Doctoral Training in Neurobiology
The Department of Neurobiology provides doctoral students with broad training in diverse areas of neuroscience and developmental biology. As part of a larger, vibrant neuroscience community, trainees have access to state-of-the-art technologies and facilities, as well as leaders in diverse fields that are located across campus. The department also has a wide range of research opportunities for undergraduates and medical students.
Students interested in pursuing doctoral study in the Department of Neurobiology should apply to the Bioscience PhD Programs or the Interdepartmental Program in Neuroscience. Department faculty participate extensively in the courses and training activities offered by these programs. Students may also join the department through the University of Utah School of Medicine's MD/PhD program, or in exceptional cases by direct admission. After completing the first year of graduate work or the first two years of medical school, students select a thesis laboratory. Bioscience Programs students who join the department, follow the program described below and receive a PhD in Neurobiology. Neuroscience students who join the department follow the Neuroscience program requirements and receive a PhD in Neuroscience.
A graduate student’s stipend and health, dental, and vision insurance are paid by the graduate program during their first year, and by the student’s advisor in subsequent years. Students may also obtain financial support through competitive training grants and fellowships.
Course of Study and PhD Training
- Neurobiology Course Requirements
- Course Registration
- Teaching Assistantships
- Supervisory Committee and Meetings
- Qualifying Exam
- Dissertation Writing and Defense
- Time Limit
- Dismissal from Program
- Thesis Master of Science Degree
Advisory and Dissertation Committees
Student Benefits and Support
Neurobiology Course Requirements (Top)
Upon joining the Department students must complete:
- A minimum of 2 didactic courses (1.5 semester/4.5 credit hours, not necessarily ANAT courses) *
- A 1.5-credit or higher graduate-level course in statistics (for example, MBIOL 6490)
- RIP (Seminar: Research in Progress; ANAT 7720, 1 credit) each semester **
- Teaching Assistantship (TA, 1 course required, full semester recommended)
- A minimum of 20 credit hours of ANAT 7970 (PhD Thesis Research)
* Didactic courses must be approved by the student’s Supervisory Committee.
** Registration for RIP:
- Domestic students: register for RIP (ANAT 7720) each semester that they receive tuition benefits.
- International students: register for RIP ONLY until the semester that they reach 84 cumulative graduate credit hours.
- Attendance at RIP and departmental seminars is mandatory for all Neurobiology doctoral students throughout their entire graduate career.
- Students are also expected to attend thesis defenses of students in the department.
- Students must meet with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) upon joining the program, and in May or June every subsequent year until graduation. It is the responsibility of the student to schedule this meeting.
- Domestic students must apply for Utah residency after completing 40 credit hours of graduate coursework. Failure to apply for Utah residency may result in the student’s being responsible for the entire cost of tuition.
Requirements for Neuroscience Students, Direct Admits, and MD/PhD Students
Course Registration: (Top)
- Registration for all University of Utah coursework is done via the University of Utah CIS. Section numbers and applicable permission codes for coursework will be available each semester from the Academic Administrator in the department office.
- For the first four years after joining the department, students generally take 9 - 11 credit hours, including a minimum of 3 credit hours of graduate thesis research (ANAT 7970), to qualify for the graduate school tuition benefit program; see Tuition and Tuition Benefit Program below. Some exceptions include students on training grants and students entering the program with a master’s degree.
- Students may also register for 3 credits of research in the summer, depending on their payroll classification and the source of their stipend.
- After students no longer qualify for the tuition benefit they typically register for only 3 credit hours ANAT 7970 during fall and spring semesters.
- If you have questions about registration, contact the Academic Administrator in the department office.
- The timely payment of tuition and insurance dues are handled by the Academic Administrator. It is the student’s responsibility to turn in a copy of the registered classes and a tuition bill to the Academic Administrator each semester before the tuition due date. Negligence on this part can result in a hold on the student’s account, late fees, loss of benefits, loss of student status and further disabling the student from registering for future classes.
- More information can be found on the Guidelines for Credit Hour Registration.
Teaching Assistantships (Top)
The Bioscience PhD Program requires that students admitted through this program complete a Teaching Assistantship (TA) in one course. TAing one full-semester course is strongly recommended for all students and should be completed by the end of the third or fourth year. The student must negotiate all TAships with their advisor, and the advisor must agree in writing with the "Consent to Teaching Assistantship" form for each course the student TAs.
Supervisory Committee and Meetings (Top)
The Supervisory Committee
In most cases, the student’s 5-member Supervisory Committee will consist of 4 members of the Qual Exam committee plus the thesis supervisor as chair. The supervisory committee is responsible for approving the student’s academic program, approving the dissertation proposal, judging the student’s progress on their dissertation project, and administering, judging, and approving the final oral examination (dissertation defense) and dissertation:
- At least 3 members must be regular (i.e. tenure-line) faculty with a primary appointment in Neurobiology
- At least 1 member must hold a primary appointment in another department.
- The committee must be approved by the DGS and by the Graduate School and documented on the “Establish a Supervisory Committee” form.
Beginning in Fall semester of the second year, the student should meet with their supervisory committee every six months, but no less than once per year.
- One week prior to each meeting, the student should send to their committee a copy of the previous “Report of the Supervisory Committee Meeting,” a one-page summary of their progress since the last meeting, and an outline for the upcoming meeting.
- The committee will meet briefly without the student at the beginning of each meeting. The student will then present their research progress to date, update their timetable, outline any changes to their research plan, and set goals and a tentative date for the next meeting.
- Immediately following each meeting the student’s advisor, in consultation with the student, will prepare a “Report of the Supervisory Committee Meeting” form, summarizing the student’s progress, goals for the next meeting and recommendations of the committee. The report must be sent to all committee members for their approval within two weeks of the meeting.
- Upon receipt of approval of all committee members, the student will submit the approved form to the DGS, who will place a copy of the report in the student’s file.
Qualifying Examination/Dissertation Proposal (Top)
Goal: The intent of the Qualifying Examination (Qual Exam) is to determine if the student is capable of PhD-level research in the Department of Neurobiology. The student must pass this exam to qualify for candidacy in the PhD program and remain a graduate student in the department. The student must have passed the Capstone Exam of the Bioscience PhD Programs before undertaking the Qual Exam. The exam committee will evaluate the student’s knowledge of their dissertation field, their critical thinking skills, and their ability to formulate hypotheses. Evaluation criteria will also include the student’s originality and creativity, writing and presentation skills, and general knowledge in areas appropriate to their dissertation such as neuroscience, developmental biology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and/or biochemistry.
The Qual Exam should be completed before the start of the student’s third year of graduate study (second year for MD/PhD students). If the exam takes place during the summer semester, the student must be registered for three (3) credit hours of thesis research.
Detailed instructions can be found on the Neurobiology Qualifying Examination page.
Following the examination, regardless of the outcome, the chair of the exam committee must complete the departmental “Report of Qualifying Examination/Dissertation Proposal” form, and file this form with the DGS. After the chair of the Qual Exam committee verifies in Graduate Student Degree Tracking that the student has passed the exam, the student advances to candidacy. The student should re-establish the Supervisory Committee and file a Request a “Change to Supervisory Committee” form.
Dissertation Writing and Defense (Top)
Completing the Doctoral Degree
Students should be aware that the final steps in completing the doctoral degree can take several months, and that the Graduate School and Thesis Office have strict deadlines that must be met in order to graduate in a given semester. The deadlines for submission of the dissertation and graduation can be found at the Thesis Office site. When the student is nearing completion of the dissertation research he/she is advised to consult this website.
The following steps and approximate timeline are as follows:
- Submit Program of Study: The Academic Administrator will enter the Program of Study in CIS at least one semester before the Oral Examination
- Apply for Graduate Degree: Students must submit an Application for Graduate Degree to the Registrar the semester before they anticipate graduating. Note that students graduate at the end of the semester in which their dissertation is approved and released by the Graduate School, not the date they defend. When planning the dissertation defense and applying for a graduate degree, be aware that the Thesis Office may require more than two months to edit and release a dissertation. Current deadlines for submitting the Application for a Graduate Degree are July 1 for Fall graduation, November 1 for Spring graduation, and April 1 for Summer graduation.
- Write and defend dissertation: See respective sections below. Students must be registered during the semester they have their Final Oral Examination (Dissertation Defense). If the oral exam occurs during the summer semester, the student must register for at least 3 credit hours of Thesis Research.
- File dissertation with Thesis Office for format review.
The Department of Neurobiology follows the general policies of the Graduate School for doctoral dissertations:
- The dissertation must represent a significant contribution to the scientific community, and provide evidence of originality, the ability to do independent investigation, and a mastery of a field.
- Students may include multi-authored articles as chapters in their dissertation but must document their contribution to each article.
- The dissertation committee should ensure that the dissertation includes an original comprehensive introduction and discussion.
- The student should submit an acceptable draft of the dissertation to the advisor at least three weeks before the Final Oral Examination (Dissertation Defense) and to other committee members at least two weeks before the final examination.
When the student and supervisory committee agree that the student is ready to defend, the supervisory committee will set a date for the Final Oral Examination (Dissertation Defense). As soon as the date is set, but no less than a month before the scheduled date, the student should notify the DGS and the Academic Administrator of the Department of Neurobiology, who will arrange a room for the defense and distribute flyers announcing the defense.
Final Oral Examination (Dissertation Defense)
At least one manuscript with the student as the first or co-first author must be submitted for publication to a journal or preprint server in order to proceed to the Final Exam. The student must pass a Final Oral Examination (Dissertation Defense) on their dissertation research before graduation. The first part of the exam is a public oral presentation of their work, after which the student’s supervisory committee will carry out further questioning. Once the supervisory committee agrees that the student has written and successfully defended an acceptable dissertation, the student must submit signed “Supervisory Committee Approval” and “Final Reading Approval” forms, found on the Thesis Office site, to the Graduate School, and file a photocopy of the forms with the Academic Administrator, who will enter the date of the oral examination in Graduate Student Degree Tracking.
Filing of the Dissertation
The final version of the dissertation must be prepared according to the “Handbook for Theses and Dissertations” and submitted to the University. Students do not need to be registered when they submit their dissertation. This process involves several steps and has strict deadlines. Briefly, the process is as follows:
- Following the oral defense, students must make corrections requested by their supervisory committee and submit the revised dissertation to the Thesis Office for format approval. To graduate in Spring, the dissertation must be submitted by mid-March (Fall, mid-October; Summer, early June). The exact deadlines for format approval, filing, and thesis release are given on the Graduate School Thesis Office site.
- The Thesis Office will likely require some format corrections. To graduate on schedule, students must make all the corrections requested by the Thesis Office within approximately 6 weeks. The exact deadlines for submission of the final corrected dissertation can be found at the Graduate School Thesis Office site.
- The entire process may take more than 2 months, and there is no guarantee that the Thesis Office will complete the process in the semester the dissertation was submitted. However, students must meet the specified deadlines to graduate on schedule.
- You do not officially have a PhD until the thesis editor signs off on the dissertation and your dissertation is released.
Following completion of the degree, students must have a final exit interview with the DGS and file an “Exit Interview/Check-Out" form with the Department office.
Time Limit (Top)
Students must complete the PhD degree within seven consecutive calendar years from the date of matriculation into the University. Requests to exceed established time limits must be recommended by the student’s supervisory committee and approved by the departmental DGS and the dean of the Graduate School.
Dismissal from Program (Top)
While most students succeed in our program, there are situations where graduation is not an option and a student may be dismissed from the program. These are detailed in Policies and Procedures. Briefly, these may include:
- Failure to pass all courses with a grade of B- or better
- GPA, either cumulatively or in a particular semester, of less than 3.0
- Unsatisfactory completion of laboratory rotation or research performance
- Failure to pass a milestone exam
- Behavioral, academic, or scientific misconduct
- Failure to find a dissertation laboratory
- Failure to make timely progress toward completion of the doctoral degree as determined by the student’s supervisory committee.
Dismissal of a student from the program will be carried out in compliance with University of Utah Policy 6-400.
Neurobiology & Anatomy Thesis Master of Science Degree (Top)
Although a graduate study in Neurobiology generally leads to a Ph.D. degree, in exceptional cases a student who fulfills the University’s graduate degree requirements and Neurobiology requirements (outlined here) may apply for a Thesis Master of Science (M.S.) degree.
Advisory and Dissertation Committees
Advanced Student Review (Top)
It is important for students to complete their doctoral studies in a timely fashion. To facilitate this, the student’s PhD committee will conduct a formal review of students entering their 5th year of graduate study. This review evaluates the advancement of students toward the completion of their studies and assesses the alignment of mentor, student, and the committee on achieving this goal. All students in their 5th year and beyond must complete the Advanced Student Review (ASR) documents (see below) unless they have already set a defense date during the fall semester of the formal review process.
For the Advanced Student Review:
- The student and mentor meet and create a dissertation outline and realistic timetable to complete studies.
- The student provides the following to the committee at least 3 days prior to the ASR meeting:
- An outline of the dissertation, including a brief summary (<250 words) of each chapter
- A brief summary of dissertation research progress, less than one page
- A proposed timetable for completing the dissertation
- During the ASR meeting, the committee, student, and mentor discuss the student’s accomplishments and trajectory toward completion of studies.
- The committee may request a revision to ASR documents. The final revision must be provided to the DGS and all committee members.
Student Benefits and Support
Tuition and Tuition Benefit Program (Top)
Doctoral students in Neurobiology receive financial support throughout their tenure in the program. The student’s faculty supervisor pays a stipend to each student at levels set by the interdepartmental programs.
Tuition Benefit Program
In addition, the Graduate School provides tuition waivers for a total of 10 semesters (5 years) for students entering with a bachelor’s degree, 8 semesters for students entering with a Master’s degree from another institution, or 6 semesters for students entering with a Master’s degree from the University of Utah. If a student is supported on a fellowship that pays tuition, they remain eligible for any “unused” semesters of tuition waivers from the Graduate School. Students with a Master's degree must inform the DGS and their advisor of this fact when they are accepted into the department. After students no longer qualify for the tuition benefit they typically register for only 3 credit hours ANAT 7970 (Thesis research) during fall and spring semesters.
To qualify for the tuition benefit, students must maintain good standing in the program with a GPA of 3.0, and register for between 9-12 credit hours in both Fall and Spring semesters. Failure to register for the required number of credits will result in the student being held responsible for full payment of tuition. If the student exceeds 12 credit hours, the student will be required to pay for the additional courses. Information can be found on the tuition benefit program guidelines site. Note that special courses may not be allowable by the Tuition Benefit Program.
To ensure the timely payment of tuition and insurance dues by the Academic Administrator, students are required to report their registration to the department office each semester by submitting their semester schedule via email or as a paper printout. Once students have submitted this verification, they should not change their registration without consulting the Academic Administrator. Doing so could trigger fees and grade issues which can be avoided by working directly with the Academic Administrator.
Tuition for nonresidents is higher than tuition for Utah residents and the graduate Tuition Benefit Program and department do not cover out-of-state tuition rates after 84 credit hours. Domestic out-of-state students should apply for Utah state residency the semester after they reach a total of 40 cumulative credit hours. Failure to obtain Utah residency may result in the student being responsible for the entire cost of tuition.
Health Insurance (Top)
Basic individual student health, dental and vision insurance will be paid for by the student’s advisor. The decision to ensure a student’s family will be left to the individual investigator on a student-by-student basis and must be negotiated with their advisor. The Department recommends that students requesting family insurance coverage be asked to support half of the additional cost. Information about costs and benefits of the university’s student health insurance plan offered through United Healthcare Student Resources. Enrollment of Student health insurance and elective benefits is coordinated by the Academic Administrator.
Family Leave (Top)
A new parent (student or postdoc) is entitled to six weeks of leave with full pay and benefits following the birth or adoption of a child. The leave may be taken by either parent, or split between parents. New parents are also entitled to take up to an additional six weeks of leave without pay, if they so choose, although this could reduce their tuition benefit. The parental leave should be completed within six months of the arrival of the new child, and may only be taken for purposes relating to childcare. Under normal circumstances, students should arrange the leave time with their advisor and DGS at least 30 days in advance. Although we do not anticipate any conflict, this policy might be superseded by an external agency, such as University policy or by the requirements of a funding organization.
Vacation and Work Hours (Top)
Students are expected to devote full effort (a minimum of 40 hours/week) toward graduate studies while enrolled in the program, and may not work another job. Participation in other educational programs or classes must be approved by the Supervisory Committee. Students are free to negotiate vacation time with their advisors, with a recommended 2 weeks per year. Any time away from the laboratory must be approved in advance by the advisor. The departmental policy may be superseded by policies of granting agencies.
Travel Support (Top)
No funds currently available.
Students are encouraged to present their research at professional conferences. There are several sources of funds available to offset the cost of travel to present at a meeting or attend a scientific course, including the Thomas N. Parks Student Travel Award, the Graduate Student Travel Assistance Award, and the John H. Weis Memorial Graduate Student Award. Each award has specific deadlines, requirements, and restrictions; consult the respective websites for details.
Graduate Fellowships and Training Grants (Top)
It is in students’ best interest to apply for and obtain independent funding for their graduate research. Information about fellowship and training grant opportunities can be found at the following:
- NIH Programs for Graduate & Clinical Students
- NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
- University of Utah Graduate Fellowship Opportunities
- University of Utah Training Grants and Initiatives
Students who successfully obtain independent funding should report the award to the Academic Administrator.
“Transfer” Students (Top)
If a student wishes to join a laboratory in which he/she has not done a formal rotation, the student should be accepted on probation for a period of 6-8 weeks. The advisor and student should agree in writing on criteria that must be met during the probationary period for the student to remain in the lab. During the probationary period, the advisor will provide a stipend to the student at a level commensurate with that of other students in the department. At the end of the probationary period, the advisor should inform the DGS and Academic Administrator of the formal acceptance of the student by filing a ”Faculty Agreement” form. The Academic Administrator will update the student’s records Graduate Student Degree Tracking system, and file a Change of Graduate Classification form, if necessary.
International Students (Top)
There are a number of issues unique to international students. The International Student and Scholar Services of the Office for Global Engagement (410 Olpin Union; 1-8876)) has a variety of resources to assist students in dealing with these issues. International students must remain in regular communication with International Student and Scholars Services to ensure that issues with visas, identification, and student status are resolved properly and efficiently.
Health Insurance Requirement
All new international students will automatically be enrolled in the University of Utah Student Health Insurance Plan administered by United Healthcare Student Resources. Students with existing insurance plans may be eligible to apply for a waiver of the insurance requirement if their coverage is equivalent to or better than the plan offered by the University. See Health Insurance and Immunizations for more information.
All international students are considered nonresidents with respect to tuition. The cost of tuition for nonresidents is approximately three times the cost for residents with the exception of the tuition charged for 'Thesis Research' credits (ANAT 7970). For Thesis Research, tuition charges are the same for residents and nonresidents. Beginning in the semester in which their cumulative registration at the University of Utah exceeds 84 credit hours, international students should register ONLY for Thesis Research.
NOTE: If international students register for ANY courses other than Thesis Research at any time after they reach 84 credit hours, the ENTIRE tuition bill for that semester (including Thesis Research credits) will be charged at the nonresident rate.
International students do not need to register in the summer unless they are taking coursework or taking their qualifying or dissertation exam. All students must be registered for summer if their Qualifying Exam or Final Oral Examination (Dissertation Defense) takes place in the summer semester. The Graduate School will pay the summer registration for all TBP-eligible international students who are currently supported as a Graduate Research Assistant (RA) from a research grant. International students who do not qualify for this program will need to pay for summer registration themselves.
International Student Fee
For every semester, international students are required to pay an international student fee (currently $150), in addition to their tuition. This fee is not paid by the tuition benefit program run through the Graduate School and must be paid by the student's advisor.
A student who intends to leave the country must have International Student and Scholar Services certify that they are a student in good standing by signing the I-20 form in their passport, or the student will not be allowed to re-enter the country. The I-20 signature is valid for only 6 months.
- Department Policies
- Student Pledge
- Departmental Procedures
Safety and Wellness (Top)
Your safety is our top priority. In an emergency, dial 911 or seek a nearby emergency phone (throughout campus). Report any crimes or suspicious people to 801-585-COPS (801-585-2677); this number will get you to a dispatch officer at the University of Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS: dps.utah.edu). If at any time, you would like to be escorted by a security officer to or from areas on campus, DPS will help — just give a call.
The University of Utah seeks to provide a safe and healthy experience for students, employees, and others who make use of campus facilities. In support of this goal, the University has established confidential resources and support services to assist students who may have been affected by harassment, abusive relationships, or sexual misconduct. A detailed listing of University Resources for campus safety can be found at: https://registrar.utah.edu/handbook/campussafety.php
Your well-being is key to your personal safety. If you are in crisis, call 801-587-3000; help is close. The University has additional excellent resources to promote emotional and physical wellness, including the Counseling Center (https://counselingcenter.utah.edu), the Wellness Center (https://wellness.utah.edu), and the Women’s Resource Center (https://womenscenter.utah.edu). Counselors and advocates in these centers can help guide you to other resources to address a range of issues, including substance abuse and addiction.