NGG training consists of the following components (see the Handbook for more details):

Laboratory Rotations

Students typically complete three laboratory rotations. Each rotation is chosen by the student, under the guidance of the Academic Review Committee. Rotations projects occasionally lead directly to outside presentations and papers, but the primary goals of the rotations are to provide students with opportunities to learn a wide range of modern laboratory techniques and gain first-hand experiences that will aid in the selection of a thesis laboratory. Lab rotations end with written and spoken reports presented to a review committee for feedback.


Coursework (click here for a complete list of required and elective courses offered by the NGG) is completed during the first two years of candidacy. To ensure exposure to the broad basis of modern neuroscience, each first-year student is required to complete: 1) four Core courses, in molecular biology, cellular neuroscience, systems neuroscience; 2) a statistics course required of all first-year BGS students; 3) a half-semester writing course designed to help with the written portion of the Candidacy Exam; and 4) a Journal Club associated with the weekly MINS Seminar Series. First- and second-year students also choose, with guidance from the Academic Review Committee, several elective courses offered by the NGG or elsewhere at Penn. Second-year students are required to participate in a Specialty Journal Club or Lab Group Meeting where they make a formal presentation of a paper or their own research at least once per semester. 

Candidacy Exam

In the spring of the second year (first year for combined-degree students), each student must successfully complete the Candidacy Exam to advance to the thesis phase. The Candidacy Exam consists of a written proposal detailing the design and plan for completion of the student’s thesis research and an oral defense of this proposal. The format of the written proposal follows the guidelines for the NIH Predoctoral NRSA Fellowship. This proposal is defended to a panel of NGG faculty selected by the NGG Chair and Director for Advising.


Each NGG student is required to serve as a Teaching Assistant for one semester in one of three courses in Penn's Penn’s Biological Basis of Behavior (BBB) program. Students typically fulfill this requirement in the year following successful completion of the Candidacy Exam. This requirement provides NGG students with important teaching experience and helps to better integrate the primary graduate and undergraduate neuroscience programs on campus. Other teaching opportunities are also available, as detailed in the Handbook.


The most important element of the Ph.D. is the generation of a body of original research, completed during the research phase. During these years, the student works with the thesis advisor and the student-selected thesis committee toward the execution of original research and the communication of this research with the scientific community through meeting attendance, scientific talks, and publication. 


The thesis dissertation demonstrates the student’s competence in the conduction and communication of scientific research. This document includes a general introduction and conclusion encapsulating the published research required to qualify the student for graduation. An oral defense of the document, to the thesis committee and an additional outside judge, completes the Ph.D. 

Neuro images courtesy of NGG graduate Greg Dunn (