The Neuroscience Program at Wake Forest University offers a PhD degree tailored for a research career within one of the most challenging and fascinating scientific endeavors ever attempted — the study of the brain and the nervous system.
Our graduate program is based on the idea that neuroscience, broadly conceived, provides a fundamental framework for understanding the biological basis of behavior and the causes of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Accordingly, our major goal is to train students to be able to carry out meaningful and significant research in all areas of modern neuroscience, and to give them an appreciation of the importance of characterizing functional organization at all levels, from molecular and cellular structures, to local neural circuits and brain areas, to whole organisms and their behavior. This integrated approach to basic neuroscience research is key for understanding neurobehavioral pathologies and translating this information to the clinic.
Our program is designed to train students in a variety of modern methodologies and to prepare them to use whatever conceptual and technological approaches are most appropriate for pursuing promising new areas of research. This takes place within a collegial environment in which each investigator has multiple ongoing collaborations and a given project typically involves the complementary expertise of multiple participants.
During their first year, students complete a core set of courses (see our curriculum) and rotate through three laboratories. In particular, the Introduction to Neuroscience course is designed to provide a solid foundation in the fundamental areas of neuroscience (neuroanatomy, cellular and molecular biology, development, sensory systems, and motor systems and cognition). In striving to keep students at the forefront of neuroscience research, students participate in weekly research seminars and journal clubs throughout their training. By the end of the first year, students should have found a home lab in which to carry out their dissertation research.
During their second year, students are required to take three upper-level courses, which will lead to a specialization in one of several possible areas (see our curriculum). The elective courses chosen must be approved by the student’s thesis adviser. These courses are again taken along with weekly seminars and journal clubs. At the end of the second year, students who passed all required courses with a final cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or better present a qualifying exam. The exam consists of a two-part proposal for the thesis project: a written document, which is in the same format of an actual predoctoral grant application, and an oral defense, which is an evaluation of the project with a thesis committee. The content of the proposal is a description of the planned experiments, including the methods to be used, the rationale for performing those experiments (e.g., hypotheses to be tested), any preliminary data, and the significance of the possible results.
Having passed the qualifying exam, students advance to candidacy and devote most of their time to research. This includes not only working in the lab, but also keeping up with the latest results in their field of specialization, preparing public presentations of their work (posters or seminars) and writing papers describing their results — this is the bread and butter of a research career.
Although the time to graduation varies across individuals and depends on the type of work done, the average in the biomedical sciences campus is 5 years.
Besides working on the core courses, first-year students take laboratory rotations lasting approximately 3 months each. These are meant to provide a meaningful, hands-on experience in research, and to help each student choose a laboratory and an adviser for his or her thesis work. Rotations are an excellent way to learn new scientific concepts, techniques and methods, to become familiarized with the daily business of a laboratory, and to interact with faculty, postdocs and other graduate students. Rotations typically involve short projects, but it is not uncommon for the work done to develop further and become part of a full-blown publication.
Drawing from 16 different departments, the Neuroscience Program has over 100 faculty members. More than 60 of them have funded research programs and laboratories and are available as research advisers to students in the Neuroscience Program. In addition, there are over 40 faculty in clinical departments who may participate in teaching and serve as consultants and collaborators with research scientists.
The major areas of research of faculty and students in the Neuroscience Track include:
Addiction and Substance Abuse, Behavioral and Systems Neurobiology, Development and Plasticity, Molecular Neurobiology, Neurological Disease and Aging, Neuropharmacology, and Sensory Neurobiology. However, each laboratory typically has a distinct specialization. Learn more about each faculty member’s research interests in their individual web pages.
Fellowships are provided to exceptionalal PhD students accepted into the Neuroscience Program. In 2013-2014, students are projected to receive financial support totaling $59,634, which includes a 12-month stipend of $25,000, tuition scholarships which are covered in full by the University. The Graduate School also contributes generously subsidized health insurance.