Graduate Partnerships Program in
Organization and Policies
Table of Contents
1. General Description 3
2. Admissions Procedures 3
3. Coursework 4
4. Advising 4
5. Laboratory Rotations and Research 5
6. Graduate Program Activities and Events 6
7. Teaching 6
8. Comprehensive Exam 7
9. Preliminary Exam/Thesis Proposal 8
10. Dissertation Preparation and Defense 8
11. Expenses 9
12. Governance 9
13. Faculty Trainers 10
14. Graduate Student Grievance Procedures At Brown 10
15. Graduate Student Grievance Procedures At NIH 12
1. General Description
The Brown-NIH Graduate Partnerships Program (GPP) in Neuroscience provides advanced study for
academic and research careers in neuroscience. Students receive broad, multi-disciplinary training in
neuroscience with a strong foundation in core concepts, skills, methodologies, and advanced
comprehension of the scientific literature. Students take a core curriculum that encompasses multiple
level analyses including genes, cells, systems, cognition, translational neuroscience, and diseases of
the nervous system. At all stages of instruction, we integrate skills considered essential for
successful, independent research careers in neuroscience. These include critical thinking and
reasoning, effective science writing and oral presentation, knowledge of scientific review processes,
and training in ethics. Admission is limited to applicants for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in
To fulfill the Program's requirements, each student must pass all courses with a grade of “B” or
higher, pass a comprehensive examination, propose and defend a thesis topic (preliminary exam),
and complete and successfully defend a doctoral dissertation. The thesis, which describes the
student's original research, should contribute significantly to the field of study and be of sufficient
quality to merit publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Each student serves as a teaching assistant
within one of the Program's departments for one semester, and participates in other Program
activities (See Section 6).
2. Admissions Procedures
There are two Admissions Committees, one at Brown and one at NIH. The Brown Committee is
comprised of the Director or Co-Director of the Program, one senior faculty trainer, one junior faculty
trainer, and the graduate student representative. At least one member of the committee has their
primary appointment in a department other than neuroscience. The NIH Committee comprises the
Co-Directors and two NIH investigators.
Students interested in the Brown-NIH GPP must apply to both programs. On the Brown application
they must indicate their interest in the GPP.
The Admissions Committees review all applications, but all Program faculty have access to graduate
student applications. The Admissions Committees compare initial rankings and collectively generate
an interview short list based on their assessments, together with solicited comments and rankings
from faculty. Applicants interview at both Brown and NIH, and both committees must agree on the
offer list. Admission letters are sent from both NIH and Brown to successful candidates based on
post-interview rankings and availability of slots. The Program Directors keep faculty informed at the
various stages of the admissions process.
The Program web sites post application information. Application materials are due to the Brown
University Graduate School by December 5, 2009 for September, 2010 entry. Matriculating students
are expected to have an undergraduate degree in a scientific discipline such as Biology, Psychology,
Neurobiology, Chemistry, Physics, Applied Math, Engineering, or Computer Science. Candidates
whose undergraduate training does not include certain topics critical to their research interests can
take additional courses as part of their program of study.
All students take the following core courses in their first year of study:
NEUR1650 Structure of the Nervous System ABC/NC
NEUR2030 Advanced Molecular & Cellular Neurobiology I ABC/NC
NEUR2040 Advanced Molecular & Cellular Neurobiology II ABC/NC
NEUR2050 Advanced Systems Neuroscience ABC/NC
NEUR2010 Graduate Proseminar in Neuroscience S/NC
NEUR2020 Graduate Proseminar in Neuroscience S/NC
NEUR2980 Graduate Independent Study I - Section 15 S/NC
NEUR2980 Graduate Independent Study II - Section 15 S/NC
To satisfy any course requirement, a student must receive a grade of A or B. Lower grades (C and
NC) will trigger a meeting of the student’s Advisory Committee to discuss remedial or other action.
All first year students take a two part Comprehensive Exam (see Section 8) based largely on the
content of the core courses.
Second year and third year students sign up for four sections of NEUR2980 – Section 15 (Dr.
Lipscombe) S/NC until their 24 credit requirement is fulfilled. Brown University requires 24 course
credits for graduation.
GPP students leave Brown after completing their comprehensive exam at the end of their second
semester. There are no formal course requirements beyond laboratory work after the student’s 1st
year at Brown. However, we recommend that students be proficient in Statistics and that they take
advantage of courses offered at NIH.
Each entering student is assigned an advisor from the Program faculty for the initial phase of training.
This advisor serves together with the Director and the Co-Director as the students 1st
Committee. The faculty advisor meets with the student at the beginning of the first semester to
provide general oversight of training. The 1st
year Advisory Committee meets with the student in late
October and again in early March to discuss progress in course work, laboratory rotations, fellowship
applications, and general program information.
GPP students transfer to NIH at the end of their second semester, where they will choose their
dissertation advisor. This choice must be approved by John Isaac or Katherine Roche, Program
Directors at NIH. The Thesis Advisor becomes the first member of the student’s Thesis Committee.
The students and their Thesis Advisor then select two additional faculty members to serve on the
Thesis Committee. One faculty member must be an Associate or Full Professor at Brown and on the
list of approved faculty trainers in the Neuroscience Graduate Program. The second committee
member should be an investigator at NIH in a different laboratory from the Advisor. Students and
Advisors may invite other faculty to participate in committee meetings who are not trainers in the
Neuroscience Graduate Program. They can add to the scientific discussion but they are not voting
members of the committee.
The chair of the Thesis Committee is someone other than the Advisor.
In the student’s 2nd
year, the Committee’s primary focus is to help in preparation for the preliminary
exam, which takes place in October of the student’s third year of study.
In the student’s third year and beyond, the Thesis Committee’s focus is to help guide the dissertation
plan. All students should be strongly encouraged to publish, present their findings at the Society for
Neuroscience, take summer methods courses, and apply for individual predoctoral fellowships.
The Thesis Committee must meet at least once each year, in the September-October timeframe, with
the student to evaluate progress in the thesis research. After each meeting of the Thesis Committee
the chair of the committee will complete and submit a training update form that is available from the
Program Directors. Additionally, the student and advisor will submit a progress report in the March-
April timeframe, signed by both. If possible, students should arrange committee meetings when
Brown faculty members are in Washington, DC. Alternately, they should set up video or internet
conferencing so that the Brown committee member is an active participant in committee meetings.
At least once each year, the graduate students will meet informally as a group with the Program
Directors at NIH (2nd
year students and beyond). These meetings are intended to keep the students
informed about the development and organization of the Program and Department. They also provide
an opportunity for student feedback and suggestions concerning financial support, teaching
responsibilities, Program requirements, and other issues of mutual concern.
Additionally, each student is encouraged to meet individually with one of the Directors to discuss
progress in the Program and general programmatic affairs.
5. Laboratory Rotations and Research
A crucial responsibility of new students in the GPP is to choose a research area and a Thesis Advisor.
There are a very large number of advisors and laboratories to select from at NIH. Students are
strongly encouraged to arrange their first rotation at NIH the summer immediately before starting at
Brown. The second rotation starts at the end of the second semester. Students must inform Katherine
Roche and John Isaac of their rotation plans. They must also inform the GPP once they select their
To become familiar enough with the alternatives and to make an informed choice, students are
encouraged to attend seminars and lab meetings and interview with faculty. GPP students join a lab
during their two semesters at Brown. Students are expected to attend all lab meetings and participate
fully in laboratory research and related activities.
Laboratory research should be arranged and underway by the first semester of the first year. In rare
instances it may be appropriate for a student to delay the onset of laboratory work until after the first
semester, but the delay must be explicitly approved by the Program Director. Even in such cases, the
student is expected to have established a meaningful scientific relationship with a member of the
training faculty in preparation for their rotation in the second semester. All students are expected to
work in a lab during the winter intersession except for a reasonable vacation interval to be arranged
with the Program Director or Thesis Advisor.
6. Graduate Program Activities and Events
A number of special Graduate Program activities and events are integral to graduate training, and
students must arrange their schedules so they can participate. In cases of unavoidable conflicts or
special hardship, students may be excused from individual events by the Program Director.
• Retreats A one-day retreat for the Neuroscience Graduate Program is held every year at
Brown, usually during the week preceding the beginning of the academic year. The purpose
of the retreat is to acquaint the graduate students with the research of the Neuroscience
faculty, particularly the faculty trainers. The retreat is organized and arranged by a committee
consisting of the Graduate Student Representative, one faculty member, and several graduate
students. GPP students also attend a NIH student retreat in September.
• The Graduate Seminar in Neuroscience (NEUR 2010 & 2020) is intended to expose graduate
students to the latest work in key fields of neuroscience. All students attend weekly seminars
that occur every Thursday at 4 PM followed by an informal social with the speaker. All
graduate students are strongly encouraged to attend these socials. Each year, the
outside speakers are chosen by the Colloquium Committee with input from graduate students
who can select two speakers to invite and host. Also, one student is assigned each week to
set up and operate the audiovisual equipment for the seminar and assist with refreshments.
The Colloquium Committee is appointed by the Chair of the Steering Committee.
• In-House Seminars: 2nd
year graduates and beyond are encouraged to return to Brown for a
day to present their work at the In-House Seminar Series. Students are also encouraged to
attend journal clubs at NIH.
• Weekly Laboratory Meetings: Every research laboratory conducts weekly meetings. Students
must attend lab meeting. It is a requirement for a passing grade in NEUR2980. Students must
inform their advisor if, for any reason, they cannot attend.
• Ethics and Skills Workshops: All 1st
year students are required to attend the Ethics and Skills
Workshops offered by the Program, and the Ethics of Responsible Conduct in Research, a
seven week series conducted by the Division of Biology and Medicine. These workshops are
designed to foster skills necessary for a successful career in research.
• Graduate Student Recruitment: Recruitment is essential for program vitality. Students assist in
recruiting new students to the Program each year. The Graduate Student Representative
helps to coordinate recruitment efforts and establishes a committee of students responsible for
organizing social events.
There is no formal teaching requirement for GPP students. However, students interested in teaching
experience may, if class schedule permits, help with one of the courses during their 1st
8. Comprehensive Examination
The Comprehensive Examination is the first of two exams that must be passed to qualify for
candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Satisfactory performance on the Comprehensive Examination is
required for continuation in the Program beyond the third semester. The purpose of the written
Comprehensive Examination is to ensure that students have a comprehensive knowledge of the basic
concepts in neuroscience and that they are able to convey this knowledge. The Comprehensive
Examination also helps identify students in academic difficulty or in need of remedial work.
The Comprehensive Examination is administered in two parts: at the end of the first semester and the
The exam is a general test of knowledge in neuroscience with questions prepared by the Examination
Committee. The exam encompasses the breadth of material taught in five courses: NEUR 165,
NEUR 2030, NEUR 2040, and NEUR 2050. Additionally, students are expected to have familiarity
with the content of presentations made at the Graduate Proseminar (NEUR 2010 & 2020).
All of the first-year students in a given class take the same written, closed book exam at the same
time. Students are asked to answer four of six essay-type questions over a period of 5 hours. After
evaluating the student's performance on the written exam, the Examination Committee recommends
one of three possible outcomes to the Program Director: 1) unconditional pass; 2) conditional pass
on successful completion of remedial work that may include re-writing certain sections; or 3) failure in
which case the student will be evaluated in an oral examination by the examination committee.
(Conditional pass on successful evaluation in an oral examination by the Examination Committee.)
If an oral exam is required, this will typically occur within 2-3 weeks of the original exam date but, in
exceptional circumstances, may be delayed. The oral examination provides an opportunity for the
Committee to ask for clarification of, or elaboration upon, the written answers, but need not be
restricted to those topics. Students who fail the oral exam are considered to have failed the
In the case of failure, the Steering Committee may recommend that the student be dismissed from the
Program or may permit the student to retake the exam after remedial work. A re-take of either part of
the Comprehensive Exam must occur no later than the beginning of the student's fourth semester in
the Program. In evaluating a student’s status at this time, the Examination Committee may seek an
assessment of the student’s performance in the laboratory. If remedial work is judged necessary, the
Examination Committee, in consultation with the Program Director, will assign it. This may include
additional course work, independent study, or the preparation of a paper. As per the guidelines, a
student must pass additional course work with a grade of “B” or higher to remain in good standing in
A student who fails either part of the Comprehensive Examination a second time or who fails both
parts of the comprehensive exam on the first take will usually not be permitted to continue in the
Program. The Steering Committee will inform the student of this decision and in such cases, a Master
of Arts degree may be offered if the student can meet the requirements.
9. Preliminary Examination / Thesis Proposal
Administration of the Preliminary Examination is the responsibility of the student’s Thesis Committee.
At least one of the Program Directors from NIH will also attend the examination to ensure uniform
expectations are met. At the beginning of the fifth semester, the student will present a written
research proposal to the Thesis Committee, the NIH Program Directors, and the Brown Program
Directors. The format is that of an NIH RO1 grant application, with a 50 page (double spaced) limit on
the research plan, which includes the specific aims, significance, background (a critical review of the
relevant literature), experimental (or analytical) design, and detailed methods of the proposed
research. The Chair of the student’s Thesis Committee is responsible for notifying the student if their
written proposal is not acceptable.
When this proposal is accepted as a document, the student will present a 20-30 minute talk
summarizing their proposal and experimental plan. Students should be prepared to answer many
questions from their Thesis Committee and be well prepared to defend their experimental plan. A
successful defense of the project constitutes passage of the Preliminary Examination. The student is
advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. when he or she has completed all required courses and has
passed the Comprehensive and Preliminary Examinations. The Dissertation Defense cannot take
place within one year of the Preliminary Examination. The preliminary exam will be administered at
NIH. If possible, the committee member from Brown will attend the exam but at least they should be
included via video conferencing.
10. Dissertation Preparation and Defense
The student will write a dissertation in approved form and submit it to their Thesis Committee, the NIH
Program Directors, and the Brown Program Directors for evaluation and revision when their thesis
research is complete. Before the thesis is submitted, it is the joint responsibility of the student and
Thesis Advisor to ensure that the thesis is complete and that adequate time is available for the
Committee to read it. At this stage, the Thesis Committee will be augmented by a faculty member
(outside reader) with relevant expertise from an institution other than Brown and NIH. At least two
weeks must elapse between submission of the complete, final draft of the written thesis to the Thesis
Committee and the final defense.
The thesis will form the basis for a public seminar that must take place at Brown University. Following
the seminar is a closed oral examination attended by the Thesis Committee and other interested
Graduate Program faculty. The final examination or defense must be scheduled by the candidate at
the convenience of the readers in consultation with the Program Directors.
At least four weeks notice of the defense date must be given to all faculty and students prior to the
At least three weeks prior to the final examination or defense, candidates must provide the program
coordinator with appropriate dissertation-defense information so the Dissertation Defense Information
Form can be completed and returned to the Graduate School.
At least two weeks must elapse between submission of the complete, final draft of the written thesis to
the Thesis Committee and the final defense.
At least two weeks prior to the final examination or defense, the following items must be submitted to
the Graduate School by the candidate:
1) The title page, bearing the notation "approval of semi-final version" (typed or
handwritten somewhere on the title page) and the signature of the advisor.
2) The names of the dissertation advisor and all readers (with contact information for any
who are not at Brown).
3) The date, time, and place of the final examination. In some departments this
information will come from the manager or the director.
4) A mailing address, telephone number, and email address where the student can be
reached through the end of May.
5) All of the candidate's previous academic degrees, with institutions and dates of
6) Date of preliminary examination.
7) Language requirements, including when and how they were fulfilled.
Candidates must also assure that all members of the Thesis Committee sign the title page of the
The last day that a doctoral dissertation and all of the associated forms and documents related to the
completion of a Ph.D. may be submitted to the Graduate School is the first business day in May (May
3, 2010), in order to be allowed to participate in graduate that year.
Please consult the Dissertation Guidelines from the Graduate School at:
http://gradschool.brown.edu/go/dissertation#pDeadlines for additional information regarding the
Expenses related to the thesis defense are the responsibility of the Advisor. This includes travel to
Brown from NIH, as well as expenses related to the outside reader. Student and Advisor should select
an outside reader with this in mind.
The Brown-NIH GPP is supervised by Program Directors at Brown and at NIH. These Directors are
senior faculty members appointed for a three-year term. The Brown Director is appointed by the
Steering Committee in consultation with the Department of Neuroscience Chair. The NIH Director is
appointed by the GPP office at NIH. The Brown Director works with students, the Co-Director, the
Steering Committee, faculty trainers, and Advisory Committees to operate the Program. In
consultation with the students, the NIH Program Director annually appoints a Graduate Student
Representative to serve as a liaison between the student body and the Program.
The Admission Committees receive and review applications for the annual admission process to the
Brown-NIH GPP. Both committees are involved in the review, interview and selection process.
External Advisory Group. The NIH appoints an Ad Hoc review group to review the GPPs every five
years. The External Review group visited NIH in July, 2009. A written report is available.
13. Faculty Trainers
Individual investigators can become Program Faculty Trainers after approval by the GPP, and the
Brown-NIH GPP program directors. Faculty interested in accepting graduate students and becoming a
trainer need to satisfy certain criteria.
Procedure for reviewing current and new faculty trainers including mentoring of junior faculty
The training program maintains a strict policy with regard to inclusion of faculty as trainers while at the
same time encouraging the participation of junior faculty and other senior faculty distributed
throughout the University system. The Steering Committee undertakes annual review of all current
and prospective trainers and will add or delete trainers according to the criteria below:
• Have an active, ongoing basic neuroscience research program
• Actively participate in training activities
• Have a record of successfully training graduate students. Junior faculty with no prior
training experience are eligible, provided that they show exceptional promise as
independent scientists and trainers. In these cases a mentor will be assigned to junior
• Have adequate research support to provide stable funding for the trainee, as well as an
appropriate laboratory environment. Have their status as graduate student mentor
approved by their NIH Institute Director
• Participate in Program activities
14. Graduate Student Grievance Procedures at Brown (FRR Part 4 Section 10.II.A.)
a. Every graduate student is entitled to a fair and prompt hearing of grievances. Before invoking this
procedure, however, a student who believes himself or herself to be aggrieved must first attempt to
resolve the difficulty through discussion with the other person or persons involved.
b. If no resolution can be effected by direct discussion, and the student wishes to pursue the matter
further, he or she must then address either the Program Director, a senior faculty member
(Representative), or the Chair of the appropriate department, with the aim of securing clarification and
advice. The Program Director, Representative, or Chair shall then discuss the matter informally with
the several parties and attempt to resolve it by mediation.
c. The Program Director, Representative, or Chair shall also prepare a memorandum outlining the
problem, the steps taken, and the proposed resolution. Copies of the memorandum shall be given to
all persons involved.
d. If a mutually satisfactory solution is not achieved by mediation, and the student wishes to pursue
the matter further, then the Program Director, Representative, or Chair shall make a determination as
to whether the question at issue is or is not departmental in nature.
e. If it is determined to be departmental, the student may then file a written request for a review with
the Chair of the department (see below - #2 Grievance Procedure); if not, no further action is taken at
the departmental level.
f. A student who disagrees with such a determination may appeal it to the Dean of the Graduate
School, whose decision shall be final.
g. A student who has been unable to resolve a non departmental question by personal effort may
also make appeal to the Dean of the Graduate School, in this case with a view to securing advice and
2. Grievance Procedure:
a. If an unresolved grievance has been determined to be departmental, and the student wishes to
pursue the matter further, he or she must, within a reasonable period of time, file a written appeal with
the Chair of the appropriate department. This appeal must ask for review of the question and must
specify the alleged injury, the reasons for the student's belief that he or she is aggrieved, and the
b. The Chair, within a reasonable period of time after receiving an appeal, shall refer it, depending on
its nature, either to a committee of review or to the departmental Faculty (see the following
paragraphs). A student who believes that any procedure outlined in this section has not been carried
out within a reasonable period of time may appeal to the Dean of the Graduate School for a
determination of this allegation.
c. If the grievance involves any question except that of a change in the degree for which the student
is enrolled, it shall be referred to a committee of review, to be named by the Chair. This committee
must include the Chair (unless he or she is the object of the appeal), at least two other faculty
members, and at least one graduate student member; when the exercise of academic judgment is
required, the student member or members shall be non-voting.
d. As expeditiously as possible, this committee of review shall hear the student, consider the
evidence, confer with other persons concerned, and prepare a comprehensive report of findings and a
majority vote of the members. It shall be the Chair's duty to carry out, so far as may be, the directions
of the committee for the official record, either by the Chair or by a designated member of the
committee, and a copy given to the student.
e. If the grievance involves the question of a change in the degree for which the student is enrolled, it
shall be referred to the regular faculty of the body to present his or her case, and may request the
support of such witnesses or advisers as are deemed necessary by the student and the presiding
officer. At the invitation of anyone personally involved in the appeal, the Dean of the Graduate School
may at his or her discretion appoint members of the Graduate Council to act as observers. If a
student's record is to be discussed in the presence of people other than officers of the University, the
student must supply such waivers and take such steps as are necessary to satisfy the provisions of
the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act when the subject-matter requires confidential
f. Minutes consisting of a summary of the proceedings of the appeal shall be kept, and copies
supplied to the student and the Dean of the Graduate School. Decisions shall be by simple vote of
the majority and shall be taken in a closed session; they shall be made known in writing to the student
by the Chair of the department as soon as possible after a decision has been reached.
g. Subsequent appeal of the decisions of the committee of review or of the Faculty of the department
may be made to the Graduate Council on the ground that the grievance was not given an impartial
and proper hearing. The Council shall consider such an allegation within a reasonable period of time
after receiving it. If the Council determines that the student's complaint is justified, it shall ask to have
the matter reconsidered by the department, itself monitoring, if necessary, the procedure.
Definitions and general provisions:
(a) Whenever the word "department" is employed herein, it shall be understood to include Divisions
and Programs where applicable.
(b) Whenever the word "Chair" is employed herein, it shall be understood to include Divisional Deans
and Program Directors where applicable.
(c) Whenever a Chair or a Graduate Representative is the object of an appeal, he or she should step
aside and request the department to name a locum tenens.
(d) When an appeal is made in a department which by reason of insufficient number of available
faculty finds that it cannot carry on the described procedure, this circumstance shall be made known
by the Chair to the Executive Committee of the Graduate Council, which shall devise a special
procedure for hearing the appeal, following as closely as practicable the model of the regular
procedure. The special procedure may involve the ad hoc enlistment of faculty members from other
departments or from the Graduate Council itself.
15. Graduate Student Grievance Procedures at NIH
Refer to GPP policies and Dr. Sharon Milgram, Director, GPP.