College of Life Sciences
Doctor of Philosophy
4 - 5 Years
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Policies and procedures for important steps in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience (GPN).
Graduate Program in Neuroscience (GPN) Policies
The Graduate Program in Neuroscience is governed by the policies and guidelines of the Jefferson College of Life Sciences.
The Program and/or JCLS will financially support trainees for the first academic year of their training. Once a trainee has chosen a research adviser, it is the research adviser's responsibility to financially support the trainee, including arrangements for stipend and health insurance from research grants and/or the adviser's department resources, throughout the remainder of the trainee's graduate education.
Faculty may accept new predoctoral trainees and serve as mentors to these trainees provided the faculty have independent extramural funding. If such a person loses funding while serving as a mentor, they will continue in that capacity through completion of the program for any trainee already in their laboratory. On re-attaining extramural funding, they may again accept a new trainee to study under their guidance.
End of Year Review
The Student Affairs Committee and the Program Directors meet at the end of each academic year to review the progress of each trainee in the Program. Progress of first and second year students is evaluated at the end of each academic semester. Final disposition of each student is the responsibility of the Directors of the Graduate Program.
Progress Reports (Starting in Third Year)
Beginning in their third year of study, students are required to submit an annual progress report. The student’s progress report must be submitted to the Chair of the Student Affairs Committee and Program Directors by September 1 of the student’s third year of study.
The progress report should provide a record of the student’s research accomplishments and highlight any changes in scope or research objectives from those defined in the thesis research proposal. Students must use the GPN Progress Report (PDF), which has specific instructions.
Comprehensive Exam Guidelines for the Graduate Program of Neuroscience
The Comprehensive Examination has both oral and written portions. The written portion will be in the form of a grant-based NIH NRSA-style proposal, while the oral portion of the examination will be split between questions aimed at general neuroscience knowledge and the grant proposal.
Core areas used to evaluate each student include:
- Knowledge base in the field of neuroscience: Students demonstrate an understanding and ability to apply basic principles of biological structure and function in Neuroscience.
- Critical thinking: Students show an ability to critically evaluate the literature and extract the relevant information at an in-depth level. Students should demonstrate that they conceptualized and integrated a variety of neuroscience topics.
- Knowledge and application of the scientific method: Students demonstrate an ability to generate sound hypotheses that are testable by study objectives/aims. Students demonstrate their ability to construct well-designed experiments, interpret study outcomes, and brain-storm alternative strategies that are appropriately justified and feasible.
The Written Examination
The Chair of the Examination Committee collects the written grant from students two weeks prior to the scheduled date of the oral exam. The written exam will be in a NIH NRSA F30/31 format. Students submit a written grant to the Chair of the Examination Committee. The total length of this document (excluding references) should be 6-pages plus a one specific aims page. It should be single spaced, in 11-point Arial font, with 0.5-inch margins all around. The proposal should explain the research questions to be addressed and their importance to the scientific field, the hypotheses to be tested, and the rationale behind these hypotheses. The experimental plan should clearly explain the experimental design including in vitro, animal and/or human usage and appropriate controls, and methodological and statistical descriptions. The plan should include expected outcomes and alternate strategies. The research scope should be appropriate for a graduate student to complete in 3-4 years of study. Students should consult the NIH website for additional guidance and tips.
Two weeks following the submission of the written grant, there will be an oral examination lasting 1.5 hours. During the first part of the oral examination, there will be general neuroscience questions to test the student’s knowledge basis covering fundamental neuroscience topics, in which students will be expected to discuss these topics in depth at the white board. Students should focus preparation for their oral exam on coursework included in GC550 Foundations in Biomedical Sciences, NS700 Cellular Neurophysiology, NS715 Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, NS740 Neuroanatomy, and NS690 Neuropharmacology.
During the second part of the examination, the student will be asked questions relating to their grant proposal. Students should be prepared with all aspects of the proposal from an in depth understanding of the background elements, the rationale for experimental design and chosen methodology, and providing appropriate evidence based expected outcomes and alternate strategies. Students should be able to show their ability to critically evaluate the literature during both portions of the oral exam. The goal of the oral exam as conducted by members of the Examination Committee is to assess each student in all three core content areas (Knowledge in Neuroscience, Critical Thinking, and Application of the Scientific Methods) in addition to their written grant proposal. Mock oral exams with faculty (other than the thesis advisor and members of the Examination Committee), post-docs, and upper level graduate students are highly encouraged.
Policy on Faculty & Peer Support
The Comprehensive Examination (CE) Committee is a test of the student’s individual ability to pursue advanced studies in Neuroscience. Therefore, the student must be soley responsible for the preparation of the written and oral portions of the exam. Since the written document is to be the work of the student only, there will be NO editorial input from the student’s thesis advisor, post-docs, fellow students, or other faculty. Some verbal guidance on grant organization and conceptual development of the grant is expected, while the written document should be that of the student. The student is encouraged to use the thesis topic for the grant, although this is not a requirement. If the student plans to submit a fellowship application before or soon after the CE and expects to receive feedback on the written proposal, the student must notify the GPN directors and submit a version of the proposal before receiving feedback. Students using written feedback on proposals from the course GC730 Grant Writing are required to submit the grant version showing markups/edits to the Program Directors for review by the Examination Committee. The student is encouraged to conduct "mock exams" and receive feedback from faculty (except for the thesis advisor and members of the Examination Committee) and peers before taking the Oral Comprehensive Exam. Students may also contact the Chair of the Curriculum Committee or Program Directors to request clarification regarding the Comprehensive Examination process at any point.
The Curriculum Committee together with the Program Directors appoints one Examination Committee for all students in a given year, consisting of three GPN faculty members (excluding the thesis advisor) with different areas of expertise to examine all students. The Examination Committee will be composed of individuals who are both standing faculty members in Jefferson College of Life Sciences (JCLS) and part of GPN. All GPN faculty may be selected to serve on the examination committee. One committee member will serve as Chair of the Examination Committee and one of the GPN Directors will observe, but does not participate in the CE. The examination committee with the help of a GPN administrator sets the date of the examination.
Timing of Comprehensive Examination
GPN students submit a one-page abstract of their intended thesis work by the end of Spring I of the second year of study to the Program Directors and Curriculum Committee. The written portion of the CE is due 2 weeks prior to the oral CE, which takes place by the end of the students’ second year of enrollment in the graduate program, typically in late July. Students receive their assigned time for the examination from either the GPN administrator or the CE Chair.
Policy on Failing
A student who fails the Comprehensive Examination is expected to retake it and pass no later than three months after the first attempt. Failing the Comprehensive Examination twice results in dismissal from the Program.
A student who is unable to comply with the deadlines must petition the Executive Committee for an extension. Extensions will be granted only for verifiable extenuating circumstances such as illness or serious personal situations.
Download the Comprehensive Exam Guidelines for the Graduate Program of Neuroscience
A student is expected to submit their Thesis Proposal to their Thesis Committee following successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination (typically within three months). The thesis proposal should be prepared as a pre-doctoral research grant application (NIH, F30/F31 application). If the student is unable to meet this time line, a petition for an extension must be submitted in writing to the Program’s Executive Committee.
The Thesis Advisor should help the student develop the Thesis Proposal, select the Thesis Committee and plan a timetable for project completion. The Thesis Adviser and Thesis Committee should ensure that the research is in full compliance with ethical guidelines.
Students are expected to choose a research advisor by the end of June in their first year of the graduate program. Each student may choose from among the program faculty whose research programs are, at the time, supported by extramural funding and who are able to make the long-term commitment expected of a student-mentor relationship. The advisor will also serve on the student's Thesis Committee.
The Thesis Committee consists of the research advisor and at least two other members of the GPN faculty, as well as one member from another graduate program. Members of the Committee are appointed by the Dean of the Jefferson College of Life Sciences (JCLS) in consultation with the student, the research advisor and the Directors of GPN. The Thesis Committee is responsible for evaluating the feasibility and merit of the student's research proposal, and convenes at least twice each year to discuss, plan and review the student's program of research and coursework.
Prior to (or at the beginning of) the first Thesis Committee meeting (in which the Thesis Proposal document is approved), a Chair should be identified. This individual should not be the Thesis Advisor. The Thesis Committee Chair (along with the student) is responsible for ensuring regular Thesis Committee meetings to check on the project and the student's progress. The Thesis Committee Chair is responsible for providing the required Chair’s Summary Form and Individual Faculty Evaluation Forms for each of the committee meetings to the Program Directors.
The student will bring the required forms to the committee meetings. The Thesis Committee will then ask the student to exit the room so that the faculty may review the student’s academic and research progress. Upon returning to the room, the Thesis Advisor exits the room so that the student has the opportunity to communicate with the committee without the adviser present. The full Thesis Committee will then review the student’s progress as a group.
When the Thesis Proposal has been satisfactorily completed and approved by the Thesis Committee, the Thesis Committee Chair should indicate so on the appropriate Chair Summary Form and a copy of the forms should be provided to the Program Director.
At least three weeks in advance of the Thesis Defense, the student submits one unbound draft of a Thesis Committee-approved dissertation to the office of the Dean of JCLS and to each member of the Thesis Committee. The format of the dissertation must conform to the guidelines established by JCLS.
The final examination consists of a public defense of the thesis, at which time the candidate gives a formal presentation. The doctoral dissertation defense tests the candidate's ability to communicate the specific research project and its implications to a broad scholarly audience.
Following the public presentation and an open question and answer period, the Final Defense of Thesis Committee convenes with the candidate to ask additional questions and/or vote on the acceptance of the candidate's dissertation. Upon successful completion of the dissertation, the student and the Committee submit the final dissertation, an additional bound copy and one unbound copy to the office of the Dean of JCLS.
In accordance with the policy of JCLS, all requirements must be successfully completed by the official deadline in order for a student to graduate at May commencement.