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.
Optional: Applicants may submit a statement with their application, briefly describing how their academic interests, background, or life experiences would advance Princeton’s commitment to diversity within the Graduate School and to training individuals in an increasingly diverse society. Please submit a succinct statement of no more than 500 words.
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.
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 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.
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 this requirement has been met.
Students are expected to teach for two semesters, usually in their second year.
The Ph.D. is awarded after the candidate’s doctoral dissertation has been accepted and the final public oral examination sustained.
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.
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.
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 significant neuroscience component.
Director of Graduate Studies
- Jonathan W. Pillow
Director of Undergraduate Studies
- Elizabeth Gould
- William Bialek, Physics
- Elizabeth R. Gavis, Molecular Biology
- Alan Gelperin, Princeton Neuroscience Inst
- Coleen T. Murphy, Molecular Biology
- Joshua W. Shaevitz, Physics
- Diana I. Tamir, Psychology
- Jordan A. Taylor, Psychology
- Teodora Z. Todorova, Building Services
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.