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The Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition offers an interdisciplinary training program operated jointly with affiliated doctoral programs at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. The affiliated programs include Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Machine Learning, Psychology, Robotics, and Statistics at Carnegie Mellon, and Bioengineering, Center for Neuroscience, Mathematics, and Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. Students in other departments may participate by special arrangement.
The CNBC training program brings together several of the strongest programs of each of the two universities to train interdisciplinary scientists interested in understanding how cognitive processes arise from neural mechanisms in the brain. Students combine intensive training in their chosen specialty with broad exposure to other disciplines that touch on neural computation and problems of higher brain function. Members of the CNBC community have access to a wide range of resources,including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanners for functional brain imaging, neurophysiology laboratories for recording from awake, behaving animals, electron and confocal microscopes for structural imaging, high performance computing facilities including an in-house supercomputer for neural simulation and image analysis, and patient populations for neuropsychological studies.
The CNBC training program is a research-oriented training program aimed at helping students develop their ability to become outstanding interdisciplinary scientists. Because of the discipline and focus required to carry out publishable scientific research,as well as the fact that publication plays a strong role in future career opportunities,students are encouraged from the earliest stages of their training to orient their research activities around projects intended to result in refereed publications. The following is a brief description of the CNBC training program. Specific aspects are described in greater detail later in the document.
The CNBC program requires four core courses, which constitute 1 to 4 additional courses beyond the student’s doctoral program’s regular training requirements. Students are encouraged to take additional electives that meet their training needs.
It is expected that most students will participate in the following activities during their first and second year:
The major objective of the third and subsequent years is to complete the doctoral dissertation. This is normally accomplished by the end of the fifth year depending on the home department requirements. CNBC students receive benefits (travel, computer equipment, etc.) for up to 5 years from the point of admission into the CNBC program providing the student is in good standing and in residence.
By the end of the Fall Term of the fourth year, students develop their dissertation proposals and establish their dissertation committees. The dissertation committee is expected to include at least one member of the CNBC training faculty. During the remaining year(s) of training, students continue to participate in the CNBC brain bags, colloquium series, and journal clubs.
The student’s primary advisor will normally be a member of the training faculty in their home department, and usually also a member of the CNBC training faculty. Advisor assignments and other relevant policies are handled by the home department. Students who wish to have individuals who are not members of their home department serve as their primary advisor should explore the feasibility of this with the Graduate Program Director in the home department.
Education Committee of the CNBC
The Education committee of the CNBC deals with all aspects of the training program, including admissions, advising, and student evaluation. The members of the committee are listed on the “mailing lists” page of the CNBC web site; they include a representative from each affiliated Ph.D. program, and two student representatives, one from each university. Students with questions about the training program are encouraged to contact Dave Touretzky.
The CNBC encourages students to develop a broad knowledge of cognitive and computational neuroscience beyond the boundaries of their home discipline. This is generally acquired outside of formal courses, by reading current literature, attending colloquia, and discussing developments with faculty and fellow students. Students are therefore expected to participate in CNBC activities which provide exposure to multiple research topics and investigators. A listing of these activities appears below. Many of these activities are student-run and CNBC students are expected to contribute to some of the service functions of the CNBC during their tenure in the program.
The CNBC Distinguished Colloquium Speaker Series
The CNBC sponsors several seminars each year on a wide variety of topics. These are open to the community, and students are expected to attend and participate as often as possible. The CNBC Colloquium Speaker Series and reception that follows is organized by the graduate students in conjunction with a CNBC faculty advisor. Approximately ten distinguished speakers are chosen to be invitees at an annual selection meeting to which all CNBC students are invited. The speakers are scheduled individually approximately one per month. Invitees are split between four categories: Cognitive, Theory, Computational, and Wet/Biological. Many of the leading scientists in computational and cognitive neuroscience come to Pittsburgh to give colloquium talks in this series. Each invitee is paired up with a student host who arranges the visit. Details are available from the CNBC administrator. The student coordinators for the program are listed on the CNBC web site. Seminar dates and speakers are announced via email on various website calendars and via newsletters.
The CNBC program sponsors bimonthly “Brain Bag” dinner meetings that both students and faculty attend. These are informal get-togethers where graduate students present research in progress. Students are encouraged to attend and participate. All students are expected to give a “brain bag” presentation some time during their tenure in the CNBC program, ideally in their second or third year. Dinner is supplied by the CNBC.
CNBC Friday Seminars
Regular lunch-time seminars are held at the CNBC Mellon Institute offices at which faculty and/or visiting scientists present current readings or research topics. These are open to the community, and students are encouraged to attend and participate as often as possible.
The CNBC encourages all training program participants to undertake a rotation in the laboratory of a faculty member other than the primary advisor. The co-directors of the training program are available to consult with students on possible alternative arrangements, provided that plans are made in consultation with the primary advisor and the graduate program director of the home department. This ensures that the rotation fits the overall programmatic goals of the individual student and fits in with the training that the student receives under the primary advisor’s direction. Rotations vary in scope and duration (generally from six weeks to a semester) and should be undertaken to fulfill specific purposes which are relevant to the student’s research training.
The primary evaluation of student performance is carried out within the student’s home department. The CNBC is particularly concerned with the student’s training as a researcher in areas related to the neural basis of cognition and the specific requirements of the CNBC training program, and so will undertake an annual evaluation of the student’s progress in this regard.
Students submit annual progress reports to the CNBC by email in July of each year, detailing courses taken, papers published, and research progress. Students are also asked to supply a copy of each of their publications. Several mechanisms will be utilized for evaluating student progress. These include performance in:
The CNBC will cover the cost of one computer for each graduate student in good standing for on-campus educational and research computing needs. Students may specify a brand and model, but all requests are subject to cost review. We will purchase machines up to $1000 that are suitable for general computing tasks. The dollar figure may be adjusted from year to year subject to the availability of funds and changes in computer equipment costs. Students in Ph.D. programs that normally provide comparable computers to their students are not eligible for a second computer from the CNBC, and a student is only eligible to receive one computer from the CNBC during their time in the graduate program. Note that although this equipment is being provided for student use, it remains the property of the university.
To request a computer, CMU students should contact Dave Touretzky, and Pitt students should contact Amanda Fetsick, to work out a proposed vendor and configuration. Once the computer is approved, a CNBC administrator (Melissa Stupka for CMU, Amanda Fetsick for Pitt) will issue the purchase order and arrange for delivery. Students should allow at least three weeks between approval and expected delivery.
The CNBC provides students all students in good standing with $1,000 per year in financial support for travel to conferences and workshops. See the Travel Policy page for more information.
Students are welcome to use the computing facilities of the CNBC offices at 115 Mellon Institute. For accounts or technical assistance, contact David Pane.
Students with special needs for small additional amounts of support (up to about $500 or so) may send their request to the Education Committee. The committee meets approximately 7-8 times a year, so students should allow about two months for consideration. Such requests are granted only if the research or training need is clear and there is no reasonable basis for expecting the advisor or the home department to cover the expense.