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Neuroscience Graduate Program at UCSF

Program of Study


Courses taken during the first two years are designed to fill gaps in the general biological or physical background of each student, to provide broadly based training in neuroscience, and to provide intensive training in the particular area in which a student plans to carry out research. During these two years students are advised by the program directors, the graduate advisors, and by a senior graduate student in the program assigned to assist each entering student. A specific program of courses, designed to take advantage of the full educational opportunities of the University of California, is developed by the student in consultation with the advisors.

First-year students take a core course in the fall, winter and spring quarters.

Courses required in the first year

Over the first two to three years students also participate in at least four advanced topics courses. These are one-quarter courses devoted to an intense and up-to-date review of single topics of contemporary interest. Participation in advanced topic courses is not limited to students; postdoctoral fellows and faculty participate as well. Laboratory rotations are a key feature of the program. During the first year, students do three one-quarter rotations in the laboratories of each of three members of the Neuroscience (or other P.I.B.S.) faculty. This gives students first-hand research experience in a range of approaches to modem neuroscience. The rotations also allow students to identify laboratories appropriate for their thesis work. Following these laboratory rotations, the student chooses a thesis advisor and begins his or her doctoral research. A weekly journal club, in which all members of the program participate, provides a chance for students to discuss current problems in neuroscience. This seminar is taken for credit by students during their first two years.

Advanced Courses

There are a variety of courses available to graduate students in the neuroscience program. To see lists of these courses, click on any of the categories below.

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Journal Club

On Friday afternoons, the Neuroscience Program, faculty, students, post-docs and staff, meet for two discussions of recent papers, one presented by a student and one by a faculty member, and the often-lively debate when ensues benefits from the presence of individuals with widely varying areas of expertise, all interested in issues relating to the nervous system. Immediately following the Friday afternoon Journal Club, everyone present is invited to join in for a purely social event, the weekly Neuroscience Beer Hour. Students take turns sharing responsibility for arranging snacks and beverages, and all present enjoy the chance to interact on an informal level. This is the time when you can catch up with the laboratory exploits of friends you haven't seen all week, or chat up a faculty member with some crazy new idea you just came up with.

Current Journal Club Schedule (link to page)

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Formal Seminars

Every Thursday afternoon, the faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows in the Neuroscience Program sponsor a formal seminar by a nationally or internationally renowned neurobiologist. The speakers are chosen to represent all areas of Neurobiology and include scientists at many different stages in their careers. The program makes a special effort to include scientists who have followed different paths in developing their careers, but have been successful in achieving success. For example, in addition to speakers from large research-focused universities, the series includes speakers from smaller universities and colleges as well as pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. The visiting lecturer spends two days at U.C.S.F., during which he or she discusses scientific issues with professors. With students and postdoctoral fellows, the speaker is available to discuss both science and career choices. This formal seminar series provides an opportunity for the entire program membership from the molecular to the systems neuroscientist to remain informed about advances in this exciting field.

The formal seminar series is typically supplemented by one or two additional informal seminars each week that are sponsored by individual faculty members or laboratories. The speakers in our informal series are often as distinguished as those in our formal series. They are usually scientists who are visiting California to attend a meeting who want to visit scientists on campus. In most instances, there is also opportunity for interested students and postdoctoral fellows to meet with these visitors.

In addition to seminars sponsored by the Neuroscience Program, there are many additional seminars on campus of interest to our program members. In particular, the seminar series sponsored by the Department of Biochemistry and the seminar series sponsored by the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program frequently include as speakers neurobiologists with interests in neuronal cell function, neural development, and synaptic plasticity. The Departments of Neurology, Neurosurgery, Ophthalmology, and Psychiatry frequently sponsor visits by prominent neuroscientists with research focusing on medically-relevant areas of Neuroscience.

Current Formal Seminar Schedule (link to page)

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Qualifying Exams

The qualifying examination is designed to test the student's ability to:

(1) define major biological problems,
(2) suggest solutions to problems, and
(3) assess research literature critically.

The qualifying examination is administered in two parts: the out-of-area exam, taken within 3 months of joining a lab, and the pre-thesis exam, taken within 8 months of joining a lab. Students present two research proposals written in consultation with a qualifying examination committee. The first proposal, or out-of-area proposal, deals with a problem outside the student's main area of interest, while the second proposal, or pre-thesis proposal, deals with something that could be chosen as a thesis problem. The two proposals and related topics, including general knowledge of neuroscience from the first two years' courses, are discussed in depth at the oral examinations.

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A thesis committee is appointed after completion of the qualifying examination and meets at regular intervals with each student to advise and evaluate progress. While time to degree varies, depending upon student, advisor, and project, the program seeks to have students finish Ph.D. degrees within five years of entry into the program.

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Teaching Requirements

In the second year, neuroscience students teach as graduate assistants for one quarter. The teaching experience consolidates the students' grasp of the field and provides training for those who will eventually be employed as college or university professors. Students are expected to have completed 1 of the 4 required advanced courses before taking qualifying examinations.

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Language Requirements

There is no formal language requirement, but students are expected to be familiar with the content of important papers in the field regardless of language.

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Program of Study