Candidacy & Thesis

Comprehensive Written Exam

The written qualifying exam takes place in July of the first academic year, one month after the end of the core curriculum. One part of it is a cumulative exam that tests knowledge of the material in the three core neuroscience courses. A second part tests the ability to interpret original literature. For this part, manuscripts are assigned the week prior to the exam and essay questions on a manuscript are answered.

Ph.D. Candidacy and Requirements

The criteria for advancement to candidacy are:

  • B or better average on all core courses.
  • Satisfactory performance in laboratory rotations.
  • Passing the written qualifying exam at the end of the first year.
  • Completion of CON 650, "Principles of Scientific Conduct and Practice."
  • Appropriate progress on research in the chosen thesis lab.
  • Passing the oral qualifying exam at the beginning of the third year.

Additionally, each Ph.D. candidate is required to give a yearly seminar on their research. This requirement can be satisfied by talks given at the NGP retreat, at regional or national meetings. In addition, the student must submit a yearly progress report to the advisory committee and program administrator.

Oral Qualifying Exam

The purpose of the oral exam is to show that you have mastered the literature and methods of your chosen field and can formulate testable hypotheses. Following the format of an NIH National Research Service Award (NRSA) postdoctoral grant, you prepare a research proposal that explains the goals of your thesis research. This is delivered to the examining committee two weeks prior to the exam. The exam itself consists of a 15-20 minute talk describing the proposal and a question period. This is not a general exam. Questions from the examining committee should focus on matters relevant to the proposal, and on literature and methods that pertain specifically to your chosen field.

The exam is taken at the beginning of the third year of graduate school.  The following deadlines apply:

  • Exam committee chosen:  February 1 of second year
  • Written proposal submitted:  March 1 of second year
  • Preliminary evaluation of the proposal:  Within two weeks
  • Oral examination:  By the end of April of the second year

Thesis Defense

A successful thesis represents a significant scientific contribution to a field of neuroscience. Specifically, it consists of work that has either been published by the student or is ready for submission. Although this work typically constitutes two papers, published or publishable in major journals with the student as first author, this is not an absolute requirement; the thesis committee is the final judge of the suitability of the student's work.

The structure of the thesis, the examining committee, and the exam must adhere to the graduate school guidelines. Upon being determined a candidate for the Ph.D., you have three months to choose and convene a thesis advisory committee. This committee advises you throughout the remainder of your graduate school career as research progresses toward the thesis. The thesis committee consists of your advisor and at least three additional faculty members who are qualified to guide you in your research.