Steps to the PhD


NUIN is one of 3 Life Science PhD programs at Northwestern, and the appropriate program for anyone wishing to obtain a PhD in the field of neuroscience. The Driskill Graduate Program (DGP) in the Feinberg School of Medicine, and the Interdepartmental Biological Sciences Program (IBiS), on the Evanston campus, are appropriate for students interested in life science fields other than neuroscience. Note that most of the life science departments at Northwestern do not offer their own PhD programs.

The NUIN program currently has approximately 140 PhD students and more than 140 faculty distributed among over 20 departments across the Chicago and Evanston campuses. Approximately two-thirds of students do their thesis work in Chicago labs; approximately one-third in Evanston labs.

The NUIN PhD program is fundamentally a research based program, but students must satisfy course requirements, a TA requirement, and other requirements in addition to completing a thesis.

See the Academic Timeline for a year by year summary of events leading to the PhD

Requirements and Milestones

NUIN students must satisfy a number of requirements and reach a number of milestones in order to earn a PhD. Follow the links for details.

Laboratory Research Rotations

Students must complete at least 3 laboratory rotations, each one academic quarter in length, a process that culminates in the identification of a lab in which to conduct thesis research.

NUIN students must take 9 Units of graded coursework. These include 4 Units of required courses (NUIN 401-1,2,3 and NUIN 403) taken during the first year. The balance are electives. Electives must be relevant to a student’s research, but otherwise may be chosen from among courses offered by NUIN as well as other Northwestern departments and programs. One stipulation is that at least one elective must be a “Great Experiments” course.

Seminar Attendance
During the fall, winter, and spring quarters of the first year, each student must attend at least 6 seminars presented by non-Northwestern faculty. These are documented using the NUIN Seminar Attendance form.

First Author Publication
Each student must have published or in press as a condition of graduation, at least one first author, peer reviewed article. (A co-first author publication satisfies this requirement.)

All students are expected to serve as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for two courses, usually during the second or third years.

Qualifying Exam
The NUIN Qualifying exam is taken at the very end of the second year. It is an entirely oral exam, assessing a student’s mastery of fundamental neuroscience knowledge and skills required to be a successful researcher.

Thesis Committee
Students are expected to have their Thesis Committee established by the end of winter quarter of the third year. The committee is formulated in consultation with the student’s advisor.

Thesis Proposal
Students must complete a written Thesis Proposal and present it to their Thesis Committee for approval by the end of the third year. Students are required to meet with the Thesis Committee, as a group or individually, at least once before the meeting at which the Thesis Proposal is presented.

Annual Meetings of the Thesis Committee
Students are required to hold formal thesis committee meetings at least once every twelve months. These events are documented by the Thesis Committee Status Report, which must be completed, signed, and submitted to the NUIN office following each meeting.

4th Year Seminar
Sometime during the fourth year, NUIN students are expected to give a public seminar. There are numerous forums on campus where this requirement can be fulfilled.

Thesis Defense
The NUIN Thesis Defense has two components. A student must first defend his or her written thesis document before the Thesis Committee. If the student passes the private defense, the student presents a public seminar on the thesis research.