The Doctoral Program in Neurobiology and Behavior trains its students in the exploration of the nervous system at the level of molecules, cells, development, circuits and systems, theory, and behavior.
History of the Program
In the mid-1970s, under the leadership of Eric Kandel, Columbia became one of the first universities to develop an integrated approach to research and graduate education in neuroscience. From these early stages our graduate program emphasized collaborative teaching and research, and this spirit is the foundation of the current Doctoral Program in Neurobiology and Behavior. Today, the program has over 100 faculty members and over 80 graduate students, and spans two research campuses (Morningside Heights and Columbia University Medical Center) with a third research site soon to be completed between these two campuses at Manhattanville. The program is co-directed by Darcy Kelley, Carol Mason, Ken Miller, and Wes Grueber.
The program has three Nobel Prize winning mentors: Eric Kandel, MD, in physiology or medicine in 2000 for his research concerning signal transduction in the nervous system, Richard Axel, MD, in physiology or medicine in 2004 for his research on odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system, and most recently Martin Chalfie, PhD, in chemistry in 2008 for his research on the green fluorescent protein, GFP.
Neuroscience faculty members work with students to nurture and encourage development as independent scientists. Program directors closely advise students on choosing research mentors and courses. Students are encouraged to develop a flexible, multidisciplinary approach to research and collaboration between investigators with different areas of expertise is common. This helps students readily adapt to new research methodologies and opportunities throughout their careers.
Students in the program can select a thesis topic from virtually any area of basic or translational neuroscience. While the Doctoral Program in Neurobiology and Behavior focuses primarily on problems in basic biological sciences, close association with clinical researchers creates an atmosphere in which students are encouraged to consider the implications of their research for understanding the neurobiology of disease. Clinically relevant research topics cover the spectrum of animal models for human disease.
Upon entering the program, each student interacts closely with program co-directors during orientation, first semester courses, and personal meetings, to advise him or her on coursework and rotation selection. Co-directors help the student with the selection of an appropriate curriculum, aid the progress of the student, and facilitate administrative assistance in matters such as housing and health insurance. Once the student has chosen a thesis advisor and has passed the qualifying exam, a thesis committee is formed to help guide the student through his or her thesis research. Throughout this period students receive extensive guidance in grant writing skills, professional development and scientific ethics, and career opportunities both within academia and science allied fields.
Coursework is expected to be completed in the first and second years of the PhD program. A rich variety of courses are available within the program. There are also graduate courses in the university in Psychology, Physics, Chemistry, Biostatistics, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Electrical and Biomedical Engineering. Each student's education is tailored to fit his or her background and research interests.
The graduate program begins in late August with "Neuroscience Boot Camp"; an intensive introduction to cutting-edge research approaches across Columbia Neuroscience laboratories. Students then begin laboratory rotations (completed during year 1) and course work (completed by year 2) and enter full time thesis research. The curriculum is flexible and tailored to the broad range of research interests in modern Neuroscience: theory to channels. This breadth of opportunity is enhanced by the fact that faculty mentors in the program have appointments across several different university departments. In addition, most faculty members belong to one or more neuroscience-related centers or institutes, enhancing collaborative research within subfields of neuroscience. They include: the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience; the Kavli Institute for Brain Science (neural circuit analysis); the Lieber Center for Schizophrenia Research; the Mahoney-Keck Center for Brain and Behavior (systems and cognitive neuroscience); the Motor Neuron Center; the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology; the Grossman Center for the Statistics of Mind; and, the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain. All of these organizations provide rich opportunities for graduate research, including collaborations within and outside of Columbia and seminars by visiting scientists.
Graduate students rotate in laboratories and carry out thesis research at three main locations: Columbia University Medical Center at 168th Street and Broadway, the Morningside Heights campus at 116th Street and Broadway and the Jerome L. Greene Science Center at 125th Street and Broadway. Information about the new and existing research initiatives at these sites can be found here. Students may choose any laboratory in the graduate program in which to do a rotation. Where appropriate and with administrative approval, students may select a lab from outside of the program but within the larger body of the university. Efforts are made to ensure that students learn technical skills, and are made aware, through participation in lab meetings and personal mentoring, of the larger theoretical issues involved in research.
Student research projects are published in top-tier journals, usually as first-authored papers. Our students go on to academic postdocs and careers in science-allied fields. Current positions of program alumni can be found here
Seminars and Special Lectures
The Program in Neurobiology and Behavior sponsors a weekly seminar. These are typically presentations of recent work or work-in-progress by invited speakers from throughout the country. Two annual memorial lectureships, honoring former Columbia faculty, are given by distinguished neurobiologists from throughout the international neurobiology community: W. Alden Spencer and Stephen Schuetze.
The program sponsors a biennial retreat. Students, faculty, and a keynote speaker present their work and interact at a meeting site away from New York City. For the last several years, the retreat has been held at the Mohonk Mountain Resort in New Paltz, NY.
Housing and Financial Support
All students making progress toward their degree are guaranteed to receive full financial support covering tuition and fees plus a stipend for living expenses. Generously subsidized university owned apartments, ranging from studios to shared multi bedrooms, are available near both the Health Sciences and Morningside Heights campuses. Couples' housing is also an option at both locations. The majority of Neurobiology and Behavior students live in two-bedroom graduate student apartments in Morningside Heights, but some opt for housing near the medical campus. For those who wish to live off-campus, public transportation to is readily available from the five boroughs of New York City, as well as from suburban New Jersey or New York.