UMass Amherst Home
 [Home]  [Programs and Courses]  [Degree Requirements]  [Application Procedures]  [Financing Your Degree]  [Site Index]  [Apply Now]
Program Listings:  [Program Listing: A-D]  [Program Listings: E-L]  [Program Listings: M-Z]  [Program Listings: Show All]

Neuroscience & Behavior Doctoral Degree Requirements

Program | Faculty | Master's | Doctoral


The Doctor of Philosophy Degree Program

Because of diversity in students’ backgrounds, interests, and career goals, it is the intent of the program to provide a maximum of flexibility in individual training programs. NSB students are expected to fulfill the following requirements for the Ph.D.
1. Completion with a grade of B or better in at least the following courses within the first two years of graduate study: the NSB proseminar, two core courses, three electives, and at least one quantitative course. Eighteen credits of Ph.D. dissertation are also required.
2. Satisfactory completion and oral presentation of a major empirical research project within the first two years of graduate study.
3. Passing the preliminary doctoral comprehensive examination no later than the end of the third year of graduate study.
4. Completion and oral defense of an original dissertation, normally within five years of entering the program (three or four years for students entering with a master’s degree in a related field).

Students are urged to seek advice from their guidance committees concerning curricula, career plans, and especially research at the earliest opportunity. They should be aware that faculty members outside their specific research area may also be able to provide the kinds of valuable insights that will help them complete their requirements in a timely and beneficial manner.

Proseminar and Research Ethics courses: All first-year NSB students are required to take, during the fall semester, the NEUROS&B 792A Proseminar introducing the program and its faculty and covering topics such as grant writing and the art of oral presentations. BIOLOGY 791B Responsible Conduct of Research in the Life Sciences is offered during the spring semester and covers major topics in the scientific ethics of life science research. Both are 1-credit, pass-fail courses.

Core courses: All students entering the program are required to take the two core NSB courses, NEUROS&B 692C Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Neurobiology and NEUROS&B 692D Neuroanatomy, Physiology, and Behavior. One is not a prerequisite of the other but both must be completed, with a grade of B or better, by the end of the second year. Their purpose is to provide a common base of knowledge for students from diverse undergraduate backgrounds.

Electives: Given the need for students to orient their studies toward their proposed research areas early in their graduate program, a number of existing courses are designated as NSB electives. Students must satisfactorily complete three of these courses (with at least two being at the 600 level or above) within the first two years of study, choosing from the following list.

BIOCHEM 720 Biochemistry of Cellular Membranes
BIOLOGY 521 Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
BIOLOGY 523 Histology
BIOLOGY 544 Ornithology
BIOLOGY 548 Mammalogy
BIOLOGY 550 Animal Behavior
BIOLOGY 564/565 Vertebrate Physiology
BIOLOGY 566/567 Comparative Physiology
BIOLOGY 568/569 Endocrinology
BIOLOGY 571 Biological Rhythms
BIOLOGY 580 Developmental Biology
BIOLOGY 597M Environmental Endocrine Disrupters
BIOLOGY 750 Advanced Animal Behavior
CMPSCI 683 Artificial Intelligence
CMPSCI 691C Seminar: Computational Neuroscience
CMPSCI 691II Computational Modeling of Emotions and Regions in the Brain
MICROBIO 721 Neurovirology
NEUROS&B 891A Seminar: Cell Death and Differentiation in Neurons
NEUROS&B 891C Biological Rhythms
PSYCH 530 Human Neuropsychology
PSYCH/BIOLOGY 591 Primate Behavior
PSYCH 591 Advanced Topics in Behavioral Neuroendocrinology
PSYCH 591H Social Attachment: Neurobiology of Interpersonal Stress
PSYCH 591O Aging and Cognition
PSYCH 617 Applied and Basic Cognitive Development
PSYCH 630 Research Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience: The Neurobiology of Mental Disorders
PSYCH 650 Brain Development and Behavior
PSYCH 731 Neuroanatomical Bases of Behavior
PSYCH 732 Neurochemistry
PSYCH 733 Psychopharmacology
PSYCH 750 Learning and Memory Processes in Children
PSYCH 791B S-Methods in Cognitive Neuroscience
PSYCH 891 Social Attachment: Neurobiology to Interpersonal Stress
PSYCH 891F S-Environmental Influences on Reproduction and Reproductive Behavior
PSYCH 891N Brain Plasticity
PSYCH 891UU Seminar: Visual Cognition and Attention

In addition, any course (or three-credit special topics seminar) at the 600 level or above taught by a member of the NSB core faculty may be used to satisfy the elective requirement. Students may substitute three journal clubs for one 500-level NSB elective. All three journal clubs must be led and graded by a faculty member. Students wishing to substitute journal clubs for an elective should submit to the graduate operations committee a memorandum requesting the substitution and including the reading lists or syllabi of the journal clubs.

Quantitative requirement: Every student must take at least one course to satisfy this requirement, which is determined by his or her guidance committee. In most cases, this involves successfully completing one or more statistics courses, such as: PSYCH 640 and 641 Statistical Inference in Psychology I, II; PUBHLTH 640 Intermediate Biostatistics; STATISTC 501 Methods of Applied Statistics; or STATISTC 506 Design of Experiments. However, the guidance committee may deem it necessary for the student to meet the quantitative requirement by taking other appropriate quantitative courses in areas such as bioinformatics or modeling.

Additional coursework: With strong recommendations from the guidance committee, students select courses in other areas, including genetics, embryology, cybernetics, histology, cell biology, and cell regulation, according to their chosen field of research, interest, and specialization. Students are also expected to take several advanced seminars and to regularly attend colloquia sponsored by the NSB program.

Major research project: Early in their careers, all NSB students are expected to gain experience in the design, conduct, and reporting of empirical research. Therefore, with the exception of individuals entering the program with a Master’s degree in neuroscience or a related field, all students will be required to complete a major research project within the first two years of study. The format of the report must be agreed upon in advance by students and their guidance committees and should be presented in typical journal style with abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussions, and references. Following approval of the submitted report by the guidance committee, each student gives an oral presentation of findings to the entire NSB program. This process must be completed no later than November 1 of the third year in the NSB Program.

Comprehensive exam: Before the start of the third year in the program, all students must pass a preliminary doctoral comprehensive examination. This examination serves both an educational and evaluative role: to enable students to develop and demonstrate a level of scholarship and knowledge in their chosen area of study that is appropriate for the doctoral-level neuroscientist, and to demonstrate students’ critical, integrative, and theoretical abilities within the broader scope of Neuroscience and Behavior. The final requirement of the Ph.D. program in Neuroscience and Behavior is the completion and defense of a doctoral dissertation.