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.

Required Courses

Core courses: Required to take 2 courses from the following list.

  • 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

Other course requirements: 

  • Students are required to complete a class in statistics or quantitative methods. Select courses at MIT and Harvard have been approved to meet this requirement. 

Typical course load during the first two years:  

  • Core course in systems neuroscience
  • Two-term course in cellular and molecular neuroscience
  • Required course in quantitative methods
  • Three electives
  • All required coursework must be completed by the end of the second year.

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 The Rotation Coordinator is Prof Mark Harnett, 46-6143,

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: 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.