The interdisciplinary undergraduate program in neuroscience is offered by the COS and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS). For details, see the CHSS chapter in this catalog.
The interdisciplinary doctoral program in neuroscience is offered by the COS, CHSS, and the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study.
The program focuses on the complexity of the human brain and addresses the challenge of developing an integrative understanding of human cognition and higher brain function. In response to this challenge, the rapidly developing field of neuroscience has produced an exponential increase in the amount of data available to investigators as they develop new theories of brain function and new hypotheses to test. The main objective of the program is to prepare students to participate at the cutting edge of this exciting field in academia, industry, and government. The program provides students with a rich interdisciplinary intellectual environment that fosters the development of the skills they will need to successfully pursue research careers.
Current faculty research focuses on the broad areas of behavior, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, computational modeling, and informatics. External research collaborations exist with federal agencies, private and not-for-profit corporations, and other universities. The scope of research ranges from the subcellular and molecular level (in the context of such phenomena as drug addiction and the biological basis of schizophrenia) to the systems and behavioral level (including cognitive studies on great apes in collaboration with Great Ape Trust of Iowa).
Current research projects include the effects of drugs and alcohol on behavioral and neurological development, cellular organization and connections of sensory processing areas in fish, plasticity mechanisms supporting network formation and information processing, cellular and subcellular models of associative learning, biochemical dynamics in disorders of the basal ganglia, computational methods for simulation of complex biological systems, role of metals in memory and Alzheimer’s disease, dynamical behavior of neurons and networks of neurons, and adaptive control for stabilization of epilepsy.
Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field and undergraduate courses in chemistry, cell biology, and integral calculus. Admission requires a minimum GPA of 3.25 in undergraduate work and acceptable GRE scores. In addition, applicants must submit a statement of purpose consistent with the research interests of at least one faculty member in the program and the names of two faculty members who may be suitable as advisors or supervisory committee members. To apply, prospective students should forward to the COS Fairfax Campus Graduate Admissions Processing Center a completed Mason graduate application, two copies of official transcripts from each college and graduate institution attended, a current résumé, and a statement of purpose. Applicants should also include three letters of recommendation and an official report of scores obtained on the GRE-GEN. The GRE-SUB is recommended if it is given in the student’s undergraduate major. TOEFL scores are required of all international applicants.
The curriculum consists of 72 credits: 48 credits of course work and 24 credits of dissertation research. The 48-credit requirement may be reduced by up to 30 credits for a qualified student holding a previous master’s degree. Up to 24 credits of previous, relevant graduate course work may be transferred into the program provided those credits have not been applied toward a previous degree. Additional requirements for graduation include a dissertation and at least one publication (in print or in press) in a refereed journal.
Two areas of emphasis are included in the program: behavioral, anatomical, and molecular neuroscience. and theoretical, computational, and physiological neuroscience (TCP). All students will follow almost the same curriculum for the first two years, although emphasis prerequisites may vary slightly. For example, students in the TCP emphasis must have basic knowledge of integral calculus. It is expected that the selection of elective thesis topics will vary widely between the two areas of emphasis; however, students will be allowed to mix and match electives from both areas, with guidance and consent from the advisor or program director.
The courses, seminars, and laboratory rotations and readings (comprising a total of 48 credits) are organized as follows:
When course work is nearing completion, students should form a doctoral committee and have their thesis proposal ready to defend. Candidacy exams include written and oral components. After passing the candidacy exam and receiving committee approval of the dissertation proposal, students are advanced to doctoral candidacy. The degree will be awarded after completion of the required course work and approval of a PhD thesis that makes an original and significant contribution to the field.