Below is a set of good questions received during our 2015 application cycle answered by former program director, Gary Westbrook:
1. Is funding supported through the neuroscience department/training grants/PIs? Are many graduate students successful in securing external fellowships (i.e. NSF GRFP)?
Short answer is yes and yes. We have training grants from NIH that cover all first year students and most 2nd year students, and we cover students if they have to change labs or need to take an extra rotation. We have been very successful with NSF fellowships for incoming students or 1st year students. There are about 5 students in the program with these awards and think we only missed on two applications so 5 out of 7 is phenomenal. Students in their 2nd and 3rd year are strongly encouraged to apply for individual NRSAs and our acceptance rate has been about 30-40% - basically double the overall NIH funding rate for NRSAs so we are competitive and successful.
2. What is the set up of the program to reach candidacy?
Under our new curriculum design that I mentioned at the recruitment, the core curriculum will be presented as a 12 week block from the last week in September until the first week in December. An exam at the end of that block serves as the Written Comprehensive. You can come in the summer and do a rotation, but there are no required rotations during this 12 weeks. However, during the core course there are a number of activities to introduce new students to a large number of labs so you can make informed choices on rotations. Students will then enter fulltime rotations to complete the 3 required rotations (minimum length 2 months) and choose a lab by late spring of the 1st year. The deadline for the Oral Qualifying Exam is April of the 2nd year. Once you pass the Oral, you advance to candidacy. This is definitely an accelerated track compared to many programs and the very aggressive student (with a little luck) can finish in 4 years, but the average is now just over 5 years to the dissertation defense. Our time-to-degree is really good compared to other programs.
3. What is the average time to graduation? Are graduate students successful in finding postdoc/industry placements?
As mentioned above, the average time to graduate is now just over 5 years as a result of a number of steps we use to keep students on track. Most important is that we track and require that Thesis Advisory Committees meet at least every 6 months once you enter a thesis lab. This has really worked well to prevent dead-ends, etc. Traditionally, most graduates of the program have gone on to postdocs and then either academic or industry jobs. That is changing a bit as the funding environment shifts, but we have been very active in providing students with opportunities to consider all options. For example, we now have a Career Planning Office that works with graduate students on professional skills and well as considering career options other than academia or industry. I think that is working well and we have graduates doing all sorts of interesting jobs as program officers for foundations, health policy analysts at NIH, science writers, patent attorneys, teachers, clinicians, etc. Note that the program started in 1992 and the first graduates were in 1998, so most of our grads have been out <10 years are still in early stages of their careers. However we had other graduates in Vollum labs before 1998. For example, one of my early students who graduated in 1993 (and thus not on the list at the link below) became a full professor at Baylor and is now in Germany at a major research institute (Charite) in Berlin. You cansee a list of NGP graduates and their current locations at this website. Basically NGP grads have been successful to the limit of their accomplishments and motivation, and the program is so well-recognized in neuroscience that getting a good postdoc has not been a problem for students who work hard and have a substantial thesis.