CURRICULUM

Overview

The Neuroscience Graduate Program develops courses designed to equip students with the background necessary to participate fully in contemporary neuroscience research. This begins with a series of courses in the first year that cover Neuroscience in a Nutshell, Cell and Molecular Neuroscience, Systems Neuroscience, Developmental Neuroscience, Grant writing, as well as a Matlab bootcamp. The second year features Responsible Conduct of Research, Statistics for Biomedical Sciences, and electives that teach quantitative methods in neuroscience. In upper years, electives are offered that students may choose to take depending on their interests.

Students from umbrella programs, BSP and MSTP, may take courses out of sequence and have accommodations based on their program specific coursework. Program directors will help students joining from other programs design a curriculum suited to their needs.

Details listed below.

Learning Outcomes for the Neuroscience PhD Program

Graduate education in general | Doctoral education is the foundation of future scholarship and the “engine” of the research enterprise.  It prepares future faculty and leaders in the academy and other areas of industry and society.

Program/Student Learning Outcomes | The PhD program in Neuroscience trains graduate students to become proficient and successful investigators who are able to:

  • Demonstrate a basic knowledge of central concepts in the biomedical sciences.
  • Understand the current concepts in Neuroscience.
  • Read and critically evaluate the scientific literature.
  • Formulate hypotheses based on current concepts in the field and design, conduct, and interpret their own research projects.
  • Present research results in peer-reviewed publications and in a dissertation.
  • Communicate research results effectively through oral presentations at scientific seminars, conferences, and other venues.
  • Write a competitive application for research funding.
  • Develop ancillary skills, where necessary, to obtain positions outside of scientific research.

The first year centers on coursework and laboratory rotations. Course descriptions are below.

Fall Semester

DPT 7806: Biomedical Sciences Core (6 units) | Course Director: Dr. Chad Pearson. Course Description: This core course provides a unified knowledge of the fundamental principles of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics and molecular biology. It is designed for all first year basic sciences graduate students.

NRSC 7501: Introduction to Neuroscience (1 unit) | Course Director: Dr. Abigail Person Course Description: This course covers "Neuroscience in a Nutshell" introducing students to the breadth of neuroscience spanning biophysical properties of neurons, neural development, synaptic plasticity, systems and computational neuroscience. The emphasis is on appreciating the interdisciplinary nature of neurosciences and introducing students to key themes of the discipline.

​NRSC 7600: Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology (3 units) | Course Director: Dr. Chris Ford. Course Description: Covers how nerve cells go about their business of transmitting signals. Required textbook: From Neuron to Brain, 5th Edition. A Cellular and Molecular Approach to the Function of the Nervous System. Course runs the second half of the fall semester.

NRSC 7650: Research in Neuroscience (Lab. Rotations I and II) (1 unit) | Coordinated by: Graduate Training Committee and Program Director. Course Description: Students will perform research in the laboratory of one of the members of the program. The rotation will be followed by an oral presentation. Each rotation will occupy approximately 12 weeks. Rotation II will begin near the end of the fall semester (in November) and end early in the spring semester (in February).

NRSC 7662: Neuroscience Seminar (1 unit) | Seminar Committee Chair: Dr. Jason Aoto. Seminar Series Description: Seminar series designed to present recent important findings in Neuroscience research. Different topics are presented weekly by Neuroscience Training Program faculty, students and visiting faculty. First year students are required to attend all the seminars and all other students are strongly encouraged to attend as many seminars as possible. The GTC monitors the attendance of first year students. Final grade is based upon attendance and participation at these seminars.

Spring Semester

NRSC 7610: Fundamentals of Neurobiology (3 units) | Course Directors: Drs. Molly Huntsman and Diego Restrepo. Course Description: Lecture, laboratories and manuscript discussions to provide basic knowledge of the structure and function of the nervous system, focussing on systems level approaches.

NRSC 7615: Developmental Neurobiology (3 units) | Course Director: Dr. Emily Bates. Course Description: This course will cover topics in the development of the nervous system, such as neuronal birth, migration, differentiation, and death, axonal pathfinding, cell-cell recognition, and synapse formation, modulation and elimination. Part of the course is devoted to the discussion of original literature in the field.

NRSC 7650: Research in Neuroscience Rotation III (1 unit) | Course Director: Graduate Training Committee. Course Description: Research rotations allow students to become familiar with potential thesis labs and projects. Students perform independent research projects of limited scope during both semesters. Seminars describing the work are presented mid-fall semester, one at the end of the fall semester and one during the last week of the spring semester. Three rotations of NRSC 7650 must be completed before the beginning of the Fall semester of the second year.

NRSC 7661: Grant-Writing Workshop (1 unit) | Course Directors: Drs. Dan Tollin and Sue Kinnamon. Course Description: A practicum in how to read and write a grant proposal with emphasis on the NRSA pre- and post-doctoral fellowship applications. Pre-requisite - NRSC 7610 or permission of the course directors.

NRSC 7662: Neuroscience Seminar (1 unit) | Seminar Committee Chair: Dr. Jason Aoto. Seminar Series Description: Seminar series designed to present recent important findings in Neuroscience research. Different topics are presented weekly by Neuroscience Training Program faculty, students and visiting faculty. First year students are required to attend all the seminars and all other students are strongly encouraged to attend on a regular basis. The GTC monitors the attendance of first year students. Final grade is based upon attendance and participation at these seminars.

Rotation Talks

Following the completion of each laboratory rotation, first year students are required to present a seminar on the research conducted in the rotation laboratory. Rotation talks are 10 minutes long, allowing 5 minutes for questions. Talks are rehearsed in advance with members of the Graduate Training Committee, and are evaluated during the formal presentation for the entire NSP community.

Preliminary Examinations

The Graduate School mandates a preliminary evaluation of a student's fitness to proceed on to conducting thesis research. The Preliminary Exam in NSP consists of both written and oral components. For the oral exam, the Exam Committee questions students for ~45 minutes on concepts taught to the students during the first-year coursework. The goal is to determine how well this material has been learned by the student.

Students in their second years focus on integrating into their thesis laboratories. Required coursework covers Responsible Conduct of Research, Statistics, and an elective in quantitative methods in neuroscience. Students are expected to plan for their Year 3 comprehensive examination.

Fall Semester

PHCL 7605: Ethics in Research (1 unit) | Course Director: Dr. Paula Hoffmann. Course is designed to introduce issues around ethics of research, publication, and reviewing of manuscripts and grants.

N​RSC 7650: Section OV3 Research in Neuroscience (1-5 units) | Course Director: Dr. Nathan Schoppa. Laboratory research (pre-comps) with Neuroscience Training Program faculty.

BIOS 6606: Statistics for Basic Scientists (3 units required, option to take this course in year 2 or 3) | Course Director: Dr. Kathleen Torkko. This course provides an overview of applied statistics, probability, hypothesis testing, bootstrap methods, permutation tests, nonparametric methods, regression analyses and analysis of variance​.

Spring and Summer Semester (Quantitative Elective Options*)

*NRSC 7612: Nervous System Modeling with NEURON (1 unit elective, fulfills requirement in Quantitative Neuroscience; option to take course in year 2 or year 3) | Course Director: Dr. Alon Poleg-Polsky. Course Description: Nervous system modeling with NEURON platform, including independent projects.

*ELEC 5375: Engineering Neuroscience (1 unit elective, fulfills requirement in Quantitative Neuroscience; option to take course in year 2 or year 3) | Course Director: Dr. Tim Lei (Department of Electrical Engineering, CU Denver). Course Description: Mathematical formulation of neurobiological concepts and tools spanning equivalent circuit of membranes to dimensionality reduction methods. This course now physically takes place on the CU Denver campus.

*BIOE 5053: Optics and Microscopy in Biomedical Research (3 units elective, fulfills requirement in Quantitative Neuroscience; option to take course in year 2 or year 3) | Course Director: Dr. Emily Gibson. Course Description: Principles of optics and fluorescence for applied biological microscopy.

*NRSC 7657: Workshop in Advanced Programming for Neuroscientists (1 unit) | Course Directors: Drs. Dan Denman and John Thompson. Hands-on workshop using individual projects to extend on the programming fundamentals learned in coursework in Year 1. This course is offered in the summer.

*MOLB 7950: Practical Computational Biology for Biologists: R (1 credit elective, fulfills requirement in Quantitative Neuroscience; option to take course in year 2 or year 3) | Course Directors: Drs. S. Jagannathan and N. Mukherjee. Course Description: Genomic bioinformatics computational analysis with R. It is recommended that this course be taken along with MOLB7900- Python-based analysis course.

NRSC 7650: Section OV3 Research in Neuroscience (1-5 units required) | Course Director: Dr. Nathan Schoppa. Laboratory research (Pre-comps) with Neuroscience Training Program faculty. 


Year 3

Students in Year 3 will take their comprehensive exams, described in detail below. Any remaining required courses should be completed this year.

Pre-comps third years, should register for N​RSC 7650. Post-comps third years and beyond should register for NRSC 8990. The number of credits to register for will vary depending on what other courses are taken that semester.

Comprehensive Exam

Students will choose a thesis mentor at the beginning of the second year of study and begin preparing for the Comprehensive Exam. The examination will focus on the thesis research proposal written by the student using the format of an NIH NRSA grant application. In an oral exam before a Comprehensive Exam Committee, chosen by the student, the student must demonstrate the ability to support the proposal through deep scientific background and technical knowledge, as well as satisfy the overall requirements for the examination as set forth by the CU Graduate School. Passing the Comprehensive Exam formally advances students to Candidacy for the Neuroscience PhD.

More information on the Comprehensive Exam can be found in the Student Handbook.

Post-Comps Year 3 and Beyond

In these years, students are expected to focus primarily on completing their thesis research. The Neuroscience Program encourages students to take elective courses as their interests and availability permits. Examples include:

NRSC 7614: Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders (1 unit) | Course Director Dr. Jason Tregallis. Course description: neurobiology of neurological, developmental, psychiatric and substance abuse disorders.

NRSC 7675: Neuroethics and Neurophilosophy (1 unit) | Course Directors: Drs. Sukumar Vijayaraghavan and Gidon Felsen. Course Description: Readings and discussions on intersection of neuroscience and society.

NRSC 7618/OPHT 6610: Biology of the Eye (1 unit) | Course Director: Dr. Joseph Brzezinski. Course Description: Basic and translational research on visual system, including a wet lab anatomy session.

NRSC 7670: Advanced Topics in Neuroscience (1 unit) | Course Director: Dr. Nathan Schoppa. Course Description: The offerings under this course number vary from semester to semester. Students are informed by the curriculum committee prior to each semester what courses are being offered. Example recent topics have included: a) Neuroethology (Instructors, Drs. Tom Finger, John Thompson, and Abby Person); b) Neurobiology of visceral pain (Instructor, Dr. Anna Malykhina); and c) Communicating Neuroscience (Instructors, Drs. Emily Bates and Tom Finger).

New in 2021: Drs. Jamie Peters and Jasper Heinsbroek from the Department of Anesthesiology will be offering a new elective course for PhD students called “Drugs and the Brain.” This course (1 credit) will be held over a 6-week period in the Spring 2021 semester from mid-March to late April. It will cover advanced topics in addiction neuroscience, with a focus on the effects of various drugs of abuse on the brain. Each student will give a 30 min presentation on their drug of choice at the end of the course for a letter grade.



Graduate Teaching

All graduate students are strongly encouraged to be a Teaching Assistant for one semester during their graduate training. This assistantship may be in the Medical Neurobiology class or arranged with the Course Director in the Neuroscience Core courses.

Doctoral Thesis

Students will give annual reports on the progress of their thesis research to the Neuroscience faculty in the form of 30 minute seminars, and meet every 6 months with their Thesis Committee. Upon completion of a body of original research that constitutes a significant contribution of new knowledge to the field of Neuroscience, students will write a PhD thesis containing this information, and defend this document at an oral examination.

Program Handbook

Please review the Neuroscience Program Handbook for more information about program curriculum.



Graduate School

CU Denver
Lawrence Street Center

1380 Lawrence Street

Room 1251

Denver, CO 80204

CU Anschutz
Fitzsimons Building

13001 East 17th Place

W5107

Aurora, CO 80045

303-315-2183

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