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II-b. Requirements: Neuroscience

graduate program handbook

The goal of the Neuroscience Concentration is to promote research training in the basic neural processes and brain mechanisms that regulate behavior, cognition, and emotion. This concentration offers flexible programs of study and will be appropriate for students with interests in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. The concentration is housed within the Psychology Department, but may include courses taught in the Biology Department.

Description of Program

Brain activity is the foundation of human nature: it makes us who we are, enables how we think, how we feel, and how we act. Neuroscience encompasses a diverse array of research, all centered on understanding how the nervous system functions, and how its functioning gives rise to mental processes and to behavior.

Neuroscience research can broadly be divided into three separate clusters, defined primarily by the level of analysis used by researchers:

  • Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Neuroscience investigates the characteristics of single neurons and the communication among small groups of neurons. Researchers in this sub-area are interested in how neurons develop their specific characteristics (e.g., the neurotransmitters they contain), in how genes influence the function of neurons, in how neurons communicate with one another, and in how the function of single neurons or small cell assemblies can be changed by experience.
  • Systems Neuroscience and Behavioral Neuroscience examines neural pathways within the brain and investigate how those neural circuits function to influence a particular behavior in an organism. Researchers in this sub-area are interested in understanding the anatomical features of brain regions, the connectivity between different regions of the brain, and the way in which brain areas and neural circuits give rise to memory, aggression, hunger, maternal behavior, or other outcomes. To address these issues, researchers use animal models, permitting them to directly manipulate neural circuits and to examine the resultant effects on behavior.
  • Cognitive Neuroscience and Affective Neuroscience examines the human brain’s role in mental and emotional processes. Because it is not permissible to directly manipulate human brain function, these researchers mainly rely on neuroimaging methods to examine the relation between brain activity and mental function. Other methods, such as research in patients with discrete brain lesions, can also be used to gain leverage on the connection between brain processes and mental function. Researchers in this sub-area are interested in many of the same questions as behavioral neuroscientists, including the brain processes that underlie memory and attention, affective responses, or social behavior.

Students who graduate from our program should have an unparalleled appreciation for the way in which research from multiple levels of analysis can be integrated to yield a more complete understanding of behavior and cognition. We believe that this ability to integrate across sub-disciplines will take on increasing importance over the next decade, and so the integrative training that we will provide to our students will allow them to be at the forefront of neuroscientific research.

Psychology Faculty Affiliated with the Program

  • Hiram Brownell
  • John Christianson
  • Elizabeth Kensinger
  • Sean MacEvoy
  • Gorica Petrovich
  • Scott Slotnick
  • Alexa Veenema
  • Liane Young

Recommended Prerequisites

Applicants to the Neuroscience Concentration should have a strong science background. Many of our successful applicants will have received a B.S./B.A. in Psychology or Biology, although strong applicants from other academic backgrounds will be given full consideration. It is recommended that applicants will have completed one year of biology, one year of chemistry, one year of physics or organic chemistry, and one semester of calculus. If a student has a deficiency in one or more areas that is deemed by the student’s advisory committee to preclude their successful completion of the requirements of the Neuroscience Concentration within Psychology’s Ph.D. program, that student’s advisory committee will propose a course of action which is likely to require the student to enroll in additional science courses during their first year of the Ph.D. program.

Research Requirements

The research requirements for the Neuroscience Concentration parallel those of the other areas within the Psychology Ph.D. program. Students will be admitted to work in a particular laboratory, and their primary and secondary advisors will be agreed upon prior to their admittance to the program.

Students will begin research immediately upon their arrival at BC, and it is anticipated that by the end of their first year they will have made significant headway on a research project. They will complete a written report of this research and orally defend the project during their second year. They will then complete a literature review in their third year. It is expected that this literature review will help them to arrive at a topic for their dissertation research, which they will conduct during their fourth and fifth years in the program (see Timeline for more detailed information). These research requirements are identical to the ones for the other Psychology Ph.D. students.

Course Requirements

A total of six courses are required, as outlined below.

Additional Independent Study courses may be added to bring students seeking a Master’s Degree up to 30 credits, the current requirement for a Master’s Degree in Psychology.

Neuroscience Breadth Requirement (5 Courses)

The goal of this requirement is to ensure that all students receive exposure to the primary neuroscience sub-disciplines:

  • Molecular, cellular, and developmental neuroscience
  • Systems neuroscience, neuroanatomy, and behavioral neuroscience
  • Cognitive neuroscience and affective neuroscience

So that students will receive a background in each of these approaches, they will be required to select five (one-semester) courses with at least one course that covers material from each of the three clusters listed above.

The courses that are relevant to each cluster are listed below. These courses have been carefully selected to ensure a broad representation of the field of neuroscience, so it is anticipated that the majority of students will complete their course requirements by selecting courses from the list below. However, students may, through consultation with members of their advisory committee, substitute a different course (either from within the Psychology Department or from an outside department) for one of those listed below.

The following are candidate courses. Because the course schedule changes frequently, students should consult with their advisors.

Cluster 1: Molecular, cellular, and developmental neuroscience
  • BIOL5510 Cell Biology of the Nervous System
  • BIOL55xx Neurochemical Genetics
  • PSYC5583 Molecular Basis of Learning and Memory
  • PSYC55xx Introduction to Neurophysiology
  • PSYC55xx Epigenetics and the Development of Behavior
Cluster 2: Systems neuroscience, neuroanatomy, and behavioral neuroscience
  • PSYC5580 Neural Systems and Stress
  • PSYC5581 Neurobiology of Mental Illness
  • PSYC5585 Brain Systems: Motivation and Emotion
  • PSYC5589 Neural Systems and Social Behavior
Cluster 3: Cognitive and affective neuroscience
  • PSYC5571 Controversies in Cognitive Neuroscience
  • PSYC5574 Neuroscience of Sensation and Perception
  • PSYC5575 Advanced Affective Neuroscience
  • PSYC5576 Methods in Human Brain Mapping

Statistics Requirement (1 Course)

A firm knowledge of statistics is essential for branches of neuroscience research. Therefore, all students are required to take at least one semester of graduate-level statistics (usually PSYC5501). Students are strongly encouraged to take additional statistics courses beyond this one-semester requirement. For some lines of research, additional statistics courses may be essential, and so students should consult with their advisory committees to determine into which statistics courses they should enroll.

Neuroscience Journal Club/Speaker Series

During every year of their graduate training, students are required to participate in a Neuroscience Journal Club that will include presentations by faculty members, students and outside speakers. These sessions will encourage interaction among the students and faculty conducting neuroscientific research.

Teaching Requirements

Teaching requirements are consistent with those of other Psychology Ph.D. students and are designed to ensure that students gain the experience and training that will enable them to become effective teachers. Students who are supported by GSAS funds will TA every semester, while those who secure independent funding will TA a minimum of two semesters during their graduate career.


The general timeline for Neuroscience students parallels that of the other concentrations in the doctoral program. Please note that the timeline below excludes information on teaching requirements, since those may differ depending upon a student’s source of funding.

Deadlines for Progress Forms are listed in Section I.

Year 1

  • Choose primary and secondary advisor.
  • Take statistics course.
  • Take at least one cluster course each semester.
  • Take an Independent Study course if extra credits are needed for a Master's degree.
  • Submit application for pre-doctoral funding to an agency such as NSF (applications usually due Nov-Jan).
  • Attend and/or present at Neuroscience Journal Club as well as a Research Workshop.
  • Students are also encouraged to attend and/or present at Graduate Research Day (held in the spring of each year) and attend a national conference.
  • Begin independent research.
December 1

Submit a 2-3 page outline of proposed Research Project to advisor

May 15

Formalize Preliminary Advisory Committee

Year Two

  • Take at least one cluster course each semester.
  • Submit application for pre-doctoral funding to an agency (if student has not received funding in a prior grant cycle).
  • Attend and/or present at Neuroscience Journal Club as well as a Research Workshop and at Graduate Research Day.
  • Students are encouraged to present research at a national conference.
  • Continue independent research.
March 15

Draft of Research Project due to the Advisory Committee

March 30

Research Project must be defended and approved by committee

Year Three

  • Complete remaining courses.
  • Attend and/or present at Neuroscience Journal Club as well as a Research Workshop and at Graduate Research Day.
  • Students are encouraged to present research at a national conference.
  • Write a Literature Review.
  • Continue independent research.
  • Formalize Dissertation Committee (must consist of at least two committee members who are affiliated with the Neuroscience program).
  • Submit written Dissertation Proposal to committee; in addition to approving the research of the dissertation, the committee also will approve the appropriateness of the research focus for the Neuroscience Ph.D.
December 1

Plan for Literature Review due

May 15

Final approval of Literature Review

Year Four

  • Defend Dissertation Proposal.
  • Receive approval by Dissertation Committee.
  • Submit IRB/IACUC applications as needed.
  • Begin dissertation research.
  • Attend and/or present at Neuroscience Journal Club as well as a Research Workshop and at Graduate Research Day.
  • Students are encouraged to present research at a national conference.

Year Five

  • Attend and/or present at Neuroscience Journal Club as well as a Research Workshop.
  • Complete dissertation research.
May 15

Submit and defend dissertation