application for Advanced Doctoral Status Form.
D. Laboratory Rotations
In the first year of graduate studies, students participate in four
laboratory rotations. Assignments depend on space availability and
the interests of the individual students. Students should discuss
their choices for rotation advisers with the DGS prior to selecting
each laboratory rotation. Students should make their selections
well before the beginning of the semester to allow time for any
arrangements that need to be made by the faculty.
Laboratory rotations allow students to experience the broadest possible
spectrum of laboratory techniques and to explore experimental neuroscience
in actual research settings. An important program goal is to emphasize
the major requirement for a successful graduate education: the ability
to plan and coordinate several efforts by balancing coursework and
research. Research projects in different labs will be designed as
components of current research projects. Consequently, the research
results will be weighted equally with the experience gained by the
Typically, when not in class, students are expected to be involved
in their research projects. It is expected that a minimum of 20
hours per week will be devoted to research projects. First-year
students should register for NSc 8334 (section 1) and each project
will be graded S/N. The comments by the research supervisor will
become a part of the student's file.
E. Teaching Requirements/Opportunities
Revised TA requirement: Approved by the steering committee of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience on June 29, 2005.
- Maintain requirement of students in GPN to TA one course, but expand the TA opportunities to include 3 undergraduate Neuroscience courses
- List a total of 12 (13) TA opportunities
- 8 current (9 requested) slots for undergraduate neuroscience courses
- 4 slots for Human Neuroscience course with each TA doing each lab twice (e.g., each 2 hr lab, twice, reduces TAs in this course from 8 to 4).
- Student preferences for a TA assignment will be considered, but not guaranteed
- Students still complete the TA requirement in their 2nd year.
- There may be 2 opportunities for students to TA a second semester if they choose:
- Students can arrange a mentorship with one of the course faculty for credit for PFF8102. They will function as a TA in the course and will be mentored in giving 3 lectures (course requirement). They will not be paid.
- If TA positions are not filled by students completing the TA requirement and students enrolled in PFF8102, the Department of Neuroscience will offer a "fellowship" ($2000) to students who choose to TA additional semesters and not receive credit in the PFF program.
Students are expected to attend the Wednesday noon Colloquia sponsored
by the Neuroscience Graduate Program and the Friday noon seminars
cosponsored by the Program and the Department. Seminars include
professional development seminars as well as research presentations.
Students are strongly encouraged to attend seminars in other areas/departments
that may interest them.
There are three examinations required for the Ph.D. degree: the
Written Preliminary Examination, the Preliminary Oral Examination,
and the Final Oral Examination with Thesis Defense.
1. Written Preliminary Examination
A qualifying written examination for candidates for the Ph.D. in
Neuroscience will be given once during the year. The examination
is usually scheduled for mid-June. All candidates will take the
written examination after the completion of their first year's coursework.
Instructions for the exam as well as a copy of the previous year's
exam will be distributed to first-year students in during the spring
semester. Spring review sessions are held to assist students in
preparation for the exam. Because of the magnitude of work involved
in the organization and preparation of this exam, requests for deviation
from the above schedule must be submitted in writing by the student
to the DGS, and should be considered only for medical reasons or
Procedures for Grading and Evaluating
GPN Preliminary Written Examinations
- Two graders will independently evaluate each question and assign grades of Outstanding, Pass, or Fail. The final grade for each question will be determined according to the following rules:
- Two grades of Outstanding-Outstanding, Pass-Pass or Fail-Fail will be assigned the grade of Outstanding, Pass, or Fail for that question.
- A grade of Outstanding-Pass will be assigned a grade of Pass.
- A single Fail for a question, rather than both graders giving a question a Fail, requires that the graders consult each other and agree on a grade of Pass or Fail. Sabina will note the discrepancy and will ask them to review the question. If the graders cannot resolve the situation or if they request additional help, the Curriculum Committee will assist in the grading.
- If student fails a SINGLE question in ONE or MORE SECTIONS of the examination
- Student passes that particular section(s) of the examination.
- No further remedial work is required.
- If student fails TWO or MORE questions in a SINGLE SECTION of the examination.
- Student fails that particular section of the examination.
- Subsequent course of action depends on previous academic performance.
- If student received grade of B- or better in relevant core
course , then
- Student will consult with course director.
- Student will independently review entire field of core course.
- Student will re-write all failed questions.
- Student will also answer those questions previously chosen not to be answered.
- All answers must be submitted during current calendar year.
- Answers will be evaluated by course director and designated readers.
- No subsequent re-writes will be allowed.
- If student fails any questions, then student will be given oral examination by course director, designees, and student's advisor.
- If student fails oral examination, then the decision of the Steering Committee would most likely result in termination.
- If the student received a grade below a B- in the core course related to failed section, then
- Student should be required to retake relevant course.
- If student achieves grade of B or better in the re-take then student passes exam.
- If student receives a grade below B in retake, then the decision of the Steering Committee would most likely result in termination.
- If student misses TWO or MORE questions in TWO or MORE sections of the examination.
- Student has failed the examination.
- The student and advisor will petition the Steering Committee for continuation in the GPN.
- The Steering Committee will consider the petition and decide a course of action based on performance in all classes, rotations and other work.
- Student may be required to undertake the courses of action listed in Section B above.
- Student may be terminated from the program.
- If the Steering Committee chooses the first action above, the Committee will decide the deadline for satisfactory completion.
2. Preliminary Oral Examination
Forms are available at: http://www.grad.umn.edu/students/forms/doctoral/index.html
A. The oral exam tests three areas:
Oral communication: clarity in articulating a conceptual framework
for a hypothesis and responses to questions.
Thinking: logical thinking and the ability to "think on one's
feet" in defending the soundness of one's ideas: the rationale
for experiments, interpretation of data, and significance of conclusions.
Knowledge: understanding of knowledge within an area chosen by the
student (depth component) as well as the relevance of one's research
to other areas of neuroscience and biology (breadth component).
The scope of questioning in the oral exam is expected to include
neuroscience and the minor or supporting field. The student may
be asked to discuss other work that validates experimental approaches
(may draw on other fields).
B. A research proposal will form the basis of the research discussion
of the exam.
The proposal may be aligned with or separate from the thesis, but
the program encourages them to be linked. The proposal is not a
binding document but an exercise in analytical thinking and problem
solving skills that will be tested in the oral examination.
The research proposal describes experiments that will test a hypothesis.
The hypothesis answers a question that is posed about the nervous
system. The description of the research plan may range in length
from10 - 20 pages, double spaced, 1" margins, 12 pt font (the
page limit for an NRSA proposal is 10 pages, single spaced). The
proposal should include the following (suggested lengths in pages
are proportional to the 10 page length):
1. Abstract: 1 paragraph, an overview of the rationale for the hypothesis,
statement of the hypothesis, and the experiments that will be conducted
to address the hypothesis.
2. Background (up to 6 pages): a summary of the relevant information
that provides the rationale for the question that is posed about
the nervous system and the hypothesis that will be tested. It is
not meant to be exhaustive. This section should convince the reader
that the hypothesis is reasonable and important. (This section can
provide the foundation for the introductory chapter to the thesis.)
3. Experiments: (2-3 pages) a description of the experiments that
will be conducted. It may be useful to think of the experiments
as questions that will be answered to accumulate evidence that will
support or refute the hypothesis. The design of the experiments
should include an outline of the essential controls, the nature
of the data that will be analyzed statistically, and how outcomes
will be interpreted. A step-by-step description of experimental
protocols is not appropriate.
4. Significance: (1 page): This section addresses the importance
of the conclusions that may be made based on the data generated
in the proposed experiments.
5. Literature cited: Consult the Journal of Neuroscience instructions
for authors for a recommended format for citations.
The application may be written anytime before the deadline of September 1
(see below). No written description of preliminary data is required.
Preliminary data available at the time of the oral preliminary exam
may be included in the oral presentation by the student at the beginning
of the exam.
The advisor is expected to be involved in discussing the research
plan and editing at least one draft of the proposal as part of his/her
mentorship. This is not a conflict of interest because passing the
oral exam is not dependent on the written document but on the student's
performance in defending an hypothesis and how it will be tested
(i.e., rationale, experimental design, significance of the research
NOTE: In preparing the research proposal, the student and advisor
should consider submitting the proposal for funding by NIH or NSF.
The research description for these applications (generally up to
10 pages single spaced) may be used for the oral preliminary exam
research proposal. Please consult the following websites for more
Ruth L. Kirschstein-NRSA (F31) application are due April 5th, August
5th and December 5th. See http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/funding/416/phs416.htm
NSF fellowship applications in the life sciences are due the first
week in November (e.g., 11/4/2004) no later than the student's second
year of graduate studies. See http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2003/nsf03050/nsf03050.htm
C. All research proposals are due in the graduate program office
by 4 PM on September 1st of the student's third year in the graduate
program (i.e., at the beginning of the student's third year).
If September 1st falls on a weekend, proposals will be due by 4
PM of the Friday before this date. The following information must
be included with submission of the proposal:
Names of the members of the oral prelim committee. Members
are proposed by the student and advisor and approved by the DGS
before September 1st or at least 10 weeks before your oral prelim. The chair of the committee must be a member
of the graduate faculty in Neuroscience and may not be the advisor.
Other members must include a minimum of 2 members of the neuroscience
graduate program and 1 member from the minor/supporting field.
The exam must be completed by December 1st of the student's third
year in order for the student to remain in good standing in
the graduate program. If December 1st falls on a weekend, the exam
must be completed no later than the Friday before this date. A student
may petition the director of graduate studies for a waiver of this
D. Time, date and location of the oral prelim exam. The time
and place of the exam are scheduled by the student, and the student
must notify the graduate school. Three weeks are required between
notification of the graduate school and the date of the exam so
that the graduate school can process paperwork for the exam
E. Role of the Oral Prelim Committee following the exam.
(changes to the current process are in italics)
The chair of the oral prelim committee will provide written feedback
to the student summarizing committee discussion of the research
proposal after the oral exam.
In addition to serving as the examining committee for the oral prelim,
it is expected that this committee will be an advising committee
for the student during the course of his/her dissertation research
and will meet with the student at least twice/year. Each meeting
will be scheduled by the student. The student will write a summary
of comments from each meeting with the thesis committee and distribute
the summary to the committee members within one week following the
3. Final Ph.D. Oral Examination
The Ph.D. Thesis Proposal Form (GS 63abc) should be filed with the
Graduate School no later than one Semester after a student passes
the preliminary oral examination and at least one term prior to the Final Oral Exam.
The form is available at: www.grad.umn.edu/current_students/forms/GS63A.PDF
This form specifies the graduate
faculty who will serve as examiners for the final oral examining
committee. In most cases, this committee will be the same as the
Oral Exam Committee. This form also specifies three members who
will serve as reviewers of the thesis. Two reviewers, including
the adviser, are selected from the major field. One reviewer must
also be selected to represent the minor or supporting program. This
person must have a graduate faculty appointment outside of the Neuroscience
Program. These members read the thesis draft and must sign a form
indicating that it is acceptable for defense at least one week prior
to the scheduled date of the final oral examination. Again it is
up to the student to find an appropriate date and room, and to make
sure sufficient time is allowed for the readers to examine the thesis.
Graduate school rules specify that all members of the committee
must have at least two weeks to read the thesis. This examination
is primarily the thesis defense, although the questions and discussion
may cover related areas as well. The first portion of all final
oral examinations is a seminar given by the student covering the
thesis research. This seminar must be publicly announced and all
interested faculty and students are invited. Therefore it is important
that the student and adviser notify the Neuroscience Program of
the defense in a timely manner so that the
thesis seminar can be properly advertised. As is stated in the Graduate
School Bulletin, the thesis seminar presentation is the part of
the oral examination "to which the scholarly community is invited."
Following a brief period of questions from the audience, the
second portion of the examination will consist of additional questions
to the candidate from the members of the examination committee.
The second section of the examination is not open to the public.
Questions often arise about the role of the reviewers and the interpretation
of the reviewers' actions prior to the oral examination. The reviewers
determine whether the thesis is acceptable for defense. If the thesis
is judged to be not acceptable for defense,
specific reasons will be communicated to the student. If acceptable,
the reader has judged that the thesis is ready for oral defense
- and only that. The reviewer may have reservations and after the
oral examination vote not to pass the candidate for the Ph.D. degree.
Again, these reasons should be communicated to the student. The
Graduate School Bulletin provides further detailed information 10
regarding the final oral exam. The student should prepare a copy
of the bound thesis for the Neuroscience Program files.
H. Evaluation of Students
Normal progress toward the Ph.D. degree by full-time graduate students
is based on fulfillment of the following general minimum requirements.
1. Selection of the thesis problem and adviser during the first
2. Maintaining a minimum GPA of 3.0.
3. Performing satisfactorily on the written preliminary exam.
4. Passing the oral preliminary examination within one to one and
one half years after successful completion of the written preliminary
5. Performing all teaching assignments and other program functions
6. Following the completion of the oral exam, students must meet
annually with their Graduate Committee. The meeting must occur by
the end of Spring semester each year.
7. Starting the 3rd year students must give a ½ - 1 hour
oral presentation during the Wednesday NSc colloquium.
As a general rule, all requirements for the Ph.D. in Neuroscience
should be completed in 4 - 5 1/2 years. Although the Graduate School
time limit for the Ph.D. degree is five years after the oral preliminary
examination, the Neuroscience faculty views this limit as excessive.
It is the joint responsibility of the student, the adviser and the
Graduate Committee to set goals for completion of each individual's
program and to periodically
evaluate the rate of progress and achievement of these goals. It
is of particular importance that the student assume an active role
in this process and seek assistance from the adviser and Graduate
Committee if unforeseen professional or personal circumstances appear
to be substantially changing the rate of progress for attaining
the Ph.D. degree.
Termination of Graduate Student Status and/or Support
1. Graduation or withdrawal from the program.
Upon graduation, students should notify the program office of the
effective date for termination of student status. Students who decide
to withdraw from the program should give written notice to the Director
of Graduate Studies as soon as the decision has been made. The notice
should indicate the effective date of withdrawal. In instances where
students have effectively withdrawn from the program without notice,
the department will terminate support retroactive to the apparent
date the student ceased to participate in the program.
2. Termination of graduate status
The Graduate School and Neuroscience Program require that one warning
be issued to the student regarding unsatisfactory performance before
that student is terminated. The warning must include the specific
deficiencies and must outline a mechanism and
time limit for correcting them. Students must have a cumulative
graduate GPA of 3.0 or higher after 3 semesters of residence in
order to remain in the program. Thereafter the cumulative GPA must
be 3.0 or higher at the end of the spring semester of each year
and prior to graduation. A satisfactory performance on the written
preliminary examination is also required for continuation in the
3. Academic misconduct
Academic misconduct (such as cheating on closed book examinations)
or violation of course guidelines (which describe the extent of
collaboration that is acceptable in responding to take-home examinations,
homework assignments or problem sets) is sufficient cause for dismissal
from the program. Please refer to the Student Conduct Code for more
information on this issue http://www.policy.umn.edu/Policies/Research/ACADEMICMISCONDUCT.html.
The current stipend for beginning graduate students can be seen here and is corresponding to a 50% appointment.
In addition to the stipend, students receive full tuition and health
benefits. The stipend may be supplemented
if a student serves as a Teaching Assistant in a certain courses
course, see www.neurosci.umn.edu/employment/job_TA.html
Active student status: Students must register in the Graduate School
the semester in which they are admitted or readmitted. To maintain
active student status, students must register in the Graduate School
every fall and spring Semester.
Commencement: Graduate School commencement ceremonies are held
in fall and spring semesters. Students who wish to participate in
commencement should contact the Graduate School one Semester in
advance of the ceremony.
Required G.S. Forms:
These forms are available online at: www.grad.umn.edu/Current_Students/degree_completion/doctoral/index.html
Written Preliminary Examination Report (GS 17):
This form is completed by the program after completion of the preliminary
Degree Program Forms (GS 89a, 89b, 89c):
Due at least 1 semester before the preliminary oral. The Program
will file this form for each student.
Oral Preliminary Examination Report (GS 18):
Due at least one academic semester (or 10 weeks) before the final
Preliminary Oral Examination Scheduling:
Effective November 24, 2009:*
Doctoral preliminary oral examinations must be scheduled using the electronic process. - Because paper Preliminary Oral Examination Scheduling forms (GS 12) cannot be used after November 24 please destroy copies you may already have obtained from the Graduate School's Web site, your graduate program office, or the GSSP office. *How the electronic exam-scheduling process works:* - Schedule your preliminary oral exam with your committee members by following your graduate program's existing scheduling protocol. - Schedule your preliminary oral exam with the GSSP office at least one week in advance. - The electronic scheduling process *must be initiated by you*. To do this, click on the Preliminary Oral Examination Scheduling link listed on GSSP's doctoral forms http://www.grad.umn.edu/current_students/forms/doctoral.html Web page. - Once at the Preliminary Oral Examination Scheduling http://www.grad.umn.edu/current_students/prelimschedule/ page, click on the link to schedule the exam, and log in using your Internet ID http://onestop.umn.edu/non-degree/initiate_your_internet_account.html and password. - Enter your preliminary oral examination date and click “submit.” - The GSSP office will notify you by e-mail of any outstanding preliminary oral exam requirements and how to fulfill them. You will also receive a confirmation when the Graduate School authorizes the preliminary oral examination. - Your DGS assistant will now automatically be copied on the above-mentioned communications so that your graduate program office is informed of the Graduate School's review and authorization of your preliminary oral exam.
Thesis Proposal Forms (GS 63a, 63b, 63c):
Due the semester after passing the preliminary oral examination and at least one term prior to the Final Oral Exam.
Thesis Reviewer's Report (GS 2):
Received when thesis title page is submitted to 316 Johnston at least two weeks before the final oral examination . This form is due one week before the final examination. Application for Degree and fee are due the first working day of intended month of graduation.
All other forms are due the last working day of that month.
Additional forms given to the student at this time:
Survey of Earned Doctorates
Application for Degree
Thesis and Thesis Abstract:
A copy of the thesis must be submitted to the Graduate School. Instructions
for the preparation of the thesis, including format specifications
and adviser's signature requirements, should be obtained from the
Graduate School, 316 Johnston Hall.
Furthermore, the Graduate Program in Neuroscience requires a bound
copy of the thesis.
L. Neuroscience Minor Requirements
for Students Majoring in Other Fields
The program for an individual student is developed by consultation
student and the DGS of the Graduate Program in Neuroscience. Students
are required to take one of the following core courses.
Function/Structure: NSc 5561: Systems Neuroscience (4 credits)
Cellular/Molecular: NSc 5461: Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience
In addition, students are required to take elective neuroscience
courses for a total minimum of 12 credits (including the core courses).
Important Note: NSc 5561 requires that you be registered concurrently
in NSc 5461,
or that you have taken an undergraduate neuroscience course such
as NSci 3101.
NSc 5461 requires that you have taken undergraduate courses in
cell biology and biochemistry. We recognize that students who lack
the prerequisites may nevertheless wish to minor in Neuroscience.
If you do not have the undergraduate preparation, it is important
that you consult with the DGS early in your graduate career to develop a plan of study. Such a
plan would most likely take the following form:
YEAR 1: Fall or Spring Semester - preparatory course (2 or 3 cr)
YEAR 2: Fall Semester - NSc 5561 and/or NSc 5461 (4 to 8 cr), Spring