Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies: Specialization in Translational Neuroscience Curriculum

The curriculum for the degree program is a flexible course of study designed to accommodate students interested in a wide range of neuroscience research. Required courses and electives are drawn from current offerings in five different departments with a new course designed specifically for this program. The Fundamentals of Neuroscience course provides incoming students with the basic background needed in all areas of neuroscience research and the Translational Neuroscience course exposes students to clinical and translational research early in their graduate education. Biostatistics, Research Ethics and the Neuroscience Seminar course complete the required courses. Further coursework in neuroscience will be tailored to each student depending on his/her research interests and career goals.


Requirements for the Degree


General Program Requirements

The Doctor of Philosophy degree signifies that a student has achieved mastery of a field and has demonstrated the capacity to think critically and to perform independent scientific research. The degree is awarded in recognition of the student having successfully completed the following: 1. Course requirements. 2. Laboratory rotations. 3. A qualifying examination. 4. Original scientific research resulting in peer-reviewed publications. 5. A dissertation defense. Lab rotations can be waived if a student knows which lab he/she will be doing his/her research in when entering the program.

All graduate students must be enrolled as full-time students during the period for which they are receiving support (the first two years). The minimum and maximum number of credit hours for full time study is 9 and 12, respectively, in the fall and spring semesters, and 6 and 12, respectively for the summers. To be considered in good standing, a grade point average of 3.0 or better must be maintained. Grades will be monitored by the director(s) of the program and by the School of Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies (SIGS). A student must be in good standing to receive a degree. Students must be enrolled during the semester in which they wish to graduate.


Course Work

A minimum of 36 credit hours is mandatory, and will be made up of the required courses and electives. Electives will be approved by the programs Curriculum Committee for each student with flexibility to accommodate the range of interests represented by an interdisciplinary program.

Required Courses:

Fundamentals of Neuroscience (ASNB 602) - 4

Translational Neuroscience (NSCI 600) - 3

Research Ethics (BIOC 630) - 1

*Advanced Biostatistics (BIOL 650) - 4

Neuroscience Seminar Journal Club (ASNB 606) - 1

* Or other Biostatistics course as available.


Recommended Courses:

Human Embryology (ASNB 605) - 3

*Developmental Neurobiology (ASNB 617) - 3

*Molecular Neurobiology (ASNB 614) - 4

*Synaptic Organization of the Brain (ASNB 666) - 3

*Offered on a rotation basis.


Other Electives:

Principles of Neuroscience (PSYC 643) - 3

Advanced Behavioral Endocrinology (BIOL 611) - 4

Behavioral Neuroscience (PSYC 642) - 3

Gross Anatomy (ASNB 601) - 6.5

Human Embryology (ASNB 605) - 3

Introductory Immunology (MBIO 602) - 2

Biochemistry II (BIOC/CHEM547) - 3

Cellular and Molecular Immunology (MBIO 658) - 3

Cell Biology (MBIO 667) - 3

Physiology I (PHYS 605) - 3

Physiology II (PHYS 606) - 3


Laboratory Rotations

It is recommended that each student will complete two rotations in different laboratories prior to the start of his/her third semester. The rotations will expose the student to different approaches and areas of research and will help the student to choose a laboratory for his/her dissertation research. Rotations will count as a 3 credit course (GS 699 Independent Research). Rotations are graded on a pass/fail basis and a brief written rotation report will be expected from each host investigator indicating a pass or fail grade.


Mentor and Advisory Committee

Once a student selects a mentor, he or she will form an Advisory Committee consisting of the mentor plus 4 additional members of the program faculty.  The faculty members composing the Advisory Committee will represent a minimum of three different participating departments and include at least one faculty member with primary clinical expertise relevant to the student’s research area.  The Advisory Committee may be reformulated with the permission of the Executive Committee as the student progresses towards completion of the degree.


Research Hours

Upon completion of the mandatory course work, laboratory rotations and mentor selection, research hours are taken as Original Investigation (GS 799) until and after the student enters candidacy by successfully completing his/her Research Proposal and Qualifying exam.


Research Proposal and Qualifying Examination

Upon completion of course work, each student is required to prepare a Research Proposal that will be presented and defended before the end of the fall semester of year 3. The Research Proposal will consist of an NIH F31 format grant proposal that describes the student's planned research.

Preparation and defense of the proposal will consist of the following steps: 1. Develop a specific aims page and outline of the proposed experiments and present this aims page to the Advisory Committee for approval. 2. Based on the approved specific aims page and outline, prepare a Research Proposal in the F31 format. 3. Distribute the Research Proposal to the Advisory Committee at least two weeks before the presentation and defense. 4. Present the proposal in a 30-40 minute seminar, plus a question and answer period, attended by all the members of the Advisory Committee and other faculty/trainees from representative departments. 5. Appropriately answer any questions from the committee members regarding the proposal and defense. 6. Appropriately answer one written question from each committee member presented to the student during the question/answer period of the proposal presentation. These questions should be prepared by each committee member prior to the defense and should be designed to explore the various clinical/translational/basic science aspects of the proposed work and the underlying biological concepts. Each committee member will indicate on the document if the student answers the member’s question appropriately. If not, the student will be given two weeks to prepare a 1-2 page written answer that will be submitted, along with the question, to that committee member. The committee member will submit both the question and answer to the mentor indicating whether or not the student's answer was appropriate and sufficient. Overall success or failure will be determined by majority vote of the committee.

A student who fails the Research Proposal and Qualifying Examination will have 2 months to prepare for a second presentation with written questions that will be presented to the committee only. Failure on the second attempt will result in a recommendation of dismissal from the program. Upon successful completion a Proposal Defense/ Qualifying Examination form will be filled out by the mentor stating the outcome and will be signed be each member of the Advisory Committee. This evaluation form will become part of the student’s permanent academic record.


Annual Presentations

Each student who has completed class work is required to give a research update presentation to either the home department of the mentor or as part of the research update seminar series for the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Research Center. Notification of the seminar should be dispersed to the entire Neuroscience community.


Dissertation Defense

The candidate must complete all requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy within four calendar years after passing the qualifying examination. The dissertation should contain data sufficient for approximately three publishable manuscripts. Upon completion of a draft of the student's dissertation and prior to scheduling of his/her defense, the student must distribute a copy to each Advisory Committee member. The committee will have two weeks to read and approve the completed draft of the dissertation or recommend major changes that need to 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 an edited 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 the 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 Advisory Committee members will signify successful completion of the Ph.D. degree.