Program Description

Department of Neuroscience

Neuroscience Ph.D. Graduate Program Description

Introduction to the Neuroscience Discipline

Neuroscience is the study of the structure and function of the nervous system, in the normal adult as well as in development and pathology. The nervous system is the most complex system in the body as it plays a regulatory role controlling or influencing the functions of all physiologic systems. Understanding the ways in which the central (brain, spinal cord, retina) and peripheral nervous system function requires a multidisciplinary approach. Techniques from those of the molecular biologist to those of the experimental psychologist are all required to elucidate the interrelated structure and function of neurons and glial cells throughout the nervous system, and apply this knowledge to the treatment of psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

The multidisciplinary approach acquired during training in a neuroscience doctoral program is ideal preparation for future independent research in any of the contributing disciplines. The overlap of molecular, cellular, and physiological techniques with other fields leads to broader potential research directions. In addition to careers in research, the doctoral training in neuroscience can lead to opportunities in industry, administration, private foundations, and government regulatory agencies. This variety of career opportunities is particularly apparent in the Bethesda and Washington, D.C. areas surrounding USU.

Neuroscience Ph.D. Program Overview

The Graduate Program in Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary Ph.D. and M.D/Ph.D. program. There is no associated military commitment for civilians. Courses and research training are provided by over 60 Neuroscience Faculty members holding appointments in a wide range of basic science and clinical departments within the School of Medicine. The interdisciplinary nature of the program permits a choice of courses and research areas; training programs are tailored to meet the individual needs of each student. The program of study is divided into coursework, in fundamental and advanced areas of neuroscience, and laboratory dissertation research. During the first year, students take courses and participate in rotations in three laboratories. Additional advanced courses are taken in the second year along with a qualifying exam prior to advancing to candidacy. In addition to coursework, formal and informal training is designed to develop a wide range of skills required for diverse career opportunities.

Areas of research emphasis among the faculty are relatively diverse and approached from an interdisciplinary perspective. Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, including subsequent posttraumatic epilepsy, are a specific focus relative to the military population and traumatic events in the civilian sector. Neural stem cells and neural progenitor cell responses are being addressed in both a developmental context and in the adult CNS as applicable to neuroplasticity and regeneration. Neuroprotection and remyelination studies address potential basic and translational efforts to protect and repair the CNS to restore function, not only from trauma, but also from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, leukoencephalopathies, toxic insults, vascular lesions, and spinal cord injury. More behaviorally oriented studies include neurobiological aspects of fear, stress, and addiction to alcohol and tobacco.

USU Neuroscience Ph.D. Program Description

The Graduate Program in Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program with courses and research training provided by over 45 Neuroscience Faculty holding primary appointments in the Departments of Anatomy, Physiology and Genetics, Biochemistry, Medical and Clinical Psychology, Neurology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Pharmacology, and Psychiatry in the School of Medicine of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. The interdisciplinary nature of the program permits a choice of courses and research areas; training programs are tailored to meet the individual needs of each student.

The Program is designed for students with a strong undergraduate background in biology, physical sciences, or experimental/physiological psychology and who wish to pursue a professional career in neuroscience research.

Program of Study

The Program of study is divided into course work in fundamental and advanced areas of neuroscience, and laboratory dissertation research leading to the doctor of philosophy degree (Ph.D.). During the first year, students take courses and participate in research rotations in 3 laboratories of Neuroscience Program faculty members. By the end of the first year, a mentor will be chosen and research continued in the mentor's lab during subsequent years. Additional advanced courses are taken in the second year after which the successful completion of the qualifying exam will advance the student to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Course descriptions and a typical course of study can be found on our Curriculum and Procedures page under Courses.

In addition to coursework in neuroscience, formal and informal training is provided to develop more general skills required for diverse career directions. Opportunities for students to obtain teaching experience in neuroscience courses are available and encouraged.

A dissertation advisory committee, comprised of the thesis advisor and, at least 4 other USUHS faculty, will guide the direction and progress of the student's dissertation research. Presentation of a written doctoral dissertation proposal, completion of original neuroscience research, preparation of the doctoral dissertation, and the successful oral defense of the dissertation will lead to award of the Ph.D. degree.

More detailed information outlining courses and requirements can be found on this website in the section for Curriculum and Procedures.

About the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

USU was established by Congress in 1972 to provide a comprehensive education in medicine to those who demonstrate potential for careers as Medical Corps officers in the uniformed services.

Graduate programs in the basic medical sciences are offered to both civilian and military students and are an essential part of the academic environment of the University. Civilian students incur no obligation to the United States government for service after completion of their graduate training program. In addition to the Neuroscience Program, USUHS also has Ph.D. programs in departmentally-based basic biomedical sciences and interdisciplinary graduate programs in Cell and Molecular Biology, and in Emerging Infectious Diseases. In addition, to the Graduate and Medical Programs in the Medical School, the Nursing School has graduate programs for Nurse Practitioners and Nurse Anesthetists.

USUHS has modern well-equipped laboratories for the support of a wide variety of neuroscience research projects. Laboratories suitable for research in most areas of neuroscience are available to students, including molecular and cellular neurobiology, behavioral studies, electrophysiology, neuroanatomy, neurochemistry, neuropathology, neuropharmacology, and neurophysiology. High resolution transmission and scanning electron microscopes, video-based computer graphics, laser cytometers, and confocal microscopes are available. The biomedical instrumentation center contains oligonucleotide and peptide synthesizers, automated DNA and protein sequencers, fluorescent-activated cell sorters, and a proteomics suite. A centralized animal facility, a medical library and learning resource center, audio-visual and computer support are avail-able within the University. All laboratories, offices and the Learning Resource Center are interconnected through a local area computer network that allows for direct access to medical and research databases, literature, the University computers, and remote computers such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Admission Requirements

Applicants are accepted as full-time students to the USUHS Ph.D. program and must devote full-time effort to the Graduate Program in Neuroscience. All applicants must satisfy the University requirements for admission. Each applicant must complete a baccalaureate degree from an accredited academic institution before matriculation at USUHS. We recognize that neuroscience students come from a wide variety of backgrounds. A strong undergraduate training in science with completion of courses in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, physiology and psychology is desirable. Applicants must arrange for official transcripts of all prior college level courses taken and their Graduate Record Examination scores (taken within the last two years) to be sent to the Office of Graduate Education. Students may elect to submit in support of their application scores obtained in one or more Graduate Record Examination Subject tests from the subject areas listed above. Applicants must also arrange for letters of recommendation from three persons who are familiar with their academic.  Applicants should also submit a resume and personal statement with their application.

Students transferring into the Neuroscience Program from other institutions may transfer academic credit to meet the Neuroscience and Graduate Program requirements, with the approval of the USUHS Graduate Education Committee and the Neuroscience Executive Committee.

Application and Financial Support

Applications are accepted throughout the year. However, for full consideration and evaluation for stipend support, completed applications should be received by December 1 for matriculation in August. There is no application fee. 

You may apply by clicking the following link -

All applicants to the USU Graduate Programs in Biomedical Sciences and Public Health are required to submit the Application Form and a set of specified additional credentials to support the Application.

USUHS provides an attractive package of financial support that is administered as a federal salary. This support is available on a competitive basis to all civilian doctoral students.  Awards are made on an annual basis and are renewable for up to three years, after which students are supported by either fellowships that they are awarded or by grants awarded to their mentors.  The financial support for first year civilian graduate students is $34,311 and is increased to $35,486 following advancement to candidacy. This income is taxable and subject to social security, Medicare and retirement (FERS) withholding. As federal employees, students receive full federal benefits including standard federal contributions towards health insurance, thrift savings plan (TSP) and transit benefits. There are no tuition or fee charges for graduate students at USUHS, nor is there any requirement in the form of government or military service.  Most textbooks are provided to students without charge. 

USUHS subscribes fully to the policy of equal educational opportunity and accepts students on a competitive basis without regard to race, color, sex, or creed.