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 4 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. Students also attend a compulsory Journal Club as their 5th module, spread over both terms. The options available for 2020/21 are:
|A1 and A2: Cognitive Neuroscience||5 mini-modules on a variety of themes ( students take 3 themes for one module and all 6 for 2 modules)
Prof Matthew Rushworth- Social Cognition
Prof Masud Husain – Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience
Dr Mark Walton – Motivation and reward
Prof David Bannerman – Learning and memory
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||Prof. Tim Behrens and Dr. Ben Willmore|
|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||Dr. 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.
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 site.
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 (viva voce), during which students discuss their work with a panel of examiners, after which a prizes may be awarded for the best overall student.