Post-baccalaureate Research Scholars Program in Brain and Cognitive Sciences

Post-baccalaureate Research Scholars Program in Brain and Cognitive Sciences

The application deadline for the 2021-2023 cycle will be March 1, 2021. For more information, please contact: Mandana Sassanfar, Ph.D. Outreach Officer MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at mandana@mit.edu

The Research Scholars Program in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) is a prestigious two-year funded non-degree post-baccalaureate program for outstanding recent college graduates who plan to pursue a research career in neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, computational neuroscience or neuroengineering. This program is specifically designed to provide individuals from under-represented minority groups in a STEM field, first-generation college students, individual students with disabilities, from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or veterans, to conduct supervised research in any BCS lab of their choice, the opportunity to take courses at MIT, and immerse themselves in the MIT culture and its academic rigors, while gaining the knowledge and experience necessary to become competitive PhD applicants, and successful graduate students.

The MIT BCS post-baccalaureate program was started to provide talented students from under-represented groups and under-privileged backgrounds the opportunity to receive additional research and academic training in neuroscience in preparation for the top neuroscience PhD program. The ultimate goal of the program is to increase the number of women and under-represented minorities in academic leadership positions in the field of neuroscience. Students admitted into the program receive a stipend, health benefits and full tuition.

Postbac students have access to the same activities as graduate students. They conduct supervised research in a laboratory of their choice, take courses for credit, attend seminars, meet with their assigned advisor on a regular basis and are able to experience first-hand the life of a graduate student and the culture of MIT.

The importance of the post-bac program in targeting under-represented minorities in graduate education cannot be understated, especially given current political discourse. MIT has historically been a trailblazer in committing to and implementing diversity initiatives. The post-bac program is a direct extension of this tradition.

Eligibility

This program is primarily intended for individuals from under-represented minority groups in a STEM field, first-generation college students, individuals with disabilities, from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or veterans who need more research experience and academic preparation before applying to PhD programs in neuroscience.

All applicants must:

  • have US citizenship or US permanent residency (no exceptions)
  • have graduated from a four-year accredited US institution by the start of the program. Preference will be given to students who have graduated from college within the last 24 months.
  • have strong academic records (minimum GPA of 3.3)
  • have majored or minored in a STEM field with some prior research experience and a demonstrated interest in pursuing a PhD degree
  • psychology majors are eligible for this program

Priority will be given to applicants who had limited research opportunities in college.

Physics, math, engineering and computer science majors who are interested in the brain are welcome to apply.

For more information, please contact: Mandana Sassanfar, Ph.D. Outreach Officer MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Bldg. 46-2047 by Email: mandana@mit.edu

 

Program Structure

The program is based on a 80% research effort and 20% academic enrichment and course work. Participants will be assigned an academic advisor, with whom they will meet on a monthly basis, and a research mentor (an MIT faculty member in the department of Brain and cognitive Sciences) who will host the student in his or her lab. Participants are strongly encouraged to start as MSRP Bio students and will receive all of the benefits MSRP Bio students receive. Students will start the BCS Post-bac program on September 1st and will receive a stipend, health insurance, tuition remission, and similar benefits offered to MIT graduate students.

Course work
Course work will be tailored to each individual's needs. Courses for credit will only be offered during the first year of the program (up to twelve credits per semester) to build skills and knowledge in computational and quantitative methods, critical reading, analysis of primary research literature, and fundamental and advanced concepts in cognition and neuroscience. Participants will discuss their research on a monthly basis with their peers. They will prepare their graduate school application during the summer after completing their first year, learn about the various aspects of the graduate application process required for submitting a competitive application and having a successful interview, explore funding opportunities for graduate school, and learn about various careers available to PhD degree holders. 

Research
Participants will conduct supervised research in a host laboratory (85% in the summer, 70% during the first academic year and 85% in the second year) in one or more of the following areas: Cognitive neuroscience, computational neuroscience, systems neuroscience, neuro-engineering, and cellular and molecular neuroscience. Participants will work in a fast-paced, supportive research environment and learn to become independent researchers, who can design and conduct experiments, collect and analyze data, and present their work to both general and specialized audiences. After the first year participants can opt to swtich host laboratories, or continue their training in the same laboratory. At the end of the first year, all participants will give a formal research presentation open to the BCS community.

Program Completion
Advancement to the second year will depend on the participant's performance review at the end of their first year. At the completion of the program, students will receive a certificate and an official transcript from MIT that documents the subjects and research completed in the department. It is expected that following the completion of the program, all participants will start a PhD program.

Application dates and deadlines

The post-bacc program runs from September 1st through May 30th. The the 2021-2023 application cycle will open December, 2020 with a deadline of March 1, 2021. Applicants will be informed of their application status by April 15, 2021.

For more information, please contact: Mandana Sassanfar, Ph.D. Outreach Officer MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences Bldg. 46-2047 by Email: mandana@mit.edu

program alumni

Tyler BonnenTyler Bronnen

Tyler, a gifted African American student, came from an extremely disadvantaged background with little exposure to neuroscience. After two years in the post-bac program working in Rebecca Saxe's lab he was admitted into several top graduate programs, including MIT. He chose to pursue a PhD in the psychology department at Stanford University. In his current work, co-advised by Anthony Wagner and Daniel Yamins, tyler uses biologically plausible computational models, neural data, and animal behavior in order to formalize the relationship between perception and memory.

 

Jorge Yanar

Jorge was born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. He moved to the United States at the age of 9 and attended Loyola University Chicago as an undergraduate, where he studied Physics and Computer Science. While at Loyola, Jorge worked with Robert G. Morrison, studying the neural correlates of age-related cognitive decline. Working in Earl Miller's lab at MIT, Jorge helped to better elucidate the neural dynamics of anesthesia.

“Experiencing the academic rigors of MIT through coursework, and seeing firsthand the world- class research happening at BCS provides me with a very rich experience. Already, I've been able to assist with experiments involving non-human primates, begun learning the analysis tools of a paradigm that's completely different from my undergraduate work, and gained access to mentors with incredibly varied backgrounds.

"Importantly, the fact that the department houses people studying neural systems across vastly different levels of function will help me gain a much more comprehensive understanding of the current state of neuroscience than would have been possible anywhere else. “My goal is to one day hold a tenure-track position at an academic research institution, whereupon I hope to help us gain a more comprehensive understanding of how the computational and structural motifs that seem to be present throughout the brain allow for the construction of a complex information-processing system.”

In the fall of 2020 Jorge started his second year in the PhD program at the Neuroscience Institute in Princeton University.

Josefina Correa

Josefina was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. As a student at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, she majored in fine arts, with a concentration in drawing, and later in biology. She also enjoyed taking computer science classes, learning Mandarin, and had the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Beijing teaching English. After attending the Quantitative Methods workshop at MIT she applied and was admitted into the MSRP BIO summer program where she worked in the laboratory of professor Matt Wilson under the supervision of Carmen Varela (now on the neuroscience faculty at Florida Atlantic University) and postdoctoral fellow Hector Panagos.

“My interest in neuroscience stems for my lifelong love for learning. I decided to apply to the Postbac program because I wanted to have a research experience in neuroscience at MIT, an institution overflowing with learning opportunities. If this program did not exist, I would have stayed at my home institution for an additional year, conducting research on computer vision. However, I would not have enjoyed access to the type of resources available at MIT." Soon after starting the post-bac program, she said, "I have already had hands-on experience in assisting in conducting surgeries, experiments and collecting data. I have also worked on designing algorithms to analyze behavioral data, a process that is necessary for showing the impact of a neural intervention on the animal's ability to learn a task. The projects that I have worked on have helped me learn essential skills for conducting research in neuroscience and to see the bigger picture, that understanding how different systems communicate is essential for designing solutions for impairments in these communications.

"I feel that our ability to learn defines our human experience For this reason, I wish to understand what neural computations are implied in the learning process and how these computations relate to intelligence. By doing so, I hope to contribute towards elucidating solutions for neural diseases resulting in cognitive deficits. After the program, I hope to pursue a PhD in computational or systems neuroscience and to continue doing neuroscience-related research. I strongly feel that this program will provide me the necessary skills to achieve these goals."

She was correct: Josefina was admitted into the highly selective BCS graduate program where she is currently a graduate student in the laboratory of Professor Emery Brown.

outcomes

The post-bac program began as a pilot program in 2014 with one student. Based on that experience BCS decided to launch an official two-year post-bac program. The postbac program in its current format was initiated in the spring of 2017 with support from the BCS faculty, the provost office, and generous donations from private donors. To date the program has funded two students per year.

Year Applicants Admitted In PhD Programs
  Total URM Women    
2017 19 9 19 2 2 (MIT, Princeton)
2018 55 20 33 2 2 (MIT, Stanford)
2019 51 19 33 2 n/a