Message from the Director of Graduate Studies

Minnesota has been at the forefront of the issues of racial justice, inclusion, and equity nationally and around the world. I personally want to make it clear that the students along with myself and faculty members have made a commitment to enacting positive and meaningful change in the way our program approaches issues of racial justice, inclusion, and equity. As a result, we will be working with Dr. Danielle Watt, the Director of our Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Outreach and incoming Director for the Office of Biomedical Graduate Reserach, Education, and Training (BGREAT) to assess our climate, provide clear and explicit support for our students, and work to put into action changes that will make lasting changes to the way we work with our students. I am absolutely committed to the principles of social justice, racial justice, and the end to discriminary practices - we need to be intentional about everything we do. Our goal is to provide not only a world class environment for doing your PhD in Neuroscience, but to be intentional about ensuring that everyone is supported and provided with that which they need to be successful. As a first generation college student myself, I would not be here today if I had not been awarded a full college scholarship. As was said by President Obama, "we are the change". We cannot afford to wait another minute.

The study of Neuroscience is fundamentally the quest to understand who we are and why we behave the way we do.  Our research has significant translational potential for a wide array of nervous system disorders that cause incredible personal loss - mental illness, addiction, neurodegenerative diseases, autism, and the like. This increased potential for translation in part stems from rapidly expanding advancements in the ways we can study the brain. Optogenetics allows us to control neuronal function in response to light. Multiple electrode arrays allow us to study assemblies of neuronal networks in awake behaving animals. Brain connectome studies allow the 3-dimensional visualization of the brain and how it interconnects during specific types of behaviors. Single cell RNAseq allows us to look at how individual neurons and glial cells respond at the molecular level to changes in development or disease. We can to tag single neuronal precursor cells fluorescently and follow lineages of these neurons during early development - the list goes on. Our research faculty employ all of these approaches and many more.

Our five required courses expose our trainees the full breadth of neuroscience - from molecular neuroscience through computational neuroscience. This includes a Quantitative Neuroscience course that focuses on rigor and responsiblity and experimental design and provides a very strong introduction into statistical methods and coding used in Neuroscience. The first year ends with the students taking a written preliminary examination based on the first year course work. It is "open book" and meant to foster interdisciplinary thinking for our students. As I said, we believe this results in training all the faculty wish we had. As science becomes more collaborative and interdisciplinary, it is critical to provide our trainees with the ability to bridge fields and redefine the way we understand how the brain works.

We are a large and growing interdisciplinary program that provides our PhD students with world-class training in modern Neuroscience. In the past few years, we have added dozens of new faculty to our university and our program, and they bring a significant diversity in research focus. This growth helps us maintain an active and vibrant Neuroscience community. We are highly collaborative – just look at the publications listed on the opening page of our web site – and productive. We take training PhD students very seriously, not only working to ensure they do great Neuroscience research, but building leadership capacity by involving students in all parts of program governance, increasing our Career Facilitation efforts [all our alumni outcomes are on our web page], and building an interactive community of scholars. We believe we offer world class education and training, and the success of our graduates in many different fields - whether academic, industry, science writing, science policy and the like.

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to email our Associate Director, Bob Meisel – meisel@umn.edu