Aims and Scope of the Graduate Program
Neurobiology—the study of the nervous system—is a highly integrative science. The modern neurobiologist must be conversant with concepts from molecular biology, cell and developmental biology, systems neuroscience, animal behavior, and mathematical modeling. The aim of the graduate program is to expose each student to this breadth of the discipline. To accomplish this, we offer a first-year curriculum with requirements in specified areas, along with a core course that spans many subjects. Students enter neurobiology from many different disciplines, ranging from particle physics to physiology to psychology. Accordingly, each Ph.D. student is paired with a first-year adviser so the course selections can best complement the student’s background. In later years, the student’s focus is on original research in a chosen specialty. Our goal is that students will graduate with specific research accomplishments and the broad understanding required to chart their subsequent forays in brain science.
Applicants are expected to have studied college-level mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. They should also have experience in independent research. Coursework in neurobiology and experience in scientific computing are helpful, but not required. Whenever possible, applicants will be interviewed on campus before final admission decisions are made.
NB Master’s Degree
The option does not admit students for work toward the master's degree. A terminal M.S. may be awarded in exceptional circumstances.
NB Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Each incoming student is paired with an academic adviser during the first year. This mentor will guide the student in course selection and other decisions, taking the student’s background into account. Where possible, this adviser will not be one of the prospective rotation supervisors.
First-year students carry out three laboratory rotations, each lasting one quarter. At least two of these should be with faculty participating in the option. By June 30 of the first year, students choose a Ph.D. adviser.
Students take at least 6 quarter courses (54 units) as follows:
- Bi/CNS/NB 164, Tools of Neurobiology
- Bi 252, Responsible Conduct of Research
- One course in molecular, cellular, developmental
- One course in circuits, systems, behavioral biology
- One course in mathematical methods (depending on the student’s background)
- Two electives
For a list of courses in subject areas 3–5, see the option website. All courses must be taken for a grade unless only offered pass/fail.
All students are to serve as teaching assistants for at least two terms.
Admission to Candidacy
To qualify for candidacy, the student must first demonstrate broad competence by passing each of the first-year courses with a grade of B or higher. Failure here can be remedied by successful second-year coursework. By June 30 of the second year, the student must also defend a thesis proposal in an oral exam before a qualifying exam committee of at least three faculty. This exam will also cover general knowledge in the relevant field. With special permission, the oral exam may be retaken once before the end of winter quarter of the third year. Students that do not advance to candidacy by the end of the third year may not continue in the program.
Thesis Advisory Committee
Once admitted to candidacy, the student chooses a Thesis Advisory Committee of at least three faculty. This committee serves as a source of advice independent of the Ph.D. adviser throughout the student’s tenure. Each year, before the end of June, the student delivers a written progress report, followed by a meeting with the Thesis Advisory Committee.
Thesis Examination Committee
This committee should consist of a minimum of four voting members, three of whom must be Caltech faculty. The final oral examination covers principally the work of the thesis, and according to Institute regulations must be held at least three weeks before the degree is to be conferred.