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Neuroscience Graduate Program Handbook


1 Medical Center Drive • Morgantown, WV 26506-9303 • 304.293.1723 • randy.nelson@hsc.wvu.edu

1 Medical Center Drive • Morgantown, WV 26506-9302 • 304.293.0497 • bschreurs@hsc.wvu.edu

1 Medical Center Drive • Morgantown, WV 26506-9303 • 304.293.4771 • cgeorge2n@hsc.wvu.edu


  1. Introduction
  2. Neuroscience Student Training Goals
  3. Selection of Dissertation Advisor
  4. Selection of Dissertation Committee
  5. The Neuroscience Program Curriculum
  6. Work Schedule, Sick Leave, Vacation, and Leave of Absence Policy
  7. Academic and Professional Standards
  8. Advancement to Candidacy
    1. Advancement to Candidacy
    2. Qualifying Exam
  1. Dissertation Research
  2. Dissertation Defense
  3. Graduation



Neuroscience research at West Virginia University takes place in over 50 laboratories
across campus, utilizing animal, human and computer model systems. Research topics
encompass embryonic and postnatal development, neurodevelopment, sensory, motor
and cognitive function, nervous system diseases and disorders, injury and stroke,
normal aging and neurodegeneration. Neuroscience investigators at West Virginia
University strive to expand knowledge of brain function and improve the lives and
health of citizens of the state, the country and the world. We welcome students
to the Neuroscience Graduate Program as they join us in this endeavor and train
to become the next generation of Neuroscience researchers.

Neuroscience Student Training Goals

  • Develop skills to acquire and integrate knowledge in molecular and cellular structure
    and function of the nervous system;
  • Gain an understanding of the functional complexities of systems neurobiology,
    including motor and somatosensory systems, behavior, cognitive function, developmental
    biology and diseases of the nervous system;
  • Read and critically interpret current scientific literature, both generally and
    specifically in Neuroscience;
  • Develop skills in critical thinking and problem solving;
  • Learn technical skills essential in conducting scientific research in Neuroscience
  • Gain experience in conducting experimental protocols, collecting scientific data,
    making accurate interpretations based on the evidence and drawing appropriate
    scientific conclusions;
  • Become proficient in formulating scientific hypotheses and designing experiments
    to test them;
  • Learn the basics of scientific writing and practice these skills while writing
    research proposals, dissertations and scientific publications;
  • Develop awareness of the ethical issues related to animal and human experimentation
    and the laws and regulations that apply to them and practice responsible and
    ethical research;
  • Learn to identify what qualifies as scientific misconduct and how to avoid it
    and gain an appreciation for the critical need for intellectual honesty and
    scientific integrity in research;
  • Practice responsible and ethical research
  • Engage in beneficial collaborations with peers and colleagues; and
  • Develop skills in oral, written and visual communication to facilitate the transfer
    of information and knowledge to the scientific community and the public.

Selection of Dissertation Advisor

Students typically enter the Neuroscience Graduate Program after successful completion
of the core curriculum in the first semester followed by the selection of a dissertation
advisor as described in the 1st Year Handbook (
http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/resoff/graduate-education/phd- programs/biomedical-sciences/1st-year-handbook/).
In the first semester, students will have the opportunity to have three research
rotations in the laboratories of potential mentors. Selection of rotation advisors
is at the discretion of the students; they may choose from the list of available
mentors provided each year by the HSC Office of Research and Graduate Education
(see 1st Year Handbook), but discussions with their temporary advisor, graduate
program directors or the Assistant Vice President for Graduate Education is strongly
encouraged. Approval of each rotation advisor is required from the Office of Research
and Graduate Education. After completing the rotations, students may request to
join the advisor and laboratory that best fits their career and scientific plans.
This process is coordinated by the Assistant Vice President for Graduate Education
and the selection must be agreed upon by the advisor and approved by the Office
of Research and Graduate Education (see Handbook for First Year Students). For
students interested in joining the Neuroscience Program, the advisor selected should
typically be a member of the program, but not the chair of the dissertation committee.
In some circumstances, a student may choose to receive their academic training
and PhD degree in Neuroscience but select a dissertation advisor who is not a member
of the Neuroscience Graduate Program. In these cases, a separate dissertation committee
chair is appointed who is a member of the program and familiar with the requirements
of the Neuroscience Program.

Changing Your Dissertation Advisor

Students may need to change mentors while completing their dissertation research.
The protocol for changing mentors depends on the reason for the change:

  1. The mentor has left WVU, and the student is remaining at WVU.
    In advance of the initial mentor leaving the University, the student should
    meet with the Neuroscience Graduate Program Director to set up a plan to select
    a new advisor. The new advisor must fulfill the requirements described in the
    section titled “Selection of Dissertation Committee and Research Advisor.” A
    wide range of options is available when choosing a new advisor, ranging from
    continuing the student’s current dissertation research to completely redesigning
    a research plan with a new dissertation committee. Decisions will be made on
    a case-by-case basis with the student’s best interest being the primary goal.
  2. The student and mentor have irreconcilable differences. Student displeasure
    with their laboratory and/or mentor does not necessarily mean that the student
    will need to leave the laboratory. The key to handling this situation effectively
    is for the student to act quickly after sensing a problem.
    First, the student must discuss with the mentor what is troubling them. The
    mentor may not realize that the student has a problem and may be willing to work
    with the student in developing a solution. The student should consider that they
    might be expecting the mentor to fill too many roles and additional mentors may
    be helpful for concerns that are less “research based.”
    Second, if talking with the mentor or spreading mentoring roles to other
    individuals does not solve the problem, the student should discuss the issue
    with the Neuroscience Graduate Program Director.
    Third, if continuing in the mentor’s laboratory is not an option, the student
    will need to consult with the Neuroscience Graduate Program Director and the
    Assistant Vice President for Graduate Education to identify a new mentor. A new
    Dissertation Committee Form (see appendix) must be completed identifying the
    new research advisor and any changes in the composition of the dissertation advisory
    committee. Any additional complications should be resolved in consultation with
    the Neuroscience Program Director and the Assistant Vice President for Graduate
    Education, such as obtaining an extension on the deadline to pass the candidacy

Selection of Dissertation Committee

Each student must assemble a dissertation committee and have it approved by the end
of the spring semester of year 2. Dissertation committees must follow the University
and HSC requirements in the WVU Graduate Handbook. Additional Neuroscience program
requirements are as follows:

  • A dissertation committee must have a minimum of 5 members;
  • A dissertation committee must include a minimum of 3 Neuroscience Graduate Program
    faculty members;
  • A majority of the members must be regular members of the Neuroscience Graduate
    Faculty Program, including the chair or one of the co-chairs*;
  • No more than one member may be a nonmember of the WVU graduate faculty* (e.g. from
    another institution);
  • The responsibility of the chair is to ensure that program guidelines are followed;
    • The advisor may not serve as the chair of the committee;
    • The advisor should be a member of the Neuroscience Graduate faculty;
    • The committee chair will be selected by the advisor from one of the program
      members on the committee;
  • At least one member of the committee must be from a program other than the one
    in which the student is seeking a degree;
  • It is “recommended” that clinical scientists should be considered for committee
    membership when appropriate. (NOTE: It is possible that an appropriate clinical
    scientist may not have graduate faculty status, or associate graduate status.
    This would be acceptable under the rule stating that one member can be without
    graduate faculty membership. However, even a non-member is subject to program
    review and approval and should demonstrate qualifications equivalent to the qualifications
    for associate or full graduate membership); and
  • The chair and members of the dissertation committee must be approved by the Neuroscience
    Program Director and the Assistant Vice President for Graduate Education.

*WVU Requirement

Each student must meet with their committee at least once per year and complete
a formal meeting document (not unlike an NIH noncompeting renewal Progress Report).
It will be a multipage template to be filled in by the student at least two weeks
before the scheduled meeting that includes current aims, experiments conducted,
progress since the last meeting, and any changes that have been made since that
meeting. This document will be distributed to the Dissertation Committee two
weeks before the meeting and, following the meeting, committee recommendations
will be recorded as part of the document by the Chair of the dissertation committee
who will then file the document after it is approved by all parties. This document
will also serve as official notification to the Graduate Student Office that
the meeting has been completed. Failure to file the meeting document will result
in a research grade of Incomplete that, if not remediated within a semester reverts
to a grade of “F”. In Year 6 and later years, meeting frequency will increase
to twice a year, and the Program Director will attend these meetings.

The Neuroscience Program Curriculum

  1. Curriculum: The following are required (course syllabi in Appendix):
  • Two specific courses in Neuroscience:
    • SPTP: Fundamentals of Neuroscience 1 (NBAN 793A SPTP: Fund of Neurosci 1); and
    • Fundamentals of Neuroscience 2 (NBAN 772);
  • A minimum of two elective courses in neuroscience or other areas relevant to the

    • Electives should be identified and approved in consultation with the advisor
      and dissertation committee;
  • Enrollment in Neuroscience Journal Club (NBAN 761) during the first three years;
    • Beginning year 4 through completion of degree, student should enroll in/attend
      a journal club selected by the student and advisor;
  • Enrollment each year in Neuroscience FORUM (NBAN 760), this includes one presentation
    of a research seminar to the program faculty and fellow students each year;

    • The first presentation will be in the second semester of year 2;
  • Attendance at all Neuroscience-sponsored Seminars;
  • A scientific writing course;
  • Dissertation research:
    • Students must register for research credits each semester as NBAN 797. Performance
      is graded satisfactory, unsatisfactory or incomplete by their dissertation
      advisor. The expected learning outcomes, mechanism of evaluation and criteria
      for grading for this course is described in the NBAN 797 syllabus. Students
      are expected to make progress on their research while engaging in course work,
      journal club, teaching, and seminar attendance;
  • A dissertation proposal presented to the dissertation committee and successfully
    defended prior to beginning the 4th year;
  • Successfully conduct an original research project resulting in at least one first
    author publication in a nationally or internationally recognized scientific journal;

    • Notification of publication acceptance is required prior to the dissertation
  • A written PhD dissertation that is successfully defended in an open forum leading
    to the approval of both the oral defense and the written dissertation by the
    dissertation committee and subsequently submitted to the WVU Theses and Dissertations
    (ETD) office;
  • Teaching: participation in teaching is not a requirement of the program. However,
    students are encouraged to gain experience in teaching. One possible teaching
    opportunity available for neuroscience students is to participate as a graduate
    assistant in SPTP: Fund of Neurosci 1 (NBAN 793A);
  • Individual Development Plan (IDP) (see below for more information); and
  • Beginning in year 3, there must be at least one dissertation committee meeting
    per year and a Committee Meeting Report submitted to the Program.
  • Individual Development Plan (IDP)

The IDP provides resources to help students evaluate skills and interests in:

  • Scientific knowledge
  • Research skills
  • Communication (writing and speaking)
  • Professionalism
  • Management and leadership
  • Responsible conduct of research
  • Career advancement
  • Networking with professionals in the student’s field of study

This information will help the student build the necessary skill set to achieve career
success and to make decisions regarding future career options. The role of the
dissertation mentor is to help the student to achieve these skills. Students need
to review their IDP annually with their advisor.

All Biomedical Sciences Graduate programs will use the IDP template found at Science
Careers (
http://myidp.sciencecareers.org/). All incoming Biomedical students will complete
this IDP and discuss it with a faculty advisor during Boot Camp, the week before
fall semester begins. Once the student joins a laboratory, he/she is to review
the IDP with the dissertation mentor. The IDP needs to be reviewed annually and
reported using the IDP Annual Review form (available under Forms). Once the form
has been submitted, it will be filed in the student’s file in the Office of Research
and Graduate Education.

  • Neuroscience MD-PhD Students

The Neuroscience Graduate Program welcomes students in the MD-PhD program. MD-PhD
students typically join the Neuroscience Program after successful completion of
the USMLE Step 1 National Exam at the end of the second year of the medical school

  • Successful completion of the two-year medical school curriculum at WVU will satisfy
    the Common Core Curriculum and Neuroscience course requirements (NBAN 793A, 772).
    MD-PhD students are required to take two additional electives recommended by
    the dissertation committee.
  • Laboratory rotations, leading to the selection of the dissertation advisor, are
    chosen through the MD-PhD program and are completed prior to the entry of the
    student into the PhD portion of the curriculum. Selection of the dissertation
    advisor should be completed prior to entering the Neuroscience Graduate Program.
  • Dissertation committee must be selected during the first year of the PhD phase.
  • Passing the USMLE Step 1 National Board will satisfy the written and oral qualifying
    examination requirement.
  • A proposal defense is required and will follow the format listed for regular graduate
    students. It is recommended that this exam be taken during the first year after
    entering the PhD phase of the program, but it must be completed by the end of
    the fall semester of the second year in the PhD phase. Failure to pass the proposal
    defense by this deadline will result in dismissal from the doctoral graduate
    program unless prior approval is provided by the Graduate Studies Committee.
  • MD-PhD students will register for the Neuroscience Journal Club and Neuroscience
    Forum during the PhD phase. An alternative Journal Club may be selected after
    two years of the Neuroscience Journal Club.
  • Students will take the course in scientific ethics taught by the Office of Research
    and Graduate Studies.
  • MD-PhD students are required to attend all Neuroscience-sponsored seminars.
  • Requirements for the dissertation proposal, candidacy, dissertation research, dissertation
    defense and graduation requirements are identical to those described for regular
    Neuroscience PhD candidates.

A timeline of the Neuroscience Curriculum requirements is below:

Neuroscience Program Curriculum and Benchmarks

REGISTERING FOR CREDITS: To receive a stipend, students are required to register
for a minimum of 9 credits for the fall and spring semesters and a minimum of 1
credit for the summer semester. Students may find it more cost effective to register
for more credits during the summer session; a calculator for this is available
on the
Office of Graduate Education and Life website. Credit hours exceeding 16 require
prior approval by the Associate Provost for Graduate Education of WVU.

Once candidacy is achieved, the student should register for at least one credit as
a candidate in all semesters and summer sessions until they successfully defend;
this is regardless of whether they are receiving a stipend.

Work Schedule, Sick Leave, Vacation, and Leave of Absence Policy

The PhD degree is awarded based on completion of original dissertation research,
not on time served in the program. Undue time spent away from the University
will hamper your progress in research.

A. Work Schedule

The first year of study focuses primarily on didactic education. In the fall semester,
students can expect to follow the academic calendar of the University for the December
holidays. During the week of Thanksgiving, University classes are not in session,
but research is considered on-going. The student is expected to discuss their work
schedule for this week with the faculty member with whom they are rotating. The
same is true in the spring semester; students still rotating in laboratories should
discuss expectations for spring break with the host mentor. Expectations vary between
laboratories; students and mentors should discuss this at the beginning of rotation.
Mentors are made aware of the guideline of approximately 20 h per week in the laboratory
during the short rotations (Biomedical Lab Experience). For safety, students should
avoid working in the laboratory alone.

B. Sick Leave

Graduate students do not receive a specified number of sick days per pay cycle
or calendar year. Absenteeism from classes, graduate program activities and the
laboratory should be reserved for true illnesses that are contagious or completely
block the ability to function. Headaches and small malaises should not be used
as reasons to miss class or lab time. The student’s responsibilities remain the
same, and missed work will need to be made up possibly by working weekends and
evenings. Absenteeism from classes and other events needs to be communicated to
each faculty member coordinating a class or event.

C. Vacation

Once a student enters a specific graduate program, the vacation schedule for the
University calendar no longer applies. Expectations regarding vacations need to
be discussed with the mentor. These expectations are likely to vary among research
laboratories so it is important to establish these expectations upon entry in the

D. Leave of Absence

The Health Science Center has a defined policy to deal with extended periods outside
of the laboratory or class, generally greater than 2 weeks. Termed a leave of absence,
a student may need to take such a leave due to issues, such as grave illness, pregnancy
or family crisis. Students should consult this policy *
http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/resoff/graduate-education/policies-and-forms/ when considering
such a leave. In some circumstances, the leave may be imposed upon the student
administratively due to academic issues or policy violations. Procedures for this
are detailed in this policy, and there are forms for documenting all types of leave
and any expectations or requirements upon the student’s return.

Grading and handling of courses during a leave of absence

When a student goes on a leave of absence, issues develop regarding the grading
of courses when the leave begins mid semester. Largely, this will need to be handled
on a case-by-case basis. For defined courses, the student will need to work with
the instructor to come up with a strategy and generally will need to take an “I”
(Incomplete). Courses like research and seminar (when used to monitor attendance)
generally do not have a mechanism to fulfill an incomplete. If the length of the
leave is known and it is before the deadline to withdraw, it would be best for
the student to withdraw from these courses during the semester. If that deadline
has passed, a student in good standing should be able to receive a grade reflecting
their participation prior to the leave, especially when the course is graded S/U
(Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) or P/F (Pass/Fail). Journal clubs can be handled
by having the student write summaries of papers that were missed. If the student
is having a major medical crisis and cannot work during the leave, then the student
should be graded for the time in the course or given an incomplete and a protocol
developed for making up missed work.

Academic and Professional Standards

    1. Academic Standards
      1. Standards

It is expected that students will perform satisfactorily on all required courses.
To remain in good standing in the PhD program, a student is required to maintain
the following standards:

  • An overall grade point average of 3.0 in graduate level coursework. Note that this
    is higher than the university standard of 2.75;
  • Removal of any incomplete grades within one semester or summer session of receiving
    it, unless special permission is granted by the Assistant Vice President for
    Research. Failure to remove an incomplete within one semester results in a permanent
    F on the student’s transcript and this F figures into the GPA; and
  • Satisfactory written comments describing the student’s performance in short rotations.
  • Students have one semester to raise their overall GPA to 3.0 or higher.

Failure to comply with these standards will result in the student being plac on academic
probation and may result in dismissal from the graduate program.

  • Grading System and Reporting of Grades

Graduate courses are graded as follows: A, B, C, or F, and P (pass) or F (fail).
The course coordinator may submit letter grades with + or -, but the grade point
average (GPA) is calculated using the basic letter grade. Grades of F are not acceptable
for course credit toward a graduate degree but are used in calculating the GPA.
Letter grades are given for the Biomedical lab experience (BMS 702; also known
as rotations) in Year 1. Research NBAN 797 is graded S/U; Us in research are not
counted for the calculation of the GPA. The first unsatisfactory (U) grade for
NBAN 797 results in placement of the student on probation; a second U in research
NBAN 797 is grounds for dismissal from the graduate program.

The grade of Incomplete (I) is given when the instructor believes that the course
work or other required programmatic activity is incomplete. All incompletes must
be removed within the next semester of the calendar year; however, an individual
instructor may require their removal within a shorter period. Students who receive
an incomplete grade must contact the faculty member who issued the incomplete to
discuss its removal. If an incomplete is not rectified within the next semester,
it will be changed to a grade of F (IF).

NOTE: Students cannot graduate with an F grade on the Plan of Study. The course
must be retaken and the grade brought into the acceptable range. Both grades
will count toward the GPA on the transcript, and the higher grade will be placed
in the Plan of Study.

  • Professional Standards

Graduate students in the seven Biomedical Graduate Programs, the MS in Biomedical
Sciences, the MS in Health Sciences and first year students in the Biomedical Science
Graduate Program are expected to adhere to the following standards of behavior
throughout their tenure in graduate school. This code governs student behavior
in classrooms, research endeavors, academic and professional gatherings, travel
and in their daily conduct outside of the University. In addition to the code outlined
below, all students will uphold the WVU Student Conduct and Discipline Policy.
This code can be found at:

    1. Academic Integrity

Student expectations:

  • Students will not plagiarize the work of others, either by directly copying that
    work or by summarizing the thoughts of others as their own;
  • Students will not cheat on any examinations, on academic assignments and activities
    and will not provide unauthorized help to others during an examination or graded
    academic assignment;
  • Students will not alter examination scores, answer sheets, other graded materials
    or their academic record;
  • Students will adhere to the University policies on academic integrity, found at:
  • Scientific Integrity

Students will:

  • Accurately report how experiments were carried out;
  • Represent their best understanding of their work in their descriptions and analyses
    of it;
  • Accurately describe methods used in experiments;
  • Abstain from falsely representing the work of others as if it were their own;
  • Adequately summarize previous relevant work in their publications;
  • When acting as reviewers, students will treat submitted manuscripts and grant applications
    confidentially and avoid inappropriate use; and
  • Disclose financial and other interests that might present a conflict-of-interest
    in their various activities, such as reporting research results, serving as reviewers
    and mentoring students;
  • Adhere to the University Research Integrity Procedures that can be viewed at:
  • Scientific Citizenship

Students will:

  • Strive to provide timely, efficient, and high-quality work;
  • Function as an effective and respectful team member in the performance of collaborative
  • Strive to always acknowledge the contributions of their co-workers;
  • Strive to keep all work areas clean, organized and conducive to high-quality research;
  • Respect shared work areas and reagents and insure that steps are taken to replenish
    reagents when they are in low supply;
  • Refrain from activities that might be disruptive to the work of others, including
    playing music, conversation and telephone calls;
  • Be attentive in presentations by colleagues and provide constructive criticism
    as appropriate;
  • Seek and accept criticism without reprisal or defensiveness;
  • Strive to address and remedy situations as they arise and follow through on all
    promises and commitments to co-workers;
  • Wear appropriate clothing in the laboratory and other research settings that is
    consistent with federal, state and University regulations;
  • Speak-up and report any practice, condition or situation that may cause harm or
    that is against federal, state and University regulations;
  • When traveling as a representative of the University and laboratory, the student
    will behave in a professional manner, uphold the rules of the laboratory with
    respect to the sharing of data, report expenses in a truthful manner, and refrain
    from frivolous use of travel funds for meals or modes of transportation that
    are unnecessary.
  • Professional Interactions

Students will:

  • Strive to increase their knowledge and expertise to maintain qualifications consistent
    with the highest standards available in their discipline;
  • Accept and adapt to the continual change inherent in the creation and delivery
    of knowledge;
  • Be appropriate in dress, language and demeanor at all times and avoid language
    and dress that is offensive to others;
  • Respect and protect the rights to privacy and confidentiality of all students,
    staff, faculty, study participants and patients;
  • Minimize personal text messaging, e-mailing, telephone calls and social media while
    at work;
  • Respond to all communications in a timely manner;
  • Listen carefully and be thoughtful and respectful in all forms of communication
    and during the attendance of seminars;
  • Provide training and experience to advance the scientific skills and knowledge
    of ethical research practices for any trainee under their supervision;
  • Treat all individuals in a caring, respectful, professional and empathetic manner.
  • Graduate Programs Committee on Academic and Professional Standards (GP-CAPS)
    1. GP-CAPS Membership

During the first year in graduate school, student compliance with these academic
and professional standards is monitored by GP-CAPS. This committee has representatives
from all seven Biomedical PhD programs and the clinical and translational science
graduate programs. Following the first year, issues related to academic or professional
standards are first evaluated by the program faculty and then for issues of dismissal
or appeals by GP-CAPS.

    1. Student Review and Appeals Policy

Students have the right to due process in all decisions regarding their grades,
evaluations and status in graduate school. Appeals regarding the above must follow
a standard set of procedures. Procedures for student appeals can be found in
the Graduate Catalog (

Advancement to Candidacy: Qualifying Exam and Proposal Defense

    1. Advancement to Candidacy

Advancement to Candidacy is a process of validation by the Neuroscience Program
Faculty to determine whether a student enrolled in the PhD program has acquired
sufficient core knowledge and academic skills to initiate dissertation research
leading to the PhD degree.

The Advancement process involves two separate activities:

      1. The Qualifying Exam

This exam will evaluate students to determine if:

        1. An acceptable level of core knowledge in Neuroscience has been accomplished;
        2. The ability to read and evaluate scientific literature is sufficient;
        3. Both oral and written communication skills are sufficiently developed;
        4. There is sufficient core knowledge in Neuroscience and sufficient understanding
          in formulating a scientific hypothesis, creating a sound experimental design,
          interpreting data and forming conclusions based on data.
      1. Proposal Defense

This exam constitutes a presentation and defense of the student’s proposed dissertation
research that will form the basis for the PhD degree.

    1. The Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam consists of two exam components: written and oral.

      1. Written Exam

The written exam will assess writing skills, ability to read and critically evaluate
scientific literature and ability to comprehend current topics in Neuroscience

      1. Procedure
        1. The written exam will be conducted over three consecutive business days.
        2. All students taking the exam will take the written exam during the same three-day
        3. The exam will be scheduled to occur in December of the second year after
          the core courses have been completed.
        4. One original research paper selected by the examining committee will be given
          each day.
        5. In any one year, the exam questions will be the same for the group taking
          the exam.
        6. The research papers selected by the committee are intended to cover a range
          of topics and breadth of knowledge in Neuroscience.
        7. The written response is expected to be the original expressions of the student
          and not plagiarized.
  • A plagiarism checker will be used to validate all responses.
  • Each day, the student(s) will be instructed to read the paper assigned for that day
    and provide a written assessment/evaluation of the paper using the following format:
  • HYPOTHESIS/SPECIFIC AIMS: Identify the hypothesis being tested or the specific
    aims and scientific goals of the paper. Describe the scientific rationale or
    background of the hypothesis/goals. Assess the significance or scientific impact
    of the study (how it moves the field forward).
  • EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Describe the quality of the experimental design. Did the design
    adequately address the hypothesis or proposed aim? Describe strengths and weaknesses
    of the design. Indicate how the design might be strengthened, for instance to
    address a more definitive outcome or improve the reliability of the data.
  • DATA AND INTERPRETATION: Describe the major findings of the study and the author’s
    interpretation. Comment on the quality of the data and discuss whether the interpretation
    reached by the authors is appropriate. Describe the adequacy of experimental
    controls, and if they are inadequate, suggest alternatives. Are there any concerns
    with human subjects or animal welfare?
  • CONCLUSIONS: Are the conclusions of the authors justified based on the findings?
    Do the authors describe the importance of this study to the field and does it
    fairly represent findings of the experiments?
  • FUTURE EXPERMENTS: What do you see as the next scientific question to emerge from
    this study? Design an experiment to test it.
  • The critique must be typed in a current version of MS Word and must not exceed 2
    pages. It must be single spaced, with 1 inch margins, in Times New Roman 12 font.
    A template for the critique will be provided. A limited number of relevant references
    may be included to emphasize or document specific and critical points in the response.
  • The exam will begin at 9 am and end at 5 pm each day, although students finishing
    before 5 pm may submit and leave when they finish.
  • The response must be submitted in SOLE following the instructions provided.
  • The student may take breaks anytime during the exam.
  • The student may consult any resources except another person.
  • Faculty and designated staff will serve as proctors.
  • Evaluation of the Written Responses
  1. The committee members will independently evaluate each response based on the rubric
    for the written exam.
  2. The committee members will be blinded to the identity of the students.
  3. A final score of 100% is possible for each critique.
  4. Each committee member will score all three critiques.
  5. Written Rubric
  • Scoring the Written Exam
  1. The critique scores from all evaluators will be averaged for each paper.
  2. The score of each paper will be averaged for a final score.
  3. A final average score of 90% or greater with no “unacceptable” evaluations will
    receive “Pass with Distinction.”
  4. A final score of 80% to 89% will receive “Pass.”
  5. A final score of 79% or less will receive “Fail.”
  6. Passing the written exam is required to proceed to the oral exam.
  7. The exam committee will provide written feedback to the student regarding the strengths
    and weaknesses of the written exam.
  • Failure to pass the Written Exam
  1. A student who fails to pass the written exam will be allowed to take the exam a
    second time.
  2. The student will be placed on academic probation with the recommendation that failure
    to pass the exam a second time will result in a recommendation for dismissal
    from the Neuroscience program.
  3. The second exam will be scheduled to take place three months from the initial exam.
  4. Different papers will be selected for the second exam.
  5. During the three-month period, the student is expected to take steps to acquire
    the skills and knowledge required to successfully pass the written exam.
  6. The student and major advisor are responsible for designing a program to acquire
    the skill and knowledge to pass the second time.
  7. Recommendations and Actions will follow procedures outlined in the Student Review
    Policy for Graduate Programs in the School of Medicine.


  • Oral Exam


  1. The Oral Exam will be administered individually to each student in January of the
    third year.
  2. The intent of the Oral Exam is to determine if a student has sufficient knowledge
    and competencies to advance to the Proposal Defense and will cover all material
    covered in the student’s courses to-date, with emphasis on the three core Neuroscience
  3. It is the responsibility of the exam committee chair to ensure the quality and
    clarity of the questions in the oral exam.
  • Questions should be submitted to the chair by the exam committee and reviewed by
    the committee prior to the exam.
  • The Oral Exam will specifically:
  • Evaluate each student’s depth and integration of knowledge and understanding in
    Neuroscience as presented in the core Neuroscience courses
  • Determine their ability to address questions appropriately and independently.
  • Assess their ability to use their knowledge to synthesize research questions, formulate
    appropriate scientific hypotheses and develop rational experimental approaches
    with specific data endpoints that address the hypothesis and lead to conclusions.
  • The oral exam will last for no more than 3 hours with one required 10- minute break
    after 90 minutes.
  • Procedure:
  • The first question of the oral exam will be provided to each student 2 weeks prior
    to the exam date.

    • The student is expected to develop a response to the question that will be presented
      to the committee as the first question of the exam.
    • The intent of providing a question ahead of the exam is to provide the student
      with an opportunity to prepare the initial response to the first question.
      This should help build confidence and set a positive tone for the remainder
      of the exam.
    • Students should not prepare an extensive visual presentation, such as power points
      or handouts; it is only meant to give the student an opportunity to review
      and organize the information important for the response to this first question.
    • There will be follow-up questions from the committee that will not be provided
      ahead of the exam, and will in fact originate, at least partially, from the
      initial response.
    • It is expected that the student will use this opportunity to develop a sense
      of the organization and level of detail that will be used to answer subsequent
      questions during the exam.
  • Committee members will pose open-ended questions intended to provide an opportunity
    for the student to:

    • Demonstrate depth and understanding of core knowledge in Neuroscience.
    • Provide experimental evidence supporting current understanding.
    • Discuss the scientific impact and significance of the subject.
    • Identify critical gaps in knowledge and describe possible experimental directions
      that might provide new discoveries to move the field forward.
  • The response is expected to be initiated by the student without prompting from
    the committee members.
  • Follow-up questions from committee members are allowed, but should not be used
    to guide the student in a given direction.
  • Prompting by the committee should be minimal. The student is expected to provide
    a thorough, organized and lucid summary of the topic area.
  • As a guide, the response period should take about 15-20 minutes, including follow-up
    questions from the committee.
  • A time limit of 30 minutes per question will be enforced to allow time for questions
    in at least 6 topic areas during the 3- hour exam.
  • The committee should exercise judgment and flexibility for different styles and
    approaches to responses, including:

    • Allowing students time to mentally organize their response.
    • Beginning with an outline to be subsequently elaborated on.
    • Providing limited guidance if students are struggling, not focused or are providing
      a response that is not the intent of the question.
  • Grading the Oral Exam:
  1. Based on their individual experience and knowledge, each committee member will
    subjectively evaluate the student responses, taking into consideration performance
    in categories that include knowledge, ability to organize and explain difficult
    concepts, quality of oral presentation and effective use of diagrams or figures.
  2. After the exam is finished, discussion of performance will be conducted among the
    committee members.
  3. Each committee member should determine a pass, marginal pass, or unsatisfactory
    for each question and then formulate an overall decision as pass, marginal pass
    or unsatisfactory.
  4. The final determination of pass, marginal pass or unsatisfactory should reflect
    the assessment of each committee member based on their own evaluation of the
    student’s performance adjusted by any compelling opinions or points raised during
    the committee discussion. The exam committee chair may provide feedback to the
    student regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the exam, especially if the
    student did not pass the exam and a retake is anticipated. This would normally
    be done as verbal comments directed to the student and advisor in a meeting immediately
    after committee deliberations.
  • Determining the outcome of the Oral Exam:
  1. The committee chair will bring the committee to a consensus regarding quality of
    the overall Oral Exam as one of the following:
  • Pass: the student passed the Oral Exam
  • Provisional pass: may be designated if the committee feels that a student demonstrated
    strength in most topics, but was deficient in one or a few topics.

    • In this case, the student will be told exactly which topic area(s) are deficient.
    • The student will be reevaluated at a later date on only the specific, identified
  • Unsatisfactory: the committee agrees that sufficient knowledge and competence was
    not demonstrated.
  • Failure to pass the Oral Exam.
  • A student who fails to pass the oral exam will be allowed to take the exam a second
  • The student will be placed on academic probation with the recommendation that failure
    to pass the exam a second time will result in a recommendation for dismissal
    from the Neuroscience program.
  • The second exam will be scheduled to take place within three months from the initial
  • A different committee will be identified for the second exam
  • During the three-month period, the student is expected to take steps to acquire
    the skills and knowledge required to successfully pass the oral exam.
  • The student and major advisor are responsible for designing a program to acquire
    the skill and knowledge to pass the second time.
  • Failure to pass the oral exam on the second attempt will result in a recommendation
    for dismissal from the Neuroscience program. Provisional pass is not an option
    for the second exam.
  • Recommendations and Actions will follow procedures outlined in the Student Review
    Policy for Graduate Programs in the School of Medicine
    https://medicine.hsc.wvu.edu/faculty-staff/committees/academic-and- professional-standards-committee/
  • A mentor may attend the oral exam with the understanding that they may not participate
    in any way.


  • Proposal Defense


Successful defense of a proposal outlining the student’s dissertation research marks
the entrance to PhD candidacy. Timely completion of this benchmark, not only provides
a guide for the remainder of the research, but also provides an excellent springboard
from which to apply for an external fellowship. The proposal defense begins with
the preparation of a fellowship application in the style of a National Institutes
of Health (NIH) F31. Portions of this grant application will be drafted during
the Scientific Writing course. The proposed research will be presented in a formal
seminar open to the faculty, graduate students and other interested people followed
by an oral defense of the proposal to the student’s dissertation committee.

The following sections must be included in the dissertation proposal:

    1. Abstract and narrative;
    2. Table of contents;
    3. Biographical sketch;
    4. Literature review – suggested 5-page limit;
    5. Specific aims – at least 3 aims are recommended – 1-page limit. It is understood
      that these aims may change over the course of the research just as they do for
      the mentor’s grants. Likewise, it is not intended that every aim must be accomplished
      to complete the PhD degree. However, revisions to aims must be presented to and
      approved by the advisory committee.
    6. Research strategy – suggested 10-page limit;

Eacm aim should contain the following sections (length is per aim):

      1. Rationale (1 paragraph);
      2. Experimental plan and specific methods as appropriate (1-2 pages);
      3. Expected results (1/2 page);
      4. Alternative approaches (3/4 page);
      5. Literature cited (no page limit).

Note: The page limits are for single-spaced type. The acceptable fonts are Arial,
Helvetica, Palatine Linotype or Georgia and a font size of 11 or 12 points. The
type density should be no more than 15 characters per inch and 6 lines per inch.
One-half inch margins should be used on all sides but not greater than 1 inch.
If the student chooses to convert this proposal to an actual fellowship application,
they will need to consult the directions for the additional sections required
by the NIH.

It is recommended that the proposal be defended in the Fall semester of the student’s
third year in graduate school. If the proposed defense is not successful, the
student may petition his/her dissertation committee to revise the proposal and
defend a second time. Successful defense of the research proposal must occur
on or before the last working day of Year 3, which is usually the 3rd Friday
in August. Failure to pass the defense by this date will result in dismissal
from the graduate program. Students with extreme circumstances may petition for
a delay in this deadline. The petition must occur in writing to the Assistant
Vice President for Graduate Education and must include a strong rationale for
the delay.

It is strongly recommended that students use the dissertation proposal to seek
a fellowship from a national funding agency. These include agencies, such as
the NIH (F31, F31 diversity) and the AHA, among others. Students who choose to
apply for a pre-doctoral fellowship should consult the Health Sciences Graduate
Programs site on SOLE for helpful hints and guides on how to construct this application.

Dissertation Research, Dissertation Defense, and Graduation

With successful completion of the dissertation proposal, the student advances to
candidacy for the PhD degree and the 5-year WVU-mandated clock for completion of
the degree starts. Note however, that the expectation is that the student will
defend his/her dissertation within 5-6 years of entering the program. The graduate
program director will recommend to the graduate council that the student be elevated
to candidacy for the PhD degree. The committee chair (student’s advisor) will submit
to the Health Sciences Graduate Programs Office a completed Doctoral Preliminary
Examination Form (
) indicating the successful completion of the written and oral qualifying exam
and a Doctoral Candidacy Examination Form (
http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/media/7503/doctoral-candidacy- exam-form.pdf) indicating
successful completion of the Proposal Defense. The Plan of Study Form (
http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/media/7508/plan-of-study-form-and-guidelines.pdf) should
also be completed and submitted to the Graduate Programs Office at this time. Copies
of these forms can be downloaded from the Graduate Program website.



  • Dissertation Research



Students will conduct research with a dissertation mentor during their time in
the program. Students will register for research credits each semester. A research
grade is determined each semester (including summer) by their dissertation mentor
and committee and by completing program requirements in each semester.


    1. Dissertation Defense


    1. Students must have at least one first-author manuscript, based on their Ph.D.
      dissertation research, published or accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed
      journal before they defend their dissertation research. In the case of joint
      first- author manuscripts, the manuscript can only fulfill this requirement
      for one author. This requirement should not be misinterpreted to mean that
      the student is able to defend once they have a first author publication. The
      decision of when a student has completed the aims for their dissertation rests
      with the dissertation advisory committee. With some research projects, this
      will result in multiple first author publications.
    2. The form of the dissertation will be decided by the graduate advisory committee
      and must be consistent with the School of Medicine Guidelines for Theses and
      Dissertations, as well as the guidelines published in WVU’s Graduate Catalog.
      A copy of the dissertation must be delivered to the advisory committee and
      the graduate office at least one month prior to the defense of the dissertation.
    3. A Shuttle Sheet Request Form (
      http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/media/7510/shuttle- sheet-request-form-and-process.pdf)
      must be submitted to the Health Sciences Graduate Programs Office 2 weeks prior
      to the defense date to allow the Office of Research and Graduate Education
      sufficient time to process and communicate the Dissertation Defense to the
      University community.
    4. The final examination for the PhD degree consists of:
  • Orally defending the dissertation in a public seminar and then in a closed session
    with the graduate dissertation committee;
  • Final approval by the dissertation committee of the written dissertation;
  • The committee will jointly decide if the student’s oral defense has passed or failed.
    Separately, the committee will either approve the written dissertation as is,
    approve the dissertation with revisions, or refuse to pass the dissertation.
  • If the dissertation is not approved, the dissertation should be rewritten and resubmitted
    within a deadline decided upon by the committee and approved by the graduate
    program office and the VP of Graduate Education.
  • If approved with revisions, the revised dissertation should be re-submitted to
    the committee (or to select members thereof) no later than 30 days following
    the dissertation defense.
  • Final approval of both the oral exam and written dissertation will be conveyed
    by committee members signing the appropriate forms, which will also constitute
    permission to submit the dissertation to the WVU Electronic Theses and Dissertations
    (ETD) office.


  • Graduation Requirements: the following is a list of requirements for graduation


  1. 3.00 GPA, no Ds or Fs, and no Us in research
  2. Proper registration and payment of fees;
  3. Passage of the benchmark exams:
  • Qualifying (preliminary) examinations (written and oral);
  • Dissertation proposal (candidacy exam);
  • Dissertation defense (written and oral);
  • Annual reports of completion of the IDP and advisory committee meetings;
  • At least ONE first-author manuscript based on the dissertation research (see above
    for journal requirements);
  • Submission of required approval forms;
  • Electronic submission of dissertation;
  • Application for graduation and diploma Form; and
  • Exit interview with Assistant VP for Graduate Education.


  • Deadline for completion of the degree


The University has a deadline by which the degree must be completed. Once a student
has been admitted to candidacy, they have 5 years to complete the degree. The expectation
is that the student will finish within 6 years total in the program. To ensure
timely progress, the Office of Research and Graduate Education will meet with students
at the beginning of their sixth year in the program to inquire as to their progress
towards completion. If a student has experienced extraordinary circumstances, they
can petition the Associate Provost for graduate education to extend the time to
degree but these requests are rarely approved.

WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute