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Year One

In the first year, all students follow the same MSc in Neuroscience programme, irrespective of whether they are part of the 1+3 programme or the stand-alone MSc in Neuroscience programme.

Academic Content

The academic year begins in late September with the Autumn School in Cognitive Neuroscience and is divided into three terms. The first term provides an introduction to neuroscience and research methods, while the second and  third terms combine advanced taught courses, essay writing and two laboratory rotations (research projects), which each lead to a dissertation. The course concludes the following September with an oral examination.

The first term

The first term comprises 5 compulsory introductory modules and associated practical classes: Introduction to Neuroscience, Neuroanatomy, Synapses and Transduction, Neuronal Cell and Molecular Biology, and Systems Neuroscience. This includes a series of 12-14 lectures and associated practical classes on cutting-edge techniques in neuroscience. A qualifying exam is taken at the end of the first term to ensure that everyone has acquired an appropriate level of understanding in all areas covered, irrespective of their undergraduate background. This is a 3 hour essay-based examination.

The second term and third terms

Lectures for the advanced modules take place in the mornings during the University term. Outside of this time, students work on their research projects, spending approximately 60% of their time in the laboratory carrying out independent research.

Students select FOUR advanced modules, including at least one from each of the clusters labelled A, B and C to ensure breadth, although lectures are timetabled so that students can attend any part of the course. The fifth module is a compulsory Journal Club, spread over both terms.The options available for 2021/22 were: 

Module Organisers
A1 and A2: Cognitive Neuroscience

These modules now consist of 5 "themes". Students choose 3 themes for one module (A1) and all 5 to equate to 2 modules (A1 and A2)

Prof Masud Husain – Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience

Dr Mark Walton – Motivation and reward

Prof David Bannerman – Learning and memory

Prof Matthew Rushworth – Social cognition

Prof Matthew Rushworth – Pre-frontal cortex and Decision making

A3: Neuroscience and Clinical Mental Health Prof. Catherine Harmer and Dr. Phil Burnet
B1: Motor Systems  Prof  Charlotte Stagg and Dr Andrew Sharott
B2: Computational Neuroscience  Dr. Ben Willmore and Prof Tim Behrens
B3: Sensory Systems  Profs. Andrew King and Holly Bridge
C1: CNS Development, Plasticity and Repair   Prof Zoltan Molnar and Prof Colin Akerman
C2: Molecular Neuroscience  Prof. Richard Wade-Martins and Dr. Peter Oliver
C3: Genes, Circuits and Behaviour Prof. Stephen Goodwin and Dr. Vladyslav Vyazovskiy

These modules have been designed to embrace the considerable range of expertise available in Oxford and each has two organisers to ensure continuity in content. They are updated each year to include new personnel as well as to reflect the rapid changes taking place in neuroscience and feedback from current students. Each selected advanced module is written up as an extended essay (3,000 words). For the Computational Neuroscience module, a series of MATLAB exercises are set, which involve the analysis of real data.

Research projects

Students  also undertake two 16-week research projects (lab rotations), selected from over 100 submitted, approved abstracts. These are written up as 10,000 word dissertations.  Students are encouraged to talk to as many potential supervisors as time permits, and will then meet with the Director and members of the Organising Committee to discuss lab rotation choices. With over 100 abstracts submitted each year, there is always plenty of choice, but if students are interested in a particular lab or research topic, they are welcome to discuss a potential project independently with an appropriate supervisor. Details of potential MSc project supervisors can be found by researching PIs on this website. .

Results of the first project are presented as a poster at the annual Oxford Neuroscience Day, which is attended by approximately 350 people. For the second dissertation, students give a short oral presentation to their peers and mentors. Over 70 full papers have been published from previous MSc lab rotation projects. Please see Research Highlights for further details.

The MSc concludes in mid-September of the following year with a compulsory oral examination, during which students discuss their work with a panel of examiners, after which prizes are awarded for the best overall student and the best dissertation project.

Choosing the DPhil project

At the beginning of May, students on the 1+3 programme are invited to a meeting with the Course Director and Course lecturer to discuss selection of their DPhil project. Students are recommended to discuss projects with several supervisors and, in many cases, collaborative projects are proposed. Some students opt to continue one of the MSc lab rotations as their DPhil projects, others combine both their MSc projects as a collaborative DPhil project, whereas others choose a project that they have not previously tried out during the MSc year.

The students are asked to write a preliminary proposal which is assessed by the Organising Committee and feedback given in July. Students then write a full proposal with the help of their proposed supervisors, which is again assessed before being submitted in September.

We have an approved supervisor pool currently comprising over 30 Oxford neuroscientists, drawn from all departments where neuroscience research is carried out. However, students are free to select supervisors (with Organising Committee approval and subject to a few constraints) from the entire Oxford neuroscience community. Details can be found on the Oxford Neuroscience research directory.

Examples of recent successful theses can be seen on the Research Highlights page.

Years Two - Four

Students begin the DPhil in October of the 2nd year. At this point, they become integrated within their chosen department(s) and follow the same progression as other research students who work there. Students are initially accepted as Probationary Research Students (PRS) and will transfer to full DPhil status by the end of the 4th term. This involves production of a transfer report and an interview to discuss the research carried out so far and future plans with 2 independent scientists with relevant expertise.

Following successful transfer to DPhil status, students continue with their research project. They are required to confirm their status by the end of the 9th term following the start of the project, before submitting their thesis.