Neuroscience

Academic Year 2023 – 2024

General Information

Address
Neuroscience Institute, Washington Road
Phone

Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.
  • Joint Degree
  • Certificate

Director of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Program Administrator:

Overview

How do our brains work? How do millions of individual neurons work together to give rise to behavior at the level of a whole organism? Training researchers to answer these fundamental, unanswered questions is the goal of the Ph.D. program in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. Students in this program learn to use the latest techniques and approaches in neuroscience and are trained in how to think and how to develop new techniques and approaches. Creativity and originality are essential to cracking the puzzle of the brain.

Neuroscience Ph.D. students take lecture and laboratory courses; learn to read, understand, and present current scientific literature; develop and carry out substantial original research; and present their research at meetings and conferences.

Coursework in the Princeton Neuroscience Ph.D. program is based on the idea that hands-on experience is an essential part of gaining real understanding. During the first year, all students participate in a unique year-long Core Course that surveys current neuroscience. The subjects covered in lectures are accompanied by direct experience in the lab. Students learn through first-hand experience how to run their own fMRI experiments; to design and run their own computer simulations of neural networks; to image live neural activity; and to patch-clamp single cells, to name a few examples. This course offers students a unique opportunity to learn the practical knowledge that is essential for successfully developing new experiments and techniques. Previous experimental experience is not required.

Incoming students are encouraged to rotate through up to three different labs to choose the lab that best matches their interests. During this process, students may sometimes discover an area of research completely new and fascinating to them. Following their rotations, and by mutual agreement with their prospective faculty adviser, students choose a lab in which they will carry out their Ph.D. research.

Apply

Application deadline
November 20, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (This deadline is for applications for enrollment beginning in fall 2024)
Program length
5 years
Fee
$75
GRE
General Test - optional/not required

Program Offerings

Program Offering: Ph.D.

Courses

During the first year of their Ph.D., participate in the Neuroscience Core Course. The goal of this two-term core course is to provide a common foundation so that all incoming students have a shared level of competency. This core course aims to teach an overview of all topics through a mix of hands-on laboratory experience, lecture, and computational modeling.

In addition to the Neuroscience Core Course, students will take Mathematical Tools for Neuroscience in their first year. This lecture course will introduce students to the mathematical, statistical, and computational tools necessary to analyze, model, and manipulate biological data sets.

Graduate students are required to participate in the neuroscience seminar series (NEU 511) and select one additional elective course approved by the department.

Additional pre-generals requirements

Rotations
All neuroscience graduate students are required to rotate in up to three laboratories during the first year and participate in research projects during each rotation.

Teaching
In the second year, students are required to teach for two semesters.

General exam

In the beginning of their third year, or fifth semester of enrollment, students are required to take and pass their general exam. Students will present their thesis proposal, demonstrating the command of their chosen research topic and the existing literature surrounding it, and present a logical plan to address key questions that they have identified.

Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after a student successfully passes the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that the following requirements have been met: completion of the formal courses and a minimum of two laboratory rotations required for Ph.D. students. Research experience must include at least one year of independent work in the laboratory and competency must be demonstrated by passing at least one part of the generals examination. A faculty mentor and the generals exam committee must approve the evaluation of the generals examination. Upon the recommendation of the generals exam committee, a student may be awarded the M.A. degree. 

Teaching

Students are expected to teach for two semesters, usually in their second year.

Post-Generals requirements

Committee Meetings

Each graduate student selects a thesis committee that consists of the thesis adviser(s) and two additional faculty members. At least two committee members must be core PNI faculty. The thesis committee meets at least once per year. The purpose of the committee is to advise students during the course of their research. Graduate students are expected to meet with their committee at least once per year.

Individual Development Plan

Annual Individual Development Plans are required. Students complete an online form followed by a meeting with their advisor to discuss their IDP and future academic and professional goals. 

Dissertation and FPO

The Ph.D. is awarded after the candidate’s doctoral dissertation has been accepted and the final public oral examination sustained.

Program Offering: Joint Degree

Program description

The Joint Graduate Degree Program in Neuroscience is designed for students who want a Ph.D. primarily based in another discipline, but with a neuroscience component. Students graduate with a Ph.D. degree in "X and neuroscience," where X is their home department – for example, "psychology and neuroscience," or "molecular biology and neuroscience," or "philosophy and neuroscience." The program is designed for maximum flexibility.

Candidates should apply to one of the cooperating home departments, which include chemistry, ecology and evolutionary biology, molecular biology, philosophy, physics, psychology; departments in the School of Engineering; and the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics. The candidate should fulfill the admission requirements of the chosen department.

Interested students should register as members of the Joint Graduate Degree Program in Neuroscience after their general exam. Please contact the PNI Graduate Program Administrator for more information.

Courses

Joint degree students must take two of the following four courses: NEU 501a, NEU 501b, NEU 502a, or NEU 502b. Additionally, all students in the joint program are expected to participate in the neuroscience seminar (NEU 511), which meets several times per semester.

General exam

Prior to the general examination, students must select a Ph.D. adviser affiliated with the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. Students are required to take and pass their general exam in their home department.

Dissertation and FPO

Students must carry out original research toward the dissertation with a core, associated, or affiliated Neuroscience Institute faculty member. In addition, at least one member of the student’s dissertation committee must be a core faculty member of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, and the student’s Ph.D. dissertation research should have a connection to neuroscience. 

Program Offering: Certificate

Program description

Neuroscience is a highly interdisciplinary scientific domain that depends critically on close
contact with other fields of inquiry. This is due to the fact that methods for studying the brain
often rely on techniques imported from other disciplines, and conversely, insights about the
brain are often useful for framing new lines of inquiry in other disciplines. As a consequence of
this interdisciplinarity, there is a large and growing demand for neuroscience coursework and
research experience from across the sciences, engineering, and the humanities. Additionally,
there is growing recognition that neuroscientific expertise is a useful asset in a wide variety of
professional settings, ranging from law and public health to biomedical engineering and artificial
intelligence. The graduate certificate in neuroscience is designed to formalize training of
graduate students in neuroscience, and to recognize the achievements of students who have
undertaken comprehensive training in these topics, both through formal coursework and through
research in their respective subject areas.


The graduate certificate welcomes participation from across the University in any field that
makes contact with neuroscience as part of scholarship. The requirements include two graduate
courses (one core course and one approved elective course), attendance at the neuroscience
research seminar series, and one chapter of neuroscience research incorporated into the
dissertation. Upon completion of the program, the certificate is recorded on the student’s
transcript, and the student is also presented with a physical certificate issued by the Princeton
Neuroscience Institute Director(s). Actively enrolled Ph.D. students who are not enrolled in the
Neuroscience Ph.D. program or Joint Degree Program are eligible to apply.

Dissertation and FPO

The final requirement for the certificate is that the student’s dissertation research must include
one chapter of neuroscience research. The student’s thesis committee and dissertation defense
committee must include at least one core faculty member of the PNI and email the
Neuroscience DGS certifying the inclusion of neuroscience research in the dissertation. In all
cases, the DGS will review the email and confirm that this requirement has been met.

Additional requirements

To earn the certificate, students must complete four requirements: (1) take for credit and earn a
grade of B or better in one core course; (2) take for credit and earn a grade of B or better in one
approved elective course; (3) enroll in the graduate seminar course and attend the seminar
journal club; and (4) incorporate one chapter of neuroscience research in the dissertation, as
judged by a PNI faculty member who is either a dissertation advisor, thesis committee member,
and/or dissertation defense committee member, and who must certify this requirement by writing
an email to the Neuroscience DGS.

Faculty

  • Director

    • Mala Murthy
  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Jonathan W. Pillow
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Asif A. Ghazanfar
  • Professor

    • Carlos D. Brody
    • Jonathan D. Cohen
    • Nathaniel D. Daw
    • Asif A. Ghazanfar
    • Elizabeth Gould
    • Michael S. Graziano
    • Uri Hasson
    • Sabine Kastner
    • Mala Murthy
    • Yael Niv
    • Kenneth A. Norman
    • Jonathan W. Pillow
    • H. Sebastian Seung
    • David W. Tank
    • Samuel S. Wang
    • Ilana B. Witten
  • Associate Professor

    • Michael J. Berry
    • Lisa M. Boulanger
    • Timothy J. Buschman
    • Lindy McBride
  • Assistant Professor

    • Bradley H. Dickerson
    • Tatiana Engel
    • Annegret L. Falkner
    • Jesse Gomez
    • Fenna Krienen
    • Andrew M. Leifer
    • Catherine Jensen Peña
  • Associated Faculty

    • William Bialek, Physics
    • Tian-Ming Fu, Electrical & Comp Engineering
    • Elizabeth H. Margulis, Music
    • Erik C. Nook, Psychology
    • Joshua W. Shaevitz, Physics
    • Jordan A. Taylor, Psychology
  • Lecturer

    • Anthony E. Ambrosini
    • Lindsay Collins

For a full list of faculty members and fellows please visit the department or program website.

Permanent Courses

Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.

NEU 501A - Cellular and Circuits Neuroscience (also MOL 501A)

A survey of modern neuroscience in lecture format combining theoretical and computational/quantitative approaches. Topics include cellular neurophysiology, neuroanatomy, neural circuits and dynamics, neural development and plasticity, sensory systems, genetic model systems, and molecular neuroscience. This is one-half of a double-credit core course required of all Neuroscience Ph.D. students.

NEU 501B - Neuroscience: From Molecules to Systems to Behavior (also MOL 501B)

This lab course complements NEU 501A and introduces students to the variety of techniques and concepts used in modern neuroscience, from the point of view of experimental and computational/quantitative approaches. Topics will include synaptic transmission, fluorescent and viral tracers, patch clamp recording in brain slices, optogenetic methods to control neural activity, and computational modeling approaches. In-lab lectures give students the background necessary to understand the scientific content of the labs, but the emphasis is on the labs themselves. Second half of a double-credit core course required of all NEU Ph.D. students.

NEU 502A - Systems and Cognitive Neuroscience (also MOL 502A/PSY 502A)

A survey of modern neuroscience in lecture format combining theoretical and computational/quantitative approaches. Topics include systems and cognitive neuroscience, perception and attention, learning and behavior, memory, executive function/decision-making, motor control and sequential actions. Diseases of the nervous system are considered. This is one-half of a double-credit core course required of all Neuroscience Ph.D. students.

NEU 502B - From Molecules to Systems to Behavior (also MOL 502B)

This lab course complements NEU 502A and introduces students to the variety of techniques and concepts used in modern neuroscience, from the point of view of experimental and computational/quantitative approaches. Topics include electrophysiological recording, functional magnetic resonance imaging, psychophysics, and computational modeling. In-lab lectures give students the background necessary to understand the scientific content of the labs, but the emphasis is on the labs themselves. Second half of a double-credit core course required of all Neuroscience Ph.D. students.

NEU 503 - Neurogenetics of Behavior (also MOL 503)

How do seemingly simple organisms generate complex behaviors? Course will explore our current understanding of the genetic and neural basis for animal behavior, with an emphasis on cutting-edge research and model systems that are amenable to genetic manipulation. Each week students will discuss a new behavior with a focus on the underlying mechanisms; students will also lead discussions of primary literature. The goal of this course is to provide required background knowledge and critical thinking skills to move beyond the published literature to proposing original experiments. This effort will culminate in a final paper from each student.

NEU 511 - Current Issues in Neuroscience and Behavior (also PSY 511)

An advanced seminar that reflects current research on the brain and behavior. Research by seminar participants and articles from the literature are discussed.

NEU 537 - Systems Neuroscience: Computing with Populations of Neurons (also MOL 537/PSY 517)

An introduction to the biophysics of nerve cells and synapses, the mathematical description of neural networks, and how neurons represent information. This course surveys computational modeling and data analysis methods for neuroscience and parallels some topics from 549, but from a computational perspective. Topics include representation of visual information, spatial navigation, short-term memory, and decision-making. Two 90 minute lectures, one laboratory. Lectures in common with MOL 437. Graduate students carry out and write up an in-depth semester-long project. Prerequisite: 410, or elementary knowledge of linear algebra.

NEU 543 - Computational Psychiatry

Computational psychiatry is an emerging field of research that strives to leverage recent discoveries in the computational basis of high-level cognitive functions in order to understand, diagnose, and treat mental illness. Psychiatry is the only field of medicine where there are currently no laboratory tests, due in part to a lack of understanding what is the biological basis of symptoms. Computational theories of the brains mechanisms for evaluation and decision may provide a foundation for such an understanding and tasks measuring their function can offer objective measures. This seminar discusses recent findings in the field.

NEU 545 - Statistics for Neuroscience

This is a graduate-level lecture course covering statistical reasoning and techniques for neuroscience. The focus is on, 1. the foundations of statistical inference (probability theory, linear algebra, and statistical models); 2. hierarchical (mixed effect) general linear models as a framework for both classic techniques and modern extensions; 3. other contemporary methods relevant to neuroscience (including nonparametric and Monte Carlo techniques, Bayesian approaches, and estimating models by maximizing likelihood). There is emphasis on practical exercises with computation using R, and on example applications to neuroscientific data.

NEU 592 - Ethics in the Practice of Neuroscience (Half-Term)

Consistent with requirements of federal training grants, this class broaches significant ethical issues that face scientists. These issues include: i) scientific integrity & misconduct; ii) mentoring; iii) peer review in grants and papers; iv) human subjects and animals in research; v) collaborations and conflicts of interest; vi) the scientist as a responsible member of society. Students read case studies before each class. The instructor provides background lecture, then the students discuss ethical issues raised in the case studies. In addition, two faculty members are invited to each class to provide additional perspective.

NEU 594 - Extramural Research Internship

Full-time research internship at a host institution, to perform scholarly research relevant to student's dissertation work. Research objectives are determined by advisor in conjunction with outside host. A mid-semester progress review and a final paper are required. Enrollment limited to post-generals students for up to two semesters. Special rules apply to international students regarding CPT/OPT use.

NEU 596 - Extramural Research Internship

Full-time research internship at a host institution, to perform scholarly research relevant to student's dissertation work. Research objectives are determined by advisor in conjunction with outside host. A mid-summer progress review and a final paper are required. Special rules apply to international students regarding CPT/OPT use.

PSY 591A - Responsible Conduct of Research (also NEU 591A)

Examination of issues in the responsible conduct of scientific research, including the definition of scientific misconduct, mentoring, authorship, peer review, grant practices, use of humans and of animals as subjects, ownership of data, and conflict of interest. Class will consist primarily of the discussion of cases. Required of all first and second year graduate students in the Department of Psychology. Open to other graduate students.