The Neuroscience Curriculum


Graduate students who specialize in neuroscience will acquire a broad background in the concepts and techniques of neuroscience through an integrated program of laboratory research, advanced course-work, and seminar and journal club attendance. The Graduate Program in Neuroscience is designed to provide students with a strong academic background, state-of-the-art experimental approaches, and the analytical skills necessary to conduct independent research.


The typical course of study for a student pursuing a PhD through the program in neuroscience is shown below.

Graduate students are admitted into the Basic Biomedical Sciences (BBS) Division of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) without regard to Program interests.

In the first year, all BBS students complete the BBS Core Curriculum and participate in Laboratory Rotations to explore their interests, working under the supervision of faculty. Students are free to select Rotation labs without regard to Program affiliation. Students must complete rotations in at least 2 different laboratories.

Program affiliation occurs when student and thesis mentor agree to commit to each other, in late Summer prior to the second year of study. In practice, many students know where they will affiliate by Spring of the first year, register to “rotate” again with the same faculty member, and get a jump ahead in the lab.

The Qualifying Exam is taken in the second year of study. Qualifying Exam Policy and Procedures

Formal course work is generally completed within the first 2-3 years, after which students are expected to transition to learning from literature and lab, integrating these activities and showing the self-motivation that is a predictor of success in research. Most faculty welcome senior students that wish to sit in on individual lectures or even entire courses. The emphasis is on learning, not grades. From year 3 on, most students register for Thesis Research/ Graduate Research and participate in classes and Journal Club informally.

Curricular Requirements:

Students in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience are required to:

- complete the GSBS Core Curriculum

- Take a minimum of three Advanced Topics courses. One of these Advanced Topics courses must be BBS 760 “Introduction to Neuroscience,” which is typically taken in Spring semester of the student’s first year. The other two courses may be any two BBS Advanced Topics courses (courses of at least 2 credits), from any program. The offerings for advanced courses vary based on faculty availability and student demand. Most advanced topics courses are offered every other year.

Advanced Topics courses frequently taken by students in the Neuroscience Graduate Program include “Bases of Brain Disease” (BBS 782), “Genetic Basis of Behavior” (BBS 783), “Molecular and Cellular Basis of Neural Development” (BBS 784), “Stimulus-Secretion Coupling: An Exo(cyto)tic Point Of View” (BBS 746), “Developmental Biology” (BBS 739), “Cell Physiology of Excitable Membranes (BBS 747), “Genetic Systems” (BBS 762), “Using Animals in Biomedical Research” (BBS 701), “Eukaryotic Gene Expression” (BBS 738), “Biostatistics for the Biomedical Sciences” (BBS 702), “Nuclear Structure & Function in Disease” (BBS 734), “The Cell Works: Principles of Cell Physiology” (BBS 743), and “Cytoskeleton & Disease” (BBS 733).

Several Tutorial and Special Topics courses (Addiction; fMRI; G protein coupled receptors) are also offered, and with permission of the Program Director, two of these 1-credit courses may be substituted for one advanced topics course.

- Complete at least two semesters of BBS 808 “Journal Club in Neuroscience.” Journal club (NE 800) is mandatory for Neuroscience students in their second year, and is encouraged for first-year and senior students.

- Participation, through regular attendance, at the Neuroscience Program Seminar Series (Thursdays) is expected of all students in the Program.

A Typical Course of Study

Below is a typical Neuroscience Program student's curriculum. * Asterisks indicate BBS Core Curriculum (Course Required of all BBS Division students).

Pre-Year 1, Summer (early start option).
Laboratory Rotation.

Year 1, Fall Semester
* BBS 601. Responsible Conduct in Research.
* BBS 611. Biomedical Sciences Block I.
* BBS 611R. Reading, Analysis and Problem Solving (RAPS, Block I).
* BBS 612. Biomedical Sciences Block II.
* BBS 612R. Reading, Analysis and Problem Solving (RAPS, Block II).
* BBS 850. Laboratory Rotation. Two 8-week or one 16-week rotation.

Year 1, Spring Semester
* BBS 613. Biomedical Sciences Block III.
* BBS 613R. Reading, Analysis and Problem Solving (RAPS, Block III).
   BBS 760. Introduction to Neuroscience
   BBS 808. Journal Club in Neuroscience.
* BBS 851. Laboratory Rotation. Two 8-week or one 16-week rotation.

Year 1, Summer
* BBS 602. Scientific Writing.
* BBS 850. Laboratory Rotation. Two 8-week or one 16-week rotation.

Thesis Advisor and Graduate Program Selection due August 1

Year 2, Fall Semester
   BBS 782. Bases of Brain Disease.
   BBS 808. Journal Club in Neuroscience.
* BBS 860. BBS Qualifying Exam (Exam to be completed before June).
* BBS 870. Pre-Qualifying Research.

Year 2, Spring Semester
   BBS 808. Journal Club in Neuroscience.
* BBS 870. Pre-Qualifying Research.

Year 2, Summer
* BBS 900. Thesis Research.

Year 3, Fall Semester
   BBS 784. Molecular and Cellular Basis of Neural Development”
   BBS 808. Journal Club in Neuroscience.
* BBS 900. Thesis Research.
* BBS 880. Thesis Research Advisory Committee Meeting.

Year 3, Spring Semester
* BBS 900. Thesis Research.

Year 3, Summer
* BBS 990. Graduate Research.

Year 4-5-(6)
* BBS 990. Graduate Research - each semester.
* BBS 880.Thesis Research Advisory Committee Meeting – annually.

Endgame. After the student has completed a sufficient body of original, scholarly work whose novelty and rigor warrants publication, the TRAC Committee recommends that the student end bench work and write the dissertation. The TRAC then disbands. The student has up to 4 months to write and defend the dissertation. The Dissertation Defense Committee, including a scholar from outside the institution, is appointed, evaluates the written thesis and (after a public presentation) conducts a closed-door examination of the candidate. Successful candidates often make minor revisions to the dissertation before being awarded the Ph.D. degree.

UMass Medical School Graduate Program in Neuroscience

Curriculum Page updated 09 August, 2010; D.R. Weaver/ T. Keegan