Curriculum

PiN faculty have carefully crafted our newly redesigned curriculum to best position our trainees to suceed in the rapidly changing landscape of scientific research in the 21st century. Common core courses taken during the first year are paired with individualized electives to provide students with increased control of their education through the pursuit of specialized knowledge, without sacrificing the broad introduction to the discipline of neuroscience that has long defined our program. Elective offerings are numerous and flexible, allowing students the freedom to balance lab work and course work as they deem appropriate.

Overview

G1 Year

In their first year, PiN students complete 2-4 part-time lab rotations and two required core courses: Quantitative Methods for Biologists (NEUROBIO 306qc), an intensive two-week boot camp in August that introduces students to statistics using MATLAB, or Introduction to Python (NEUROBIO 321qc), an intensive three-week J-term course, and the Discipline of Neuroscience (NEUROBIO 215), PiN's year-long, flagship course designed to give students the broad, cross-disciplinary conceptual fluency required of neuroscientists. In consultation with their SAC advisor, students may also choose to complete additional elective courses during their first year.

G2 Year

PiN students are expected to join a lab by September 1 of their G2 year. G2 students meet with their SAC advisor in September to discuss their rotations and joining a lab. Students may also wish to discuss elective courses, preparing for the PQE, and their second IDP reflection. By the time this meeting is held most students have been accepted into a lab for their dissertation research. Occasionally a student will decide to take a fourth rotation that finishes in September or October; these "extra" rotations must be approved in advance by the student's SAC advisor and the program director.

 

Preliminary Qualifying Examination (PQE)

Students are required to take their PQE by March 31 of their second year. The examination comprises a written proposal and an oral presentation and examination. Students are given substantial guidance in preparation for the PQE. The Discipline of Neuroscience first-year course includes a component that trains students in proposal writing. Additionally, students are given many opportunities to practice giving talks before their PQE, including a “PQE Club” in which second-year students enlist the help of more senior students in preparing their oral presentation.

 

Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC)
After passing their PQE, students form a Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) in consultation with their thesis advisor. It is not uncommon for students to ask their PQE committee members to continue as DAC members. The DAC meets formally with students and their thesis advisor at least once every 9 months through the G5 year and every 6 months thereafter to review students' research progress and advise on project scope and timeline and any issues that may arise. The DAC also advises on career development.

G3 Year & Above

Students in years G3 and above are required to meet with their Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) at least once every 9 months through the G5 year and every 6 months thereafter to review their research progress and discuss any issues that may arise. The DAC also provides valuable advising on career development.

 

Upper year students are also required to meet with their SAC advisor every summer until they defend their thesis. Prior to this meeting, students are asked to complete an Individual Development Plan (IDP) survey designed to help guide discussions about progress to degree and career options (and to collect the data routinely needed to renew training grants). Students are encouraged to help set the agenda for these meetings and might, for example, want to discuss issues relating to their DAC, their advisor, their ideas for postdoctoral research, or alternative post-graduation options.

MD-PhD

PiN MD-PhD students are first admitted to the Harvard/MIT MD-PhD program, where they have the option of applying to two educational tracks through Harvard Medical School: the Pathways track and the Health Sciences & Technology (HST) track. Admitted MD-PhD students begin their medical training and apply to PiN during their second medical school (M2) year. MD-PhD students typically complete their lab rotations during their M2 year and join a thesis lab shortly after matriculating into PiN. In addition to the core required courses (G1: NB 215, Discipline of Neuroscience | G2: MED-SCI 300qc, Conduct of Science), MD-PhD students are required to complete 4 credits of elective coursework (rather than 8 credits), including 2 credits of quantitative coursework, after matriculating as PiN students. MD-PhD students are exempt from the MATLAB/Python bootcamp requirement. PiN strongly urges MD-PhD students in the Pathways curriculum to take the quarter course NB315qc: Human Neuroanatomy and Neuropathology as one of their electives.

Course Requirements

Core Courses

PiN students are required to take NEUROBIO 306qc (MATLAB in August) or 321qc (Python in January), 215, and 327R in their first year. Students with a strong quantitative background may "test out" of NEUROBIO 306/321qc with instructor permission. In the fall of their G2 and G6 years, PiN students are required to take the NIH-mandated Conduct of Science course, MED-SCI 300qc/302qc.

 

NEUROBIO 306qc. Quantitative Methods for Biologists

Course Directors: Rick Born, Michael Springer
Two weeks in early August (Aug 9-20, 2021)

The goal of this summer "boot camp" is to introduce you to programming in the MATLAB environment and to show you the power this provides for analyzing data and for gaining intuition about the behavior of complex systems through the use of numerical simulations. Some of you, upon encountering in the previous sentence words like "programming" and "numerical simulations," will feel the cold hand of fear grip your stomach, because you have never done any programming and, in fact, have tried to avoid math as much as possible. If so, YOU ARE PRECISELY THE PERSON WE HAD IN MIND as we were planning the course. We are aiming to help you break through this barrier of darkness and fear into the radiant sunshine of quantitative enlightenment. The true beauty of MATLAB, as we will personally demonstrate, is that it allows people who are not mathematically adept (e.g., some of the instructors of this course) to use powerful numerical methods and visualization tools to gain an understanding of concepts that are very difficult to grasp analytically.

NEUROBIO 321qc. Intro to Python

Course Director: Ella Batty
Three weeks in January

This course provides an introduction to Python focused on tools used in biology and neuroscience research. We will cover basic Python, fundamental concepts such as object-oriented programming, scientific programming libraries such as NumPy and SciPy, and plotting/visualization libraries. This class will consist of a combination of lectures and hands-on exercises designed around biology and neuroscience applications.

NEUROBIO 215. Discipline of Neuroscience

Course Directors: John Assad, Lisa Goodrich, Tari Tan
Fall & Spring, Tue & Thu, 9am - 12pm (starts Sept 7, 2021)

This course will endow students with the broad conceptual fluency in the discipline of neuroscience required to relate genes to circuit function, metabolism to neurological disease, and cell biology to neural computations.

Through a combination of lectures and in-class activities, students will learn to design, quantitatively analyze, and interpret experiments that address a variety of questions spanning molecular to systems neuroscience. During the first semester, students will think critically about the fundamental units of the nervous system within the context of cellular function, electrical conduction, and chemical signaling. The second half of the course builds upon this foundation to focus on broadly defined “networks of neural function” as related to coordinated neural activity, the concerted execution of genetic programs, and anatomically defined structural networks. The course culminates with students writing a grant proposal in the style of the NIH NRSA.

NEUROBIO 327R. Rotations in Neuroscience

This course is designed to introduce new students to labs across the program. The first semester consists of three poster sessions located at central sites: Harvard Medical School, Children’s Hospital Boston, and Harvard University (Cambridge).

Elective Courses

In addition to the core courses, PiN students are required to complete 8 credits of elective coursework in order to graduate, including 2 credits of advanced quantitative elective coursework. PiN strongly encourages students to complete 2 credits of elective neuroanatomy. At least 4 credits of elective coursework must be completed or in progress before students take their Preliminary Qualifying Examination by March 31 of their second year. Students are encouraged to consult with their SAC advisor and Dissertation Advisory Committee to select elective courses (either at Harvard or MIT) that fill gaps in their knowledge or allow them to pursue specialized knowledge in subfields pertinent to their research and/or professional development. 

Recommended Electives 

NEUROBIO 212. Mathematical Tools for Neuroscientists (Fall)
NEUROBIO 308qc. Thinking About Data: Statistics for the Life Sciences (Fall)
NEUROBIO 315qc. Human Neuroanatomy & Neuropathology (Spring)
NEUROBIO 333qc. Careers in Neuorscience (Summer)

A full listing of elective courses taken by PiN students is available to browse here. Students can also take nanocourses offered by the Curriculum Fellows Program to satisfy up to 4 credits of elective coursework.

PiN curriculum map G1 yearCurriculum Map Year 2