Core Courses and Program Requirements
PhD IN NEUROSCIENCE
An essential feature of the Program is a set of “core” courses: these are taken by all students in GPN (Neuroscience & Computational Neuroscience) during their first year and are aimed at developing a community of thinkers, who move through the training program together, building relationships that cross inter-departmental and inter-campus barriers, and foster cross disciplinary collaborations.
Based on their previous scientific background, students complete 12 credits of “core” neuroscience coursework that provides a strong foundation in this diverse field of graduate study. The fall class is a team-taught lecture/discussion course that meets on alternate days on the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus. GPN students register in the following:
- Principles of Neuroscience I: From Molecules to Systems (GMS NE 700) (4 cr)
- Neural Systems I: Functional Circuit Analysis (GRS NE 741) (4 cr)
- Neural Systems II: Cognition and Behavior (GRS NE 742) (4cr)
Additional “core” neuroscience requirements include: a 7 week intensive introductory course in data analysis and mathematical models for students regardless of where they are in their use of quantitative and modeling skills.
An Introduction to Mathematical Models & Data Analysis in Neuroscience (GRS MA 665-666) (2 cr)
This introductory course combines lectures and hands-on computer time to treat real laboratory data like case studies and motivates students to use the mathematical approach as a means to better understand their own research via statistical data analysis and modeling. Students are required to take the first module of the course (2 cr) but have the option to also take the second module for additional credit if they want to go further into the subject area.
ADDITIONAL REQUIRED CURRICULUM
In addition to the “core” curriculum, students also take the following seminar coursework during their first year and enroll in 2-4 laboratory rotations:
Frontiers in Neuroscience (NE500,501) (4 cr)
During the first semester students attend a weekly enrichment course organized by a GPN faculty member who facilitates their interactions with BU neuroscience faculty from across the University. Every effort is made to stretch the perspective of entering GPN students into new areas relevant to the study of mind and brain and to build new mentorship relationships with our BU Neuroscience Training Faculty. Topics include brain disorders, behavioral and cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, neuropharmacology, computational modeling, neuromorphics, systems neuroscience, and neurogenetics.
Students are assigned papers that represent the key research area and perspective of each investigator and with a classmate present a powerpoint encapsulation of major findings, potential limitations, and next areas for exploration that remain to be tapped. Presentations are made in the presence of the visiting faculty member over lunch with active discussions by all members of the entering GPN class. Students are also expected to attend neuroscience distinguished lectures and student seminars as a new member of the GPN community. When possible a visit from outside speakers is also coordinated with the class so that students have the opportunity to delve deeper into a visitor’s unique perspective on the future of neuroscience.
During the second semester, students focus on developing their own research presentation style through a series of planned exercises and reports on their own rotation laboratory experiences. Students also develop grant writing skills that will help them to generate an NRSA and/or NSF application for future research funding and for their written qualifying exam. The course stresses peer group learning and the evolution of critical thinking through constructive criticism and grant critiques.
Laboratory Rotations (NE800/801 (2 – 4 credits)
Providing an enriching set of laboratory research experiences directed by GPN faculty for students during their first year is a central feature of the neuroscience training program at Boston University. The multitude of highly talented mentors who have funded research projects provides the student with a large number of potential laboratories from which to choose their thesis research mentor that will complement their current interests, and through laboratory rotations, expand their horizons into different areas of investigation that they may grow towards in the future. Most students take a minimum of three rotations with at least one rotation in an area outside of their initial research interests (computational neuroscience students take a minimum of two rotations with one that is experimental). Students can also request additional rotations should they not find a mentor after completion of the third rotation, or if they would like more exposure to other methodologies used in neuroscience.
Clinical Rounds (2 credits)
During their second year all students participate in a unique opportunity to interact with human patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders. These experiences take place at the Boston VA supervised by a clinician scientist that is a member of the GPN training faculty.
The rest of the didactic credits towards the Ph.D. degree come from elective study (12 credit minimum) that is organized for simplicity into three distinct pathways of emphasis (Molecular & Cellular, Systems, & Computational) to help students choose relevant curriculum for their interests and can choose electives within any area of neuroscience. Those students enrolled in the computational neuroscience training specialization should reference the requirements specific to that curriculum as it applies to required and elective choices.
Taking advantage of the translational research and history of clinical training at the MED campus, and rehabilitative Health Sciences at the CRC, students are required to take elective coursework (minimum of 2 cr) and participate in clinical rounds (see above) that provide an exposure to patients and topics relevant to human disease (such as Autism, Alzheimer’s, Drug Abuse, Epilepsy, Parkinson’s, Schizophrenia, and Disorders of Vision, Hearing & Speech). They also take a required elective in probability and statistics that is appropriate to their area of thesis research upon the recommendation of their thesis mentor.
For example, students interested in the molecular basis of disease take the following:
- Foundations in Clinical Neuroscience: From Molecules to Disorders (GMS MS 783) (2 cr)
This advanced course in clinical neuroscience is for students with a background in molecular and cellular neuroscience and provides the focus for an understanding of how endogenous substances act in the brain, the challenges faced in the development of effective therapies that target the nervous system, and what molecules can tell us about disease etiology and the potential for future treatment.
Options for clinically relevant courses specific to other research areas cover topics ranging from neuropsychology to human imaging and neural engineering, as well as the rehabilitative sciences offered at BU’s Sargent College.
HANDS-ON LABORATORY BOOTCAMP
Before starting in the training program, the GEC oversight committee reviews the research experiences of each of the students to determine whether they have had basic training in molecular, behavioral and/or cognitive research. Based upon their history of undergraduate or post-baccalaureate experiences they will be advised to take a series of group method sessions called Tools of the Trade run by faculty in the summer that provide students with the essential hands-on experience necessary to make their laboratory rotations in the Fall meaningful for their graduate level training. In Tools of the Trade, students learn some of the basic techniques necessary for conducting laboratory research in the field of neuroscience, independent of their current research interests. Students that have already had experience in both molecular and cognitive research can petition to the GEC to waive the requirement and students who are unable to attend during the summer can take the sessions as part of their Laboratory Research Experience class during the Fall Semester before beginning laboratory rotations.
For instance, group activities may be organized around detection of an important neuronal RNA via real-time PCR, the identification of a single nucleotide polymorphism in a DNA sample from a patient with a neurodegenerative disease, identification of protein in brain slices using immunohistochemistry and fluorescence microscopy, electrophysiological measurements or calcium imaging of living neurons, interaction of transcription factors with DNA regulatory elements that control expression of neural-specific genes, neuroimaging of the brain to detect the activation of particular brain structures, and running of a behavioral task with animals to address questions of learning and memory. Projects vary with the expertise and interests of the participating GPN faculty.
PROGRAMMATIC REQUIREMENTS FOR CONTINUED STUDENT REGISTRATION
Additional program credits come from Directed Study (NE901/902) during thesis research with the mentor and attendance is required at neuroscience ethics and responsible conduct of research (RCR) workshops, at the majority of distinguished lectures, faculty seminars and program events of the GPN (including student recruitment, the annual Neuroscience Retreat, GPN social gatherings (such as the Fall Welcome Reception, the Laboratory Matching Ceremony, and the Holiday Party) and most importantly at GPN graduate student seminars. All students are required to give at least one short presentation annually at the Neuroscience Graduate Student Seminar Series and to fulfill the calendar deadlines of their graduate milestones. Please note that at least one published first author manuscript is required for moving towards the thesis defense.