PhD Program

Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences partners with the Neurobiology of Disease (NOD) track in the Neuroscience Graduate Program to offer an opportunity to earn a post-residency PhD degree. This option would be open to individuals who aspire to careers in basic/translational vision research


To establish a training venue within the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) for medically trained personnel that will emphasize research in basic biomedical mechanisms that contribute to the etiology and expression of diseases of the nervous system.

PhD Program

  • Definition

    The unique PhD-training venue shall be a track within the NGP that specializes, either by content or approach, in research related to disease processes and will be focused on providing training to MD-degreed advanced trainees, such as residents and fellows. MD-PhD pre-doctoral students and conventional graduate students may also take advantage of course offerings in the track.

    Policies of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) specify that tracks within programs may be highly specialized or unique so long as the core course requirements (or equivalents to them) of the parent program are utilized and that doctoral trainees in such tracks meet requirements for admission to candidacy and writing and defending a doctoral dissertation. The NOD track meets these criteria and has been approved by the NGP Curriculum Committee and the faculty of the NGP, by the GSBS Curriculum and Executive Committees, by the GSBS faculty, by the Dean of the GSBS, and by the Academic council of Deans.

  • Rationale
    It is believed that there is a cadre of post-graduate MD-degreed house staff who have the qualifications, experience and desire to pursue the Ph.D. degree in addition to their clinical training, in order to develop the skills required to pursue a career in basic biomedical research related to diseases of the nervous system. Individuals who acquire this additional research training will be better prepared to contribute successfully to the academic enterprise and translational research. Such a training program will also be accessible to junior faculty in clinical departments or to MD-PhD students who wish to focus on disease-related research questions. It is anticipated that postgraduate clinical trainees primarily in the following departments or divisions might have interest in such a program: Anesthesiology, Gastroenterology, Neurology, Neurosurgery, Otolaryngology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Psychiatry, and Radiology. Because of their position in their career development, it is anticipated that such MD-degreed trainees will be attracted to a program that has minimal time requirements, maximal laboratory exposure, and significant relevance to one or more neurological or psychiatric disorders.
  • Curriculum
    Since postgraduate MD trainees entering this program will have already been exposed to a full medical school curriculum as well as specialized clinical experience, it is not anticipated that they will need exposure to most of the coursework currently in place for conventional graduate students in the NGP, including courses in the Basic Biomedical Sciences Curriculum (BBSC) and program-specific courses in the NGP. However, because modern medical school curricula tend to underemphasize basic science details and research exposure, and because it is likely that most of these trainees have had minimal experience with state-of-the art research techniques in molecular biology, genetics, electrophysiology, and other methodologies relevant to modern research, it is advisable that certain courses be developed to assist these trainees in acquiring the skills and background necessary to utilize these technologies and understand their relevance. A new core course for this track that provides a broad overview of the basic science underpinnings of most common neurologic diseases is under development (see below). Basic information can also be acquired through participation in the NGP seminar program and in existing (and new) journal clubs that focus on various diseases, systems or problems in neuroscience. Methods and techniques can be acquired through laboratory experience and via several "methods courses" offered in various graduate programs. Developing an appropriate didactic curriculum that requires minimal time but significant transfer of information will be a key element for such a new track. To meet requirements for the establishment of a track, justification must be developed for eliminating currently required courses of the NGP as requirements for these trainees and for substituting new courses for existing ones. The trainees will be required to pass a written qualifying examination and to defend their dissertation proposal and dissertation under current program and graduate school policies. The membership of the Supervisory Committee may be modified so as to incorporate participation by clinical researchers or disease experts.
  • Administrative Considerations
    1. An appropriate application procedure for trainees for this track has been established and approved by the GSBS and the University Registrar.
    2. The NGP will establish a separate Admissions Subcommittee for consideration of applicants to the track; the program's regular Admissions Committee will review subcommittee actions and make final acceptance recommendations to the program.
    3. Although the track will be under the broader umbrella of the NGP and its governance, there will be a Track Director for direct oversight of this track. Dr. Volker Neugebauer has agreed to take this position.
    4. The track may organize its own steering committee or equivalent governing body of faculty comprised of both basic and clinical scientists whose research and interests are closely aligned with the goals of the track. Such a committee will assist the Track Director and bring recommendations for changes or improvements in the track.
  • Funding

    The following are potential sources of revenue for the support of trainees in the Neurobiology of Disease Track:

    1. individual fellowships (most likely the F30 award) from NIH (K-type NIH awards appear not to be appropriate), or
    2. an institutional NIH training grant (T32); these can be used to support M.D. postgraduates to do a PhD-degree;
    3. funds from the parent clinical department of the trainee;
    4. scholarship or stipend awards from private foundations (local and national, e.g. Dana awards); and
    5. NIH or equivalent federal research grants (such as R01s, PPGs, etc.), especially appropriate when a student is mainly involved in laboratory research.

    Stipends for trainees in this track will be larger than those currently in place for conventional graduate students; otherwise, the reduction in income (to move from house staff salary to graduate student stipend, currently about $23,000 per year) will be too great a deterrent. Many of the NIH-based stipends are relatively low for this type of trainee (around $21,000) and will almost certainly need to be supplemented by clinical department funds or institutional funds (e.g., President's office, Office of Research, the graduate school, or others). Detailed exploration of NIH funding opportunities for these trainees should be carried out with appropriate program officers of various neuroscience-related NIH institutes, whose individual policies on eligibility and award type vary. NIH RFA's have recently been announced that appear to support training of this type, for example: Training in Translational Research in Neurobiology of Disease (T32):

    Following below are:

    1. Description of issues regarding tuition and visa status for clinical trainees enrolled in the NOD track,
    2. Description of admission requirements and procedures for the NOD track,
    3. Discussion and outline of curricular requirements for the NOD track, and
    4. Brief overview of the new Neurobiology of Disease core course.


    Clinical trainees (interns/residents/fellows) who are Texas residents for tuition purposes will enroll in the graduate school for the NOD track at the in-state tuition rate.

    Clinical trainees who are U.S. citizens but NOT Texas residents (for example, an American citizen from California) will be required to pay out-of-state tuition rates for graduate work unless the student is eligible for a waiver of non-resident fees (see

    Clinical trainees who are foreign nationals (non-U.S. citizens) may enter for residency training and graduate work with an H-1B visa. International trainees must remain under the medical resident/fellow title or be in violation of their H-1B visa status; that is, international trainees cannot be given the job title of "graduate assistant."

    Foreign clinical trainees will likely be best served by using the H-1B visa, as it permits the establishment of residency for tuition purposes after the first year. A new international trainee on an H-1B visa could register for courses in the first year, but would pay tuition at the out-of-state rate, unless the H-1B visa holder has already established Texas residency for tuition purposes before transferring to the UTMB clinical residency program.

    At the current time, in-state tuition and fees total approximately $110 per credit-hour; out-of-state tuition and fees approximately $350 per credit hour. NOD students may expect to take from 9-27 credit-hours per year after the first year, depending on their level of progression in the track.

    It should also be noted that immigration rules and Texas law may change at any time. Thus, it is not possible to guarantee that the information provided above will remain constant or unchanged. For foreign nationals especially, frequent interactions with the International Affairs Office are advised.


    The following are requirements for admission into the Neurobiology of Disease Track in the Neuroscience Graduate Program of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UTMB:

    1. Applicants must hold the MD degree from a regionally accredited United States or international medical school and have been accepted into a post-graduate residency training program under the auspices of a clinical department at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
    2. Applicants must submit the following documentation for consideration for admission:

      A. A completed Application for Admission to the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (with appropriate application fee: $60 for U.S. citizens, $85 for international applicants). Applications for Admission may be completed electronically on-line at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. Hard copies of the application form may be obtained from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and when completed, sent to the Enrollment Services Office of UTMB, 301 University Blvd., Galveston, TX 77555-1305.

      B. All undergraduate transcripts.* The graduate school requires a minimal overall GPA of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale), unless waived.

      C. Medical school transcript(s).*

      D. All graduate school transcripts.*

      E. Report of MCAT score and board scores for the USMLE parts I and II*

      F. Three letters of reference, one being from the chairman of the department in which the residency is being pursued*

      G. TOEFL or IELTS scores are required for non-U.S. citizen applicants, unless waived by the Graduate School.* The graduate school requires a minimal TOEFL test score of 550 (for paper-based test) or 213 (computer-based test) or 6.5 on the IELTS academic test.

      H. GRE scores* are required for all applicants who have graduated from medical schools outside the United States and who have not taken the MCAT; customarily this will apply to graduates of foreign medical schools. Although not required of graduates of U.S. medical schools, the GRE scores can enhance the application to the NOD track.

      *Items 2B-H must be official copies (i.e., sent directly to the Enrollment Services Office of UTMB from the school/institution, testing service or referee). In some cases the graduate school may accept copies of such documents from the applicant’s UTMB residency program if the documents were received directly from the institution, testing service or referee(s) and are accompanied by a letter from the residency program director or departmental chair certifying their authenticity; but the University Registrar may require original official documents before an applicant matriculates.

    3. Previous research experience is highly desirable.
  • Curriculum of NOD Track
    Curriculum requirements for students in the Neurobiology of Disease (NOD) track must be the same or equivalent to those for graduate students in the parent Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP), including MD-PhD students, and should assure that adequate in-depth basic science and research training is provided such that graduates from the NOD track could reasonably be expected to perform independent basic or clinical research in a field of neuroscience. Since the "students" who would enter this track are MD-degreed physicians engaged in postgraduate (residency) training at UTMB, it is apparent that they have had exposure to a complete curriculum in an accredited American undergraduate medical school (or equivalent), and may be considered to be in relative advanced standing compared to conventional graduate students or MD-PhD students. Thus, certain of the curricular requirements for NOD matriculants will be different than requirements for conventional graduate students and MD-PhD students.
  • Current Curriculuar Requirements for Neuroscience Graduate Program

    GSBS/BBSC (Generally required for all regular neuroscience graduate students, waived for MD-PhD students, except for Ethics of Scientific Research):

    Biochemistry - 4 credit-hours 
    Cell Biology - 4 credit-hours 
    Molecular Biol./Genetics - 4 credit-hours

    Seminar (attendance only) - 2 credit hours 
    Biostatistics/Expmntl Design - 1 credit hour 
    Ethics of Scientific Research - 1 credit-hour (absolutely mandatory)

    Elective modules - total of 5 credit-hours (usually 3 mini-courses)

    Neuroscience-recommended modules - 2 credit-hours 
    Excitability & Synaptic Transmission - 2 credit-hours 
    Principles of Drug Action, Pharmacokinetics - 2 credit-hours 
    CNS Sensory-Motor Integration - 4 terms' worth 
    Lab Rotations

  • Neuroscience Graduate Program

    Systems Neuroscience (4 credit-hours), taken by conventional graduate students, OR, as an equivalent, Neuroscience and Human Behavior (5 credit-hours), the medical school course (used by MD-PhD students); remaining requirements apply to regular graduate students and MD-PhDs.

    Two of three electives:

    Biochemical and Molecular Neuroscience - 2 credit-hours 
    Advanced Electrophysiology: Potentials/Channels - 2 credit-hours 
    Neuropharmacology - 2 credit-hours 
    Behavioral Neurobiology - 3 credit hours

    Seminar (attendance every term, present 1/year) - 1 credit-hour/term

    Lab rotation/Research/Dissertation - every term

    Written Qualifying Examination 
    Oral defense of dissertation proposal (NIH R01 grant format) and entry to Candidacy for Doctoral Degree

    Final defense of dissertation

  • Curricular Requirements for NOD Students
    1. First-year BBSC requirements waived, as for current MD-PhD students, except that NOD students will be required to take Ethics of Scientific Research (MEHU 6101). NOD students may be required to take a course in biostatistics/experimental design if deemed appropriate by program Advisory Committee or student's mentor or Supervisory Committee.
    2. Requirement for Systems Neuroscience (NEUR 6403) or Neuroscience and Human Behavior (NEUR 6503) is waived, as NOD students will have had an introductory course and clinical experience in general anatomy and function of the nervous system.
    3. Required to take the new course, Neurobiology of Disease (NEUR 61XX), for six terms (a total of six credit hours), beginning with the term of enrollment in the program. (For description of this course, see below).
    4. Required to take an additional four credit hours from any combination of the following courses:

      -Biochemical and Molecular Neuroscience (NEUR 6202)
      -Advanced Electrophysiology: Potentials/Channels (NEUR 6203)
      -Neuropharmacology (PHTO 6223) or CNS Pharmacology (PHTO 6205)
      -Behavioral Neuroscience (NEUR 6325)
      -One or more "methods" courses as offered by graduate programs
      -Relevant elective courses offered by NEUR or other graduate programs

    5. Students in the NOD Track will take the written qualifying examination, will defend a dissertation proposal, written in the form of an NIH R01 grant application, and will prepare and defend a doctoral dissertation, all in the same format and under the same policies as other students in the Neuroscience Graduate Program.
    6. NOD students will identify a laboratory in which to pursue the dissertation research as early as possible and must take at least one laboratory rotation of not less than 3-credit hours (equals at least 9 hours per week in a lab) before starting full-time work related to the dissertation project in a chosen mentor's lab.
    7. Upon matriculation into the NOD track students will be required to register for Seminar (NEUR 6195) each term and are expected to meet the requirements for seminar attendance in place currently for 3rd-year conventional students in the program—that is, to attend 7 seminars/term by faculty or visiting scientists (including presentations at respective departmental grand rounds) and 80% of all NGP student seminars. Beginning in their second year of enrollment, NOD students will be required to present one seminar/year under the same guidelines as for all other NGP students. After admission to candidacy, NOD students will have the same seminar requirements as all other NGP candidates (i.e., attendance at 80% of all student seminars and an annual presentation of a seminar.
    8. As for all graduate students, NOD students will have three terms after successful completion of the written qualifying examination to be admitted to candidacy (i.e., to defend the dissertation proposal).
    9. Acceptable progression through the NOD track will require careful planning and diligent work by NOD students. The track and the program will provide close guidance to facilitate the balance between clinical duties and NOD academic requirements. It is strongly recommended that NOD students efficiently utilize “free periods” in their residency program to fulfill course and research requirements of the track, beginning at the time of initial matriculation.

    Foreign clinical trainees will likely be best served by using the H-1B visa, as it permits the establishment of residency for tuition purposes after the first year. A new international trainee on an H-1B visa could register for courses in the first year, but would pay tuition at the out-of-state rate, unless the H-1B visa holder has already established Texas residency for tuition purposes before transferring to the UTMB clinical residency program.

    At the current time, in-state tuition and fees total approximately $110 per credit-hour; out-of-state tuition and fees approximately $350 per credit hour. NOD students may expect to take from 9-27 credit-hours per year after the first year, depending on their level of progression in the track.

    It should also be noted that immigration rules and Texas law may change at any time. Thus, it is not possible to guarantee that the information provided above will remain constant or unchanged. For foreign nationals especially, frequent interactions with the International Affairs Office are advised.

  • New Key Core Course, Neurobiology of Diease for NOD-Track Students
    A new course, Neurobiology of Disease (NEUR 6181-NEUR 6186), will be developed with the following content and organization. This will be a six-term, two-year course, taught each term as a one-credit-hour section (NOD I-VI; with appropriate NEUR 618X identifiers). The content of the course is divided into sections intended to cover some 20 different diseases or syndromes that encompass the majority of problems seen across the spectrum of neuroscience-related clinical specialties. (1) the amount of time devoted to a topic will range from 3-10 one-hour sessions (one session per week), depending on the breadth and complexity of the topic area; (2) one or two of the first sessions can be introductory lectures/discussions defining the disease entity and reviewing the standard anatomy, function and pathology of the disease or syndrome; however, the majority of the class sessions will be used to review and critique current papers from the literature on the mechanisms and basic science underpinnings of the disease/syndrome and the modern research methods utilized to analyze them. These sessions will require strong student participation with faculty guidance. The disease entities/syndromes and faculty responsible for teaching the sections are:
    Section/Topic Status of Section Development Total Contact Hours(1 hour per week) Participating Faculty
    1. Neurodegeneration/Dementias COMPLETE 7 hours Soto, Perez-Polo, Taglialatela, Dineley, Castilla, Gelman, Rincon-Limas
    2. Genetic disorders/locomotion Almost complete 5 hours Ashizawa, Kuniyoshi, Sankar, Fernandez-Funez, Rincon-Limas
    3. Disorders related to muscle COMPLETE 9 hours Epstein, R.G. Smith, Christadoss, B. Rasmussen, Protas
    4. Seizure disorders Incomplete
    (Year 2?)
    ? P. Gallagher, Dreyer
    5 and 6. Spinal cord injury, CNS trauma, stroke COMPLETE 16 hours Hulsebosch, Prough, DeWitt, Perez-Polo, Campbell, Wu, McAdoo, Nesic, Patterson, Illoh
    7. Pain COMPLETE 6 hours Carlton, Willis, High, Neugebauer, Chung, Nelson, Koyyalagunta
    8. Aphasias, neglect, apraxias Almost complete ? Kris Williams
    9. Sleep disorders COMPLETE    
    10. Part A. Auditory/Vestibular COMPLETE 2 hours G. Leonard, R. Leonard
    10. Part B. Eye/Visual Almost complete 6 hours G. and R. Leonard, Vankuijk, Frolova, Wills, Campbell, Godley, Boulton, Motamedi
    10. Part C. Taste/Olfaction COMPLETE 2 hours Neugebauer, Zou
    11. Myelin, autoimmune Incomplete
    (Year 2?)
    ? R.G. Smith, Gelman
    12. Developmental disorders Almost complete ? Zinser, C. Thomas, Wolf, Gerik, Robinson, K.E. Smith, Matalon, Hebeler, Braselton
    13. Part A. Schizophrenia Incomplete
    (Year 2?)
    ? Wigg, Johnson, J. Gallagher

    The order, or sequencing, of the sections will be developed to comport with time requirements for each session and the length of each term (15 or 16 weeks). As all students are required to attend all six terms of the course, the exact order of sections is not typically relevant.

    Attendance and class participation will be major considerations used in assigning grades (A,B,C, F).

    Students in the track may elect to take these six sections at any time and in any order, and may do so while concurrently engaged in clinical responsibilities or while taking other NOD/NGP courses or laboratory rotations. The six sections of the NOD course must be completed before admission to candidacy and preferably before taking the written qualifying examination.