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Interdepartmental Neuroscience PhD Program

Mission Statement

The objective of the program is to prepare PhD and joint-degree (MD / PhD or DPM / PhD) students for careers in research and teaching. The course of study will be guided by the integration of molecular, cellular, systems, behavioral, and clinical approaches to understanding brain function.

The University and the School

The graduate school of the university was established as an expansion of Chicago Medical School, which was founded in 1912. In 2004, the name “Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science” was adopted in honor of this important pioneer of DNA research. In 2007, the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences (IGPBS) was established, which oversees the application process and first-year curriculum for all PhD students in the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, including Neuroscience students.

The campus is located close to Lake Michigan in the beautiful North Shore region of Chicago. It has expanded dramatically in the past decade, including the addition of a new research building, three student facilities and classroom buildings, and three student apartment buildings. While the immediate locale is suburban, it provides easy access to many cultural and scientific resources in Chicago and to various recreational opportunities in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Student Outcomes

Forty-three students have now received PhDs from the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Graduate Program and its predecessor program. Many have moved on to postdoctoral fellowships or residencies at top universities including Baylor, Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, and Yale.

Neuroscience students have been notably successful at generating their own funding, as individual National Research Service Awards (NRSAs) from the NIH. This success attests to a small but high quality program in which every effort is made to maximize the potential of each graduate student.

Program of Study

Students enter the program through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biomedical Science (IGPBS), which oversees the core graduate courses and laboratory rotations during the first year of study. They then join the Neuroscience track at the end of their first year. The second year is spent in advanced course work and laboratory research aimed at obtaining preliminary data for the Qualifying Exam, which is required to advance to PhD candidacy. Subsequent years are spent on dissertation research. Students receive guidance throughout the program from both the IGPBS Advisory Committee and their tailored Dissertation Advisory Committee.

Areas of Research Strength

  • Drug addiction and drug-induced neuroplasticity
  • Aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and neurodegeneration
  • Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases
  • Neurobiology of learning and decision-making
  • Neuroendocrinology of stress and affective disorders
  • Regulation of neuronal gene expression
  • Ion channels, ion transport & membrane biophysics
  • Proteomics of CNS disorders

Research Facilities

Core and major facilities include: confocal microscopy facility equipped for computer-assisted stereology; laser microdissection facility with quantitative real-time RT-PCR system; two-photon imaging; UV flash photolysis; live-cell imaging facility; electron microscopy facility; x-ray crystallography facility for determination of the complete three-dimensional structure of proteins, RNA, and DNA; electron paramagnetic resonance facility for determining structure in biomembranes; Midwest Proteome Center-MALDI and electrospray MS/MS mass spectrometry; EPR protein structure center; protein bioinformatics facilities; animal care and training facility.

Participating Departments

  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology and Anatomy
  • Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology
  • Neuroscience
  • Physiology and Biophysics

Participating Faculty

Students can choose a dissertation advisor from a diverse group of active research scientists who share a tradition of extramural support, primarily from the NIH. The following faculty members participate in research or teaching PhD students. More detail can be found by clicking on each faculty member's hyperlinked name:

Joanna Dabrowska, Assistant Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, PharmD, Wroclaw Medical University (Poland), 2000; PhD, Medical University of Silesia (Poland), 2006; Stress and coping behavior, neuroplasticity of extended amygdala and hypothalamus, anxiety, depression, and addiction.

Lisa Ebihara, Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, MD/PhD, Duke University, 1981; Structure and function of gap junctional proteins.

Lise Eliot, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, PhD, Columbia, 1991; Plasticity and sex differences in brain and cognitive development.

William N. Frost, Professor and Chair of Cell Biology and Anatomy, PhD, Columbia University, 1987; Neural mechanisms of decision-making, pattern generation, prepulse inhibition, and learning in two invertebrate model systems: the marine mollusks Aplysia and Tritonia.

Marc Glucksman, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, PhD, Columbia University, 1990; Structural neurobiology of processing enzymes involved in neurodegenerative/neuropsychiatric disorders and reproduction; proteomics of the brain.

Adrian Gross, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, MD, University of Geneva (Switzerland), 1994; Structure and function of ion channels.

Michelle Hastings, Assistant Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, PhD, Marquette University, 1998; RNA processing in neurodegenerative diseases.

Kaiwen Kam, Assistant Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, PhD, University of California at San Francisco, 2006; Neural circuits controlling rhythmic movements in mammals. 

Donghee Kim, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, PhD, Michigan State, 1982; Molecular physiology of two-pore domain K+ channels and transient receptor potential A1 channel.

Hongkyun Kim, Assistant Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, PhD, SUNY at Buffalo, 1999; Neurogenetics in C. elegans.

Robert Marr, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, PhD, McMaster University, 1999; Gene therapy approaches to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Daniel A. Peterson, Professor of Neuroscience, PhD, Otago (New Zealand), 1991; Neuronal cell death mechanisms and therapeutic gene delivery; neurogenesis in the adult mammalian CNS.

Darryl R. Peterson, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, PhD, University of Illinois, 1973; Blood-brain barrier, regulation of brain extracellular fluid, pathophysiology of stroke, drug delivery to the brain.

Judith A. Potashkin, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, PhD, SUNY at Buffalo, 1985; Changes in gene expression and the regulation of pre-mRNA splicing that occur with drug addiction and Parkinson’s disease.

Hector Rasgado-Flores, Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, PhD, Center for Research and Advanced Studies; CINVESTAV (Mexico), 1984; Volume regulatory mechanisms and cell transport and regulation of Ca2+,  Mg2+, H+, and amino acids.

J. Amiel Rosenkranz, Associate Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, PhD, University of Pittsburgh, 2002; Amygdala physiology in learning and emotion.

Henry Sackin, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, PhD, Yale, 1978; Electrolyte transport; mechanotransduction; volume regulation; cloned K channels; structure-function of ion channels.

Heinz Steiner, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, PhD, Duesseldorf (Germany), 1989; Dopamine and opioid regulation of basal ganglia circuits; molecular mechanisms of psychostimulant addiction.

Grace (Beth) Stutzmann, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, PhD, New York University, 1999; Neuronal calcium signaling and mechanisms of calcium dysregulation in disease states, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

Janice H. Urban, Professor and Chair of Physiology and Biophysics, PhD, Loyola University of Chicago, 1987; Molecular and physiological aspects of hypothalamic neuroendocrine function; stress and reproductive hormones.

D. Eric Walters, Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy, PhD, Kansas, 1978; Computer-aided drug design; modeling membrane proteins; chemosensory transduction mechanisms.

Anthony R. West, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, PhD, Wayne State University, 1997; Role of nitric oxide and dopamine interactions in Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia; electrophysiological and neurochemical studies of striatal neuron activity.


Core Curriculum

First-year course work begins with an intensive instruction ino molecular and cell biology, emphasizing original research articles and the principles of modern experimental techniques. In mid-winter, the focus shifts to several high-impact diseases, such as cancer, HIV-AIDs, and Parkinson’s disease, as a way of introducing systems biology and translational research. In the spring, students interested in the Neuroscience track enroll in graduate-level Neuroscience and Physiology courses. Other core courses to be completed in the first year include Biostatistics, Research Ethics, and The Art of Scientific Presentation.

Students officially enter the Neuroscience program in the second year, when they join the laboratory of one of the participating faculty members. Second-year courses include Neurophysiology, Neuropharmacology, Neuronal Signaling, and Neurodegeneration, along with two optional short courses, Techniques in Microscopy and Human Brain Dissection. Students are also free to enroll in elective courses offered by other departments (see the list below). However, most of a student’s time during the second year is dedicated to learning laboratory techniques and obtaining preliminary data to be used in the Qualifying Exam and dissertation proposals.

Laboratory Experience

Students are expected to complete 3-4 rotations in different laboratories during the first year, to familiarize themselves with a variety of research topics, approaches, techniques, and mentors. Laboratory rotations are every bit as important as course work, since “hands-on learning” is the most essential component of training as a research scientist. At the end of each rotation, students will give a brief presentation about their experience, which provides valuable speaking practice and helps inform faculty about their ongoing progress.

Teaching Experience

Part of our goal is to prepare students to compete for academic positions. To that end, we offer opportunities to become involved in teaching programs. All students are required to serve as a Teaching Assistant in the Medical Neuroscience course. In addition, students have the opportunity to serve as Teaching Assistants in many other courses offered by participating departments.

Seminars and Journal Club

Students are required to attend the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Seminar Series. Seminars take place 1-2 times each month and have featured internationally recognized scientists in diverse fields. After the seminar, graduate students meet for lunch with the speakers, allowing for networking and informal interactions. Students are also expected to participate in a Journal Club from any of the participating departments during each term they are enrolled in the program.


Students may electively enroll in a wide variety of courses offered by other departments, such as:

  • GBCH543 Enzyme Structure and Mechanisms
  • GBCH544 Physical Biochemistry
  • GBCH600 Biochemical Pathways
  • GCBA500 Clinical Anatomy
  • GCBA504 Embryology
  • GCBA600 Advanced Cell Biology
  • GCBA604 Techniques in Cell Biology
  • GCMP608 Research Skills: Beyond the Bench
  • GMIC503 Virology
  • GMIC510 Introductory Immunology
  • GMIC520 Molecular Parasitology
  • GMIC549 Flow Cytometry Techniques
  • GMIC560 Advanced Immunology
  • GMIC605 Molecular Biology Techniques
  • GMIC606 Cancer Biology and Signaling
  • HPSC540 Learning Theory
  • HPSC751 Health Psychology
  • HPSC765 Clinical Psychopharmacology
  • HPSC782 Neuropsychology of Emotion

Qualifying Examination

This exam is to be completed at the beginning of the third year. Students write an NIH-style grant proposal, covering the work they intend to carry out in their dissertation research, based in part on their preliminary data from the preceding year. They then present their proposal in an open seminar, followed by a closed defense with a five-member committee of faculty members. This exercise provides important practice in “real-life” skills including hypothesis development, critical thinking, grant writing, and public speaking.

Application Process and Entrance Requirements

Formal entrance into the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program takes place at the end of the first year of studies. Before that, students apply and are admitted to the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences (IGPBS) which oversees the core curriculum for all first year PhD students in the basic sciences at Rosalind Franklin University. Application materials can be found at the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biomedical Science page.

Entrance requirements include a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university, satisfactory scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and three letters of recommendation. Most successful applicants have prior research experience and completed undergraduate courses in Biochemistry and Statistics. Applications must be completed by December 31, 2018. Qualified applicants will be invited to visit mid-February for Recruitment Day.

Financial Support

Students admitted to the program receive a full tuition waiver, a $31,000 annual stipend and are eligible to participate in the employee health care benefit program at competitive rates.

Correspondence and Information:

Lise Eliot, PhD, Director
Interdepartmental PhD Program in Neuroscience
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science/The Chicago Medical School
3333 Green Bay Road
North Chicago, IL 60064