Doctor of Philosophy in Anatomical Science and Neurobiology

Degree Awarded: Ph.D.
Unit: GM
Program Webpage:

Program Information

Our philosophy is to encourage academic excellence in the neurosciences within a framework of structure-function relationships at the molecular, cellular, and systemic levels. We strive to prepare students with sufficient background depth to excel in high tech cutting-edge translational (applied) research environments and the more traditional multidisciplinary academic setting. We provide students with innovative approaches to important issues in neuroscience research including development, organization and plasticity. Our research interests range from sensory and motor systems to therapeutic strategies for spinal cord injuries. In all approaches we strive to integrate the latest teaching modalities while maintaining the time-honored advantages of hands-on, laboratory-based instruction.

The degree program is available to qualified individuals possessing a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. No specific undergraduate major is required, although some science background is required.

The Ph.D. degree is offered to students who plan to pursue a career in research and/or teaching, in an academic institution or within industry.

All degree programs require full-time study, and it is expected that while participating in these programs students will devote full-time effort toward completion of the degree requirements.

Program Admission Procedure

All students wishing to apply must submit an application to the Office of Graduate Admissions with the following documents:

  • A formal application submitted to the Office of Graduate Admissions (see website: for forms and directions).
  • Application fee.
  • A minimum of two letters of recommendation.
  • Official transcripts of all college work.
  • Official scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test.
  • A brief statement of purpose describing your interests and career goals.
  • All international applicants whose native language is not English must submit Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores. Students holding a bachelor's or advanced degree from an accredited institution in the United States are exempt from this requirement.

Program candidates are only admitted in the fall semester (orientation begins the first Monday in August). Review of applications begins mid-January and continues until all positions are filled. Admission into the program is competitive, and applicants are encouraged to submit their applications early.  All applications are automatically considered for a fellowship, which provides a stipend and covers tuition and health insurance.


Non-thesis M.S. degree requirements

All Ph.D. students must complete the requirements for the non-thesis M.S. degree, after which they will be considered a Ph.D. candidate. A minimum of 30 semester hours is required for the Master’s degree of which 15 semester hours must be in courses of the major subject area. At least one-half of the credits counted toward the degree must be 600 level courses or above, excluding research credit hours. Courses with numbers from 500 to 599, open to both advanced undergraduate and graduate students, can be taken by graduate students for graduate credit (additional course requirements must be completed). In addition, up to 6 credits of earned graduate semester hours can be transferred upon request from other accredited institutions, as long as the course work was taken within the past three years and a grade of B or better was earned (transferred grades do not get calculated in the student’s GPA).

Required coursework

Integrated Programs in Biomedical Sciences (IPIBS) Course Requirements:

-  Students must successfully complete all of the following IPIBS courses within the School of Medicine:

Biochemistry I (Bioch/Che545) or equivalent - 3.0 credit hours

Cell Biology (BIOC 667) or equivalent - 3.0 credit hours

Methods & Analysis in the Biomedical Sciences (ASNB 610) - 2.0 credit hours

Research Ethics (BIOC 630) - 1.0 credit hours

-  1 of the following required IPIBS Graduate electives:

Introductory Immunology (MBIO 602) - 2.0 credit hours

Biochemistry II (Bioch/Che547) - 3.0 credit hours

Cellular and Molecular Immunology (MBIO 658) - 3.0 credit hours

Fundamentals of Neuroscience (TBD) - 4.0 credit hours

Physiology I (PHY 605) - 3.0 credit hours

Physiology II (PHY 606) - 3.0 credit hours

ASNB Course Requirements:

-  Students must earn at least 9 additional credits by successfully completing any of the following Departmental core courses:

Gross Anatomy (ASNB 601) - 6.5 credit hours

Microscopic Anatomy (ASNB 603) - 5.0 credit hours

Human Embryology (ASNB 605) - 3.0 credit hours

Fundamentals of Neuroscience (TBD) - 4.0 credit hours

*Developmental Neurobiology (ASNB 617) - 3.0 credit hours

*Molecular Neurobiology (ASNB 614) - 4.0 credit hours

*Synaptic Organization of the Brain (ASNB 666) - 3.0 credit hours

Dental Microscopic Anatomy (ASNB 671) - 5.0 credit hours

Survey of Dental Gross & Neuroanatomy (ASNB 672) - 7.0 credit hours

* Offered on a rotational basis

In addition, 2 lab rotations (ASNB 618): see description below - 6.0 credit hours

Seminar: Anatomy Seminar (ASNB 606, 1 credit hour) must be taken for credit each semester prior to Master’s candidacy.

Electives: Additional courses (electives) within ASNB or graduate level courses in other departments may be taken to achieve the minimum requirement of 30 credit hours. The student should consult with his/her advisor on the selection of the appropriate electives. A course in statistics is highly recommended.

Laboratory Rotations and Research Hours

Lab Rotations: Each student will complete two rotations in different laboratories prior to start of their third semester. Exceptions or the addition of a third rotation require approval from the ASNB Graduate Committee. The objectives of rotations in 2 labs are to expose the student to different approaches and areas of research, and to assist the student in choosing a laboratory for dissertation research. For each rotation, the student will register for the 3 credit course Laboratory Rotation (ASNB 618) which is graded on a pass/fail basis. Once a student has completed a semester rotation in a given laboratory, an ASNB Rotation Report must be completed and submitted to the Graduate Program Director.

Research Hours: Once a mentor is chosen, research hours are taken as Original Investigation (ASNB 619), in which students earn a letter grade.

The purpose of the advisory committee is to act as the primary guiding and assessment body for the student in a course of study and training through which they will acquire the knowledge and skills required to earn the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. The course of study and training will have components that are common for all students, but may have others that are tailored to the particular needs and/or desires of individual students.

The committee must have a minimum of five members. The Principal Advisor serves as chair. The majority of committee members must have a primary, joint or associate appointment in ASNB. At least one member must have a primary appointment in a department outside ASNB (this outside committee member must not have a joint appointment in ASNB) and can include a Graduate Faculty from another University. The student, in conjunction with the advisor, should form a committee prior to the start of the second year. Once the committee is formed, the student will meet with the committee at least twice per year. A Graduate Student Progress Report, completed by the Advisor, must be filed semi-annually (at the end of the fall and spring semesters) with the ASNB Graduate Program Director. Registration for courses is contingent on this filing.

Masters Candidacy

After completion of all course requirements, students must register for and maintain candidacy (MAST 600) until the successful completion of his/her qualifying exam.  This registration must be maintained year round (fall, spring and summer). Once a student registers for MAST 600, he/she may not register for additional courses.

Qualifying Exam

The purpose of the qualifying exam is to assure that the student has sufficient knowledge and skills to begin a research project. The exam will be taken within two terms (Fall, Spring or Summer terms) after the completion of required coursework. The exam consists of an oral presentation and defense of a research proposal (described below).

Prior to writing the Research Proposal, the student will develop an outline of the proposed experiments in coordination with their advisor and then present this outline to their committee. It is at this point, prior to writing the Research Proposal that the committee should recommend any changes in the research plan, regarding, for example, too many or too few experiments, experiments that are too difficult, or experiments that may be more appropriate for addressing the research question. Once the committee is satisfied with the proposed experiments, the student will write a Research Proposal in the following general format.*

Literature Review and Significance

Section one will be an extensive literature review (similar to an expanded Background and Significance section of a National Institutes of Health grant proposal). This review should provide evidence that the student has a sufficient command of the background information relevant to the proposed research.

Specific Aims, Hypotheses and Experiments

This section will consist of a list of the proposed specific aims. Each aim should include hypotheses to be tested and a brief description of the experiments that will be used to test these hypotheses.

Experimental Design and General Methods

This section will consist of a detailed description of the experimental design as well as the methods that will be used to carry out the proposed experiments.

Expected Outcomes

This section will describe the expected results and how they will be interpreted.

Potential Problems

This section will describe any potential problems that could occur, how they might affect interpretation of their research results, and how the student will address any potential problems.

*All eligible students are encouraged to submit (in coordination with their advisor) an application for a National Institutes of Health Predoctoral National Research Service Award (F31) or a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Award. Therefore, the Research Proposal may be submitted in the format of a relevant application with the exception that the background and significance section should be expanded to include a more extensive literature review than permitted by the NIH or NSF page limitations.

Upon completion of the research proposal, the student will distribute a copy to each committee member, who will have two weeks to read the proposal. Students must consider this two week reading period when preparing the document and scheduling the exam. The qualifying exam itself will be chaired by the student’s advisor. The exam will begin with an oral presentation, open to the public, in which the student will present an overview (approximately 40 min) of the research plan. The presentation will be followed by an oral defense to assess the student’s readiness to conduct the proposed research, and their knowledge of background information relevant to the proposed research. Non-committee members in the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions first. The general audience will then be dismissed and the student will defend his/her proposal before the committee. Success or failure will be determined by majority vote of the committee. A student who fails the exam will have 2 months to retake the exam. Failure on the second attempt will result in dismissal from the program.

Upon successful completion of the exam, a Proposal Defense Evaluation Form stating the outcome of the exam will be completed and signed by each committee member and will become a permanent part of the student’s record. A passing vote indicates that the student has completed the requirements for a M.S. degree. At this point the student becomes a doctoral candidate and must register for and maintain candidacy (DOCT 600) until the successful completion of his/her dissertation.  This registration must be maintained year round (Fall, Spring and Summer). The statute of limitation for obtaining a Ph.D. degree is four years from the beginning of Doctoral Candidacy. University wide official maximums for fellowships and Graduate Assistantships are typically 6 years.

Annual presentation of research progress

Ph.D. students who have completed their class work (M.S. and Ph.D. candidates) must present their research accomplishments annually. This presentation should be 30-50 minutes in length, and the time and location of the presentation should be formally announced to the department faculty, staff and students at least 1 week prior to the planned presentation. Presentations at journal clubs are encouraged, but cannot be used as a substitute for the annual presentation requirement.

Teaching requirements

Each Ph.D. student must serve as a teaching assistant (T.A.) in at least one ASNB core course. The specific course will be chosen by the student and his/her advisory committee.

Dissertation Defense

With the exception of their training in teaching, the Ph.D. candidate will focus exclusively on completing their research projects and writing a dissertation describing the results of their experiments. The candidate must complete all requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy within four calendar years after passing the qualifying examination. It is expected that the dissertation should contain data sufficient for approximately three publishable manuscripts. Upon completion of a near final draft of their dissertation and prior to scheduling of their defense, the student must distribute a copy to each Dissertation Committee member. The committee will have two weeks to read the dissertation and give approval to schedule a defense date or recommend changes that must be completed prior to scheduling a defense date.

Once the dissertation is approved by the committee, the student will schedule a Dissertation Defense and distribute a final copy to each committee member. SIGS requires that an announcement of the defense be made at least two weeks prior to the scheduled date. The defense will consist of a public oral presentation (approximately 45 minutes in length) of the research completed during the student’s graduate training. Non-committee members in the audience will be allowed to ask questions. The general audience will then be dismissed and the student will defend his/her dissertation before the committee. Upon completion, a written report stating the outcome of the defense will be completed by each committee member and will become a permanent part of the student’s record. Approval by the majority of Dissertation Committee members will signify completion of the Ph.D. degree.

Electronic Format of Dissertation

Deadlines for the submission are published online in the schedule of classes. Students must follow The School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies (SIGS) requirements for the format of their Doctoral Dissertation. The published Guidelines for the Preparation and Processing of Theses/Dissertations (PDF)are available for referenceAny dissertation received by SIGS that does not adhere to their guidelines will be returned to the student or committee chairperson.

SIGS requires the submission of a digital dissertation. The digital document must be submitted in Adobe PDF format. The electronic version should not include signatures from the dissertation advisory committee. It should list the committee members’ names only. Students must submit a hard copy of their signature page on white paper, with original signatures, to SIGS. If students wish to use material that has been previously published under their names in their dissertation, they will need to contact the original publisher for permission. ASNB requires a bound copy of each student’s dissertation. For archival purposes, it is required that the document be printed on 25% cotton paper.

Academic policies

General Program Requirements

Students should familiarize themselves with the general requirements for the Master’s and Ph.D. Degrees as stated in the current University of Louisville Graduate Catalog ( The award of a Doctor of Philosophy degree indicates that a student has attained mastery of a field and has demonstrated the capacity to perform independent scholarly research, including the ability to think critically. The doctoral degree is not awarded solely upon completion of a curriculum of courses, even though the student has done superior work in them; rather, it is awarded in recognition of creative scholarship in the candidate's chosen field.

All Ph.D. students receiving financial support from the University of Louisville, including University Fellows and Graduate Assistants, must be enrolled as full-time students during the period for which they are receiving support. The minimum and maximum number of credit hours for full time study is 9 and 12, respectively, in the fall and spring semesters (6 and 12 for the summer). To be considered in good standing, a grade average of 3.0 or better must be maintained. The program faculty and unit dean monitor the GPA of every graduate student.  A student must be in good standing to receive a degree. Students must be enrolled during the semester in which they wish to graduate.

Academic Probation

Any student with a point standing below 3.0 will be placed on academic probation until the student regains a 3.0 average or is dismissed. Students are ordinarily not permitted to continue on academic probation for more than one semester. Upon request of the student's graduate program, the unit dean may approve continuation beyond a single semester. A student who has received the grade of "C" (in a course that is a degree requirement), "D" or "F" may repeat that course upon the approval of the graduate program director and the unit dean. When a student repeats a course, the grade point average will be calculated on the basis of the last grade earned, although all previous grades will remain on the transcript.


For administrative purposes, an interim Ph.D. Advisor will be assigned to each incoming student until he/she has selected a Dissertation Mentor.

Guideline Changes

The Department reserves the right to change requirements at any time. When requirements change, the student may have the option of satisfying either the requirements in effect when he/she entered the program or the new requirements, depending on circumstances.


Richard Benton

Assistant Professor

Kunwar P. Bhatnagar

Professor Emeritus

Martha E. Bickford

Course Director of Synaptic Organization of the Brain

Maxwell Boakye

Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery

Bart Borghuis

Assistant Professor

Jennifer Brueckner-Collins


Rita M. Colella
Associate Professor

Course Director of Medical Microscopic Anatomy

Nigel G.F. Cooper

Director of Molecular Neurobiology Core Laboratory

William Guido


Susan Harkema
Professor of Neurological Surgery

Research Director of Frazier Rehab Institute

Nicole R. Herring
Assistant Professor
Course Director of Advanced Head and Neck Anatomy and Survey of Dental Gross & Neuroanatomy

Director of Fresh Tissue Laboratory and Bequeathal Program

Dena Howland

Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery

Charles H. Hubscher
Vice Chair and Director of Graduate Studies

Course Director of Fundamentals of Neuroscience

Kathleen M. Klueber

Professor Emerita

Robin F. Krimm
Vice Chair for Research

Course Director of Developmental Neurobiology

Ashok Kumar


Nobuyuki Kuwabara
Associate Professor
Course Director of Medical Gross Anatomy

Facilitator for Guest Clinical Gross Anatomy Instructors

Robert F. Lundy, Jr.
Associate Professor

Course Director of Medical Neurosciences

David Magnuson

Professor of Neurological Surgery

Maureen McCall

Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

J. Patrick Moore
Associate Professor

Director of Graduate Admissions

Jeffrey C. Petruska

Associate Professor

Matthew Qiu

Director of Neurochemistry Shared Instrumentation Laboratory

Richard Rink

Professor Emeritus

Guillermo W. Rougier


Patrick Scott

Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

Michael T. Tseng

Course Director of Dental Microscopic Anatomy

Scott Whittemore
Professor of Neurological Surgery

Scientific Director of Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center