The Best Neuroscience Ph.D. Programs

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Neurologists and neuroscientists possess essential skills for identifying and solving complex problems that affect the brain and the nervous system. The best doctoral neuroscience programs are recognized by the Society for Neuroscience as institutions that provide excellent didactic and clinical training for students. These four programs rank in the top 10 of neuroscience programs in the United States, according to U. S. News & World Report’s 2014 Graduate Neuroscience and Neurobiology School Rankings.

Two neuroscientists looking at MRI scans
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Ranked number one by U. S. News and World Report, Stanford organizes its doctoral neuroscience program into three areas -- cellular, systems and translational neuroscience -- but students are encouraged to take courses in other disciplines, such as engineering and biology, to enhance their neurological education. Courses like neuroimaging and circuits teach students to use magnetic scanners, discover how information is transmitted through axons, and better understand the effects of aging on the neurological system. In addition, students can conduct research in the Andreasson Lab to study and find ways to combat neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The school’s Neurosciences Institute allows students to attend seminars from professionals in neuroscience and other fields, including law, education and business, focused on understanding how brain functions affect our emotions, creativity, decision-making and behavior.

Hoover Tower on the Stanford University campus
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The University of California, San Diego offers a five-year neuroscience doctoral program that is geared toward expanding their understanding of neurological anatomy, systems and ethics. Courses in neuron biophysics, cellular development and neurological pain provide students a broad foundation before they must choose a more specialized topic for their graduate thesis. Students may also elect to participate in the Computational Neuroscience Specialization within the neuroscience department to focus on topics like advanced neuron imaging, analyzing neurological data and neuron behavior. Student-run journal discussion sessions and on-campus seminar series help students further their research on topics such as autism and visual systems. The school also encourages students to take part in a number of fellowship programs, including the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Diversity Fellowship, which helps fund neurological student research projects while encouraging the increase of ethnic and racial diversity in higher education.

A neuroscience student dissects brain tissue in a lab
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Coming in at number three, Johns Hopkins University offers students courses in topics such as neurological perception of self, scientific misconduct and the effect of pharmaceutical drugs on the brain. Students who wish to combine their neuroscience Ph.D. with medical training may do so in the school’s joint M.D./Ph.D. program. At the Mind/Brain Institute, students can participate in research to better understand how neurons in the brain affect human motor skills, plus visual and touch perception and memory. Upon graduation, students have worked for such organizations as Google, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

A doctor examines brain scan prints
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At Columbia University, students can concentrate their neuroscience training in neurobiology. In this program, students cover neurological disease, as well as circuits and the development of the nervous system. Columbia also offers students research opportunities at the Taub Institute, the Lieber Center and the Motor Neuron Center so that students can learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, as well as schizophrenia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Each week, the school hosts a series of seminars from neuroscientists, which discuss topics such as memory longevity, unconsciousness in the brain and deconstructing the spinal cord. The school also hosts a biannual retreat for students, who can present their research findings in neuroscience, network with faculty members and other professionals and build stronger bonds with their peers in an off-campus setting.

The Columbia University campus on a sunny day
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