Top 10 Neuroscience PhD Programs

PhD in neuroscience happens to be the highest attainable degree in its area of study. However, before one can be allowed access to a neuroscience PhD program there is the need to have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in neuroscience. The neuroscience PhD degree can offer a wide variety of career options for its recipients. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, neuroscientists can work in diverse areas such as pharmacology, animal psychology, environmentalism, genetics and research.

What is Neuroscience

These options only show the wide range of opportunities that a graduate in neuroscience PhD program can get. However, it is important to note that a potential student must have in mind that a neuroscience PhD is a research-based and more advanced program. This kind of program is most viable for those who may wish to work in a clinical setting and perhaps diagnose and treat cognitive and other brain dysfunctions.

University students entering a neuroscience PhD program must have a range of academic backgrounds, but they need to be familiar with basic neuroscience concepts and current advances. Most programs begin with core courses covering topics like neuroanatomy, psychopharmacology, and developmental neurobiology. These programs are suitable for postgraduate students new to neuroscience, graduates looking to further their knowledge, and professionals seeking to advance their careers through study and research.

Choosing to pursue a neuroscience graduate degree can lead to a multitude of opportunities. Discover the top neuroscience PhD programs in this blog post to guide your decision on where to pursue your PhD in neuroscience.

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What is Neuroscience?

The human brain is a sophisticated and complex organ in the human body. It is the centre of the nervous system. The main functions of the brain include the interpretation of sensory information, thoughts, memory, emotions, and actions. In the medical world, the study of the brain has led to a plethora of treatment options for various illnesses. These include brain tumours, head injuries and stroke.

It is also a multi-disciplinary field as it incorporates psychology, biology and recently computer science. Neuroscience is a rapidly expanding field, with something new being discovered every day. It is dynamic and forever changing because as technology improves, there are new ways in which scientists can carry out research. This is achieved using a variety of methods including studying post-mortem brains, brain scanning and recording electrical activity of the brain.

Criteria for Ranking the Top Neuroscience PhD Programs

Certain criteria were considered in ranking neuroscience PhD programs. Below are the proposed criteria explained in ascending order of importance:

  • Faculty quality
  • Research output mainly in scholarly publications
  • Diversity of research opportunities
  • Peer review initiatives
  • Leadership in neuroscience and associated service to other programs
  • Possibility to combine clinical training with medical students

However, these criteria may not always be enough due to permanent or temporary changes in various factors. For example, a faculty member of high reputation may retire or relocate affecting the faculty quality of a program. Similarly, a big research output only shows the current state and may not always imply that a program will maintain this in the future.

It is not always clear what weight to give to the importance of certain factors like using research output or faculty quality as the main criterion in rankings. It’s due to this dynamic nature of factors that any future PhD students need to appreciate the specific criteria applied in a certain ranking exercise. Also, a critical analysis of the effect that each criterion may have on the overall quality of a program may be important.

Requirements For Neuroscience Doctorate Programs

Neuroscience doctorate programs are only open to graduates who have previously completed a degree in a related subject, such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, or physics. However, most will accept applicants who have a first degree in psychology, provided that they have relevant research experience and that they can understand and apply mathematical and complex molecular principles of neuroscience. Some programs will insist on a certain classification.

Applicants to the Neuroscience PhD programs must have:

  • A 3.5 grade point average in their bachelor’s degree.
  • Most programs will require a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score

Gaining a place in a neuroscience PhD program can be very competitive, and successful applicants are likely to have more than just the basic admission requirements. Graduates need to show that they have some knowledge of the minimal level of biological sciences because the first year of the program is highly focused on teaching molecular and cellular-level neuroscience.

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Top 10 Neuroscience PhD Programs in the World

  1. John Hopkins University PhD in Neuroscience
  2. The University of Pennsylvania PhD in Neuroscience
  3. The University of Washington in St. Louis
  4. Columbia University PhD Program in Neurobiology and Behavior
  5. The University of California – San Diego PhD in Neuroscience
  6. University College London PhD in Neuroscience
  7. Stanford University PhD in Neuroscience
  8. The University of California – San Francisco PhD in Neuroscience
  9. Harvard University PhD in Neuroscience
  10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Top Neuroscience PhD Programs in the WorldThere are many PhD programs for neuroscience, and one way to pick the right program for you is to understand what the best programs offer. The programs’ prestige, research emphasis and faculty experience can shed some light on what kind of professional connections, research support and job opportunities you may have upon completing your PhD degree in neuroscience.

With the above factors in mind, the following is a list of PhD programs for neuroscience in no particular order of importance that consistently receive high marks. These programs are generally recognized to be in the top 10 list globally.

  1. John Hopkins University PhD in Neuroscience

John Hopkins University is ranked as the number one graduate program in neuroscience in the United States by the National Research Council and it is one of the best neuroscience programs in the world. The main goal of this program is to provide students with rigorous training in both academics and research. The first year of the program is dedicated to coursework. During this time, students have the opportunity to rotate in three different labs and work on a team-based research project.

At the end of the first year, students need to pass a qualifying examination before they can begin their dissertation research. The qualifying examination consists of both written and oral components that are designed to test the depth and breadth of the student’s knowledge of the subject of their dissertation

Students in this program have the opportunity to accelerate their research work by engaging in the Integrated Clinical and Research Thesis program. This program offers special tracks for students who are interested in being exposed to clinical aspects of neuroscience research. Students will be able to receive joint M.D./PhD training or PhD in neuroscience training integrated with a clinical psychiatry residency through this program.

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The PhD Program in Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University is training the next generation of scientists and researchers through a collaborative, interdisciplinary setting that can’t be found in standard lectures or textbooks. Students also benefit from the university’s exceptional research facilities and resources, including specially designed spaces for high-quality interdisciplinary work and cutting-edge technology that help provide a platform for innovative discoveries and new scientific knowledge.

  1. The University of Pennsylvania PhD in Neuroscience

The University of Pennsylvania’s PhD in Neuroscience is a distinguished program for those who are interested in earning top credentials in the field of applied brain science. Not only do students attend the program’s institution—Perelman School of Medicine, the nation’s first medical school—but unmatched clinical and research facilities are available within a few blocks, in what’s known as the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Students in the program complete a comprehensive examination after coursework and a thesis proposal. They finish their Ph.D. degrees in an average of five and a half years, better preparing them for the national job placement rate of over 80%. Students may also consider jointly obtaining a degree in combinations such as medicine or cognitive science. The class curriculum varies based on track and cohort. Graduates of the program have become prolific members of the scientific community, noted for their research and professional services in educational, public and private sectors.

  1. The University of Washington in St. Louis

Now let’s talk about the University of Washington in St. Louis. This neuroscience PhD program in St. Louis is very research-focused and many students who come to Washington University are looking for opportunities to get involved in independent research. As such, the main focus of the program is the thesis and the research that students get to carry out during their time.

The basic admissions requirements for the neuroscience PhD program at the University of Washington are:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • A strong academic record
  • Competitive scores on standardized tests like the GRE, and
  • Research experience.

The faculty are engaged in a diverse spectrum of neuroscience research. Research activities span the full range of modern neuroscience, from molecular neurobiology to functional neuroimaging. Students will receive financial support in the form of a competitive stipend, full tuition remission, and health and dental coverage for the duration of their research. Also, currently, the program offers up to $60,000, which is the maximum amount of the university fellowship award.

Check Out: Top 10 Factors Influencing Doctorate Completion

  1. Columbia University PhD Program in Neurobiology and Behavior

This program is again a powerhouse of research and is oftentimes the department where basic research chemistry, neurophysiology, and behaviour are performed. The class sizes are very small, of only about ten students or so, which is the second smallest class size on this top ten list so if you like personal attention, this is a fantastic program.

Another nice aspect of the program is that during the PhD program in neurology, the medical students and the students from the neuroscience behavioural core take the same classes, so if you are on the medical track you can go ahead and take those classes right away.

  1. The University of California – San Diego PhD in Neuroscience

Both a national and international focus at the University of California – San Diego PhD in Neuroscience prepares students to operate at the highest level in the field. They are committed to combining rigorous education with real-world experience and as such offer numerous opportunities for students to engage in the global academic community. The faculty working in the program are from numerous countries around the world and represent a broad range of research methodologies and academic disciplines.

Students in the University of California – San Diego PhD in Neuroscience also benefit from a strong and ever-expanding network of alumni, both locally and further afield. This provides a range of opportunities for career development both during and following the course and adds a real-world incentive to the global focus of the program.

  1. University College London PhD in Neuroscience

University College London (UCL) is one of the world’s foremost academic and research institutions and is located in the heart of London. The UCL Neuroscience PhD is a cross-disciplinary, research-based training programme covering those aspects of neuroscience which are most relevant to psychiatry. The PhD degree in neuroscience at the UCL is a substantial piece of independent research.

The UCL Neuroscience PhD programme is a high-quality education in neuroscience with strong links to teaching and laboratory facilities. The programme emphasizes translational research and combinations of academic, clinical and industrial expertise. Students enrolled in the UCL Neuroscience PhD will have opportunities to undertake part of their research in an industrial setting if they wish.

Top 10 Factors Influencing PhD Stipend Amounts

  1. Stanford University PhD in Neuroscience

For students pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience at Stanford University, the program offered is an Interdisciplinary Scholar’s Program via the Stanford Neurosciences Institute. The program is designed to give each student, from a diverse range of backgrounds and interests, a unique research and learning experience. In stark comparison to traditional research programs, the faculty at the university believes that the key to advancing neuroscience is the connectivity between different specialties and subjects.

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Neuroscience degree program at the Stanford University School of Medicine trains students to do cutting-edge neuroscience research, with the broad goal of advancing and understanding the mind, brain and intelligence. The Ph.D. program has a uniquely low student-to-faculty ratio, approximately one to one or one to two, within the first two years. This means that the students will receive close mentorship and guidance from the faculty from the early stage of the program, with the ultimate goal of cultivating potential future leaders in neuroscience research.

  1. The University of California – San Francisco PhD in Neuroscience

The University of California – San Francisco (UCSF) is the second oldest research university in the University of California network and is renowned for its healthcare, biological and medical research programmes. The curriculum for the PhD in Neuroscience spans a wide range of topics including molecular and cellular neuroscience and systems neuroscience. Students get to undertake three research lab rotations in the first semester which allows them to gain practical skills and learn about the current research methods used in the lab.

  1. Harvard University PhD in Neuroscience

As with other top-ranked neuroscience doctoral programs, Harvard aims to provide its students with an interdisciplinary education of the highest quality. It’s worth noting early in my comments that students at Harvard enjoy tremendous resources for their research. For starters, the university houses Harvard Medical School and the affiliated teaching hospitals, which together are known as Harvard Health.

The neuroscience PhD program at Harvard falls under the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Students can utilize a wide range of state-of-the-art resources such as labs, facilities, and equipment. Alumni of the Ph.D. neuroscience program at Harvard have pursued careers with prestigious institutions and companies such as Rutgers University, Biogen, and Google.

Easiest Countries to Get PhD Admission

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD program in Brain and Cognitive Sciences provides a comprehensive curriculum of research opportunities and classes. The objective of the program is to give students the skills they need to teach and to carry out research in their area of interest. It usually takes five years for a student to become fully trained in brain and cognitive science. The first two years of the program, which are known as the M.S. years, are used to build the student’s basic academic and research skills, through coursework and laboratory rotations.

Once the student advances to Ph.D. candidacy they must continue to take part in ongoing departmental research and gain proficiency in some aspect of the discipline. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences has been leading the way in experimental psychology and neuroscience since it was created. The collaborative work of the teaching faculty within the department provides students with a unique and stimulating environment in which to study and carry out research.


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