Graduate Programs

Ph.D. Curriculum

The Anatomy and Neurobiology Ph.D. Program offers a graduate curriculum of formal instructional activities and research training mentored by the members of the faculty leading to the Ph.D. degree in Anatomy and Neurobiology. The Program prepares students to teach in the neuroscience disciplines at a university or academic health center, and is distinguished by its objective to prepare the student to function as an independent research investigator.

First Year

Fall semester:

  • Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (BIOC 503)
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience (NEUS 609)
  • Laboratory Rotations (ANAT 697)
  • Seminar (ANAT 690)

Spring semester:

  • Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology (BIOC 504)
  • Systems Neuroscience (ANAT 610)
  • Laboratory Rotations (ANAT 697)
  • Seminar (ANAT 690)

Summer following First Year

During the summer following the first year, students begin full time work in the research laboratory of their chosen thesis advisor. Students register for Directed Research (ANAT 697, 6 credits).

Second Year

Fall semester:

  • Scientific Integrity (OVPR 601)
  • Research Presentations (ANAT 630)
  • Directed Research (ANAT 697)
  • Seminar (ANAT 690)
  • Elective

Spring semester:

  • Techniques in Neuroscience and and Cell Biology (ANAT 615)
  • Scientific Writing and Grantsmanship (ANAT 620)
  • Research Presentations (ANAT 630)
  • Directed Research (ANAT 697)
  • Seminar (ANAT 690)
  • Elective

Summer following Second Year

During the summer following the second year the student will take the written and oral comprehensive exams. Students also register for Directed Research (ANAT 697, 6 credits) and work in the research laboratory their chosen thesis advisor.

  • Written Comprehensive:
    The written exam consists of two parts. Part one is an open book written exam which is designed to: 1) assess the student’s ability to integrate course material and 2) demonstrate critical thinking and evaluation of the literature in the basic health sciences related to the student’s area of research. For part two, the student will prepare an NIH-style grant proposal based on their research plan.
  • Oral Comprehensive:
    After successful completion of both parts of the Written Comprehensive Exam, the student’s graduate advisor committee will administer the Oral Comprehensive Examination which entails an oral defense of the student’s grant proposal as well as the topics covered in part one of the Written Comprehensive. The Oral Comprehensive Exam covers (1) course work (anatomy and other basic health sciences) related to the student’s proposed research, (2) the literature cited in or related to the proposal, and (3) the hypotheses, research techniques and procedures presented in the proposal. Successful completion of the Oral Comprehensive Exam advances the student to candidacy for the Doctoral degree.

Students must achieve a grade of B or better in all courses, otherwise they will be required to re-take that course.

Third year and beyond

There is no expectation of the time required to complete the doctoral degree. Beginning with the Spring semester of the third year in the graduate program the student will devote their full time to conducting their research in the laboratory of the advisor. Students are also required to register for 14 units of Directed Research (ANAT 697) and one unit of Seminar (ANAT 690) each semester. During the summer, students register for six credits of Directed Research (ANAT 697).

At the appropriate time in their research, the student will prepare a dissertation and schedule a Final Oral Defense of the thesis. The Final Oral Examination (defense of the dissertation) will be limited to the subject of the candidate’s dissertation and related basic science.

Students are required to take one elective, though students may elect to enroll in additional courses after consultation with their advisor.


Fall semester electives:

  • Histology (ANAT 611)
  • Developmental Neurobiology (ANAT 617)
  • Synaptic Organization of the Brain (ANAT 691)
  • Gross Anatomy (ANAT 609)
  • Statistical Methods (BIOS 543)
  • Techniques in Molecular Biology and Genetics (MICR 607)
  • Mammalian Physiology (PHIS 501)
  • Signal Detection in Sensory Systems (PHIS 615)

Spring semester electives:

  • Histology (ANAT 502)
  • Embryology (ANAT 612)
  • Cell Physiology (PHIS 604)
  • Ion Channels in Membranes (PHIS 620)
  • Principles of Pharmacology and Toxicology (PHTX 536)
  • Neurochemical Pharmacology (PHTX 632)

Program Goals

The program is designed to provide students with the skills required to advance to positions as Neurobiology researchers and teachers in a broad spectrum of academic, industrial, and government employment venues.
The program will provide a framework for the progressive development of a mastery of the current state of the subject matter of Neurobiology and related Bioscience, an ability to synthesize this information and apply this foundation to the identification of key areas of investigation/experimentation in Neurobiology.

The program provides training to acquire the ability to identify relevant scientific questions, and thereafter formulate, design, implement, and interpret experimental approaches which address the questions identified.

The program provides training and opportunities to develop skills in the various means of communicating both the core of Neuroscience knowledge and the presentation of experimental design, results, and interpretation to a variety of potential audiences.

Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center
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