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Information for BNS students

Below you will find information for incoming and current students, including program policies, academic goals, milestones, and travel grant resources.

Table of contents:

  1. Incoming Students
  2. How To Register
  3. Pre-Qualifying Course of Study
  4. Learning Goals
  5. Teaching Assistantships
  6. Early Research Projects
  7. Qualifying Examination
  8. Thesis Research
  9. Travel Grants

Incoming Students

What to do before you arrive:
  1. Ensure that you have an appointment letter (or email) and that you understand the origin and amount of all your funding; you may have more than one source. If you are not sure, email the Program Director in the CMBN/BNS Business Office.
  2. Figure out who you are: This is important! Are you a student, GA or fellow? Are you being funded from CMBN, MBRS? To find this out look at your appointment letter.If you are still unsure, contact the Program Director.
  3. Find out the start date for classes and plan to arrive at least 2 weeks (for U.S. citizens) or 1 month (for international students) before or earlier if you need to organize accommodations. Classes start by the beginning of September. There is an orientation and training sessions about 2 weeks before classes start. All incoming students must attend Rutgers orientations. In addition, international students must attend special training sessions, which occur earlier in the month. It is also important that you keep in mind that your salary will not begin before classes start.
  4. Find somewhere to live: contact the University housing office ( or talk to students already in BNS there.
  5. Some advice from current students: You don’t have to choose the lab in which you will eventually conduct your thesis work right away. Use your first semester to get to know the work that goes on in the different labs.
  6. If you are an international student make sure you have and F-1 Visa or equivalent, and an I-91 form from the University.


What to do when you arrive:
  1. Arrange a meeting with the Program Director to discuss your classes, registration and other plans.
  2. Go to the orientation sessions: you will receive a letter/email stating you must attend and when they take place.
  3. Check you are registered for classes after consultation with the Program Director.
  4. You need to collect a tuition remission form online. The Program Director in the CMBN business office can sign it. Take this form to the cashier’s window in Blumenthal (3rd floor). Please note that there is a $125.00 charge for late fees if you do not file the form before the deadline (even if you are not required to pay anything!).
  5. Payroll and Benefits:
    Go to the BNS business office to add your name to the payroll.
    Once your NetID is activated, you can go to this link ( and scroll to the bottom where it says 'Upload Your Photo.' After you get an email saying your photo was approved, you can go to the ID booth on the 3rd floor of Blumenthal Hall (hours, location, contacts, etc. - to get your ID (bring your State ID/passport, but they probably won't ask for it).
  6. Orient yourself within and around – best done by asking a current student for quick tour, also see to help orient yourself.
  7. Add yourself to the departmental email lists. Go to and enter your email on the first line, your name on the second line, and then push the Subscribe button. You will automatically receive a confirmation email with instructions to confirm the subscription. Confirmation needs to be done within 2 days.
  8. If you’re an international student you will also need to (in this order):
    1. Find the International student office in Conklin Hall, room 120 and give them a copy of your visa and I-91. For more information see OISS website.
    2. Go to the local social security office, with your appointment letter and passport and I-91 to get a SS#
    3. Open a local bank account (you need passport, I-91, SS# and appointment letter).
    4. Give the University registrar your SS#.


What to get when you arrive:
  1. See the CMBN/BNS Business Office Staff in Room 201 in the Aidekman Building to obtain a letter of acknowledgement that you are allowed to have full access (24 hours/7 days a week) to CMBN.
  2. Once your NetID is activated, you can go to this link ( and scroll to the bottom where it says 'Upload Your Photo.' After you get an email saying your photo was approved, you can go to the ID booth on the 3rd floor of Blumenthal Hall (hours, location, contacts, etc. - to get your ID (bring your State ID/passport, but they probably won't ask for it).
    • You need the ID card so that you can gain access to CMBN on off-peak hours.
    • You need the student ID so that you can get student discounts as well as student membership/ submissions fees for conferences.
  3. Go to the library with proof of address to get a library barcode placed on the back of your student ID card.
  4. You need an acess code to use the copiers in the Center. You will need to see the secretary assigned to your lab for this code.


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How to register for courses

Students register via the Rutgers On-line Schedule of Classes with advice from the Program Director.


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Pre-Qualifying Course of Study

The curriculum has been developed to meet faculty requirements and students' expectations for a broad-based background in neuroscience. The curriculum includes graduate level basic courses as well as focused, upper-level courses over a wide spectrum of topics. A typical curriculum is outlined below (9 credits per semester is considered full time) and the formal criteria for reappointment as a graduate student can be found in this document. Students need 30 course credits and 30 research credits to graduate.


The first year starts with a 2 week intensive boot camp in which students are introduced to the nuts and bolts of neuroscience through guided readings, computer simulations, lab visits, demonstrations, and hands-on tutorials.

1st Semester
2nd Semester
Course Credits Course Credits
Foundations in Neuroscience I 4 Foundations in Neuroscience II or III 4
Scientific Computing 3 Critical Thinking 2
Research Rotation 2 Research Rotation 3

The summer semester is devoted to research in one of the laboratories participating in the BNS program (no registration or credits).

1st Semester
2nd Semester
Course Credits Course Credits
Elective Courses 3-6 Foundations II or III 4
Research Rotation (optional) 3 Elective Courses 3-6
Colloquium Series 1 Colloquium Series 1
Independent Research 1 + research credits Independent Research 1 + research credits

The summer is devoted to research, most likely in the laboratory in which students plans to complete their PhD research project.


At the start of the Third year, students should have a total of 30 course credits. They take the Candidacy or Qualifying Exam if successful, proceed to focus on Independent Research (for research credits) for the remainder of the program. The thesis proposal also takes place in year three.


Faculty offer in-depth courses in their areas of expertise. These courses change periodically. Some examples from past years are:

  • Basal Forebrain
  • Neuropharmacology
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Computational Neuroscience
  • Cortical Structure and Function
  • Human Neuroanatomy
  • Learning and Memory
  • Neural Basis of Cognitive Development
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Neurobiology of Disease
  • Neurophysiology
  • Windows on the Brain


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Learning Goals

Intended Learning Outcomes
Assessment Procedures
Use of Assessment Results
Research Skills

Graduates must have the conceptual and technical skills to conduct neuroscience research. Graduates are expected to:

Identify a significant research problem or question for investigation

• Formulate valid hypotheses

• Design feasible experiments to test those hypotheses

• Possess the technical skills to perform experiments competently and reproducibly

• Analyze and interpret data rigorously using appropriate statistical methods if necessary.


Students take two or more one semester research rotations with Program faculty during their first 2 years. For years 3-5, the student works with their mentor on thesis research and is advised and examined by their thesis committee. The thesis committee must be formed in year 3. The Chair of the Thesis Committee must not be the student’s mentor. Thesis-phase students meet with their thesis committees semiannually to present and discuss progress and problems in their thesis research. Thesis committees consist of the mentor and three or more members of the graduate faculty at least two of whom must be from the Behavioral & Neural Sciences Program plus an external examiner. A public thesis proposal seminar is given by the student to the program faculty and students ideally in year 3, or summer or fall of year 4. It is expected that their public thesis defense will occur in year 5. Two forms of the thesis may be chosen: (a) the “classic” form consisting of an Introduction to the research field and the background to the problem(s) which will be investigated; a detailed Methods and Analysis section; the Results; Discussion: and Bibliography. Or (b) the “compendium” form which consists 3 published or in press papers, an Introduction to the research field and the background to the problem which will be investigated; an overall Discussion of the three papers: and Bibliography.    

It is important that the student is able to demonstrate a propensity for laboratory research during the rotations. Students must obtain at least a B grade in each rotation. The Chair of the Thesis Committee is charged with the duty of insuring that the student is making satisfactory progress and that interactions with the student’s mentor are appropriate. The Chair calls the semiannual meetings to discuss the progress being made and the committee apprises whether progress on the defined Specific Aims is adequate.The Specific Aims may be modified in light of the experimental results. The Thesis Committee decides when sufficient progress has been made and schedules the thesis defense. The written thesis must be presented to the Committee at least three weeks before the scheduled public defense.

Scientific Knowledge

Graduates must possess both general and specific knowledge of neuroscience and related fields. Graduates are expected to:


• Demonstrate a broad general knowledge (at a level equivalent to that of an average working neuroscientist) of the concepts, current hypotheses and key experiments in all areas of neuroscience, including: cellular & molecular neuroscience, developmental neuroscience, neurochemistry, neurophysiology, neuroanatomy, neuropharmacology, and behavioral and cognitive neuroscience.

• Demonstrate detailed knowledge of one or more areas of neuroscience (at a level equivalent to that of an expert in that area).



Students are expected to complete their degrees within five years. The doctoral program requires a minimum of 30 non-research course credits plus 30 research course credits.  The program offers a core curriculum and a wide choice of electives.During year 1 students must take Foundations of Neuroscience, a 2 semester 8 credit course It begins with molecular and cellular neuroscience and ends with behavior and cognition. It is team-taught by the faculty. The course is divided into 4 sections, each with its own written examination.

At the end of the first year the students take the first part of their qualifying exam – the Comprehensive Exam. This exam is an oral exam of general neuroscience knowledge at the level of the “Foundations" course but with an emphasis on synthesis and integration across domains of their knowledge.

At the end of year 2 the students Advance to Candidacy, by passing an exam consisting of two parts: A) a written component describing research conducted in previous lab rotation(s). The form of the write-up can be either 1) a research paper to be submitted to a journal or 2) an NRSA grant application. B) an oral presentation of the research conducted in the form of a short Powerpoint presentation.  The student is expected to defend their work in an oral defense.  Questions from an examining committee will be directed to the research methodology, analysis of results and their interpretation. Thus, the goal is to test general knowledge, the ability to plan, execute laboratory research, statistically analyze and draw supportable conclusions communicated in both written and spoken word.

Colloquium: First and second year students are required to attend the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience (CMBN) colloquium series each month, Each colloquium is preceded by a class in which the speaker’s paper(s) are presented by senior students and discussed with the CMBN faculty member inviting the speaker. The colloquium isfollowed by a meeting of the BNS students with the colloquium speaker to discuss their work and views. Students who help review the papers are invited to dinner with faculty and the speaker. The CMBN invites outstanding national and international neuroscientists. Thus, students are exposed to prominent outside neuroscientists throughout their training. Naturally, faculty of the program may also participate in the colloquium series.


As the Foundations course forms the basis for their future graduate studies, each student must pass each section of Foundations with a grade of B or better.If one section receives a grade of less than B, the student may retake the section the following year, if they pass their oral exam at the end of their first year.  If the student receives grades of less than B on two sections or more they may not continue in the program.The Comprehensive Exam committee is formed by a rotating roster of 4 BNS faculty plus the Director (who maintains quality control and historical memory of previous students’ performances). The exam usually lasts for one hour. The students who are examined each year are given the same starting questions but depending on their answers the exploration of the student’s knowledge and ability to entertain scientific discourse may lead in different directions.  Unsatisfactory performance in the exam leads to dismissal.

Each student's Qualifying Exam committee is formed by 4 BNS faculty, plus the Director, who maintains quality control and historical memory of previous students' performances. The composition of each committee will be determined by the Director, and will be based upon the student's expertise and the topic of their exam. The faculty member who directed the research project may also be present as a non-voting observer.  After the student’s presentation and defense, the committee meets and can seek advice from the research mentor as to the student’s abilities.  If the student does not show an aptitude to be a successful researcher, they may be awarded a terminal MS degree as long as they have a final B average in their course work.

Students are graded by the CMBN faculty member inviting the speaker based on the participation of the student in the discussion of the speaker’s paper(s).

Learning and Improvement

Graduates must be able to appraise scientific data, and to evaluate their individual activities in order to grow professionally. Graduates are expected to:

• Critically appraise scientific papers in the neurosciences

• Draw conclusions on the balance of evidence from multiple sources

• Use information technology to conduct literature searches and manage information to support their life-long intellectual enrichment

• Identify emerging areas of research on the basis of their literature reviews

• Self-assess their progress as a research scientist

Course - Critical Thinking: For one semester in each of the first and second years, students meet to discuss journal articles and write papers defending their criticisms and/or support of published research findings. The ability to read and analyze research papers is critical to the development of a researcher in neuroscience. This course hones skills necessary for in-depth journal reading and writing of critiques.    

Students are graded on their participation in the course and their analytical abilities as expressed both orally and in writing.

Communication and Teaching


Graduates must demonstrate effective oral and written communication skills.  Graduates are expected to:

• Write, edit and submit scientific manuscripts for publication

• Present well organized research seminars that contain effective graphics

• Work effectively as a member of a research team

• Provide and receive constructive criticism in a professional manner

• Participate in teaching undergraduate and graduate students



All students TA one graduate course and two undergraduate courses in neuroscience or related areas as an academic requirement.Students are expected to participate in the annual Neuroscience Minisymposium and present a poster or oral presentation. Students are encouraged to attend the annual Society of Neuroscience meeting or other appropriate conferences to present their research as a poster or an oral presentation. Students participate in regular lab meetings.

Evening Research Socials:
Students and postdoctoral fellows meet over dinner at Rutgers to hear presentations of each other’s ongoing work. These meetings occur in the absence of faculty to insure an informal atmosphere, promote active discussion, and enhance camaraderie. The schedule and administrative details are managed by the pre- and postdoctoral representatives.

Enlightening Postdoctoral and Predoctoral Seminars: Intermittently, on a Friday afternoon with pizza and soda, one postdoc and one graduate student present their research to attending faculty and students. These presentations serve to inform faculty, postdocs and students about recent discoveries being made by their colleagues, to provide feedback to the presenters, and to create a friendly forum for pre- and postdoctoral fellows to hone their presentation skills.

Appropriate student performance is insured by the faculty member in charge of the course. Course reports are reviewed by the Director and the faculty member in charge of the course. Students are observed by the faculty and input is given to encourage and improve the student’s communication skills.

Ethics and Professionalism

Graduates must demonstrate a commitment to professional responsibilities, adherence to ethical principles and a respect for individuals. Graduates are expected to:

• Demonstrate knowledge of, and commitment to the principles of responsible conduct in research (RCR)

• Evaluate a situation involving unethical or unprofessional conduct.

• Demonstrate effective conflict management skills


Students must take the Graduate School orientation on entry into the program which includes sections on academic ethics and ethical research with both humans and animals.
- Ethics in Science, Research and Scholarship.

Students are held to the highest ethical standards through out their participation in the program. Any lapses are referred immediately to the Director who may then invoke University procedures if appropriate.

Understand the Academic System

Graduates must demonstrate an understanding of the external structures that govern biomedical research and the career pathways available to graduates.  Graduates are expected to:

• Demonstrate knowledge of external agencies funding biomedical research

• Understand the grant review process of the National Institutes of Health

• Evaluate career opportunities and pathways, from an informed perspective




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Teaching Assistantships and Graduate Assistantships

All BNS students (irrespective of funding source) are required to teach during their training. The average teaching load is less than 15 hours per week. Students can choose from undergraduate and graduate courses at Rutgers. Students who have completed a course should fill out the teaching requirement sign off form, and return it to the Program Director.


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Early Research Projects

After completing the first year curriculum, and before the Qualifying Examination may be attempted, students are required to complete an Early Research Project. Typically the project should be started no later than the Spring semester of the first year. The Early Research Project is an independently performed research project approved by the faculty member in whose laboratory the research is performed.

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Qualifying Examination


The purpose of the Candidacy Exam is to establish that the student has acquired sufficient proficiency in the discipline of Neuroscience for admission to Candidacy for the Doctoral Degree.

The candidacy exam is taken at the beginning of the 3rd year. It consists of both a written exam (in journal format or as a grant proposal) with an oral presentation and oral defense of the written document to be based upon the subject of the Early Research Project.

The Early Research Project is an independent piece of research conducted under the auspices of one of the faculty members of the BNS program during one or more of the required research rotations. As the Early Research Project is often conducted under time constraints, latitude will be granted as to the amount of data required and/or the success of the experiments, which in practice might be insufficient for an actual publication or fellowship proposal.

The Written Exam

The written component of the Candidacy exam will be examined for the level of critical thought and analysis, the logical development of ideas, the persuasiveness of arguments, the relevance, quality and scope of the citations and the use of correct spelling and grammar.

The Committee recognizes that even the best manuscripts/proposals may need revision, just as almost all manuscripts that are actually submitted for publication require some revisions before final acceptance by a journal. Manuscripts of this type may be deemed acceptable by the Committee, even if they require revision and re-submission.

Candidates must provide a single PDF document of their proposal to the Committee Chair no later than 5:00 pm on the first Friday of September in their 3rd year in the program. If the written exam is deemed acceptable, the Committee Chair will schedule an oral examination and defense of the document, typically during the 3rd week of September.

Grant Proposal format

The grant proposal is to be written in the format of an NIH F31 Predoctoral Research Proposal, following the organizational outline, formatting and page limitations. Only the Research Proposal section and the section on Respective Contributions are to be completed. Proposals that have been previously submitted to a granting agency may not be submitted for the qualifying exam. In such situations the student should use the journal format described below.

Journal Article Format

The journal article must be written to meet all formal requirements of submission to the Journal of Neuroscience (as can be found in the Instructions for Authors on the web pages of the Journal of Neuroscience). The sole exception to this rule is that figures (and captions) should be included in the text where they should appear in a final published article.

The Oral Exam

Since one of the purposes of the exam is to identify areas of weakness or deficits that need to be rectified before graduation, faculty advisors are encouraged to attend their student’s oral presentations as silent, non-participating members.

The examination will consist of a 20 minute presentation of the Early Research Project by the candidate, during which the candidate will be questioned by the Committee. These questions may encompass any technical, methodological, analytical, or conceptual aspects of the Early Research Project and manuscript, as well as the literature related to the project.

For the oral examination, the evaluators will asses the student’s general knowledge of the field, detailed knowledge of the literature, familiarity with techniques, level of critical thought and analysis, logical development of ideas, persuasiveness of arguments and ability to field questions.

Role of the Advisor

The experiments forming the basis for the paper, the analysis of the data, and their interpretation should can and should be carried out in close collaboration with the advisor. However, the student must demonstrate intellectual ownership of the organization, presentation, and interpretation of data and text of the article/proposal submitted for the Candidacy Examination.

A written statement must be provided to the committee disclosing the respective contributions of the student and advisor towards the preparation of the article/proposal.

As further guidance for the respective role of the advisor and the student, the following scenario is recommended. First, the advisor and student meet to discuss an outline of the paper (or grant proposal). The student then writes a first, complete draft and submits it to the advisor for comments. The advisor provides comments at a similar level of detail as one would receive on submission to a journal. The student corrects the manuscript in light of those comments and submits the article/proposal to the committee.

Notification of Results

Successful completion of the Candidacy Examination requires approval by at least a 2/3 majority of the Qualifying Examination Committee.

No more than 3 weeks after completing the examination, all candidates will be informed of the results of their examination in writing. This letter, which becomes part of the students’ permanent academic file, will also detail strengths and weaknesses identified by the examination and, if necessary, make specific recommendations for remediation.

  • Did you follow all formatting instructions?
  • Did you submit a single PDF file?
  • Did you include a statement of the contributions of the student and advisor?


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Thesis Research

All BNS students must form a thesis committee that is comprised of their adviser, a Chair of the committee (not the adviser) and at least 2 other BNS faculty members and an outside member within 6 months of passing their Candidacy Exams. The committee should meet formally with the student every 6 months to offer advice and monitor progress. All BNS students also must develop a thesis proposal for public presentation to the BNS faculty and students in their third year. Formulating a thesis proposal early in the thesis research phase allows the student to obtain valuable input from the thesis committee towards developing a rigorous research plan and a defined thesis project. The thesis committee will be responsible for providing the student with advice during their dissertation research phase of the program. The written thesis should be presented to the thesis committee at least one month before the thesis defense. The written thesis may be presented in one of two forms: 1) the "classic" form consisting of an introductory chapter, method and analysis section, detailed experiments -results and conclusions, overall conclusion or 2) the "compendium" form consisting of an introduction, three or more published full length papers, general discussion. General instructions concerning the Graduate School timetables and instructions can be found on their appropriate web pages.

Please check the web site of the Graduate School Newark for the regulations that apply to all Rutgers-Newark PhD programs, including BNS. Search for a document about "Doctoral Degree Requirements". That site has information on the application process and on the formatting and submission guidelines for a thesis. Also see information on electronic submission of the thesis at Rutgers Library RU-Core Electronic Thesis and Dissertations (RUetd). Please note that the application process should be started at least 3 months before your planned graduation date.

International graduate students, three months prior to your defense date, must submit OPT application package to the OISS. You must attend at least one of the OISS seminars for OPT. These seminars happen 2-3 times a semester and OISS notifies students via email .

If you are continuing as a postdoc at Rutgers after your defense:

  • Obtain a termination letter from your supervisor stating that you have successfully completed your degree requirements and obtained your degree, therefore your graduate assistant line needs to be terminated at a specific date.
  • Obtain an appointment letter from the supervisor at whose lab you'll do your post-doctoral work. Make sure the date of termination and the date of appointment overlaps.
  • If you are international student continuing your post-doctoral work under OPT, turn in a copy of your employment authorization card along with your termination and appointment letters.


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Travel Grants

The BNS Program provides financial support for travel to scientific meetings to present research, or for attendance at training courses.

Rules & Eligibility
  • The research presented or training received must be closely related to work conducted in BNS laboratories.
  • In the case of research presentations, the awardee must be the presenting author.
  • BNS Students must be in years 1-5 of the graduate program.
  • Awardees are expected to present the supported research at the annual BNS Mini Symposium.
  • Affiliation with the BNS program, and acknowledgment of its support must be indicated on posters and other publications.
  • In the majority of cases total awards will not exceed $750 in any given academic year. Unawarded funds will not, in general, be carried over to subsequent years. Requests to waive this policy will require special justification and will be considered on a case by case basis.Example: A student has work that could be presented at a forthcoming Society for Neuroscience meeting. However she feels that a specialist meeting later that year will be significantly more beneficial in her training. The specialist meeting is in Australia, so she requests that she use 2 awards for travel to the specialist meeting and forgoes travel funding for the subsequent year.
Eligible expenses

Flights (lowest economy fare)
Registration and abstract fees
Per diem food allowance (compatible with Rutgers reimbursement policy)


If you are sure you are eligible (i.e. this is a routine SFN visit where you are presenting your work and you have not yet received any awards this year), then you should provide the following information to the online TABER system (TABER) after the meeting. Request information on processing from the CMBN/BNS Business Office.

  1. Name:
  2. Number of years in graduate program:
  3. Telephone:
  4. Email:
  5. Proposed travel. (Provide justification; funding is contingent upon adequate justification).
  6. Abstract of the research to be presented (where appropriate)
  7. Previous travel awards received from BNS (Amount/Date)


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