Graduate Program Overview

The Neuroscience PhD Program at Washington University in St. Louis aims to train the next generation of leaders in neurobiology. The main objectives of the program are to:

  • Provide students with the skills necessary to conduct research including the planning and implementation of a unique research project in the field of neuroscience.
  • Teach students the fundamental concepts within neuroscience and how to apply those concepts in the critical analysis of scientific research.
  • Promote the professional development of students in the areas of scientific writing, presentation, statistics, and computation.
  • Promote interdisciplinary science by encouraging cooperation and collaboration among students in different programs and departments.

Neuroscience graduate students are enrolled in the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences (DBBS), an interdepartmental umbrella organization that facilitates the educational and research goals of the University. Some DBBS programs include:

  • Developmental, Regenerative and Stem Cell Biology
  • Immunology
  • Computational and Molecular Biophysics
  • Molecular Cell Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Genetics and Genomics
  • Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis
  • Evolution, Ecology and Population Biology
  • Plant and Microbial Biosciences
  • Computational and Systems Biology
  • Human and Statistical Genetics

Please visit DBBS for a full list of current programs.

Graduate students are admitted to the Neuroscience Program, but are encouraged to participate in courses and/or laboratory opportunities that are offered by the others.

Admission into the Neuroscience Program is highly competitive with 10-15 students enrolled each year. All students admitted to the Division receive a stipend plus health coverage and tuition remission.

The Neuroscience Program has deep historical roots that include Nobel Prize-winning work on nerve conduction (Erlanger and Gasser), nerve growth factor (Levi-Montalcini and Cohen) and signal transduction (Sutherland). In recent years, the program has diversified and expanded greatly, allowing it to remain at the forefront of exciting developments in many different areas.

A broad range of research centers, program project grants and research training grants at Washington University foster a strong sense of collaboration and interdisciplinary cooperation. The McDonnell Center for Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology and the McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience, both endowed by the James S. McDonnell Foundation, support a wide variety of neuroscience projects. Our other collaborative research centers bring together clinicians, scientists, and patients to enhance and promote translational research in many areas. These centers include:

  • The Hope Center for Neurological Disorders, which supports basic and clinical research activities related to stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and other conditions associated with damage to the nervous system.
  • The Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, which carries out a multi-faceted approach to the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
  • The Neurofibromatosis (NF) Center, which was established to position Washington University as an international leader in NF basic and clinical research as well as to serve as a beacon for “bench to bedside” research in NF and related nervous system tumors.
  • The Washington University Pain Center, which is committed to alleviating human suffering from pain and aims to be the foremost center in the nation for the advancement of pain science.

Curriculum and Training


  • Students begin research rotations during their 1 st semester in the program.
  • Students can begin research rotations as early as June 1, with stipend coverage starting as well.
  • Students are encouraged to do up to 3 research rotations to find the laboratory environment that best suits their interests and needs.
  • Students are expected to pick a doctoral advisor and lab at the start of their 2nd year in the program.


  • A set of two core courses are completed during year 1.
  • Cellular Neuroscience – An intensive 16-week course covering a variety of topics in cellular and molecular neurobiology.
  • Systems Neuroscience – A 16-week course covering functional neuroanatomy and clinical neurobiology.
  • In subsequent years, students are required to participate in oral presentation and ethics seminars. In addition, a wide-variety of elective courses and journal clubs are offered to increase knowledge in computational neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, electrophysiology and other sub-fields within neuroscience. Students can also apply for admission to specific pathways designed to further their training in their individual sub-fields.
  • The Cognitive-Computational-Systems Neuroscience (CCSN) pathway offers additional training that combines traditional cognitive and systems level education with computational approaches in an integrated curriculum.
  • The Lucille P. Markey pathway is an innovative educational experience introducing students and fellows to human disease states not generally covered in graduate courses.
  • The Imaging Sciences Pathway offers additional training in the principles of imaging and its use in studying the brain and body.


  • Students are required to act as a teaching assistant for one course. Most students do this during their 2 nd year in the program.


  • Qualifying examination - This exam, taken after 1 st year, takes the format of a NIH style grant application.
  • Thesis Proposal and updates - 2nd to 4th year
  • Doctoral Dissertation and Defense

For more information see the detailed curriculum and official Neuroscience Program guidelines.

Seminars, journal clubs and events

The Neuroscience Program strives to keep students on the forefront of neuroscience research.

  • Numerous seminar series related to neuroscience are conducted at both the School of Medicine and Danforth (Hilltop) campuses. These events provide ample opportunity to keep up with the latest research progress by neuroscientists at Washington University, as well as by researchers outside the university who are invited to speak.
  • In addition, a number of endowed lectureships honor some of Washington University's pioneers in neuroscience and related fields. These lectureships, dedicated to Viktor Hamburger, George H. Bishop, Mildred Trotter, Robert J. Terry, and Philip Dodge, bring renowned neuroscientists to the Washington University campus.
  • Finally, our student sponsored journal clubs gives students an opportunity to describe their own research as well as critically analyze the work of others.

The annual Neuroscience Retreat, which is held each fall at a lodge in the countryside near St. Louis, provides a mixture of academic, social, and outdoor activities in a relaxed setting and attractive environment. The informal atmosphere encourages interactions among students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty from different departments and different subdisciplines.