Innovative Curriculum

For a listing of current courses, click here.

General philosophy

Our program has eliminated broad survey courses in favor of shorter focused topical courses for multiple reasons.

  • Most students are well grounded in biological sciences when they enter the program, with many already having obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, although a degree in Neuro¬science is not required. Any Bachelor’s degree (or sufficient training) in modern biological, biomedical, biochemical, molecular biological, or psychological sciences will suffice.
  • A fallacy of the survey course is it seeks to provide a background on all that you will need to know to navigate the field. This is impossible, as the topic of neuroscience is too vast and too dynamic to think one could cover current and future topics needed to work at the forefront of a field.
  • Upon reflection, most faculty know while it is important to be grounded in the fundamentals, when it comes to the detailed knowledge needed to do innovative science, one must learn it on one’s own; that is how they did it. Thus, the important task in classroom-based instruction in graduate school is to teach the students how to learn for themselves, and to introduce the students to cutting-edge thinking in the field right from the start.

Structure of courses

To address these issues, our program has developed an innovative curriculum that consists of almost entirely of microcourses, short modular courses 5 weeks in length (1 credit, ~15 contact hours), that focus in depth on particular topics. All these microcourses (even the core), emphasize reading primary literature, student centered discussions, and assignments that require synthesis and creative thinking, not rote memorization. The goal is to demonstrate to the student that they can immerse themselves into a literature, and in a relatively short period of time, pick up the background and identify the critical issues. Then as they identify topics they need in their own areas of interest, they can then perform this task for themselves. We cannot possibly anticipate all that you will need to know as you engage in a 40 to 50 year career, for much of what we know now will be found to be shallow and not completely accurate – that is the nature of how knowledge develops.

What if I need a better background in fundamentals?

We also have mechanisms to provide that. One of the most effective mechanisms for learning is you are called upon to teach a topic. Thus all our graduate students will engage in a teaching experience by serving as a teaching assistant (TA) in one of our undergraduate courses. For those with interest in or a desire to learn more physiology, you can TA the neurophysiology course that has a sophisticated, hands on lab component. Need anatomy? Then the TA in the anatomy course. Want more molecular? You can TA in the cellular neurobiology course. Other assignments are available. 

What if I want highly advanced specialized courses?

This is another strength of the microcourse design. We routinely poll our students and ask them what topics they would like to see offered. Because of the structure of the microcourses, we can create a course on the spot. This is especially useful for areas of new and breaking scientific developments.

Course topics

About two-thirds of our course requirements are focused on neuroscience (the Neurosci 540/541/542/543 series and Neurosci 590), with about one-third focused on scientific methods and approaches (Neurosci 563 and 564 and Neurosci 592).

Specific course requirements

For a detailed description of course requirements see pages 13 and 14 in the Graduate Student Handbook