Program in Neuroscience
Harvard Medical School
220 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
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Overview of the Course of Study
Advising: First- and second-year students meet regularly with the Student Advisory Committee, a small group of faculty with special commitment to guiding students through the first years of the program. SAC members are also available to meet one-on-one with a student at any time. After advancing to candidacy, each student picks a personal Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) from among the faculty. DAC meetings occur every 6-9 months, and help guide the student toward successful completion of the thesis research project. DAC members are also natural resources for questions about career choices after the Ph.D.
Courses: In the fall term students are required to take Neurobiology 220 (Cellular Neurophysiology) and Neurobiology 327 (Rotations in Neuroscience). Apart from this, four additional full-semester courses are required, with coverage of three general fields: cellular/molecular, development, and systems. The Program offers three courses during the spring semester covering these fields (see below), but students may opt to take a different course or courses in consultation with the Student Advisory Committee or the Program Director. It is not required that all coursework be confined to the first year. As students embark on their dissertation research, they frequently discover holes in their backgrounds that need to be filled. The Program strongly encourages them to do so, and will continue to support and advise them in this process.
An equally important adjunct to the course curriculum consists of research seminars given by visiting scientists and other students. All PIN students are strongly encouraged to attend the Monday lunchtime seminar series (sponsored jointly by the Department of Neurobiology and the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Children's Hospital), the Friday lunchtime lab presentations, the biweekly Nocturnal Journal Club (run by fellow PIN students), and the Dissertation Seminars of their PIN colleagues.
Rotations: Each student will complete at least two laboratory rotations of 8-12 weeks each. Rotations are designed to provide hands-on experience in different techniques and laboratories, and they serve as a basis for the selection of a dissertation advisor.
Advancement to Candidacy: All students take a Preliminary Examination, generally in January-March of their second year of study. The examination includes two parts, a written thesis proposal and an oral examination focusing on the background, rationale, and design of this research proposal.
Dissertation Defense and Examination: Average time from enrollment to degree is approximately 5½ years. Completion of the Ph.D. requires writing a thesis, presenting a seminar describing this research, and passing an oral examination. One or more publications are generally expected to emerge from a student’s thesis research.
Teaching: Students are not required to teach, but students who wish to teach may do so after they have passed their preliminary qualifying exam. For example, each year several advanced students serve as teaching assistants for Introduction to Neurobiology.