University of Pittsburgh

Department of Neuroscience


9.1. First Year Reprint Exam

During the first year students are expected to obtain experience in the critical evaluation of original research reports. This training is provided in part by the conference sections associated with the core courses, journal clubs, seminars, and a program of supervised reading with their research advisor. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss this issue with their advisor. It is required that the Reprint Exam be taken by May 31 of the first year, assuming that the student initiated studies the preceding fall term. Students wishing to postpone the exam beyond this deadline must receive approval from the Chair of the Advising Committee.

The Reprint Exam primarily serves to set a standard of competency in the critical evaluation of research articles and in oral expression, a standard which students are expected to attain early in their graduate career. It also helps the faculty to identify areas of weakness in this skill that can be addressed in subsequent training.

To begin the process, the student writes a brief description of the general area in which she/he would like to be examined. A Reprint Exam committee, consisting of three faculty members, is selected by the student with the assistance of the research advisor. Typically the research advisor serves as the chairperson of this committee. The composition of the committee must be approved by the Chair of the Graduate Advising Committee. Two weeks before the exam, the committee selects a suitable paper and provides a copy to the student. At the examination the student briefly presents some background material and then discusses the paper's major points, analyzing the rationale for the research, the methodology chosen, the validity of the evidence obtained, and the conclusions. Thirty to forty minutes are provided for this presentation. The student then is questioned on the presentation, with the goal of determining if competence in relevant literature and mastery of experimental approaches used in the study has been obtained. At the conclusion of the presentation, the committee selects one of two options: pass or fail. Failing the Reprint Exam results in the student being placed on probation. A failed Reprint Examination must be retaken within three months. The second exam will follow the same procedure and format as the first, but with a new article selected by the exam committee. It is expected that the exam committee will remain the same, though students may petition the Graduate Advising Committee to request that one member of the committee be changed. Failure of the examination by students on probation may, at the discretion of the Graduate Advising Committee, result in termination of the student from the program.

9.2. Master’s Thesis and Defense

The Master’s Thesis should embody an original hypothesis-driven investigation of a significant problem in the field of neuroscience. The thesis must serve to demonstrate each of the competencies described at the outset of these guidelines.

9.2.1. Master’s Committee

The Master's Committee should be assembled as soon as the student has identified a project, but must be in place no later than three months after having successfully completed the Reprint Exam. This committee consists of at least three members, two of whom must be faculty members in the Department of Neuroscience. The composition of this committee must be approved by the Chair of the Graduate Advising Committee. The student’s faculty research mentor is a member of this committee, though cannot serve as the Chairperson.

9.2.2. Proposal and Proposal Meeting

Within six months of successful completion of the Reprint Exam, the student must present their committee with a written proposal describing the experiments they plan to include in their Master’s Thesis. The student then meets with the committee to discuss this proposal. The goal of this meeting is for the student and committee to agree on a set of experiments that will lead to the Master’s Thesis. If necessary, the proposal is rewritten to reflect changes discussed at this meeting.

9.2.3. Data Meetings

Students must schedule periodic meetings with their committee to discuss the progress of experiments and to review new data. As a general rule, students should meet with their committee at least twice each year, but a yearly meeting is required.

9.2.4. Thesis

The written Master’s Thesis should be in the form of a manuscript that will be submitted for publication. In some cases a student may already have published one or more papers based on the data collected. Under those circumstances the published work may be submitted as the Body of the thesis. However, preparation of papers for publication is generally the product of collaboration between the student and advisor, and the student’s independent writing and intellectual efforts are not readily apparent to the committee. Thus, a thesis must also incorporate a general Introduction and a general Discussion that is solely the intellectual product of the student. A completed thesis must be submitted to all committee members at least two weeks prior to the oral defense. Submission of the dissertation implies that the student's advisor has approved the dissertation as ready for distribution to the committee.

Upon completion of the Master’s defense, a final version of the thesis that has been revised, if necessary, and approved by the committee must be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies. Templates illustrating the mandated formats for submission are available online.

9.2.5. Application for Graduation

Candidates for graduation must file an official application for graduation in the Office of the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the first month of the term in which graduation is expected.

9.2.6. Announcement of Thesis Defense

At least two weeks before the final examination, the student provides the Graduate Administrator with the title of the dissertation and the time and place for its oral presentation to the public. This information is published in The Neurotransmitter, and is sent to all appropriate departments of the University for posting.

9.2.7. Final Oral Examination

The student begins by making a public presentation of the research project. Approximately 45 minutes are allotted for this presentation. After a brief period for questions and discussion with the public, the candidate and the committee move to a conference room to complete the oral examination. When the questioning is complete, the candidate leaves the room while the committee evaluates the dissertation and its defense. The committee selects one of the following options: pass, revision of the written document and/or additional oral questioning at a later time, or fail. If the committee requires revision of the written document and/or additional oral questioning at a later time, this needs to be completed within a three-month period. If the student fails the thesis defense, the student may take the exam again within three months. Failure to pass the thesis defense on a second occasion will result in the student being terminated from the program. At the conclusion of the defense, the student is provided with a verbal summary of the committee's deliberations. In addition, a report signed by all members of the committee, including the research advisor, is sent to the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies. When the decision of the committee is not unanimous, the matter is resolved by the Dean.