Academic Year 2023 – 2024

General Information

Neuroscience Institute, Washington Road

Program Offerings:

  • Ph.D.
  • Joint Degree
  • Certificate

Director of Graduate Studies:

Graduate Program Administrator:


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.


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
General Test - optional/not required

Program Offerings

Program Offering: Ph.D.


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

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.

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. 


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

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.


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.


  • Director of Graduate Studies

    • Jonathan W. Pillow
  • Director of Undergraduate Studies

    • Asif A. Ghazanfar
  • 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

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