Mentoring and Milestones


Before the first year begins through to completion of the program, students receive careful guidance and mentoring from graduate advisors, the thesis advisor, and a thesis committee.

First year. In the first year, students enrolled in the Neuroscience and Physiology Program are assigned a First Year Advisor, who may not be in an area of research related to the student's interests, but who can advise on rotation advisor selection, rotation and course progress, and managing a balance between courses and lab. Students enrolled in the Neural Science Graduate Program will work with the Director of Graduate program for the same mentoring and advice. Neuroscience Graduate Directors and Advisor are also available to consult with first year students.

Second year. Typically by the beginning of the second year, students have selected a thesis lab and begin to be guided by the lab PI as well as by the program’s Graduate Advisors, who can help the student identify specific areas where added coursework would be valuable. During this year, students should also form a thesis committee, which should include 4 faculty including the PI. At the end of the second year, students will defend their Qualifying Exam. This process should involve consultation with the student’s PI.

Third year and beyond. By the third year, students should begin meeting regularly (every 6 months) with their thesis committee to seek their input and feedback on their training and research progress. For the thesis defense, an additional external reader is added to the committee.

Laboratory Rotations

During the first year, students choose individual laboratories for 2-3 rotations. Rotations form the primary mechanism by which students gain new skills and select their thesis laboratory. At least two rotations are required during the first year. Students choose their lab rotations with the guidance of the training program graduate advisors. Rotations can be in the laboratory of any approved neuroscience faculty member listed on the faculty list. Although many of our incoming students come with a strong background in some area of neuroscience, they are encouraged to rotate in labs that focus on areas that will enable the development of knowledge or skills in new or related areas of interest. 

Qualifying Exam

By the end of their second year in the program, students must defend a thesis proposal to their thesis committee. The proposal is written in the format of a predoctoral NIH NRSA fellowship. Only students who have completed 32 credits of coursework with an average of B or better should take the exam. Failure to pass the qualifying exam is grounds for dismissal from the graduate program.

Through the combined written and oral portions of this exam, the committee evaluates the student’s grasp of and depth of knowledge in his/her research area, his/her understanding of experimental approaches and design, and his/her capacity to rationally analyze scientific problems and cogently formulate specific questions. The committee also evaluates the specific aims of the proposal as to their adequacy for a doctoral thesis project. As part of the approval of the thesis proposal, the committee submits a signed document to the graduate advisors detailing the specific aims that the student needs to accomplish for his/her doctoral research.

First and Third Year Talks

Students are given multiple opportunities to present their work to the NYU neuroscience community. In the fall of their second year, students are required to participate in a minisymposium where each will give a ten-minute presentation on a rotation project as part of the First Year Talks. During the fourth year, students present a twenty to thirty minute talk about their previous three years of work for their Third Year Talk. 

Thesis Defense

At the end of graduate training, students prepare a written thesis. The thesis constitutes a substantial body of published or publishable research. Students must obtain written permission from their thesis committee in order to initiate preparation of the written thesis. The thesis must be submitted to all committee members, including an outside expert in the field, at least two weeks prior to the oral defense date. Students present their thesis research in public seminars that are open to the scientific community at NYU and defend their thesis in a closed door meeting with their thesis committee.