This Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) award supports the establishment of an interdisciplinary graduate training program in Cognitive, Computational, and Systems Neuroscience at Washington University in Saint Louis. Understanding how the brain works under normal circumstances and how it fails are among the most important problems in science. The purpose of this program is to train a new generation of systems-level neuroscientists who will combine experimental and computational approaches from the fields of psychology, neurobiology, and engineering to study brain function in unique ways. Students will participate in a five-course core curriculum that provides a broad base of knowledge in each of the core disciplines, and culminates in a pair of highly integrative and interactive courses that emphasize critical thinking and analysis skills, as well as practical skills for developing interdisciplinary research projects. This program also includes workshops aimed at developing the personal and professional skills that students need to become successful independent investigators and educators, as well as outreach programs aimed at communicating the goals and promise of integrative neuroscience to the general public. This training program will be tightly coupled to a new research focus involving neuro-imaging in nonhuman primates. By building upon existing strengths at Washington University, this research and training initiative will provide critical new insights into how the non-invasive measurements of brain function that are available in humans (e.g. from functional MRI) are related to the underlying activity patterns in neuronal circuits of the brain. IGERT is an NSF-wide program intended to meet the challenges of educating U.S. Ph.D. scientists and engineers with the interdisciplinary background, deep knowledge in a chosen discipline, and the technical, professional, and personal skills needed for the career demands of the future. The program is intended to catalyze a cultural change in graduate education by establishing innovative new models for graduate education and training in a fertile environment for collaborative research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Project Report

(CCSN) aims to produce a cadre of well-trained independent investigators that will lead a new generation of scientists who study the brain in truly integrated, interdisciplinary investigations. Graduate students at Washington University can enter into systems-level neuroscience research from one of three main graduate programs: Psychology, Biomedical Engineering, and Neurosciences. The CCSN Pathway offers an integrated first-year curriculum that is designed to provide students from all three backgrounds with a common base of knowledge and practical experiences, while operating smoothly within the requirements of the three existing PhD programs. The second-year curriculum of the CCSN Pathway consists of two additional custom-designed courses, Advanced CCSN and CCSN Project Building. Advanced CCSN focuses on faculty-led case studies that involve tackling fundamental issues in Neuroscience using an interdisciplinary approach. In the CCSN Project Building course, each student, in consultation with faculty, develops a research plan in his or her chosen area of interest. The culmination of the CCSN Project Building is an NIH-style grant proposal that will serve as a solid precursor to a thesis proposal. In addition students submit their projects to various institutes/foundations for opportunities to secure future training and career funding. This curriculum teaches students to gain new leverage on problems in neuroscience by seeing how they are approached by different disciplines, and will help students to conceptualize, design, and carry out interdisciplinary research projects that span many of the traditional programmatic and departmental boundaries at Washington University. The IGERT project also includes a series of initiatives to develop the personal and professional skills that students need to become successful independent investigators and educators, as well as initiatives aimed at communicating the goals and promise of integrative neuroscience to the general public. In addition to coursework, the CCSN students participate in the following required activities. Speakers: Annually, the CCSN Pathway hosts two widely recognized experts in a particular subfield of integrative neuroscience to spend two days at Washington University for an immersive encounter with CCSN students. The purpose of these encounters is to expose students to cutting-edge research, to help them establish personal contacts with well-known scientists, to provide career-path guidance, and to foster professional and personal development. In addition to giving a traditional seminar on their current research (open to the community), each of these visitors will also choose a seminal paper in their field for discussion during CCSN journal club. Thus, over the course of their PhD, CCSN students will have the opportunity to mingle closely with about 10 of these distinguished visitors. This exposure raises visibility of the program and helps our students move forward in their careers. Journal Club: CCSN Journal Club meets twice a month and is student run. Journal Club provides the opportunity for interaction between CCSN students in a casual atmosphere, and allows CCSN students to begin learning from each other’s diverse backgrounds. For most sessions, a student chooses a paper of interest and leads group discussion. Some sessions focus on important current issues in science or interesting case studies in the responsible conduct of science. Research articles are selected from different subfields on a rotating basis to assure that all students get exposed to different approaches to integrative neuroscience. Mini Retreat: The CCSN Pathway has incorporated an annual all day mini-retreat with the first retreat in February 2013. The mini-retreat comprises of two faculty talks and senior student talks. In addition to the presentations, at the end of the retreat, the faculty held an "Ask Anything Panel". Students were able to openly ask faculty questions regarding life as a scientist. For example, how do you balance family life and manage a career as a scientist? The panel discussion was a huge success and the students found it very helpful. Science Center Outreach Program: We established collaboration with the Saint Louis Science Center (SLSC) that allows CCSN students to present their research to the general public in a series of weekend talks and 'hands on' demonstrations at the Science Center. Students meet with SLSC staff to develop a plan for exhibit modules, demonstrations, talks, or web material that both expresses a student’s expertise and fills a need for the informal education community. In choosing an outreach project, students work with SLSC staff to capitalize on events that will be occurring at the Science Center. SLSC benefits from this collaboration by receiving educational materials that capture the forefront of biological, psychological, and computational approaches to brain science. Students benefit by learning how to communicate with a broad, public audience and by considering the political, social, societal, and global impacts of their work. Since the inception of the CCSN Pathway in 2004, 28 students completed the pathway and have obtained postdoctoral fellowships or have continued medical training at Washington University School of Medicine.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Graduate Education (DGE)
Application #
Program Officer
Richard Boone
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Washington University School of Medicine
Saint Louis
United States
Zip Code