Degree Requirements

Degree Requirements

Graduate students in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences work with an advisor and advisory committee to develop a plan of study that provides a strong foundation, and allows them to explore specific interests.  

  • Graduate students must complete a total of six subjects within the first two years, and may not take these classes pass/fail. 
  • Students must earn a grade of A or B in required courses and lectures. 
  • The Graduate Committee monitors performance and may issue a warning to students with an unsatisfactory academic record. In serious cases, the Committee may recommend academic probation. If the student does not show significant improvement, they may be asked to leave the program. 

The tabs below outline specific curricular requirements and optional opportunities.

Degree Program Milestones

The following requirements must be met to receive the PhD degree:

1. A minimum of six graduate-level subjects, taken for a letter grade (i.e: not P/D/F)
2. Complete all required courses with a grade of B or better
3. Pass the qualifying exam
4. Submission of at least one first-authored paper
5. Pass the final oral exam (thesis defense)
6. Submit a written dissertation

Program Milestones

In the first year:

• Students must begin their required six courses (2 core, 1 statistics requirement, 3 electives)
• Students will complete required Human Subjects training
• Students will complete required Responsible Conduct in Research training.
• Students will complete a minimum of 3 lab rotations prior to selecting a thesis advisor.
• Students will join a thesis lab prior to the start of the second year of study.
• Students are encouraged to apply to any fellowship for which they are eligible (DOD, NDSEG, HHMI, NSF GRFP)

In the second year:

• Students must complete the remainder of their academic course requirements (2 core, 1 statistics requirement, 3 electives)
• Students must complete their teaching assistant training and their first-year teaching requirement
• Students must form their qualifying exam advisory committee and have their first committee meeting; all forms must be turned in to BCS HQ.
• Students are encouraged to apply to any fellowships for which they are eligible (DOD, NDSEG, HHMI are just a few).

In the third year:

• Students must complete the second year of their teaching requirement
• Students must complete their written and oral qualifying exam. The oral example must be completed in October of their third year.
• After passing the qualifying exam students must meet with their thesis committee at least once per academic year.

In the fourth year:

• After passing the qualifying exam students must meet with their thesis committee at least once per academic year.
• Students must register for thesis proposal beginning in their fourth year, with the aim of completing their thesis proposal close to the completion of their fourth year.
• Students must receive committee approval of their thesis proposal and must present orally to their committee during their fourth year.

Starting in the fifth year:

• Students must submit at least one publishable paper about their thesis research to a major scientific journal.
• Students must continue to meet with their thesis committee once per year.
• The final steps to completing the PhD Oral Examination (also known as the thesis defense) and submission of the approved written dissertation.

Required Courses

9.901: Responsible Conduct in Science (Taken in January of the first year), must receive a Passing grade (P)

The courses below must be taken for a letter grade and must be completed with a grade of B or better to receive credit.

1. Core Courses (must complete 2 for a grade)
• 9.012 Cognitive Science
• 9.011 Systems Neuroscience
• 9.013 Cell and Molecular I
• 9.014 Quantitative Methods & Computational Models
• 9.015 Cell and Molecular II

2. Statistics (1 course) : All students will be required to demonstrate competence in statistics.
Courses currently accepted as fulfilling the course requirement are (Students may contact Matt Wilson for review and approval if they identify a course that they believe fulfills the requirement.) :

9.073
9.272
9.660
9.014 (cannot be used as both a core AND the statistics requirement, it must be one or the other)
9.S912
7.57
12.444
9.641
HAA.1076
HAA.9868

3. Electives:
Students must complete a minimum of three (3) upper-level courses that may be selected based on the interests and needs of the student and must be related to the scientific degree program.

Teaching Requirement

Teaching experience is an imperative piece of preparing for an academic career. All graduate students are required to complete two terms of teaching, one in the second year and one in the third. To receive their assignment, students must register for 9.919, Teaching Brain and Cognitive Sciences, in the appropriate terms.

Before teaching assignments begin, graduate students must complete a workshop for new graduate teaching staff. Additional resources are available online through the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education and the Teaching and Learning Lab. Students may also access printable handbooks.  

first year rotations

During the graduate's first year, a minimum of three laboratory rotations is required. An optional fourth rotation is also available during spring term.

In order to familiarize new students with the research being conducted in the department, during September there will be a series of talks by faculty whose labs are open for rotations. Subsequent to the talks, students will submit their rotation requests using the online rotations database and will receive their assignments prior to the start of the first rotation period.

Rotation period 1 is October 1 to October 31
Rotation period 2 is November 1 to November 30
Rotation period 3 is January 13 to February 13
Rotation period 4 (optional) is February 16 to March 13

By April 30, each student must choose an advisor and notify the Academic Administrator of this choice.

  • A brief proposal for each rotation is required, submitted online when starting a rotation.
  • A brief summary of each rotation is required, submitted online when completing a rotation.
  • Once in a lab, each rotation student will be assigned a graduate student or postdoctoral mentor. Mentors are a valuable resource for rotation students, providing guidance and advice regarding lab practices and policies.
  • Students may rotate with faculty outside BCS. Anyone wishing to do a rotation in an outside department is encouraged to contact the outside faculty member directly to discuss the possibility of a rotation.

Submit your rotation requests, proposals, and reports to the Graduate Program Assistant, Julianne Gale Ormerod jugale@mit.edu. The Rotation Coordinator is Prof Mark Harnett, 46-6143, harnett@mit.edu.

A clinical rotation will be offered starting fall 2016. 

Qualifying Examinations

The written examination

The written exam consists of a grant proposal that follows the format and policies of either the National Institutes of Health (R01) or the National Science Foundation. 

The grant must contain three specific aims, which can be drawn from the student’s area of research, including their potential dissertation project. Unlike a grant, students are not expected to include preliminary data in the preparation and submission of the proposal.

The proposal should be no longer than 12 pages in length and must demonstrate: 

  • A command of the background and relevant literature. 
  • An ability to articulate new hypotheses. 
  • Specific ideas about methods to test those hypotheses. 

Deadline for submission of the written exam is two weeks prior to the oral exam. Students who submit late or inadequate proposals may not complete the program.

Oral examination
The oral exam covers reading lists of all core classes and items added by the student’s Exam Committee. The exam also includes a 30-minute presentation of the grant proposal, and questions from the Committee about the proposal and reading lists.  

The oral exam will be held during the month of October in the third year.  

If the student does not adequately complete the written or oral exams, the Committee will outline a course of action that could include additional work on the grant proposal or additional study of the reading list. The Committee will meet with the student to review progress within three months of the original oral exam date. Students may be given up to two opportunities to the pass the exam.

Please contact Julianne Gale Ormerod, BCS Graduate Program Assistant with questions about this process: jugale@MIT.edu or (617) 253-5741. 

 

Responsible Conduct of Research

Graduate students in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences are required to take a seminar in the responsible conduct of research. Formal and informal courses and seminars that meet this requirement are offered by the Department, and areas within MIT.  

This training is required of all first-year students as a vital part of training to become an ethical and responsible scientist. This training is offered during the winter IAP in January of each year. All students will be informed of registration for this training and attendance will be taken.

Required Education for Human Subjects Research

All graduate students must complete an approved human subjects training program, even if they are not currently performing research involving human subjects. This training must be completed by the end of September in the first year of graduate study, and can be taken online.  Students not expecting to be involved in research involving human subjects are still required to take the training.

All requirements must be completed on time in order to remain in good academic standing.  Any accommodations must be requested in advance and approved by the Graduate Affairs Committee. 

Required Annual Committee Meetings

Annual committee meetings are a requirement of the program beginning in the second year of study. All students are expected to turn in written documentation of their progress in the graduate program, and specifics in regard to their research projects. Each year has a corresponding form with the expectations for written items that the student must complete and attach to the form. This process is to document student progress, and to assist the student with the organization of their thoughts and goals. The forms additiionally have a committee section, where faculty advisors give written feedback as to the student's progress and expectations going forward. All forms must be returned to Julianne Gale Ormerod, BCS Graduate Program Assistant in BCS HQ.

In the second year:

All students must meet with their qualifying exam advisory committee to discuss their preliminary reading list (drawn from two core courses the student has taken) and any additional readings related to the student's qualifying exam proposal . All students should have a description of their written qualifying exam proposal and should have a brief plan for finishing all required coursework this year. The second year form and written explanation of these items, signed by their committee, should be turned in to Julianne Ormerod at BCS HQ. Second year form

In the third year:

Students take their qualifying exam in their third year, which is their annual committee meeting. The written exam consists of a grant proposal that follows the format and policies of either the National Institutes of Health (R01) or the National Science Foundation. 

The grant must contain three specific aims, which can be drawn from the student’s area of research, including their potential dissertation project. Unlike a grant, students are not expected to include preliminary data in the preparation and submission of the proposal.

The proposal should be no longer than 12 pages in length and must demonstrate: 

  • A command of the background and relevant literature. 
  • An ability to articulate new hypotheses. 
  • Specific ideas about methods to test those hypotheses. 

Deadline for submission of the written exam is two weeks prior to the oral exam. Students who submit late or inadequate proposals may not complete the program.

Oral examination
The oral exam covers reading lists of all core classes and items added by the student’s Exam Committee. The exam also includes a 30-minute presentation of the grant proposal, and questions from the Committee about the proposal and reading lists.  

The oral exam will be held during the month of October in the third year.  

If the student does not adequately complete the written or oral exams, the Committee will outline a course of action that could include additional work on the grant proposal or additional study of the reading list. The Committee will meet with the student to review progress within three months of the original oral exam date. Students may be given up to two opportunities to the pass the exam.

Please contact Julianne Gale Ormerod, BCS Graduate Program Assistant with questions about this process: jugale@MIT.edu or (617) 253-5741.
Third year form

In the fourth year:

All students should aim to present their 'thesis proposal' to their advisory committee in their fourth year of study.

The thesis proposal must be submitted to the Thesis Committee and approved by the end of May in the student’s fourth year.

  • The presentation must be scheduled and the date sent to the Academic Administrator by September 30th. 
  • Students should register in 9.941, thesis proposal, for six units in order to receive credit for the proposal. 
  • Copies of the proposal are submitted to the student‘s Advisory Committee, which evolves into the Thesis Committee. 
  • If the proposal is not completed and approved within the fall term, the student will receive a grade of J , for satisfactory progress, or U, for unsatisfactory progress, and will need to re-register for 9.941 in subsequent terms until they receive a passing grade. 

Thesis proposal format

  1. Title page should contain student’s name, thesis title, advisor, and submission date. This page should also note “thesis proposal.”
     
  2. Abstract is a brief, one-half to one page description of the vision for the planned thesis, including rationale for studying the specific problem, types of experiments to be performed or theory to be developed, and expected outcome.
     
  3. Table of contents lists the document‘s sections with page numbers.
     
  4. Literature survey is a critical review of current research in the proposed area of study. It should include evaluation of important contributions to the field and demonstrate awareness and understanding of relevant literature. The survey should be no longer than six pages.
     
  5. Specific aims should be presented as numbered sentences, and no longer than one page. This section should list the specific goals of each part of the proposed research. 
     
  6. Preliminary findings describe studies already completed by the author as background for proposed further work.
     
  7. Experimental design and methods describe the experiments to be performed for each specific aim. Well-established methods can be referenced briefly; new, experimental, or unorthodox methods should be described in more detail. This section should end with a timetable for task prioritization and completion.
     
  8. References should conform to accepted thesis format and style, as set by the MIT Library.

Fourth year form

Starting in the fifth year:
The student's annual committee meeting should include a clear idea of key goals and estimated time to achieve them, with a proposed timeline to degree. Student publications, or planned publications should be discussed. Students should begin thinking about plans and preparation for their postgraduate career. Fifth year and beyond form