Requirements & Expectations

I. Requirements & Expectations for Students Pursuing the Ph.D. Degree in Neuroscience

  1. NSP Degree Requirements/Program of Study

  2. Global Expectations

    There are many requirements for the successful completion of a Ph.D. degree in Neuroscience. Ph.D. students must enroll in all of the required courses listed below and perhaps other courses chosen in conjunction with their dissertation committee. To continue in good standing as a degree candidate in the Neuroscience Program, each student must maintain a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 3.00. Students must achieve a grade of not less than 2.0 to earn course credit. In parallel with these courses, students will complete two laboratory rotations during the first year and should choose a dissertation laboratory at the completion of the second rotation. Neuroscience graduate students are expected to attend the weekly Neuroscience Seminar series and Research Forum. Students must gain teaching experience by serving as a course assistant or course instructor for at least one semester, preferably in their second year. To be a successful graduate student, students must also vigorously read, understand, and have a working command of the relevant research literature. Under the guidance of their dissertation advisor, students are expected to conduct experiments at the highest scholarly level, which will lead to high quality publications in peer-reviewed journals and ultimately the completion of the dissertation. It is our hope that each student will earn the Ph.D. in approximately 5 years. Failure to meet program, college and university deadlines or to complete the PhD degree in a timely fashion will remove the student from "in good standing" status and jeopardize funding.

    Students should expect a gradual shift in responsibility during their training. In the early months, the student's primary focus will be on excelling in his/her course work and laboratory rotations. The student will then transition to spending the vast majority of his/her time conducting experiments in the laboratory while still maintaining his/her participation in other Neuroscience Program training activities. Graduate school in the Neurosciences is a serious, full time commitment. Students should anticipate studying intensely for their courses and working very diligently in the laboratory, generally at the same time. All of the faculty members in the Neuroscience Program have very high expectations of the graduate students, and students should be prepared to energetically pursue every aspect of their training. In contrast to undergraduate education, training for the Ph.D. degree requires you to be an extremely active participant in your education. You must be sharply focused during your graduate school years to earn the Ph.D. degree. The Guidelines for Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring Relationships ( outline the responsibilities of the Neuroscience Program, Faculty Advisor, Guidance Committee, and graduate student in graduate education and research training.

    There are many career options available to the graduates of our Ph.D. program and the Neuroscience Program strives to prepare our students for the range of careers available to them. However, the Ph.D. degree is a research degree and success as a Ph.D. student is measured in large part on research productivity. A tangible measure of research productivity is the number of peer reviewed publications produced during a student’s dissertation project. It is expected that our graduates will produce a body of work that would yield a minimum of 3 peer-reviewed publications. This is an expectation not a requirement as it is recognized that are many factors guiding decisions about data publication. These decisions are made based on discussions between students and their mentors and publication strategies should be determined on an individual basis.

  3. Laboratory Rotations

    Except under extraordinary circumstances and with prior approval of the Director, all students must complete at least two laboratory rotations. Students and the rotation mentor will be provided with a pre-rotation list of expectations for student and mentor contributions to the success of the rotation. Students and mentors will discuss expectations at the start of the laboratory rotation and both parties will sign-off on these mutually agreed upon expectations. Faculty members supervising student rotations will provide the director with a written evaluation (Appendix K) and numerical grade for each individual by the end of finals week each semester. Students will also provide a written evaluation of the faculty mentor at the completion of the rotation. This evaluation will be confidential and will be made available only to the Program Director. Information in the evaluation can be used by the Program Director and/or the faculty members departmental Chair to provide constructive feedback in order to help the faculty member develop as an effective mentor.

  4. Courses

    1. Course Waiver Policy

      Requests for waivers of any of the required courses must be submitted in writing to the Graduate Affairs Committee (GAC) using a form available in the program office (Appendix A). Requests for course waivers are not made directly to the course instructor, but the instructor may provide the GAC with course information necessary to evaluate the request. The waiver request should include a well-articulated rationale for the request. The GAC may approve the request or not, or may offer an alternative. If waiver of the course is approved, the student does not receive credit hours for the course. Students receiving course waivers are still responsible for knowledge in that content area in the comprehensive examination.

    2. Required Courses (48 credits/49 credits)

      Pharmacology and Physiology of Excitable Cells: PHM/PSL/ZOL/NEU 827, 4 credits
      Basis for resting membrane potential, active properties of excitable cells, fundamentals of neurotransmission, cytoskeletal structure of neurons, glia and muscle, properties of specialized neurons such as sensory cells.

      Molecular and Developmental Neurobiology: NEU 804, 3 credits
      Structure and synthesis of DNA, RNA, and proteins, regulation of gene expression, transcription factors, methods in molecular biology, development, differentiation, and apoptosis of neurons, nerve regeneration, and neural plasticity.

      Systems Neuroscience: ANT/PHM/PSL/NEU 839, 4 credits
      Anatomy, pharmacology and physiology of multicellular neural systems including sensory, motor, autonomic and chemoregulatory systems in vertebrate nervous system.

      Advanced Behavioral Neuroscience: NEU 811, 3 credits
      Biological mechanisms involved in learning and memory, motivated behaviors, biological rhythms and psychopathologies.

      Strategies in Neuroscience Research: NEU 807, 2 credits
      This laboratory course is aimed at teaching strategies to be a successful independent researcher. Students perform several exercises at the bench, exposing them to some of the hallmark techniques in Neuroscience. Potential pitfalls of such techniques are discussed as examples for thinking critically about laboratory techniques. Students also gain experience in translating scientific reports into working protocols. Other exercises and discussions are intended to increase the student’s awareness of their responsibilities as an independent researcher, covering such topics as laboratory safety, data management, and the use of animals in research. Students also gain experience in manuscript preparation, learning how to make publication-quality digital figures and writing effective figure captions.

      Statistics: PHM 830, 3 credits -or- PSY 815, 4 credits
      PHM 830 consists of practical application of statistical principles to the design of experiments and analysis of experimental data in pharmacology, toxicology, and related biomedical sciences.
      PSY 815 deals with the design and analysis of behavioral research. Applied descriptive and inferential statistical procedures. Emphasis on discerning and confirming structural relationships among variables. Analysis of variance, regression, and related methods.

      Research Forum:
      First year NSP predoctoral students DO NOT enroll in NEU 800 (Research Forum) during their first year in the Program, but attend Research Forum sessions in the Fall and Spring semesters that are appropriate for early stage trainees. At the beginning of each semester, students will be informed about which weeks they are expected to attend Forum.

      Second year NSP predoctoral students and beyond MUST ENROLL in NEU 800 (Research Forum) every Fall and Spring semester until graduation, unless there are schedule conflicts. If this is the case, the student should notify Graduate Program Director in writing before the semester in which there is a conflict, explaining the nature of the conflict (e.g., another course, experimental schedule). Research Forum activities are often targeted to students in specific stages of training, and attendance at every Forum meeting may not be expected of every student. At the beginning of each semester, students will be informed about which weeks they are expected to attend Forum. For an enrolled student to receive a passing grade, the student can miss no more than three of the meetings that he/she is expected to attend. All students must earn 4 credits of Research Forum in order to receive the Ph.D in Neuroscience.

      Make sure to update periodically the Research Forum Requirement Form (Appendix B) available in the Program Office.

      Research: NEU 999, 24 credits total are required by MSU to earn a Ph.D.(3-6 per semester, usually) Dissertation Research

    3. Other Neuroscience-Related Courses, Possible Electives

      Vertebrate Neural Systems: NEU 885, 3 credits
      Comparative analysis of major component systems of vertebrate brains. Evolution, ontogeny, structure and function in fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds.

      Synaptic Transmission: PHM 810, 3 credits
      Specific neural diseases and the use of drugs as tools to probe disease mechanisms and treat disease states.

      Developmental Psychobiology: PSY 809, 3 credits
      Principles of neural development over the life span of organisms.

      Neuropsychology: PSY 851, 4 credits
      Research and theory in the neuropsychology of cognition, language, memory, emotion, motor skills and lateralization of function with an emphasis on human functions.

      Principles of Drug-Tissue Interactions: PHM 819, 1-2 credits
      General principles relevant to the interaction of chemicals with biological systems. Topics include pharmacokinetics and/or pharmacodynamics.

  5. Other Required Activities

    1. Teaching Experience

      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 PhD 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, 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 will 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 teaching assistantship is a university defined positions and require 20 hours per week of time and effort. Students receive their usual stipend, tuition and fee waiver and health insurance support. TAs contribute to teaching courses in the Neuroscience undergraduate curriculum. Students interested in this extensive teaching experience should discuss this opportunity with their mentor prior to making a commitment. When students have completed their teaching requirement, they shall make sure that the Teaching Requirement Form has been updated and added to their file. (Appendix C).

      The Neuroscience Program has a limited number of Teaching Assistant (TA) positions available in the fall and spring semesters. These are university defined positions and require 20 hours per week of time and effort. Students receive their usual stipend, tuition and fee waiver and health insurance support. TAs contribute to teaching courses in the Neuroscience undergraduate curriculum. Students interested in this extensive teaching experience should discuss this opportunity with their mentor prior to making a commitment.

    2. NSP Seminar and Research Forum

      Attendance is mandatory for the duration of your Ph.D. program. Make sure to update periodically the Research Forum Requirement Form (Appendix B) available in the Program Office.

    3. Student Invited Seminar Series

      During the fall term, 3-4 seminar dates will be reserved for a student initiated seminar series and other special student invited speakers. Students will have an opportunity to schedule these seminars prior to the call for seminar invitations distributed to the program at large. Students should contact the Graduate Secretary (Julie Delgado) between the first and third Mondays in June to schedule these seminars.

      The Graduate Secretary will assist students with scheduling travel and accommodation logistics as well as coordinating the financial aspects of the seminar speaker’s visit. Students will be responsible for developing the seminar speakers visit itinerary. This would include arranging for meals, meetings with students and faculty and transportation around campus during the visit. In addition to meetings with program faculty, students are encouraged to arrange student- specific activities with the speaker that could include group discussions of career and professional development and other topics relevant to graduate education.

    4. Graduate School Workshops - Responsible Conduct of Research Series and Conflict Resolution Series

      NSP predoctoral students are required to attend 8 workshops offered by the Graduate School.

      Seven workshops should be from the "Responsible Conduct of Research" series and one should be from the "Conflict Resolution" series. In order for students to be credited for these workshops by the Program, they must submit the following to the Graduate Secretary:

      1. Obtain a certificate of attendance/completion for the Responsible Conduct of Research series from the Graduate School and submit it to the Graduate office. The student shall make sure that the Responsible Research Requirement Form has been updated and added to their file (available in the Graduate Office and Appendix D).

      2. Have speaker for Conflict Resolution workshop complete and sign the NSP form (Appendix J) stating the graduate student's attendance. Form must be obtained by NSP students prior to attending the Conflict Resolution workshop.

      The current listing of Responsible Conduct Research workshops (

      Information on the PREP program for graduate students’ professional development (

    5. Annual Retreat

      The Neuroscience Program holds an annual retreat for faculty and students, which provides a wonderful opportunity to facilitate communication and collegiality among members of the program. The full-day retreat, typically held at an off-campus venue, allows students, faculty, and postdoctoral fellows to present oral or poster presentations about their research. All students are expected to give either an oral presentation or present a poster every year. The retreat is not only about updating each other and communicating about our research, but also includes a lunch buffet and late-afternoon social hour to enhance friendly interactions between students and faculty.

    6. Cross Campus Research Day

      The Neuroscience Program holds a cross campus (East Lansing – Grand Rapids) research day during the fall and spring semesters. The goal of this activity is to help maintain program cohesiveness, to share research accomplishments of students, postdocs and faculty and to facilitate research interactions and collaborations between students, postdocs and faculty in East Lansing and Grand Rapids. East Lansing hosts the event during the fall term and Grand Rapids hosts the event during the spring term. The event is focused on research presentations and discussions but the specific program for each event is determined by the faculty, postdocs and students hosting the event. The program is coordinated by student and postdoc cross- campus liaisons chosen by the students and postdocs.

    7. Individual Development Plan (IDP)

      All students are required to prepare an Individual Development Plan ( The IDP provides students with self- assessment tools that are helpful for student scientific and professional development. Students initiate their IDP during NEU 807 (Strategies in Neuroscience Research. Students typically choose their research mentor by the end of the spring term of the student’s first year in the program. At that time, another faculty mentor will be selected to serve as the IDP liaison after a discussion between the student, mentor and Director of Graduate Studies. The IDP liaison schedules two meetings: 1) Initial research development meeting and 2) Professional Development meeting. The team then follows the workflow summarized in the chart below.Individual Development Plan Overview

      Research Discipline Meeting

      Suggested topics for discussion in the Research Discipline meeting include:

      • Research Plans:
        Year in training, coursework progress, dissertation advisory committee members, work schedule issues, publication strategy, fellowship application submission details and plan, scientific conference attendance, RCR and CITIA training status
      • Methodology:
        Identification of proficiency in specific techniques, technique improvement or opportunity to learn new techniques. Need for a specific collaborator to provide training/experise in a specific methodology
      • Literature Knowledge:
        Identify areas of strength and areas of needed improvement. Identify a collaborator who would be helpful in a needed knowledge area.
      Professional Development Meeting

      The student is required to complete the Scientific Skills, Interests and Values assessments provided at Science Careers. The outcome of these assessments will provide feedback about the potential fit of the student for specific career paths or identification of areas that need further develop is the student has identified an interest in a specific career path. These issues can be discussed during the professional development meeting and a plan can be developed to help the student reach the professional development goals.

    8. Grad Plan

      Due to the changes implemented by the University, the Neuroscience Program has put in place the following mechanism to ensure that no students information would be entered by the graduate secretary without approval of his/her guidance committee.

      GradPlan replaces the Report of the Guidance Committee, Record of Comprehensive Exam, and the Dissertation Final Defense form and the final certification form, the Graduate School will certify the acceptance of each dissertation final format using GradAudit. GradPlan affords doctoral students the ability to track their progress in achieving university set benchmarks. Students are responsible for entering their Ph.D. degree plan, applying for graduation, and entering their dissertation title. The Ph.D. plan is signed by the student’s committee members, program director and college representative. The Ph.D. degree plan is used in GradAudit, please make sure when students enter the information it is what is discussed in their committee meetings.

      The graduate secretary will be responsible for entering comprehensive exams, dissertation defense date, and signing off on the GradPlan graduate audit. The comprehensive exam date will be entered upon successful defense of the dissertation proposal (specialized component of the comprehensive exam), which should be completed within one year of passing the standardized component of the comprehensive exam. Notification of the successful completion of the specialized component of the comprehensive exam will come from the Chair of the examination committee in writing using the Neuroscience Program Report of Examination Committee. The Chair of the examination committee replaces the students research advisor on the examination committee and is appointed by the Program Director The Chair of the examination committee shall send the report (via email) to the graduate secretary (Julie Delgado, providing the outcome (Pass/Fail) and a brief summary of the outcome of the exam. A copy of this report will also be provided to the student and the student’s research advisor.

      When a student defends his/her dissertation, it is the responsibility of the graduate advisor (who Chairs the examination committee) to notify the graduate secretary of the results of the defense. A copy of the completed Neuroscience Program Report of Examination Committee is sent to the graduate secretary ( by the student’s advisor. The advisor will be acting on behalf of the guidance committee in the notification. Without this notification, in writing, the graduate secretary cannot sign off on the GradAudit. The Graduate School notifies the Graduate Secretary when the students’ dissertation is accepted and delivered to ProQuest. Upon the both notifications, the graduate secretary will approve the final GradAudit.

  6. The Comprehensive Examination

    The Comprehensive exam will consist of two components: 1) Standardized and 2) Specialized.

    1. Standardized Component of the Exam

      Overview: The standardized component of the comprehensive exam will consist of a take home written exam in which students are required to prepare answers to three questions. The questions will be designed to test the student's command of core neuroscience concepts, his/her ability to integrate information across levels of complexity, 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. Each question will have a different emphasis, such as asking students to consider a current controversy in the area, a translational application or develop a NRSA-type research plan.

      Format: Students will be required to answer three questions during the three-week period beginning one-week after the end of the spring term of the student's second year. Students will be given one question each week, with questions available to students at the start of each week (Sunday at 9 am). Students will be required to return their completed answers to the Comprehensive Exam Coordinator by the following Friday at 5 pm. Answers should be between 10 and 15 typed double-spaced pages in length, excluding references. Students can use class notes, textbooks, internet resources and the peer-reviewed literature to formulate their answers. However, students are expected to work independently when preparing their answers. Specifically, students are not to collaborate with other students, faculty, or colleagues in preparing their answers and are expected to strictly adhere to professional ethical standards that prohibit plagiarism. During the exam, students should direct any questions they might have about exam questions to the Comprehensive Exam Coordinator.

      Grading: The four committees responsible for preparing the individual questions will grade the exams. The student's answers to each question will be distributed to the exam-writing committees the Monday after the deadline for completion of each question. One week after the last exam question is completed, students will be provided with a pass-fail grade and a written critique for each question. Grades will be based on the factual accuracy, completeness and clarity of the answers and a demonstrated ability to synthesize and integrate information. Students must receive a passing grade on all questions to pass the standardized component of the comprehensive exam and will have the opportunity to meet with the exam graders to discuss their answers.

      Remediation: If a student fails one question, he/she will be permitted to remediate that question. The student can use the written critique provided by the grading committee to formulate a revised answer but is not permitted to consult committee members involved in the remediation. The student will have one week from the time they have received their graded questions and critiques to prepare a revised answer. If the student receives a passing grade on the remediated question then he/she has passed the standardized component of the comprehensive exam. If the student fails the remediation, then he/she must re-take that question category during the next offering of the standardized component of the comprehensive exam. A passing grade on the re-take means the student has passed the standardized component of the comprehensive exam. If the student does not pass the re-take then the student must leave the Ph.D. program.

      If a student fails two or more questions, the student will be required to wait until the next scheduled offering of the standardized comprehensive exam before retaking the exam. If a student fails two or more questions on the re-take exam then the student must leave the Ph.D. program. If a student fails one question on the re-take exam then he/she will be allowed to remediate that question. If the student receives a passing grade on the remediated question then he/she has passed the standardized component of the comprehensive exam. If the student fails the remediated question on the re-take exam then the student must leave the Ph.D. program.

    2. Specialized Component of the Exam

      Students will develop a dissertation research plan in consultation with their research advisor and guidance committee. A written dissertation proposal will be prepared in the format of the research plan portion of a National Research Service Award application; this format may be expanded or modified as requested by the student's dissertation 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, which will be an oral exam based on, but not limited to, the student's defense of the written proposal. Students must complete the specialized component of the comprehensive exam within 1 year of passing the standardized component of the comprehensive exam. Failure to do so without good reason will make the student ineligible to receive Neuroscience Program funding for travel to scientific conferences until the student has passed the specialized component. Under extenuating circumstances, a student can petition the Graduate Affairs Committee for a 6 month extension of this deadline. The Neuroscience Graduate Program Secretary will provide a reminder to students and their mentors about this deadline immediately after the student has passed the standardized component.

      Students must also give a public seminar on the thesis proposal to the Neuroscience Program in the regularly scheduled Neuroscience Program seminar series. Students are encouraged to schedule their oral examination and seminar on the same day but it is recognized that scheduling conflicts may preclude this in some cases. Students will have an opportunity to schedule their seminar before requests for speakers are sent out to the program at large. Students planning to present their seminar and proposal defense during the fall term should contact the Graduate Secretary during the first week in June to schedule their seminar. Students planning to present their seminar and proposal defense during the spring term should contact the Graduate Secretary during the first week in October.

      The public seminar will not be graded or formally part of the comprehensive exam. The presentation will include background information, purpose, hypotheses, methods, preliminary results or expected results, and possible significance. During the oral examination, the Examination Committee may inquire into any aspect of the presentation to determine the depth of understanding the student has of his/her project. The exam will evaluate the student's knowledge related to his/her dissertation research project, his/her ability to defend the experimental approach and design, and his/her ability to place the research into a broader neuroscience context. The Examination Committee will consist of the members of the student's Guidance Committee, excluding the major advisor, and including a Neuroscience Program representative appointed by the Director. The program representative will serve as both an examiner and as chair and moderator of the examination. The moderator is also responsible for recording any concerns of the committee and for communicating these concerns and constructive feedback to the student's research advisor. The student's major advisor may be present at the oral exam but the mentor cannot participate in the exam and is restricted to being a silent observer.  The mentor can take notes which can be used to provide feedback for the student on his/her performance during the exam.  Each committee member will assign a pass or fail grade for the oral defense of the written proposal.  If more than one committee member assigns a failing grade, then the student fails the oral exam. At the conclusion of this examination, the Examination Committee will recommend: (a) passing of the specialized examination and advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree, or (b) further work and subsequent repeat of the oral examination (may be repeated once within six months of the first attempt; if failed a second time, the student will be dismissed from the graduate program). 

  7. Dissertation Research

    1. Selection of the Major Advisor and Guidance Committee

      At the end of the second semester of graduate study, the student will request one training faculty member within the Neuroscience Program to serve as the major advisor for dissertation research. Factors to consider in selection of the major professor are (1) the research area and its exceptional interest to the student, (2) space in the laboratory and financial support, and (3) personal compatibility with his/her potential research mentor. The major advisor will serve as the student's academic advisor, doctoral dissertation research advisor and as the Chairperson of the student's Guidance Committee, not the Chairperson of the Examination Committee for the Specialized Component of the Comprehensive Examination. A change in major professor is possible, but requires 3-way discussions among the graduate student, Neuroscience Program director or Graduate Program Director and members of the Guidance Committee. Students should see the Program director or Graduate Program director when considering such a change.

      The Guidance Committee consists of at least four MSU-appointed, tenured/tenure-system faculty. The Committee must include, in addition to the advisor who serves as Chair of the Guidance Committee, two other members of the Neuroscience Program. The fourth required member of the Guidance Committee may be, but is not required to be, a faculty member within the Neuroscience Program. The Guidance Committee may consist of more than four members if the dissertation research advisor or student feels that this would be advantageous. Additional members of the guidance committee may be researchers with appropriate expertise and interest who have appointments at other academic institutions or within industrial research. Please consult the non-regular faculty on committees information on the Graduate School website.

      Changes in members of the Guidance Committee are possible, but must first be discussed with the major professor and then the Neuroscience Program director. All changes must be reported in writing to the Neuroscience Program office, the office of the Dean (College of Natural Science) and each member of the Guidance Committee. See Neuroscience Program Graduate Office Staff to issue form to reflect change of Guidance Committee members.

      Students are required to form their dissertation advisory committee and have their first committee meeting no later than December 31 of their 2nd year in the program. Students will need to submit a committee report form to document that the meeting has occurred. The form will list committee members in attendance and a brief summary of the outcome of the meeting. The form should be sent to the Graduate Secretary (Julie Delgado) who will maintain records of student committee meetings. Students not fulfilling this requirement will be ineligible to receive travel support from the Neuroscience Program until this requirement is met. Students are encouraged to meet with their committee at least once per semester thereafter and to provide a committee meeting report to the Graduate Secretary after each meeting.

      The Guidance Committee will oversee the student's coursework, advice the student concerning dissertation research, and will conduct the oral defense of the research proposal and dissertation. Shortly after selecting this Committee, the student, with the help of his/her major advisor, will prepare a program of coursework (including the core courses already taken, as well as additional electives based on the needs and interests of each student) and a dissertation research proposal. The student will report the courses and electives in GradPlan under the Ph.D. degree plan of courses. The degree plan of courses will be routed to the guidance committee for approval via the forms tracking utility. At all times during a student's course of study and research, members of the Guidance Committee will be available for consultation and advice; there should be at least one meeting every year between the student and his/her Guidance Committee to discuss progress (every 6 months is preferable). Any changes to the initial Report of the Guidance Committee will be documented in writing and placed in the student's NSP file.

      If your advisor becomes unable to continue as your advisor, your options depend on where you are in the process. If you are close to the beginning of your program, it probably makes sense to simply find another advisor. If you are close to finishing, you should contact the director of the Neuroscience Program to explore possible arrangements. It is the student's responsibility to identify a new advisor whose interest and expertise mesh with those of the student. The student may be able to find an advisor who can supervise the student's chosen dissertation topic, or the student may need to adjust her/his dissertation research plans to fit within a new advisor's expertise. The student should consult with the Program Director who will seek to facilitate this process.

      If you are unable to continue to work with your advisor because of personal difficulties in the relationship, contact the Neuroscience Program director for help and information.

      In any of the scenarios listed above, you will have to file an amendment to your "Report of Guidance Committee" form indicating the changes you are making.

    2. Oral Presentation and Defense of Written Dissertation Research Proposal

      The overall design, scope and specific methodologies must be discussed with the advisor, and he/she will provide feedback on drafts of the proposal. However, it must be primarily the work of the student. The proposal will be written essentially as a Research Plan for an NIH grant application and will be distributed to the other members of the Guidance Committee at least one week prior to the oral presentation (Specialized Component of Comprehensive Examination). This proposal will be presented as a NSP Seminar, and defended to the Examination Committee. The purpose of the written proposal is to provide a framework guiding the student's dissertation research project. The proposed studies must be defensible by the student and this defense will based on the student's knowledge of the relevant peer-reviewed literature and any preliminary data generated in the early stages of the research project. It is understood that the scope of the proposed studies can be modified based on the outcomes of studies conducted during the students project and the proposal does not constitute a contract for work to be done in order to complete the Ph.D. However, any changes in scope or direction of the research can be made only after consultation with the student's advisory committee.

      The oral defense of the Dissertation Proposal will fulfill the University requirements for an oral comprehensive examination (Specialized Component of Comprehensive Examination). Results of the defense are to be recorded using the Neuroscience Program Report of Exam Committee and submitted to the graduate secretary for recording in GradPlan.

      The oral defense of the proposal, not the public seminar, will be the Specialized Component of the Comprehensive Examination.

    3. Oral Presentation and Defense of Written Dissertation

      For the Doctoral degree, a student must successfully complete a scholarly research project, prepare a written dissertation based upon this research, and defend this written dissertation in an oral examination conducted by the student's Guidance Committee. Students taking the examination must previously have filed an application for the Ph.D. degree. Applications for Degree at Michigan State University must be filed by the first week of the semester the student expects to complete requirements. The form is available online in the Graduate School website (Appendix H). The written dissertation derived from the student's research must be organized, typed, duplicated and bound according to the regulations described in the "Formatting guide for Doctoral Dissertations" ( The graduate student is required to bear the expense of preparation of the dissertation, although arrangements may be made with the major advisor to have diagrams or charts prepared and charged to the appropriate research budget.

      The student must submit his/her unbound dissertation at least two weeks prior to the dissertation defense to members of his/her Guidance Committee. Each student will then give a public seminar on his/her research project, as part of the Neuroscience Seminar Series. This seminar presentation should include background information, purpose, hypotheses, methods, results, and interpretation of the results and their possible significance. The student must successfully pass an oral examination, conducted by the student's Guidance Committee following the research presentation. This defense will involve an explanation and defense of the dissertation and knowledge of related scientific areas. When the Guidance Committee has reviewed and approved the dissertation and the student has passed the oral examination in its defense, the student should incorporate in the dissertation any recommended changes before having it permanently bound. Failure to meet these criteria will delay the awarding of the degree.

      The Program requires a copy of the dissertation in Final Form (bound copy) prior to certifying to the Graduate School that the student has completed the requirements for his/her degree. The Chair of the guidance committee will use the Neuroscience Program Report of Exam Committee to report the decision of the defense to the graduate secretary. The graduate secretary will sign off on the degree in GradPlan upon notification.

      The new publishing agreement for thesis/dissertations with ProQuest now provides an "Open Access Publishing Option" as an alternative to the traditional publishing option available to our students. The Open Access option gives ProQuest the authorization to make the electronic version of the document accessible to all via the internet, including the selling of the document by commercial retailers and the accessibility to the work via search engines. A student selecting the Open Access option will not be eligible to receive royalties. The pros and cons of selecting this new option differ significantly across disciplines. For more information visit Proquest Open Access FAQ.

    4. Enrollment Requirements for Defense of Dissertation and Final Dissertation Proposal

      All students MUST be registered for at least 1 credit during the semester in which they complete their comprehensive exam even in the summer semester. The Program can request a waiver of this requirement. These requests are to be directed to the Graduate School and must be endorsed by the Neuroscience Program and the College of Natural Science.

  8. Evaluations

    1. First Year

      Faculty members supervising student rotations will provide the director with a written evaluation (Appendix K) and numerical grade for each individual by the end of finals week each semester. The director will meet with each student near the end of the spring semester to discuss progress in the program to date.

    2. Subsequent Years

      Each student will receive a written evaluation from the director, who will have solicited an annual progress report from the student and have consulted with the student’s guidance committee about his/her work. Additionally, students should expect to discuss their annual evaluation with their major advisor. The Annual Student Progress Report form must be completed by the major advisor and submitted to the director prior to the student's meeting with the director (Appendix G). If the student has a dissenting opinion, he/she may prepare a written dissent that will be discussed with the director and major advisor and placed in the student's NSP file.

  9. Academic Integrity

    The related enterprises of scholarship and research are built upon honesty and integrity. Without these, we could not progress or even survive as a field of inquiry. When you become a graduate student in the Neuroscience Program, you make an implicit promise to your classmates, your faculty, and your profession to conduct yourself in a scrupulously honest and upright way. If you fail to keep this promise, the consequences to yourself and everyone you work with are very serious.

    Academic integrity stands for many things. Obviously, it means you don't cheat on tests and exams, you don't plagiarize your papers, and you don't falsify your data or misrepresent your research findings. These are the points we can all agree on. Failure to follow these guidelines leads to dire consequences for those involved. However, academic integrity refers to much more. Academic integrity is more than just a set of rules - it is a way of like, a state of mind. It means that we must always think about the consequences of our choices, for ourselves, our program, and our University. Academic dishonesty is not simply a personal failure. It is a failure of the mentoring system and a failure of the evaluation system. It is a failure that tarnishes us all.

    Graduate students at MSU are governed by a code of ethics (Integrity of Scholarship and Grades, Guidelines for Integrity in Research and Creativities, Guidelines for Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring Relationships). Please familiarize yourself with this code. It is also appropriate for you to have ongoing discussions with your advisor about integrity issues as they become relevant. Many situations are ambiguous. Actions can often be interpreted in several ways. Many behaviors can generate disagreements among well-meaning people. Often the only way to resolve these ambiguities is conversation and discussion with colleagues.

    If you have questions about ethical concerns, start by initiating conversation with your advisor. If this is not possible, there are other resources in the program and in the University to help you resolve these issues. The director of the Neuroscience Program is also a good place to start if you are unable to resolve problems with your advisor.

    Ethical violations

    We expect you to adhere to the high ethical principles of our Profession and University as you conduct your research, scholarship, and professional activities. If you violate these principles, you will face sanctions proportional to the gravity of your infraction. Disciplinary action for ethical violations can include dismissal from your graduate program. Because of the bed-rock importance of ethical comportment, violators may not get a second chance. It is critically important for you to be aware of the ethical landscape as you travel through your graduate program. We encourage you to read the documents referenced above and to engage your faculty and fellow students in discussions of ethics in Neuroscience, before problems arise. It is often in these discussions that you will learn to avoid ethical problems.

    If you are accused of inappropriate behavior, the University has established a judicial structure and process for hearing and adjudicating alleged violations. If the allegation does not involve research misconduct, sexual harassment, or other illegal behaviors, then, the first step in this process is informal and should begin with the two parties trying to resolve the problem in an appropriate way. If this fails, you should go to the director of the Program and enlist his/her help in resolving the problem. If all program resources to resolve the problem have been exhausted, you can request a formal hearing from the College of Natural Science Review Board. To read more about the University's judicial structure see Academic Freedom for Students at Michigan State University, Sections 2.4.7 and 4.5.4. Additional description can also be found in Article 5 of the Graduate Student's Rights and Responsibilities.

    These same procedures can be used to resolve conflicts between faculty and graduate students that do not involve issues of academic integrity including grievances. The Office of the Ombudsman is also available to you to help you resolve conflicts with faculty or University administrators.

  10. Rules Concerning the Use of Human Subjects

    All research with human beings must be reviewed and approved by the University Committee for Research involving Human Subjects UCRIHS. This applies to all masters and doctoral research projects, as well as other research you may be involved with. For complete details about the application procedure, please see the website for UCRIHS, the University Committee for Research Involving Human Subjects.

  11. Rules Concerning the Use of Non-Human Vertebrate Animals

    All Research with Non-Human Vertebrate Animals must be reviewed and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). For complete details about the application procedure, please see the website for the IACUC.

  12. Rules Concerning the Use of Hazardous Materials

    If your research involves the use of any radioactive, biological, or chemical material that can be hazardous, you must comply with the University regulations governing this area. Please consult with the web page for the Office of Environmental Health & Safety EHS.