Mentoring and Milestones


Before the first year begins through to completion of the program, students receive careful guidance and mentoring from graduate advisors, the thesis advisor, and a thesis committee.

First year. In the first year, students are assigned a First Year Advisor, who may not be in an area of research related to the student's interests, but who can advise on rotation advisor selection, rotation and course progress, and managing a balance between courses and lab. Neuroscience Graduate Directors and Advisor are also available to consult with first year students.

Second year. By the beginning of the second year, students have selected a thesis lab and begin to be guided by the lab PI as well as by the program’s Graduate Advisors, who can help the student identify specific areas where added coursework would be valuable. During this year, students should also form a thesis committee, which should include 4 faculty including the PI. Approximately at the end of the second year or beginning of the third year, students should be preparing to defend their Qualifying Exam in consultation with their PI.

Third year and beyond. By the third year, students should begin meeting regularly (every 6 months) with their thesis committee to seek their input and feedback on their training and research progress. For the thesis defense, an additional external reader is added to the committee.

Laboratory Rotations

During the first year, students choose individual laboratories for 3-4 twelve-week rotations. Rotations form the primary mechanism by which students select their thesis laboratory. Three rotations are required. Students choose their lab rotations with the guidance of the training program graduate advisors and can be in laboratories of any approved neuroscience faculty member, irrespective of the graduate program to which the student was admitted. Although many of our incoming students come with a strong background in some area of neuroscience, they are encouraged to rotate in labs that focus on areas that they are unfamiliar with. Students must either give a presentation or write a paper that summarizes the results of each research rotations.

Qualifying Exam

After students have been in their thesis lab for 3 semesters, they must defend a thesis proposal to their thesis committee. The proposal is written following the guidelines for the predoctoral NIH NRSA fellowship. Only students who have completed 32 credits of coursework with an average of B or better should take the exam. Failure to pass the qualifying exam constitutes grounds for dismissal from the graduate program.

Through the combined written and oral portions of this exam, the committee evaluates the student’s grasp of and depth of knowledge in his/her research area, his/her understanding of experimental approaches and design, and his/her capacity to rationally analyze scientific problems and cogently formulate specific questions. The committee also evaluates the specific aims of the proposal as to their adequacy for a doctoral thesis project. As part of the approval of the thesis proposal, the committee submits a signed document to the graduate advisors detailing the specific aims that the student needs to accomplish for his/her doctoral research.

Thesis Defense

At the end of graduate training, students prepare a written thesis. The thesis constitutes a substantial body of published or publishable research. Students must obtain written permission from their thesis committee in order to initiate preparation of the written thesis. The thesis must be submitted to all committee members, including an outside expert in the field, at least two weeks prior to the oral defense date. Students present their thesis research in public seminars that are open to the scientific community at NYU and defend their thesis in a closed door meeting with their thesis committee.

Photo credits: Kara Marshall, The Camera Lucida