​Cognitive, Computational and Systems Neuroscience Curriculum Pathway


Recent years have seen a blurring of the traditional lines between brain-related research in psychology, biology and engineering. To train the next generation of top-flight brain scientists, Washington University has developed an integrated curriculum that provides graduate students with the training and resources to become leaders in this new interdisciplinary science.

The Cognitive, Computational and Systems Neuroscience Pathway (CCSN) is a specialized curriculum available to students pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience, Psychology or Biomedical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (including students in the Medical Scientist Training Program). The CCSN Pathway is not a separate degree-granting program, and CCSN students must fulfill all of the degree requirements of their home departments.

The CCSN Pathway provides an integrated curriculum that is compatible with course scheduling constraints in the three degree-granting programs. The curriculum will be challenging and is designed to help students tackle problems using an interdisciplinary approach.

The CCSN Pathway curriculum consists of three core and two advanced courses.

Year One

In the first year, each student takes three core courses: Neural Systems, Advanced Cognitive Psychology and Biological Neural Computation. This is a challenging load (in addition to program-specific requirements), but it is highly desirable to expose students to all three areas in the first year, as this provides the foundation for the second year of tailored, integrative coursework. Options are available to spread out the coursework. In consultation with the CCSN Pathway Advising Committee, each student develops a plan of coursework that best suits his or her individual needs.

Year Two

The second year of the CCSN curriculum consists of two semester-long courses: Advanced CCSN, occurs during fall semester and focuses on faculty-led case studies that involve tackling fundamental issues in neuroscience using an interdisciplinary approach. A required pre-requisite to the course is participation in the week-long mini-course (aka "boot camp") that takes place at the end of summer (i.e., right before the semester begins). The mini-course provides preparation for Advanced CCSN and facilitates increased interactions and discussion among students and faculty in a more informal setting. CCSN Project Building is completed during the spring semester. In this course each student, in consultation with faculty, develops a research plan in his or her chosen area of interest. The culmination of this CCSN Project Building is an NIH-style grant proposal that, for many students, will serve as a solid precursor to a thesis proposal.

Additional Training

CCSN also provides a number of training opportunities beyond the core curriculum, including:

Washington University has received funding from the National Institutes of Health Training Grant to support students in CCSN. Fellowships are funded for a two-year period and available each year for U.S. citizens and residents. In addition, the McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience is funding a limited number of additional two-year fellowships for students who are not U.S. citizens or residents. Students apply for the NIH Training Grant/McDonnell fellowships during their first year of graduate school. Successful applicants commit to completing the CCSN program.

CCSN Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (C-SURE):

 

CCSN has established a summer undergraduate research program for students at Washington University. The program is described in this announcement.

Graduate students interested in the CCSN pathway can learn more about it by clicking below for course information and lists of the people involved with CCSN teaching and administration.

Undergraduates seeking to do research in CCSN-affiliated laboratories may also find the course instructor lists helpful.

Information about other faculty with interests related to CCSN can be found at the web sites for the Neurosciences Program, Department of Biology, and Department of Biomedical Engineering. 

CCSN Courses

Cognitive Psychology Proseminar (L33 PSYCH 5087).
 
An advanced introduction to core topics in cognitive psychology. Topics to be covered include attention memory, problem-solving, imagery, categorization, action planning, and comprehension.
 
Semester: Fall year 1
 
Instructors: Professors Jeff Zacks (jzacks@wustl.edu) and Ian Dobbins (idobbins@wustl.edu)
 
 
Biological Neural Computation (BME 572 / L41 BIOL 5657)
 
This course will consider the computations performed by the biological nervous system with a particular focus on neural circuits and population-level encoding/decoding. Topics include, Hodgkin-Huxley equations, phase-plane analysis, reduction of Hodgkin-Huxley equations, models of neural circuits, plasticity and learning, and pattern recognition & machine learning algorithms for analyzing neural data. Note: Graduate students in psychology or neuroscience who are in the Cognitive, Computational, and Systems Neuroscience curriculum pathway may register in L41 5657 for three credits. For non-BME majors, conceptual understanding, and selection/application of right neural data analysis technique will be stressed. Hence homework assignments/examinations for the two sections will be different, however all students are required to participate in a semester long independent project as part of the course.
 
Semester: Spring year 1
 
Instructor: Professor Barani Raman (barani@seas.wustl.edu).
 
 
Neural Systems (L41 BIOL 5651)
 
The course will consist of lectures and discussions of the sensory, motor and integrative systems of the brain and spinal cord, together with a weekly lab. The lectures will present aspects of most neural systems, and will be given by faculty members who have specific expertise on each topic. The discussions will include faculty led group discussions and papers presented and discussed by students. The labs will include human brain dissections, examination of histological slides, physiological recordings, behavioral methods, computational modeling, and functional neural imaging.
 
Semester: Spring year 1
 
Coursemaster: Professor Larry Snyder (larry@eye-hand.wustl.edu).
 
 
Advanced CCSN Courses:
 
Advanced CCSN (L33 PSYCH 519 / L41 BIOL 5619)
 
This course will develop critical thinking and analysis skills in the context of a series of interdisciplinary, faculty-led case studies. Case study topics will be selected to complement and build upon the knowledge gained in the three core courses, and to highlight the benefits of combining behavioral, physiological, and computational approaches in neuroscience. The goal is not to provide extensive coverage of topic areas, but rather to delve deeply into each topic from a variety of perspectives. Each four-week module will involve a combination of lectures and student-led discussion. Grading will be based on class presentations and participation, as well as on a final paper. The final paper can be either a new research proposal (as a precursor to project-building) or a critical review/synthesis of the literature; final papers should incorporate content, neuroscience principles, or research strategies and methodology discussed during the course. Case-study topics will vary somewhat from year to year, but are likely to include some of the following: temporal coding, sensorimotor coordinate transformations, neural encoding/decoding of motion signals, brain network analysis, and value-based decision-making. A prerequisite to the course is participation in a weeklong mini-course (aka “boot camp”) that takes place at the end of the summer before the semester begins. The mini-course provides preparation for Advanced CCSN and facilitates increased interactions and discussion among students and faculty in a more informal setting.
 
Semester: Fall year 2. (Boot camp is scheduled in the last two weeks of August)
 
Coursemaster: Professor Todd Braver (tbraver@artsci.wustl.edu).
 
 
CCSN Project Building (L33 PSYCH 5191 / L41 BIOL 5622)
 
The goal of this course is to help students in the CCSN Pathway develop the critical thinking skills necessary to develop and implement high quality, interdisciplinary research projects. Throughout the course of the semester, each student will develop a research plan in their chosen area of interest. The plan will be developed in consultation with at least two faculty members (from at least two different sub-disciplines within the pathway) as well as the other students and faculty participating in the course. The culmination of this course will be for each student to produce an NIH-style grant proposal on the research project of their choosing. For most students, this will serve either as their thesis proposal or a solid precursor to the thesis proposal. The course will be designed to help facilitate the development of such a research plan through didactic work, class presentations, class discussion, and constructive feedback on written work. The course will begin with a review of written examples of outstanding research proposals, primarily in the form of grant submissions similar to those that the students are expected to develop (i.e., NRSA style proposals, R03 proposals). Review of these proposals will serve as a stimulus to promote discussion about the critical elements of good research proposals and designs in different areas. Each student will be expected to give two presentations throughout the semester that will provide opportunities to receive constructive feedback on the development and implementation of research aims. The first presentation (towards the beginning of the semester) will involve presentation of the student's general topic of interest and preliminary formulation of research quesions (along the lines of NIH-style Specific Aims). Feedback will emphasize ways to focus and develop the resarch hypothesis into well-formulated questions and experiments. The second presentation will involve a fuller presentation of research questions and proposed methods. Feedback, didactic work, and group discussion throughout the semester will include guidance on critical components of the development of a research plan, including how to perfrom literature searches, formulate testable hypotheses, write critical literature summaries, and design experiments and analyses. The course will meet approximately once a week, though meeting may be more frequent during presentations periods.
 
Semester: Spring year 2
Coursemaster: Deanna Barch (dbarch@wustl.edu)
 
 

CCSN Administration

 

      Executive Committee
      Steve Petersen
      Jeff Zacks
      Dennis Barbour
       
      Steering Committee
      Steve Petersen
      Kurt Thoroughman
      Jeff Zacks
      Dan Moran
      Larry Snyder
      Ian Dobbins
      Erik Herzog
      David Van Essen
      Camillio Padoa-Schioppa
      Todd Braver
      Deanna Barch
      Paul Stein
      Dennis Barbour
      Kathleen McDermott
       
      Student Committee
      David Pagliaccio
      Hoaxin Sun
      Avanti Dey
       
      Outreach Liaison
      Jeff Gamble
      CCSN Committee Staff
      Lydia Counts
      Amy Toenjes

CCSN Instructors

Biological Neural Computation
Barani Raman

Neural Systems
Dennis Barbour
Andreas Burkhalter
James Galvin
Robert Gereau
Erik Herzog
Dan Moran
Steve Petersen
Joel Price
Paul Shaw
Paul Stein
Larry Snyder (course leader)
Tom Thach
Kurt Thoroughman
David Van Essen
Mark Warchol
Tom Woolsey

Cognitive Psychology
Mark McDaniel
Jeff Zacks

Advanced CCSN
Deanna Barch
Todd Braver (course leader)
Dennis Barbour
Ian Dobbins
Dan Moran
Steve Petersen
Larry Snyder
Kurt Thoroughman
David Van Essen

Project Building
Richard Abrams
Dave Balota
Dennis Barbour
Deanna Barch (course leader)
Todd Braver
Harold Burton
Maurizio Corbetta
Tim Holy
Dan Moran
Steve Petersen
Marc Raichle
Gordon Shulman
Larry Snyder
Kurt Thoroughman
David Van Essen
Jeff Zacks

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