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Cognitive, Computational and Systems Neuroscience Curriculum Pathway (CCSN)

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 is 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: 

    Rigorous training in theoretical neuroscience and the mathematics and statistics of experimental neuroscience;

    Mentoring of undergraduate students;

    Training in the responsible conduct of research;

    Public science outreach with the Saint Louis Science Center.

We have funding from the McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience to support several 1-2 year fellowships for students participating in CCSN. Students apply for the McDonnell fellowships during their first year of graduate school. Successful applicants commit to completing the CCSN pathway.  

Invited Lectureships

CCSN has established two distinguished invited lectureships:

    The Annual CCSN Invited Lecture. This lectureship is coordinated by the faculty. It includes a public lecture and informal meetings with students and faculty.

    The Student-organized CCSN Lecture. This lectureship is selected and coordinated by the students.  It also includes a public lecture and informal meetings with students and faculty.

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 Neuroscience Program, Department of Biology, and Department of Biomedical Engineering.


CCSN Travel Allowance

The CCSN program fosters student development beyond their departmental training to broaden and improve the science accomplished during doctoral research. To further this central mission, the CCSN Executive Committee announces an opportunity for all CCSN students to request a one-time travel allowance up to $500 to attend or present at conferences or for other travel that supports their research career.   

Eligible students must have completed Project Building and have up-to-date information in the CCSN database including publications, progress reports, status of graduate coursework, honors, fellowships and grants.   This information is maintained by the McDonnell Center for Systems Neuroscience administrative staff.

The travel allowance should be requested prior to travel, while in student status.  One-page requests should be sent to Laura Williams at laura.williams@wustl.edu with the following information:

·       Student name, academic program, mentor/advisor, Project Building completion date

·       A brief summary of your participation in CCSN activities or service on committees

·       Name, date(s) and location of conference or purpose of trip (if other than a conference)

·       Description of the work that will be presented or discussed

·       Statement on how the travel will further your science, education or career

The CCSN Executive Committee will review all requests and students will be notified promptly upon review.   Questions should be directed to Laura Williams at the email above or by phone at (314) 747-0608.