The program consists of the following core activities:

  • the requirements for the Ph.D. in Statistics
  • the four core course requirements for the CNBC certificate
  • exposure to experimental techniques
  • a roughly semester-long project to satisfy the PNC first-year research requirement
  • a year-long project that would satisfy both the PNC second-year research requirement and the Statistics Advanced Data Analysis preliminary exam requirements
  • participation in CNBC activities as a CNBC student
  • a Ph.D. thesis on a neuroscientific topic, with joint advisors, one from within Statistics and one from outside—both being CNBC-affiliated faculty members

Additional satellite activities through the CNBC will also foster students’ professional and scientific development.

Course requirements

Students must complete the four-course requirement of the CNBC certificate program in the following areas: (i) cell and molecular neuroscience/neurophysiology, (ii) systems neuroscience, (iii) cognitive neuroscience, and (iv) computational neuroscience. Recommended courses fulfilling this requirement include

  • (i) 03-762 Advanced Cellular Neuroscience (CMU) or NROSCI 2100/2101 Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology (Pitt)
  • (ii) 03-763 Systems Neuroscience (CMU) or  NROSCI 2102 Systems Neuroscience (Pitt),
  • (iii) 85-765 Cognitive Neuroscience, and
  • (iv) to complete the computational requirement, students must take the combined Pitt/CMU course, 36-759 Statistical Models of the Brain (CMU) / Math 3375 Computational Neuroscience (Pitt).

Note that this is not exactly the same as the standard CNBC computational requirement.

To meet the course requirements for the PhD in Statistics, students must take:

  • 36-705 Intermediate Statistics
  • 36-707 Regression Analysis
  • four graduate courses (48 units) chosen from a variety of options, but including at least one collaborative research project course, a statistical methodology course, and a course in probability or statistical theory. The one-semester pair of half-semester courses 36-729,730, Time Series and Point Processes is highly recommended.
  • 36-752, Advanced Probability Overview,
  • 36-755, Advanced Statistical Theory.

Any substitutions or exemptions from coursework must be recommended by the student’s advisor and approved by the PNC co-directors and the director of graduate studies in Statistics.

Program Milestones

The milestones listed below are stated as requirements, but some flexibility is likely to be necessary. In individual cases exceptions may be granted by the PNC steering committee and the Statistics faculty. In such cases clear alternative deadlines must be established and communicated in writing to the student.

First year research requirement: By the end of the first calendar year in the program, all students will be required to complete a data-analytic project. The purpose of the project is to have the student identify a biological problem, understand the data collection process, articulate the goals of building a model or performing a particular kind of analysis and implement this computational approach. In some cases the project may be a precursor to the student’s eventual thesis project. Both written and oral summaries of the project must be presented. The project will be evaluated by a committee consisting of at least three faculty, of whom at least two are PNC training faculty. Students who wish to enter the joint program from Statistics after their first year may be able to waive this requirement with the permission of the PNC training faculty.

Second research project: All students will be required to complete a deeper computational project. The student’s work on the project should demonstrate that the student has 1) the ability to analyze and interpret experimental data in a particular area 2) the ability to develop and implement a computational approach incorporating the relevant level of biological detail and 3) the ability to organize, interpret and present the results of the computational work. This project should be a body of work suitable for publication. This research should be written up as a paper to be submitted to a journal in the relevant field. In the second year, students are expected to work on research about 1/3 of their time during the academic year and full time during the summer. In most cases this project will be on an area related to the student’s eventual thesis project, and it should be completed by the end of the student’s second calendar year in the program. In addition, the results of the project will be presented publicly in the form of a seminar. This project will be evaluated by a committee consisting of at least three faculty of whom at least two are PNC training faculty.

Note that the second year research requirement also counts to satisfy the Advanced Data Analysis project required by Statistics.

Statistics Preliminary Exams: By the end of the third full year the student should complete and pass the preliminary examinations for the Ph.D. in the Department of Statistics.

Ph.D. Thesis proposal: Required coursework should be completed by the end of the third year. During the fourth year a Ph.D. candidate should present a thesis proposal first to his or her thesis committee and then to the CNBC and Statistics community. The student will have two joint advisors, one from Statistics and the other a CNBC faculty member from outside of Statistics. A thesis committee will be formed and should be composed of at least four members, one of whom is an external member (typically from outside CMU and Pitt); two must be PNC training faculty; two must be Statistics faculty; and at least one CMU or Pitt member must be from a discipline outside of statistics. The thesis committee is subject to approval by the PNC training faculty and the Department of Statistics faculty.

The thesis proposal should include: a succinct summary of the proposed research problem; the significance of the proposed research; a review of relevant literature relating to the problem; a review of the candidate’s work leading up to the thesis, including preliminary results; a clear statement of remaining research; and a tentative schedule for completing the work. It should also conform to the stylistic requirements for thesis proposals in the Department of Statistics. As in the Department of Statistics, the thesis committee must offer its preliminary approval of the proposal following a meeting that is open to other faculty. The student then arranges to present the proposal publicly, so that CNBC and Statistics faculty and other community members can attend. Formal approval is conferred by the Statistics faculty and the PNC training faculty.

Ph.D. Thesis Defense: Normally, the dissertation is completed during the student’s fifth year. The student should set up a pre-defense meeting with their committee members six months prior to their defense. The final defense is a public presentation, in accord with the College and University requirements for the Ph.D. It is the candidate’s responsibility to ensure that the College and University’s guidelines are followed for publicity of the defense and the availability of the thesis document at least two weeks prior to the defense.  Note that the defense must be held at least 21 days before the date the degree is awarded.