Doctoral Program - Requirements

Students must complete the following requirements to obtain the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy with a specialization in Neuroscience:

Research Rotations

First- year students obtain hands-on research experience by participating in Research Tutorial Rotations in multiple laboratories. Each tutorial rotation generally lasts ten weeks. At least three rotations must be completed by the end of the spring quarter of the student’s first year. It is expected that each student will find a faculty member under whose mentorship the dissertation research will be completed.

Only Summer or Fall Quarter rotations are scheduled before arriving in Houston. The student is responsible for arranging his or her own rotations and registering with the Registrar’s Office. Winter and Spring rotations are scheduled during the student’s first year. The student and faculty member meet to discuss what is expected prior to the beginning of the rotation and then have regular meetings during the rotation to discuss the student’s progress. At the conclusion of each rotation, written evaluations are submitted both by the faculty member and the student to the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Graduate Program Coordinators. Students are required to present a short talk at the end of each of the three rotations.

MD/PhD student do their research rotation prior to their first year of Medical school and the second two rotations during the summer between their first and second year of medical school.

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All students in the Neuroscience Program are required to take four Program Core Courses and complete three research rotations. Also required are courses in the Ethical Dimensions of Biomedical Science and Neuroanatomy. A number of elective courses are available which can be taken any time during the student’s tenure in the graduate program. Core Courses must be taken for credit and a grade of "B" or better must be obtained. All other courses may be taken for a grade of "B-" or better. If a student receives a grade of "C+", the option of either repeating the course or taking a different course from the list of electives exists. Each student has the responsibility to remediate any poor grades within one year.

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Core Courses

By the time of the Advancement to Candidacy Exam, students are expected to demonstrate competence in the basics of neuroscience by taking four quarters of mandatory course work including the four core neuroscience courses, the GSBS ethics course and Graduate Neuroanatomy (see below).

Advisory committee

At the end of each student’s first year he/she selects an Advisory Committee which consists of at least five members, including the student's Advisor, chosen to assure representation by faculty members competent in the student's major area of research.

This committee helps each student to: (1) recommend coursework to prepare the student with an adequate theoretical background, (2) determine whether the research project being undertaken is suitable (3) assess the suitability of the candidacy exam abstract and (4) oversees the progress of the dissertation research and administers the Final Defense.

Therefore, this Committee usually contains faculty who are experts in the field in question, some of whom have extensive experience with the GSBS, along with some faculty who are not representative of the field of study and who can provide breadth of knowledge (and one "outside" member).

There is no maximum number of Committee members, but more than 6 is not recommended since it is difficult to have all of them at one Committee meeting. The Advisory Committee may have 2 non-GSBS members who are at the faculty or staff level at their institution. Students must meet with the Advisory Committee every six months to report progress towards completing his/her dissertation.

Students are required to prepare short progress reports (1 page) that should be emailed to Amanda and the student’s committee members at least one week prior to their committee meetings.  Amanda has some example reports on the website and in her office. 


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Advancement to Candidacy Exam

The Advancement to Candidacy is an exam taken during the Spring semester of the student’s second year. The exam must be passed by the end of the summer of the second academic year.

The exam is designed to meet two objectives:

  1. To evaluate the student’s ability to develop a hypothesis, write a proposal that tests that hypothesis, write a proposal and defend an original research project.
  2. To evaluate the breadth of student’s general neuroscience knowledge as gained from the Core Courses taken in the first year of study.

The Advancement to Candidacy Examination requires the student to select a research problem in the neurosciences and propose an experimental approach to solve it. The research problem should be broad, requiring experimental approaches from multiple disciplines, and may be outside the area of the mentor’s laboratory and student’s anticipated dissertation research. Although most breadth questions will be derived from the research proposal, the student will be responsible for all areas covered in the core curriculum.

There are four phases to the Advancement to Candidacy Examination (additional details regarding Candidacy Exam):

  1. Selection of A topic approved by the advisory committee and production of a one page abstract submitted to Amanda Concha and the Academic Standards committee.
  2. Writing a proposal in NIH small-grant format.
  3. Passing an oral examination based on the submitted proposal consisting of a 15-20 minute presentation followed by a period of open questioning by a five-member committee.
  4. The Chair of the student’s examination committee will submit an evaluation form to the GSBS Academic Standards Committee describing the outcome of exam.

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Defense of Dissertation

The Defense of Dissertation consists of two parts.

  1. A public presentation of the dissertation work, followed by public discussion.
  2. An oral defense, in closed session, with the student’s Advisory Committee.

The student MUST contact the GSBS academic standards committee at least one month prior to scheduling their defense. The student obtains a Ph.D. Dissertation form online and submits this, along with a one-page abstract of the research project, to the GSBS Office of Academic Affairs at least ten (10) working days prior to the date of their defense.

At the conclusion of the Doctoral Defense, all advisory committee members will sign the "Final Report of the Final Examination and Filing of the Dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy” directly following the examination. The student delivers the form in person to obtain the appropriate signatures from the Neuroscience Program Director.

The Ph.D. degree is conferred at the end of the quarter in which all forms are completed. The student may, if they choose, attend the graduation ceremonies held in the following May.

Additional information about academic advising can be found on the GSBS website.

Basic Instructions For Preparation Of The Thesis/Dissertation

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All students in the Program are required to complete three research rotations, take four Core Courses, Ethical Dimensions of Biomedical Sciences, Graduate Neuroanatomy and attend Research Seminars for two years. Students are encouraged to attend optional elective courses in consultation with their mentor and advisory committee.

Core Courses

  • GS 140063 is a course in Molecular Neurobiology taught every fall. The course coordinator is Dr. M. Neal Waxham. Each week, there are three hours of lectures. Topics covered in this course include molecular aspects of nerve cells function including neurotransmitter synthesis, neurotransmitter receptors, second messenger systems, development and plasticity.
    Pre-requisite: Permission of course coordinator
  • GS 140143 is a course in Cellular Neurophysiology taught every fall in parallel with Molecular Neuroscience. The course is run by Dr. Heidelberger and covers cellular physiology, synaptic transmission and plasticity.
    Pre-requisite: Permission of course coordinator
  • GS 140024 is a course in Systems Neuroscience taught every spring. The course director is Dr. Valentine Dragoi. It covers visual, auditory, olfactory, somatosensory, and motor systems. There are lectures from researchers in each field and discussion sections on research papers. This course includes sessions on mammalian neuroanatomy which provides a hands-on look at the central nervous system including the key structures and their connectivity and the types of information they carry.
  • GS14 1173 is an introductory course in Intermediate Cognitive Neuroscience taught every spring in parallel with Systems Neuroscience. The course coordinator is Dr. Anne Sereno. Topics include sensation and perception, visual streams, object recognition, control of action, language, learning and memory, impulsivity, attention, cognitive control, and social cognition.
    Pre-requisite: Permission of course coordinator
  • GS21 1051 Ethics Course Requirement: Students are required to take an Ethics Course by the end of their second year and two follow up on-line modules prior to petitioning for the candidacy exam.
  • GS 14 1181 is a course in Graduate Neuroanatomy and is required to be taken the first semester of the first year. It covers a broad overview of the structure and function of the central nervous system. The general architecture of the nervous system and its functional systems are presented in a series of online exercises. The exercises allow the students to examine brain anatomy at a detailed view of the regional anatomy of the brain and spinal cord. MRIs of brain anatomy, as commonly presented in the scientific literature, will be presented using a computerized learning system.

MD/Ph.D. Students Affiliated with the Neuroscience Program

1. Students are required to form an Advisory Committee and meet every six months.
2. Some Core Courses may be required if advised by your committee.
3. The candidacy exam must be completed by the end of the second year of graduate study. Students are required to take Ethics and complete 2 online ethics modules, "Data Acquisition and Management" and "Responsible Authorship and Publication" prior to petitioning for the candidacy exam.

Master Of Science Degree In Biomedical Sciences

The M.S. degree program is designed to offer the individual the opportunity to attain mastery of independent research investigation in a particular subject area. In order to attain this mastery the student is given the opportunity to obtain a background in pertinent subject areas, develop requisite skills, engage in a research project, and prepare a research thesis.

The specific requirements for an M.S. degree are a minimum of 30 semester hours of pertinent coursework, to include: at least 6 hours of Research in Biomedical Sciences; successful completion of The Ethical Dimensions of the Biomedical Sciences and, effective Fall term, 2011, two on-line ethics modules; and at least 6 credit hours (one semester of full-time registration) in Thesis. For students entering in the Fall 2010 term and thereafter, a minimum of 12 credit hours of didactic courses, graded A/F must be taken.  The majority of these 30 credit hours, plus the majority of any additional coursework required by the Academic Standards Committee or the student's Advisory or Supervisory Committees, must be taken at the UT GSBS at Houston, at other UTHSC schools, or at an institution with which we have consortium arrangements (i.e., Rice University, the University of Houston, or Baylor College of Medicine).

An advisory committee guides the student in the selection of coursework, through the research project and the preparation of the thesis, and administers the final oral examination.

Operating within this general framework for the M.S. degree in Biomedical Sciences are the individualized M.S. degree option and three specialized programs, in Genetic Counseling, and Medical Physics.


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