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Non-Curriculum Requirements

Lab Rotations

First year students participate in two laboratory rotations, each one semester in duration. Students normally choose a Ph.D. mentor after the 2nd rotation.


All doctoral students are required to complete basic and annual refresher RCRSCA education. The basic education program for both master’s and doctoral students involves (i) on-line CITI modules and (ii) in-person workshops offered by The Graduate School, the program, or other units on campus.

Basic Education Program (Ph.D. and M.S. Plan A Students - Years One and Two)

CITI On-Line Modules (First Semester, Year One)

  • Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research
  • Authorship
  • Plagiarism
  • Research Misconduct

Additional CITI Modules (Year Two)

  • Complete three additional modules

Discussion-Based Workshops (6 h, Complete by end of the spring semester of Year Two)

All graduate and graduate-professional students must complete a minimum of 6 hours of discussion-based education prior to receiving their degrees. The basic education requirements must be completed by the end of the spring semester of Year Two before the Standardized component of the Comprehensive Exam is administered in May. These hours can be completed in a variety of ways including as part of a course, taking workshops such as those provided by TGS, or more personalized training provided by the student’s research advisor.

Annual Refresher Education Program (Ph.D. Students - Years Three and beyond)

Doctoral students are required to complete 3 hours of annual refresher education in RCRSCA. This can be fulfilled in multiple ways including as part of a course, taking additional TGS workshops (no repeats allowed), additional CITI modules and or more personalized training provided by the student’s graduate advisor. This is to be documented in the Annual Student RCR Certification Form. This form will be submitted to the GPD and the Academic Program Coordinator (neurosci@msu.edu) along with the Annual Student Performance Evaluation each July. An additional mechanism of documentation in Grad Plan as part of the new Campus Solutions/SIS is currently under development and will be launched in the fall of 2020

Comprehensive exams and Dissertation defense

The Comprehensive exam for the Ph.D. students will consist of two components: 1) Standardized and 2) Specialized.

The standardized component of the comprehensive exam for the Ph.D. will  be taken during the month of May in Year Two. The exam will consist of a three-part, take-home written exam. The questions will be designed to test the student's understanding of core neuroscience concepts, his/her ability to integrate information across levels of complexity and to utilize the scientific literature, to generate plausible hypotheses, and to design experiments to test these hypotheses. Three committees will each prepare one question requiring students to integrate information across the main content areas and levels of analyses: 1) molecular and developmental neuroscience, 2) cellular neuroscience, 3) systems neuroscience, and 4) behavioral neuroscience. The question topics will be in these three areas: (i) a current controversy in the field of neuroscience, (ii) a translational application of neuroscience research, and (iii) development of a NRSA-type research proposal on an assigned topic.

For the specialized component of the comprehensive exam, students will develop a dissertation research plan in consultation with their graduate advisor and dissertation guidance committee. A written dissertation proposal will be prepared in the format of the research plan portion of a National Research Service Award (NRSA) application; this format may be expanded or modified as requested by the student's guidance committee. Once the guidance committee has reached consensus on the research plan and dissertation proposal, the student will take the specialized component of the comprehensive exam. This will consist of an oral exam based on, but not limited to, the student's defense of the research  proposal. A student must complete the specialized component of the comprehensive exam no later than 12 months after passing the standardized component.


Students conduct an original dissertation project based on the approved research proposal. Students present a public seminar based on their Ph.D. dissertation, which precedes the  defense with the student's dissertation guidance committee.


Each year, the Neuroscience Program holds a retreat for all faculty, students and postdocs to welcome incoming students and to share data and ideas generated over the course of the summer. Student attendance is a requirement, and all returning students must present a poster.


In addition to research experience, teaching experience is an important training element that hones communication skills and prepares students for both the professoriate and non-academic career paths. One semester of mentored teaching experience must therefore be completed as part of the academic requirements for the Ph.D. Degree. Normally, teaching experience will be gained in the second year. One mechanism for fulfilling the teaching requirement is to obtain a teaching assistantship for one semester. Another mechanism available to students is the Certificate in College Teaching. The University Graduate Certification in College Teaching Program (CCT); an initiative of the Michigan State University Graduate School, in partnership with MSU colleges, that helps graduate students and postdocs organize, develop, and document their teaching experiences. Through a series of professional development activities - workshops or seminars, coursework in disciplinary teaching methods, a mentored teaching project - participants build and consolidate their preparation for college and university teaching. The program culminates in an e-portfolio that will help students prepare for academic job interviews and plan for their professional development as early career faculty. For graduate students, completion of the Certification in College Teaching Program will be recognized by a Certification notation on the MSU transcript. Students in the dual degree program in the college of Osteopathic Medicine (DO/PhD), College of Human Medicine (MD/PhD) and College of Veterinary Medicine (DVM/PhD) are exempt from the teaching experience requirement.

The graduate teaching assistantship (GTA) is a university defined position and requires 12-20 hours per week of time and effort. Students receive their usual stipend, tuition and fee waiver, and health insurance support. GTAs contribute to teaching courses in the Neuroscience undergraduate curriculum. Students interested in this extensive teaching experience should discuss this opportunity with their graduate advisor prior to making a commitment. When students have completed their teaching requirement, they should complete the Teaching Experience Form and submit this to the Graduate Program Director and the Academic Program Coordinator.

Graduate Student Handbook

The Graduate Student Handbook contains valuable information for new students entering the Neuroscience Program.