Patrick Mullen

The Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) at the University of Vermont is an interdisciplinary training program bridging Basic Science and Clinical departments distributed among four colleges within the University of Vermont and encompassing the following areas of neuroscience: Molecular & Cellular; Developmental, Plasticity & Repair; Behavioral, Cognitive & Systems; Human Neurobiology.  The NGP is designed to create a dynamic graduate education environment that leverages the diversity of neuroscience research at the University of Vermont.  The strong curriculum and research environment and the excellent students that they allow us to attract, results in a low attrition rate, good student productivity, relatively short time to degree, and success in placing graduates in competitive post-doctoral programs.

Training is accomplished through:

  • Core courses that establish a solid foundation of knowledge in molecular, cellular, systems and behavioral neuroscience.
  • Advanced courses that emphasize in‐depth study of current neuroscience topics and concepts, critical thinking and effective communication.
  • Basic science and translational research, where mentors provide personalized attention and foster independence in thinking as students create and undertake hypothesis‐based approaches to research.
  • Lab rotations that allow students to learn a variety of techniques and approaches to studying the nervous system while exploring their interests before committing to a dissertation laboratory.
  • Undergraduate teaching opportunities that help students to become effective teachers and communicators of neuroscience. Students choose at least two undergraduate assignments, and they give class presentations in their advanced course work.
  • Graduate Student Journal Club and a Neuroscience Seminar Series that develops skills in analytical thinking and logic in the evaluation of one’s own work as well as that of others.
  • Community outreach that allows students to make a direct and meaningful impact in the community.



The rigorous first year curriculum includes Neural Science, Human Structure and Function (a combined physiology and pharmacology focused course), and Cell Biology.  These courses integrate information from basic science with translational and medical knowledge to teach students about how the nervous system regulates human physiology and behavior. The second year curriculum consists of Statistics, the Biobehavioral Proseminar (which covers learning and memory), Responsible Conduct in Research, and two advanced selectives in the field of the chosen dissertation project.  All students participate in Student Journal Club every semester they are in the program. This course includes mentored guidance in presentation skills and data analysis and interpretation.  In addition to the coursework, NGP students are required to teach at least two semesters.  The first required teaching assignment, is as assistant in a neuroscience laboratory course and occurs spring of the second year, and the second assignment typically occurs during the third year.


Laboratory rotations start in the first semester of the first year and last for 9-12 weeks.  A minimum of two rotations is required.  Students present an oral summary of their rotation work in Student Journal Club in June.  Written feedback from the advisor and the student is obtained using a standardized form and is reviewed by the instructor-mentors of the Student Journal Club (consisting of three faculty members), and then is provided to the student.  Based on that feedback the course instructors provide guidance for improvement.  Because we consider training in presentation skills an important part of professional development, a summary is also reviewed by the Tracking Committee (see below) and by the Director and entered into the student’s electronic tracking records.

In order to advance to candidacy for the PhD, NGP students must pass a qualifying examination that includes writing a research proposal in an area related to, but not identical to his/her dissertation work.  After the proposal is submitted to the examination committee, which consists of 3 faculty members representing different fields of neuroscience (and excluding the advisor), the student takes an oral exam.  The oral exam typically lasts 2-3 hours and the student is responsible for facts, concepts, and principles of methodology covered in the research proposal through a series of question posed by the examination committee. Once a student advances to candidacy, a separate dissertation committee is formed.  Students write and then defend their thesis proposal which becomes the framework for their dissertation work.  The proposal is in the form of an NIH R01 grant proposal.
The average time to PhD, 5.1 years, is shorter than the national average and the outcomes of the graduates are excellent.


The Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) Student Journal Club provides students the opportunity for in-depth discussions on recent papers in neuroscience.  Students presenting papers work closely with peer mentors as well as faculty mentors to develop professional presentation skills necessary for a career in science.  Because the choice of article is at the discretion of the student, the topics covered are wide ranging and provide ample opportunity for dynamic and discussions involving students and faculty alike.  Journal Club also provides an avenue for developing scientific writing skills. Students not presenting the paper are asked to write a summary paragraph outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the chosen paper and feedback on the writing is provided by members of the faculty.


No teaching is required the first year. All students must complete teaching assignments in both their second and third years in the program. Teaching develops student knowledge of neuroscience and is required regardless of source of stipend support.


Student progress is monitored by a Tracking Committee composed of three faculty members and the Director.  All records of student exams, committee meetings, courses taken, and annual Individual Development Plans (IDPs) are kept in a secure website accessible to the Director and Tracking Committee.  The tracking committee reviews and reports on student progress at the end of the Fall and Spring semesters.  The Director communicates the findings of the Tracking Committee to the student and their mentors and, if required, recommends corrective measures.


NGP faculty members are highly qualified to teach and mentor graduate students.  All presently hold the highest level of degree attainable in neuroscience; the PhD, MD, or combined MD, PhDs.  At present, there are 53 faculty members designated as research mentors.  It is notable that 22 have a life-time h-index of 20 or more and 6 have h-indices of >40 (the two top are at 55 and 71).  These 22 are full professors and those with h-indices at 10 and below (n=14) are, in general, junior faculty who have yet to accumulate enough citations to make an impact on their h-index. In addition to publishing papers that are well cited, NGP faculty members are successful at obtaining extramural funding. Total direct costs in extramural funding for NGP faculty in FY2015 were $10.2 million and total awards were $14.7 million.  This represents approximately 14% of the total research awards received by UVM in 2015. 
Training of NGP students is broadly distributed across the faculty members; 39% have mentored or co-mentored at least one NGP student; 67% have supervised an NGP student for a research rotation; 18 50% have participated in an NGP qualifying exam or dissertations committee; 42% have taught a course that an NGP student had taken; and 14% saw themselves as available for NGP training and/or education but had not yet participated.  Of the faculty who had been a primary advisor of an NGP student, the number of students they advised ranged from 1-4 with a mean of 1.7.


The NGP is involved in a variety of outreach programs including:

Did You Know?

  • The Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Vermont is a multidisciplinary, Ph.D. granting program
  • We have more than 50 faculty mentors across 9 departments and 4 colleges
  • Each student receives personal attention in a friendly and interactive environment
  • Students develop skills in scientific thinking, teaching, communication, and writing
  • We have Core Facilities for Imaging, Microarray, DNA sequencing, Proteomics
  • Our training is rigorous in neuroscience-related research and prepares students for a variety of science related careers in addition to tenure-stream academic careers
  • All matriculating students receive financial support