Academics / Graduate program

Wiki Handbook for Current Graduate Students (MIT Certificate required)

Admission to the Graduate Program

Graduate Programs in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science

The Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences offers an interdisiplinary graduate program leading to the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. These programs are designed to prepare participants to be competent scientists engaged in original research and to teach effectively. Graduates gain expertise in both specific research areas and the broader fields of brain or cognitive science. Students may specialize in molecular and cellular neuroscience, systems neuroscience, cognitive science, computation, or (for students whose research interests encompass more than one discipline) in cognitive neuroscience.

Graduate students begin research apprenticeships during their first semester, with lab rotations strongly encouraged before final decisions regarding their choice of advisor. Assignments sometimes change as students' goals become more focused. Before the end of the first year, students form advisory committees composed of two to four faculty members. These committees monitor their progress during subsequent years and, with membership changing as necessary, eventually evolve into thesis committees. Starting in the first year, graduate students are expected to spend at least half of their time in the laboratory conducting research.

Course requirements are designed to permit flexibility. Students normally choose one of four departmental research areas as a major field and a second as a minor field, although the minor field is sometimes chosen from a different MIT department. After fulfilling core course requirements, students take a specified number of lecture courses in their major and minor fields. There is a written qualifying examination at the end of the second year, and oral qualifying examination and a research report in the third year.

In preparation for academic careers, students are trained in giving seminars, classroom teaching, and work as teaching assistants in departmental subjects. A thesis proposal is submitted in the fourth year. The remaining time is devoted to research, although all students are encouraged to take advantage of the numerous seminars and colloquia offered at MIT and in the surrounding Cambridge/Boston area.

General Objectives of the Program

The aim of the doctoral program is to prepare a select group of scientists for research careers in the brain and cognitive sciences. We expect our graduates to be competent experimenters and to be able to interpret their work to others, to write well, and to teach effectively. Advanced training of this sort demands much time devoted to basic research. Course requirements are therefore limited to seven subjects generally taken in the first two years. The remaining time is devoted primarily to laboratory work, although students are encouraged to take advanced seminars throughout their stay. Students begin the program essentially as research apprentices and assistants; as time goes on, the program revolves increasingly around the student's own investigations, leading to an eventual choice of thesis. The basic graduate program is designed to be completed in four to five years.

Admission Requirements

Students should be adequately grounded in the basic academic disciplines that will provide the foundation for their graduate work. Relevant background varies across different areas of the department, but entering students will typically have taken at least one year of college-level work in several of these areas: biology, chemistry, cognitive science, computer science, linguistics, mathematics, neuroscience, physics, and psychology. Relevant research experience, either in college or post-college, is also highly desirable.