Year 1

New Ph.D. students with an interest in neuroscience are accepted into the College of Graduate Studies (CGS), which includes the Neuroscience Institute Ph.D. Program as well as nine other training programs. All Ph.D. students in CGS are required to participate in the first year curriculum, which is designed to provide a broad interdisciplinary background devoted predominately to the principles of the basic sciences.

All PhD students in the Neuroscience program are also required to participate in each of the Neuroscience courses (NSCS) listed in year 1 including: Fundamentals of Neuroscience (NSCS 730); Neuroscience Seminar (NSCS 780); and Human Neuroanatomy (NSCS 737).

Fall Semester

Proteins: Dynamic Structure & Function (CGS 765)

The 18 sessions of this 5-week, 3 credit hour course present fundamental principles of protein structure and function. Proteins, the most abundant and diverse family of macromolecules within the cell, play a myriad of essential catalytic and structural roles within the cell. They undergo multiple post-translational modifications and interact with numerous partners, including other proteins, RNA, DNA and membranes. These topics will be considered within the context of health and disease, with an emphasis on the molecular mechanisms underlying fundamental cellular processes and underscoring the impact of mutant proteins on cell behavior and the importance of proteins as therapeutic targets.

Genes: Inheritance/Expression (CGS 766)

The 25 sessions of this 7-week, 4 credit hour course present the fundamental principles of inheritance, maintenance and expression of the genetic material. The first 6 sessions focus on the principles and practice of classical and molecular genetics, and the next 7 focus on the replication, repair and transmission of the DNA genome within the context of the mammalian mitotic and meiotic cell cycles. The final 11 sessions focus on the expression of the genome, incorporating discussions of transcription, epigenetic modifications of DNA and histones, nucleolus and rRNA synthesis and maturation, mRNA processing, nuclear export and translation, and regulation by non-coding RNAs.

Cells: Organization/Communication (CGS 767)

The 18 sessions of this 5-week, 3 credit hour course address the fundamental principles of cell structure, compartmentalization, and function. The first 10 sessions focus on the structure, function and dynamics of the endomembrane systems of the cell, the cytoskeleton, major organelles and programmed cell death. The final 7 sessions address cell:cell and cell:matrix interactions and the complex process of signal transduction. The overarching principles involved in the process of signal transduction, which most often involves the transduction of a signal from an extracellular ligand to a nuclear response, will bring together the principles discussed in the initial part of this course and those discussed in modules I and II.

Techniques & Experimental Design - TED (CGS 768)

TED represents a unique and timely approach to learning. The topics covered in TED synch with the fundamental concepts covered within the Core Curriculum course (CGS 765-767). TED highlights essential tools and approaches required to achieve a high level of competency in biomedical research. Students will be equipped with the knowledge necessary to tackle protein biochemical studies such as protein isolation, understand the basics of genetics, including the use of cutting edge gene editing strategies and execution of genetic screens, and gain exposure to central concepts and approaches highly relevant to cell biology. Collectively, this training is expected to provide students with foundational knowledge and an invaluable toolkit that will collectively prepare students to successfully embark on their thesis research.

Laboratory Rotation (CGS 720)

To acquaint students with potential dissertation mentors. Two rotations of 9 weeks each during the fall semester (rotation #3 continues into spring semester).

Spring Semester

Fundamentals of Neuroscience (NSCS 730)

This is the core neuroscience course designed to provide an overview of the fundamental concepts in the field of neuroscience.

Learning from the literature (CGS 772)

Principles, Practices and Professionalism (CGS 770)

Laboratory Rotation (CGS 721)

To acquaint students with potential dissertation mentors. Finish rotation #2 and complete rotation #3 (9 weeks) during the spring semester.

Neuroscience Seminars (NSCS 780)

Students are required to attend the weekly Department of Neuroscience seminar series.

At the end of the first year (May) the student chooses a PhD program and a faculty mentor for their dissertation research.

Summer Semester

Science Writing as Persuasion (CGS764) / Grant Writing Course (TBD)

Human Neuroanatomy (NSCS 737)

A laboratory offered to graduate students in neuroscience and bioimaging to study human neuroanatomy (offered every two years).

Year 2

Fall Semester

Neuroscience Electives Series:
This series of 5 weeklong, 2 credit hour, merit-based courses cover multiple topics of broad interest to neuroscientists.

Integrative and Systems Neurobiology (NSCS 775*09 - A)
Advanced Techniques in Neuroscience (NSCS 775*08 - B)
Big Data in Neuroscience (NSCS 775*07 - C)

Neuroscience Seminars (NSCS 780)

Research (NSCS 970)

Spring Semester

Neuroscience Advanced Electives--Offered on rotating basis/by request

Circuits, Systems and Behavior

  • Psychopharmacology
  • Ion Channels and Synaptic Transmission
  • Systems Neuroscience


  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Mathematical Models in Neuroscience
  • Computational Neuroscience
  • Principles of Imaging and Physics

Neuropsychiatric Disorders

  • Neurodegeneration, Brain Injury & Recovery
  • Neurodevelopment and its Disorders
  • Neurobiology of SUDs
  • Neurobiology of Mental Illnesses

Seminars (NSCS 780)

Research (NSCS 970)

The summer between the second and third years is free from coursework, and the student focuses on lab research.

Qualifying Exam

Prerequisites - Prior to this examination, the student must satisfactorily complete the first-year graduate school curriculum, the core Neuroscience program curriculum and be in good academic standing (3.0 overall GPA or better, and a GPA of at least 3.0 for the Neuroscience program courses).


  • To assess the student's general knowledge base in neuroscience
  • To examine the ability of the student to integrate information in that knowledge base. 


The qualifying exam comprises two components: (1) an on-topic written proposal and (2) an oral qualifying exam. Overview and specific guidelines for the oral qualifying exam (PDF file). 

  1. On-topic written proposal: As part of the qualifying exam for advancement to candidacy in the Neuroscience Program, students must prepare and submit a Specific Aims page plus a 6-page research proposal using the NIH F31-style format ( The one-page specific aims document must be submitted to exam committee by the end of week 6 in the Spring semester of Year 2.  Within one week of receipt, the committee will either vote to approve the document and instruct the student to proceed with the full written proposal or provide specific instructions for addressing major issues. In the event that significant revisions are required, the student must revise and resubmit the document to the Committee Chair and receive the Chair’s approval, verifying that all issues raised by the committee have been adequately addressed. The complete 7-page written proposal is due by 5 pm on the Friday of the 10th week of the Spring Semester. The committee will review the written proposal, examining the scientific merit and quality of writing, and must provide approval prior to the oral qualifying exam.
  2. Oral Qualifying examination: The qualifying examination for admission to candidacy is administered after successfully completing the on-topic written proposal, normally between week 14 and by the end of week 15 of the Spring semester of the second year of the PhD program. This examination will cover the content learned in the Fundamentals of Neuroscience core course (NSCS 730) and the student’s 7-page on-topic written proposal.  For students who have a 7-page proposal that represents a well-developed dissertation project, the oral qualifying exam may also serve as their Dissertation Proposal Defense. This examination will typically last 2-3 hours. The first hour is a public seminar, followed by a closed door examination. Following the oral examination, the committee will vote on whether the student passed the oral examination. If a student does not receive a pass on the oral examination, he/she will be provided 1 additional opportunity over the summer semester to retake the oral examination. 

Committee members*:  Each student will have an individual oral examination committee. The student’s faculty mentor serves as the committee chair.  Typically, these committee members will also serve on the student's dissertation committee, but the student may elect to make changes in the makeup of the dissertation committee after successfully completing the oral examination. The oral examination committee will consist of a minimum of 3 graduate faculty in the Neuroscience Institute. One official observer (a faculty member co-organizing the qualifying exams) will attend each exam to ensure fairness and equity in the qualifying examination process.

*For students electing to combine the oral qualifying exam with their Dissertation Defense Proposal, 2 additional faculty members from outside the Neuroscience Department are required. 


Students are required by the College of Graduate Studies to complete either Introduction to Biostatistics (CGS-700), a more advanced statistics course or submit transcripts of prior equivalent statistics course completion to the College of Graduate Studies. 

Introduction to Biostatistics  (CGS-700)
This course provides a survey of descriptive and inferential statistics commonly used in biomedical research.  Topics include elementary probability theory, an introduction to statistical distributions, point and interval estimation, hypothesis testing, regression and correlation.  The course is intended for graduate students in the basic and clinical sciences, clinical residents/fellows, and medical and dental students who seek a working knowledge of biostatistical methods and their applications.

Oral Qualifying Re-examination

Any student who did not pass the oral qualifying exam in the Spring is allowed one additional opportunity to retake the oral exam to achieve a pass. If a student receives a no-pass on the second exam, the student will not be allowed to advance to candidacy in the Neuroscience PhD program and may apply for a terminal MS degree with thesis.

Year 3 & Beyond

Following successful completion of the qualifying examination, the third and subsequent years are primarily dedicated to dissertation research. During this period, students are required to attend the weekly Neuroscience seminar series. Finally, the College of Graduate Studies requires that PhD students receive training in the statistical analysis of data. This may be achieved either by enrolling in and completing CGS700 in the second or subsequent years of graduate study, or by providing transcript evidence of satisfactory completion of previously-taken statistical course(s) that fulfill the College requirement.

Dissertation Proposal when not part of the Oral Qualifying Exam

Committee Members: The dissertation committee will consist of a minimum of 5 faculty members: 3 must be members of the Neuroscience Institute; 2 must be members from outside of the Neuroscience Department. The student's major advisor normally chairs this committee.

Written Proposal: Same as on-topic written proposal (see above)

Oral Presentation: The candidate will present a 30 minute seminar presentation of the proposal followed immediately by an oral discussion. The discussion will begin with questions from all those in attendance and then proceed to questions from committee members. All of the doctoral committee members must be present (electronic participation is allowed). Questions may broadly cover aspects of neuroscience and research design, but primarily will be oriented towards the proposal. After this phase of the examination, the dissertation committee will adjourn to discuss the candidate's performance and to vote.

Failure of Proposal: In the event a student fails the proposal defense, the committee will either recommend the student be given an opportunity to reschedule the defense, or the student will be removed as a Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Program (a terminal M.S. with thesis would be possible). The proposal defense may be taken a maximum of two times. Two failures result in termination of enrollment in the PhD program.

Final Defense of Dissertation

After the dissertation committee has accepted the dissertation proposal, the student will keep the committee informed about the progress of the dissertation research through semi-annual meetings, culminating in the dissertation defense. The student's committee will have a major responsibility in ensuring that the student is ready to submit a well-written dissertation in the area of experimental neuroscience and to defend that dissertation orally. Instructions and guidelines for preparation of the written dissertation can be found here. Final dissertation copies must be distributed to the doctoral committee and be available upon request to the entire program faculty at least two weeks before the defense. After the committee members have read the dissertation, they will provide the student with oral and/or written feedback that may require revisions to the document. When the dissertation is submitted, the date and location of the defense should be carefully scheduled in order to enable broad participation by the faculty. The defense is public and the time and place will be announced to the MUSC community via a memorandum.

All of the doctoral committee members must be present at the defense in accordance with the rules of the College of Graduate Studies. The defense consists of a seminar-style presentation of the dissertation research by the candidate (30-45 minutes) followed by questions. All those in attendance are invited to question the candidate. In addition to questions about the dissertation research, questions in relevant fields of neuroscience may be entertained. After this phase of the defense, all those who are not members of the graduate faculty are excused and the candidate is questioned further. The candidate is then excused and the dissertation committee proceeds to discuss and vote on the candidate's performance.

MS Program of Study

While the neuroscience graduate program is primarily oriented toward obtaining a PhD degree, a program of study leading to a Master's of Science (MS) degree is offered on a more limited basis. This program can be completed within two years, and it consists of successful completion of selected coursework and an original research program. MS Students are required to take Fundamentals of Neuroscience (spring semester). Students are also required to attend the weekly graduate student journal club where more advanced topics in neuroscience are discussed. Once each year, all students are also required to present a seminar of their original dissertation research or related research they are conducting in the laboratory. 

MS Thesis

To complete the dissertation requirement, MS candidates will submit an original manuscript of their work to a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The student should write this manuscript as first author with guidance from the major advisor. The manuscript will be submitted to the student’s advisory committee for critique and approval.