CID Summer 2005 Convening: Developing Researchers and Scholars

Topic 2: Conducting Research

Ohio State University - Neuroscience

This Snapshot describes how the doctoral program in the Neuroscience Department helps teach students to conduct research.

Conducting research and scholarship includes designing specific research projects, learning research methods, conducting the investigation, and analyzing and interpreting the data to create meaning. These steps might be learned holistically or incrementally; they might be taught in the classroom or through hands-on apprenticeship; they might be practiced many times, or the dissertation might be the first complete piece of research a student conducts.

The OSU Neuroscience Graduate Studies Program

Summary Description

How does the department/program help students develop as researchers and scholars? What strategies are used? What elements of the program contribute to students' ability to conduct research?

To Develop Students as Researchers:

  • Up to 4 first-year lab rotations
  • Laboratory experience in required coursework
  • Quarterly neuroscience seminar series: student and faculty research presentations, journal club, and peer review
  • Candidacy exam: writing a research grant
  • Checkpoints for student research throughout their career
  • Brown bag professional development lunches
  • Students are financially encouraged to attend and present at the Society for Neuroscience conference
  • Strategies for Developing Researchers:

    Strategies include setting high expectations for the students, learning by observation and advice from a variety of peers and faculty, and learning from practice.

    To Develop Students as Scholars:

    Enhance Depth of Knowledge:

  • Seminar series: requires students to present their own research in detail and research described in specific journal articles
  • Doctoral exam: requires students to present and defend their dissertation research to a panel of experts
  • Enhance Breadth of Knowledge:

  • 5 core courses required: from electrophysiology to behavioral neuroscience (as well as other electives)
  • Neuroscience seminar series: ensures that students are exposed to and actively learning about various fields of research
  • First-year laboratory rotations: exposes students to literature from various fields of research
  • Students are supported to participate in the Society for Neuroscience conference that covers a very broad range of research topics
  • Strategies for Developing Scholars:

    The main strategy for developing scholars is to encourage growth of both depth and breadth of the students' knowledge.

    Program Handbook

    Candidacy Exam Philosophy and Guidlines

    Suggested Questions for Potential Advisors

    Tools and Resources

    Tools to develop researchers and scholars:

  • Program's philosophy and training flowchart
  • Syllabi from recent Neuroscience Program Seminars
  • Test questions from core classes
  • Program Philosophy

    Ethics in Research Seminar Syllabus

    Program Training Flowchart

    History of Neuroscience Seminar Syllabus

    Goals for Students

    By the time students complete the PhD how should they have developed in their ability to conduct research?

    Students should have demonstrated the ability to design, organize, and complete research experiments. They should also be able to communicate and discuss their findings at professional meetings and talks. They should be able to write up their experiments and complete the peer review process in order to publish their work. They should also have training in the ethical considerations of research.

    What should they know? What should they be able to do? How should they be able to think?

    Students should have both depth and breadth to their knowledge base. They should be able to follow the scientific process for research as well as techniques in their field. Students should be able to think critically and creatively.

    Program Context

    1). Historical/ Inertia

    Many of the practices we use in conducting research training are (not necessarily bad) remnants from the past. Traditionally, the 'root' disciplines of neuroscience (e.g. anatomy, biochemistry, physiological psychology, physiology, pharmacology) stressed individual laboratory bench work and an apprentice-like approach to one-on-one teaching of laboratory skills.

    2) Focus on funding

    Our candidacy exam was changed from a comprehensive four day written exercise to a 'take home' exam consisting of writing an NIH-style (R01) grant proposal. This was thought to reflect the reality of the world outside of graduate school. The usefulness of this exercise as a research training tool now seems clear. However, the lack of a comprehensive exam means that the breadth of training in the core discipline may not be emphasized enough.

    3) Hands on research training in the laboratory remains a core of the program, but there is some disconnect between this and the coursework. We do have a small laboratory component in one of the core courses (NS 725), but this is not as comprehensive as, for example, our institution's Integrated Biomedical Graduate Program (IBGP), which stresses core competence in cellular/molecular biology.

    4) We do put an emphasis on synthesizing and presenting research results by encouraging (and requiring) seminar presentations by students at several levels in their training. Attendance at national meetings (large and small) and poster presentations are encouraged and supported by the program. These skills relate not only to generating publications and grants, but to presenting research data in the context of a job interview or a report to peers and the public.

    Program Philosophy

    How Do We Know?

    How do you know students have met your goals? How do you know if they have not?

    Deadlines have been formalized. For example, students must pass their candidacy exams before the end of their second year. Also, students must receive at least a B grade in all core classes to get credit for them towards their degree.

    Are students evaluated? What tools do you use?

    Students have an annual review in which a panel from the program's administrative body meets with the student and discusses their progress in the program. Students submit up-to-date information on classwork, research, and progress towards their degree ahead of time.

    We are working on adding a form to be filled out by the advisor for the student's annual review to make sure both student and advisor are on the same page regarding student's progress.

    Students are also evaluated yearly by peers and faculty on their oral research presentation skills.

    Annual Review Form

    Draft of Advisor Form for Student Annual Review

    Unanswered Questions

    What questions remain for you? What will your department be discussing? In what areas would you like feedback or input?

    We are interested in improving the training of our students in:

  • Teaching
  • Non-academic career opportunities
  • Our program is interested in improving:

  • The evaluation of our students' progress
  • The evaluation of our students' breadth of knowledge
  • The cohesiveness of our large program (possibly by a program-wide research seminar and our new website)

  • Contact Information

    Contact person(s): Leah Pyter, Michael Beattie

    Email address:,

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