University of Southern California

Neuroscience – Graduate Program

Director: Pat Levitt, Ph.D.

Master of Science in Neuroscience

Coordinator: Pat Levitt, Ph.D.

The M.S. degree program in Neuroscience is a terminal degree for students admitted into the Neuroscience Ph.D. program who cannot complete the Ph.D. program for personal or medical reasons. Enrollment of graduate students as master’s degree candidates is not encouraged and is reserved for special circumstances that must be approved by the Executive Committee of the Neuroscience Graduate Program. The master’s curriculum includes all course work required of Ph.D. students for a minimum of 24 units and successful completion of both the written and oral portions of the qualifying examination. Students may opt for a thesis or non-thesis master’s degree. The thesis master’s degree requires presentation of a written thesis based on original research to a Neuroscience thesis committee and submission of the thesis to the Graduate School for publication. The non-thesis master’s degree requires a formal research paper that is approved by three members of the Neuroscience Graduate Program faculty. The qualifying examination will serve as the comprehensive master’s examination for non-thesis master’s degrees. Students must also satisfy residency and other requirements of the Graduate School.

Doctor of Philosophy in Neuroscience

Coordinator: Pat Levitt, Ph.D.

Application deadline: December 15

Breadth of interests and training are major features of the graduate program in neuroscience. Wide and varied skills in many research areas characterize the faculty of the program. Close contact between faculty and students is considered of major importance in this highly interdisciplinary field.

Training is given in several areas of specialization: behavioral and systems neuroscience, cellular and molecular neurobiology, cognitive neuroscience, computational neuroscience, neuroengineering and neuroscience of aging and development.

Applicants should normally have defined an interest in one or two specializations. A final choice of the specialization will be made during the first year.

Admission Requirements

A baccalaureate degree in a field relevant to the student’s graduate goals is required.

Appropriate fields would include neuroscience, biology, chemistry, computer science, linguistics, psychology and many areas of engineering. Undergraduate study should provide evidence of proficiency in mathematics, including statistics. Students planning to enter the specialization in computational and mathematical neuroscience should have taken course work in calculus and, where possible, linear algebra and computer programming. Applicants who are accepted with minor deficiencies are expected to correct these during the first year.

Applications require forms from both the university and the program. These may be obtained from: Coordinator, Graduate Program in Neuroscience, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2520.

Degree Requirements

These degrees are awarded under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Requirements for Graduation section and the Graduate School section of this catalogue for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degrees must be courses accepted by the Graduate School.

Advisory Committee

The student will be advised during the first year by the Graduate Affairs Committee. As soon as the student has selected a specialization, an Advisory Committee of appropriate faculty will be appointed. This committee will be chaired by the thesis adviser, when chosen. The purpose of the Advisory Committee is to help the student in the selection of courses and research; to monitor the student’s progress; to insure preparation for the qualifying examination; and to administer that examination.

Course Requirements

A minimum of 60 units is required, consisting of formal courses, seminars and research credits. At least 24 of the 60 units are to be formal graduate course work (lecture or seminar courses). During the first year the student is expected to complete the core courses in neuroscience (NSCI 524), one key course, NSCI 538 Neuroscience Ethics and Professionalization, and two semesters of NSCI 539. Other courses in the area of specialization may also be taken in the first year and will be taken in subsequent years.

Core Course: NSCI 524 Advanced Overview of Neuroscience (4 units), will be taken by all students in the fall of their first year to provide an integrated multilevel view of neuroscience. To take the core course, students should have mastered the material currently taught in BISC 421. (Students will be expected to review a detailed syllabus and reading list for BISC 421 to identify their level of knowledge prior to their arrival at USC and will receive advice at Orientation on whether to take BISC 421 or read recommended material to remedy their deficiencies.)

Key Courses: All students will be required to complement their thesis-directed studies with a “breadth with depth” requirement by taking three key courses, one each from three of the four tracks listed below. Each key course will be for 3 or 4 units. (At least one of these courses will serve to advance thesis-related study as well.)

Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Neuroscience Track units
NSCI 531 Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology 4
BISC 426 Principles of Neural Development 4
Cognitive Neuroscience Track units
PSYC 540 Cognitive Neuroscience 4
Computational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering Track units
BME 575L Computational Neuroengineering 3
NEUR 535 Brain Theory and Artificial Intelligence 3
Systems and Behavioral Neuroscience Track units
NSCI 532 Systems and Behavioral Neurobiology 3

All students are required to take NSCI 538 Neuroscience Ethics and Professionalization (1 unit).

It is required that all neuroscience Ph.D. students demonstrate competence in statistics in fulfillment of their Ph.D. requirements.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination concentrates on the student’s ability to demonstrate a grasp of the major area of interest chosen and its relation to other areas of training offered in the program. The examination is partly written and partly oral and is designed to test the student’s ability to meet the demands of the profession.


An acceptable dissertation based on completion of an original investigation is required. The candidate must defend an approved draft of the dissertation in an oral examination.

Courses of Instruction

Neuroscience (Graduate) (NSCI)

The terms indicated are expected but are not guaranteed. For the courses offered during any given term, consult the Schedule of Classes.

NSCI 524 Advanced Overview of Neurosciences (4, Fa) Study of the nervous system at multiple levels through the analysis of four themes: motor control; emotion, motivation, and decision-making; memory and learning; and vision. Prerequisite: BISC 421. Open only to master and doctoral students.(Duplicates credit in former NEUR 524.)

NSCI 525 Advanced Overview of Neurosciences II (4, Sp) Sensory and motor systems, cognitive neuroscience, behavioral systems, computational neuroscience. Prerequisite: BISC 421. Open only to master and doctoral students. (Duplicates credit in former NEUR 525.)

NSCI 531 Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology (4, FaSpSm) Introduces fundamental principles of advanced molecular and cellular neurobiology including proteins and nucleic acids, cell biology of neurons and glia, synaptic transmission and neuronal signaling. Open only to master and doctoral students. (Duplicates credit in former NEUR 531.)

NSCI 532 Systems and Behavioral Neurobiology (3, Fa) Systems and behavioral neurobiology: hierarchical mechanisms controlling behavior, experimental techniques; perceptual (visual, auditory, somatosensory) systems; sensorimotor systems; motivated behavior; learning, memory and adaptation. Open only to master and doctoral students.

NSCI 538 Neuroscience Ethics and Professionalization (1, FaSpSm) Exposes students to ethical issues in scientific research, especially for neuroscience; scientific integrity and professional roles for the academician and neuroscientist. Open only to master and doctoral students. (Duplicates credit in former NEUR 538.)

NSCI 539 Seminar in Neurobiology (1, FaSp) Seminar in Neurobiology. Open only to master and doctoral students. (Duplicates credit in former NEUR 539.)

NSCI 541 Neurobiology of Disease (3, Sp) Introduction to the fundamental aspects of common diseases affecting the brain including clinical features, animal models, genetics, neuropathology, synaptic function, and therapeutic targets. Prerequisite: NSCI 524. (Duplicates credit in former NEUR 541.)

NSCI 599 Special Topics (2-4, max 8) Special topics providing background for instruction and research in neuroscience through lectures, discussions, assigned readings and student presentations.

NSCI 790 Research (1–6, max 21, FaSpSm) Research leading to the doctorate. Maximum units which may be applied to the degree to be determined by the department. Graded CR/NC. Open only to neuroscience graduate students and neuroscience majors. (Duplicates credit in former NEUR 790.)

NSCI 794abcdz Doctoral Dissertation (2-2-2-2-0) Credit on acceptance of dissertation. Graded IP/CR/NC. Open only to neuroscience graduate students and neuroscience majors. (Duplicates credit in former NEUR 794abcdz.)