Neuroscience & Neuropsychology Graduate Programs

Neuroscience Graduate programs focus on the scientific study of how the nervous system develops, is organized, and what it does. Curriculums often stack coursework in biology, psychology and natural sciences onto laboratory research.

Neuroscience & Neuropsychology PhD Programs written by Rana Waxman

Neuroscience Graduate Programs: Overview

Students interested in Neuroscience Graduate Programs could find Masters and PhD in Neuroscience degree programs. Some universities may also award certificates. These might appeal to students who want to take graduate neuroscience classes without a full degree plan. Joint Degrees such as MS/PhD and MD/PhD may also be available.

Since they tackle a vast branch of knowledge, Neuroscience Graduate programs are often interdisciplinary. While neuroscience is traditionally classed as a subdivision of biology, it has close ties to other areas. Mathematics, linguistics, engineering, computer science, chemistry, philosophy, psychology and medicine are some examples.

Students might therefore get to choose the courses and research areas that appeal to their interests and aspirations. For this reason, it may help to take a look at the active research projects of faculty members in different schools before one makes a decision about which neuroscience program to apply to.

Neuroscience Graduate Programs Requirements

In terms of coursework, graduate neuroscience programs address the molecular, structural, cognitive, physiological and behavioral aspects of the brain and nervous system. Students might also learn how to apply neuroscience data to the clinical sciences and biomedical engineering.i

The particulars of each degree plan is usually determined by one’s area of emphasis. For instance, students might take classes in behavioral neuroscience to study the biology of neuropsychiatric disorders. That stated, some general elements of graduate neuroscience programs might include the following topics.i

  • Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience
  • Brain Science
  • Anatomy and Physiology of the Central Nervous System
  • Molecular and Biochemical Bases of How Information is Processed

Neuroscience vs Neuropsychology Graduate Programs

In some universities, the terms neuroscience and neuropsychology may be used interchangeably. However, simply put, neuroscience is a scientific discipline that could encompass other areas. Genetics, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, and psychology are some examples. Neuropsychology is usually more concerned with neuroscience and behavior. Sometimes this is also referred to as biopsychology.

What is neuroscience and behavior?

Neuropsychology Graduate programs may discuss the branch of psychology that is focused on how the brain and the rest of the nervous system influence a person's cognition and behaviors.

Behaviorally oriented neuroscience programs address topics such as the neurobiological aspects of fear, stress, and addiction and how injuries or illnesses of the brain affect cognitive functions and behaviors.

Masters in Neuroscience Programs

Masters in Neuroscience programs could lead to a Master of Science (MS) degree in neuroscience, or another specialization. To earn a MS in Neuroscience, students may need to complete about 31 to 34 credits of compulsory courses and approved electives. A comprehensive written exam may also be required.

Course requirements for the Master of Science in Neuroscience major might include the four topics below.

  1. Neurophysiology
  2. Neuropharmacology
  3. Neuroanatomy
  4. Neuroethics

Through these courses and accompanying laboratory classes, programs look at the anatomy of the nervous systems at the cellular and systems level. This could include the study of sensory and motor control areas both in the brain and spinal cord.

Also, the core courses could address drugs that modify nerve cell function and behavior. Topics such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Schizophrenia may be discussed.

Thesis or Non-Thesis

A MS in Neuroscience program may offer two options for interested students: (1) thesis track, and (2) non-thesis track.

Thesis Track: The thesis option could require students to take extra courses in research methods and writing. It may be structured for students who want to pursue a career in research and/or who plan to pursue a doctorate in the future.

Students in the thesis track could develop their ability to navigate scientific methods. This often includes how to form a hypothesis, design experiments, and use statistical analysis of research data and interpretation. It might take 2 to 3 years for a full-time student to earn their MS, depending on how quickly the research is done.

Non-thesis Track: By comparison, the non-thesis option generally requires writing a research paper where a particular applied/clinical interest is integrated with coursework taken. This option is often intended as a terminal degree for students who want to pursue advancement in non-research positions.

Students who choose not to write a thesis might therefore take classes in clinical neurology and could learn how to integrate and apply research data related to their clinical work. Clinical neurology classes generally provide insight into the principles of how to conduct neurological exams as well as the major categories of neurologic disease. Mobility, pain, energy, mood, abnormalities and aging are some examples.

Application Information: MS in Neuroscience

Application information for a Masters in Neuroscience could vary between universities. Most applicants must submit transcripts, a personal letter of intent, and letters of recommendation. Thesis and non-thesis options may come with their own set of requirements.

Applicants to thesis-focused programs might need a bachelors degree in science, such as biology or chemistry. Additional undergraduate preparation in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics may be optional. Also, students may need to furnish GRE, DAT or MCAT scores.

Applicants to a non-thesis program might ideally be prepared through undergraduate work in some area of the life sciences or the health sciences, such as biology, psychology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or nursing. Additional undergraduate preparation in chemistry and biology may be optional. Students may need to furnish GRE scores or results of licensing and/or certification exams.

Master of Science in Cognitive Neuroscience

A Master of Science in Cognitive Neuroscience program could examine the cognitive and neural basis for diverse brain functions such as perception, action, language, attention and memory.

Curriculums might require completion of a series of compulsory courses, electives, and a select area of emphasis. These required courses might examine important theories, models, techniques and analysis methods in Cognitive Neuroscience.

Aside from theory, students might take skills classes based on the emphasis they choose. While concentrations vary between schools, they could include studies in the following.

  • Language and Communication
  • Perception, Action and Control
  • Plasticity and Memory
  • Brain Networks and Neuronal Communication

Students might also spend time in the laboratory to gain research experience. This may help them to develop a theoretical research question and write a Masters thesis (scientific article).

PhD in Neuroscience Programs

A PhD in Neuroscience is a research doctorate. In some universities, a Neuroscience PhD program might take four to five years of full time study. It could be fully-funded and may feature setting up a research program, coursework and close ties with a faculty advisor.

The structure of a Neuroscience PhD program may be set up to help students progress year by year, to their final dissertation. The dissertation is usually a reflection of original thought, presented and defended in front of a committee.

First year students might choose their topic, carry out background reading and write a proposal.

In their second year, students may work to conduct a pilot work and write a research project. The research project could report original empirical research initiated and conducted in the program, with the help of an advisor. Subsequent years could see a shift to more independent dissertation research.

Neuroscience PhD Programs: Areas of Emphasis

Depending on the university, students might need to apply to an individual departmental area of emphasis, then study to earn their PhD degree in that concentration. These areas are not the same everywhere, so often a candidate will look for a school where they could pursue active research in an area that really motivates them.

PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience: Candidates often study the biological bases of behavior and look at how the brain affects behavior. Research in this area could discuss motivation or strive to gain insight into the organization of the brain and behavior to improve treatment for psychological illness.

PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience: Candidates might examine the higher cognitive functions that exist in humans, and their underlying neural basis. Cognitive neuroscience content may draw from linguistics, psychology, and cognitive science.

It could take either of several broad directions. One would be behavioral/experimental and the other, computational/modeling. The goal is usually to understand the nature of cognition from a neural point of view. Research in this area might explore memory, neuroimaging methods, and emotions. 

PhD in Developmental Psychology: Candidates might examine how the nervous system develops on a cellular basis to look at what underlying mechanisms exist in neural development. Students could research infant, child, and adult cognition as well as social and emotional development.

PhD in Quantitative Psychology: Candidates might focus on the evaluation of statistical models in psychology, modeling and data analysis.

PhD in Social Psychology: Candidates might study to understand how biological systems use social processes and behavior. For instance, social neuroscience gathers biological concepts and methods to inform and refine theories of social behavior. It uses social and behavioral principles and data to refine neural organization and function theories—for instance, the role of theory of mind in moral judgement or the study of emotional experiences.

Application Information: PhD in Neuroscience

Application information for Neuroscience PhD programs varies. In some programs, students might submit a personal statement about the research they wish to conduct and the faculty member with whom they would like to work, three letters of recommendation, a transcript, and GRE scores; a Psychology subject test may be optional.

MD/PhD in Neuroscience Programs

In some schools, a joint MD/PhD in Neuroscience could blend coursework in fundamental and advanced areas of neuroscience with laboratory dissertation research. To this end, students might take part in rotations within several laboratories while in their first year.

Additional advanced courses might be taken in the second year along with a qualifying exam prior to advancing to candidacy. In addition to coursework, formal and informal instruction might help candidates develop a wide range of research and other capabilities.

Curriculums could involve a series of required courses. Students might study current research in neuroscience, as well as how to conduct research; therefore a course in experimental statistics may be compulsory. Some examples of other topics are listed below. Refer to individual programs for details.

  • Neurobiology of Disease
  • Medical Neuroscience
  • Principles of Electrophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cell Biology

This type of program may be designed for students who possess a strong undergraduate background in biology, physical sciences, or experimental/physiological psychology and who want to pursue a professional career in neuroscience research.

Graduate Certificates in Neuroscience

Some Neuroscience Graduate programs might offer graduate certificates, which are often shorter courses of study that could require about 12 credits. Usually, certificates are intended to add onto skills that a participant might have acquired through their Bachelor's degree program.

Most certificates in neuroscience target a single theme. For instance, a Graduate Certificate in Medical Neuroscience could be aimed at students who want to apply to graduate or professional school and professionals working in the pharmaceutical or medical device industries. Students in this type of program could study neuroethics, and the pharmacology of drug addiction.


92% of Neuropsychologists reported they had post-doctoral education. v

What Does a Neuroscientist Do?

Neuroscientists conduct research into the study of the structure and function of the nervous system. The nervous system is complex and regulates, controls or influences many physiologic systems.  As medical scientists, neuroscientists typically have a PhD, and some earn an MD in addition to or instead of the PhD.ii

What Might I Do with a Neuroscience Degree?

Those neuroscientists who do earn a MD might use their knowledge of the human brain to treat brain conditions.

  • Neurologists are those professionals who diagnose, treat, and help prevent diseases and disorders of the nervous system.iii
  • Neurological surgeons use their skills to treat the brain and nervous system through operations.iv
  • Neurological psychologists apply theories and principles of neuropsychology to diagnose and treat disorders of higher cerebral functioning.v

Campus or Online Neuroscience Degree?

Refine your search for Neuroscience Graduate Programs based on a preferred format. An online neuroscience degree or certificate may offer self-paced study. Campus neuroscience programs may be easier to find, especially those in which students work closely with a faculty mentor. Look for graduate neuroscience schools in a specific city, state or country.

Pick a Neuroscience Graduate Program Right Here

Easily compare Neuroscience Graduate Programs. Refine your search by Masters in Neuroscience or PhD in Neuroscience programs or use the filter to the left to narrow your selection.

SOURCES: [i] | [ii] | [iii] | [iv]| [v]

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