The MCN program is a bonus pathway for Ph.D. students in both the Biology Department and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. The program allows students to explore neuroscience research and join laboratories in either department, regardless of their personal affiliation. The program also sponsors seminars, socials, and elective courses.
The multidisciplinary nature of neuroscience means every university will have neuroscience-related laboratories spread across several departments. This institutional division is perhaps semantics in many ways, but becomes challenging for those interested a graduate education in neurobiology since rigid departmental structures often present a barrier to students who are trying to determine the laboratory, research topic, and community that is best for them. MIT realized that, semantics or not, this arrangement was not beneficial to our students, and started the MCN program to facilitate interdepartmental exchange between the Department of Biology and the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department.
tudents do not apply to the MCN program directly. Those interested in joining neurobiology-focused research labs at MIT should apply to Ph.D. programs of either the Biology or BCS Department. Further information can be found here. Students can then participate in the MCN program during their first year and officially join the program in the spring semester after they join an MCN lab for thesis research.
Your program of choice depends entirely upon you, your curriculum preference, and how you feel each program fits best with your research interests
There are no strict requirements for participating in the MCN program, though you are highly encouraged to take MCN I as an elective during your first semester, and MCN II as an elective during your second semester.
Both courses are lecture-based and supplemented with student presentations and discussion of primary literature. MCN I covers neurogenomics, nervous system formation, axonal pathfinding, cytoskeletal regulation, synapse formation, neurotransmitter release, and cellular neurophysiology. MCN II is focused on neurotrophin signaling and cell survival, neuronal and homeostatic plasticity, basic circuit formation, molecular features of sensory processing, and neurological/psychiatric disease mechanisms.
Note that the MCN electives do not alter your department’s core curriculum requirements — they are easily integrated into both programs.
Yes, and you are welcome to attend the MCN seminars and socials.
That’s absolutely fine! In fact, many students take the MCN courses just to explore and learn more about neurobiology. There is no commitment for the MCN program, the process is intentionally designed to be flexible and informal.
If you wish to rotate cross-departmentally between Biology and BCS, the process is very similar as rotating within your home department. Students should discuss the rotation with the faculty member in advance, and communicate their choice of rotation to their department. Students can perform as many cross-departmental rotations as they wish.
Rotations tend to be non-committal, so you will typically have no issues arranging a rotation so long as the lab has the space, time, and projects available for you.
However, the departments have different rotation structures. In BCS, students are expected to coordinate three rotations across both semesters in their first year, with the exact lengths up to their discretion. In Biology, students are not permitted to rotate their first semester and instead perform three one-month rotations their second semester with scheduled start and end dates. When rotating through MCN, students are required to adhere to the structure of their home department. This means that a BCS student should arrange a standard length rotation in a Biology laboratory, and a Biology student should plan on a one-month rotation in a BCS laboratory. Note that both departments permit extended rotation periods in the summer, so if you feel that your rotation period might be too short to become fully comfortable with your lab or their research, you are welcome to discuss a longer rotation period. It is important to discuss expectations for your rotation during your initial meetings, before you start your rotation, so that both parties are on the same page.
Students interested in joining a laboratory hosted within the other department must first get the approval of the investigator. Students then only need to inform their department of their decision.
Ultimately joining a lab, whether through MCN or not, comes down to the discretion of the faculty member. While most neuroscience labs will welcome and appreciate a fresh, cross-disciplinary perspective, you should ideally fit into the lab’s overall interests and structure (something you would hopefully determine through your rotation before deciding to join the lab). Your department is primarily an indication of your background; what is arguably more important is to demonstrate a real dedication and curiosity for the research during your rotation.
Under the MCN program, you will remain under your home department’s funding structure. This has been arranged through the MCN program and does not require your attention, but will be communicated to your PI when you join the lab.
No. You will still be a member of the department you initially joined. Similarly, you will be held to all the requirements of that department, including your thesis committee schedule and format. Your degree will also still be awarded through that department. You will also continue to have access to all of the seminars and events through your home department, but will also gain access to the building and community of the laboratory you join.