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Neuroscience Doctoral Program (NDP) at the Medical College of Wisconsin

The following departments support the Neuroscience Doctoral Program in Biomedical Sciences through faculty mentorship and funding. Newly-enrolled students will have the ability to choose faculty from one of the departments below to rotate with throughout their first year in the program. Students are then matched into one of the labs that they rotated in at the conclusion of their first year, and transition from being a NDP student to a student of their faculty mentor’s department.

Message from the Director

Allison Ebert_Academic ProfileAllison Ebert, PhD

Associate Professor of Cell Biology, Neurobiology, & Anatomy
Director, Neuroscience Doctoral Program
(414) 955-2979

The Neuroscience Doctoral Program (NDP) at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) is devoted to training the next generation of neuroscience researchers. Our faculty do research in a variety of neuroscience related areas across the basic and clinical research spectrum, including ion channel expression and function, mechanisms of neuronal loss, neuronal responses to painful stimuli, neuron-glial interactions, addiction, neuronal damage and recovery after spinal cord injury, and functional brain imaging. Our faculty have a strong record of external (e.g. National Institutes of Health) funding to support research and training of students. Our NDP students have the opportunity to interact with many diverse faculty, postdoctoral trainees, and other students engaged in cutting-edge neuroscience research. We will provide each student with a foundational education in modern neuroscience and allow customization of course work and training that best meets each student’s goals. Because our program is smaller and more topic focused, you will receive significant attention and mentoring from faculty who care about your professional development to help you become a vital and integral part of our neuroscience research community.

Neuroscience Doctoral Program (NDP) Options

  • Biochemistry (PhD)

    The Biochemistry PhD program at MCW will expose you to state-of-the-art facilities and instruments for 3D structure determination of proteins and protein-drug complexes by X-ray crystallography, fluorescence microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy.

  • Biomedical Engineering (PhD)

    The Biomedical Engineering Doctorate of Philosophy degree program will allow you to continue your demonstrated dedication to the field through pursuing specialized education and research in one of the following areas: Biomedical Imaging, Rehabilitation Bioengineering, Bioinstrumentation, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Biomechanics, and Cell & Molecular Engineering.

  • Biophysics (PhD) 

    MCW’s Biophysics PhD program is home to the National Biomedical Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) Center and features two areas of primary research: Molecular Biophysics and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). 

  • Cell & Developmental Biology (PhD) 

    The Cell & Developmental Biology PhD program at MCW is defined by its research strengths in cellular and molecular mechanisms of organ development, stem cell biology and its impact on regenerative medicine and neuroscience. 

    Learn More
  • Microbiology & Immunology (PhD)

    MCW’s Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics PhD program features leading researchers in fields of study such as microbial genetics, immunology, bacteriology and virology. 

    Learn More
  • Pharmacology & Toxicology (PhD) 

    The Pharmacology & Toxicology PhD program at MCW emphasizes research in mechanistic studies of drug actions/signaling molecules and is home to the Drug Discovery Center, which focuses on the translation of new discoveries into therapies that can be used to improve human health.

    Learn More
  • Physiology (PhD)

    The Physiology PhD program at MCW is home to one of the top research and training facilities in the nation, and is led by prominent scientists in disciplines such as Cardiovascular Physiology, Genetics & Genomics, Molecular & Cellular Physiology, and many more. As a student within this program, you will receive unsurpassed mentorship and training, and you’ll also benefit from a highly collaborative environment focused on integrative physiology.


Neuroscience Doctoral Program

About the Program

About the Program

The Neuroscience Doctoral Program (NDP) of the Medical College of Wisconsin is an exciting, rigorous and innovative PhD research program that provides highly motivated students from around the world with first-class training in Neuroscience Research.

Our 20 year history offers state-of-the-art research training in Neuroscience domains that range from molecular and cellular signaling to human brain imaging, in over 30 labs within 18 departments and centers, all with strong national funding. Close connections between clinical and basic faculty within our academic medical institution presents many opportunities for students to conduct clinically-relevant research on diseases of the nervous system.

Our highly selective program admits on average five students per year, allowing the students close interactions and mentoring by our excellent faculty mentors and teachers. The program is scholarly and challenging but student-centered and flexible, and our goal is to help our students develop the knowledge, laboratory skills, critical thinking and communications skills that are essential for a successful career in Neuroscience.

Current Students

Current Students

Learn more about the current students in the Neuroscience Doctoral Program.


Program Overview and Structure

Program Highlights

  • No teaching requirement, may have teaching options in advanced years with PI approval
  • Students are encouraged to attend and present at Society for Neuroscience, Keystone and Gordon conferences. Travel funds available.
  • Students can take courses at other institutes (UWM, MU).
  • Rotations in 1st year allow exploration of research interests, mentoring styles and lab dynamics experiencing neuroscience from genes to behavior.
  • Coursework beyond 1st semester is flexible & tailored to each student’s interest.

Program Summary
During the first year, students spend their mornings taking fundamental courses in molecular, cellular and systems neuroscience. In the afternoons, students begin doing hands-on research through nine week rotations in 3-4 laboratories of their choosing. By the end of the first year, they select a lab and mentor for their thesis work. In years 2-3, students take advanced courses that are tailored to their research interests and thesis goals. Students also take a comprehensive qualifier exam that includes writing an NIH-style innovative research proposal.

Throughout all years, students have the opportunity to present at regional, national and even international neuroscience meetings, and often receive competitive internal and external travel awards. Students have the opportunity to gain teaching experience by assisting in graduate and medical neuroscience courses at MCW. On average, students defend their dissertation work in 5 1/2 years from beginning the program.

Our NDP alumni advance to exciting careers that include postdoctoral fellowships at premier research institutes, pharmaceutical companies and faculty positions at research and teaching colleges.

First Year

  • Attend weekly Journal Club to discuss primary literature with faculty member.
  • Rotate through labs of Neuroscience faculty to gain hands-on lab experience and explore the variety of research opportunities.
  • Select a research mentor and join the graduate program of the mentor's department after completion of the first year.
  • Course work includes Biochemistry of the Cell, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Fundamentals of Neuroscience and Mechanisms of Cellular Signaling or Molecular Genetics.

Second Year

  • Complete a mock grant proposal that serves as the qualifying exam.
  • Strong emphasis is placed on completion of dissertation research on a state-of-the-art problem of current importance in neuroscience.
  • Choose from elective courses such as Biology of Vision, Physiological Genomics, Cellular Signal Transduction, Advanced Systems Neuroscience, Advanced Cell Biology, Cellular Molecular Neurobiology and Classical and Molecular Genetics

Third Year and beyond

  • During the subsequent years of study, emphasis will be placed on advanced training in selected areas of neuroscience in conjunction with dissertation research in a problem of current importance in the neurosciences.
  • Choose from elective courses such as Biology of Vision, Physiological Genomics, Cellular Signal Transduction, Advanced Systems Neuroscience, Advanced Cell Biology, Cellular Molecular Neurobiology and Classical and Molecular Genetic

See below for list of courses and application information.




We are delighted that you are considering MCW for your graduate education. In an effort to help make your application process as efficient as possible, this webpage contains all the information necessary to complete your application. Below you will find descriptions of the academic and technical admission requirements and a list of the items that make up a completed application.

See below for list of courses and application information.

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Tuition and Fees

Tuition and Fees

If you have questions regarding tuition or your account, please contact the Office of Student Accounts, at (414) 955-8172 or Please refer to the All Student Handbook (PDF) for tuition payment policies and information.

PhD Students
All full-time PhD degree-seeking students in good academic and professional standing receive the following financial support package:

  • Full tuition coverage
  • Yearly stipend ($31,530 for the '20-'21 academic year)
  • Complimentary health insurance

There is no additional process to secure this package aside from accepting an offer of admission. Further, this package is guaranteed from the time of enrollment through completion of degree requirements.

Current MCW Employees
Tuition Course Approval Form - Human Resources (PDF)

Late Fees
There is a $250 late payment fee for tuition not paid on time according to the Tuition Payments policy in the All Student Handbook (PDF).

Learn More


Neuroscience Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin is cutting-edge and highly translational. Close connections and collaborations between basic neuroscientists and clinicians make the atmosphere at MCW dynamic, disease-relevant and a rich environment for training. Our NDP students are an integral part of our research community because they receive one-on-one training from our NIH-funded faculty. If you are a prospective student looking for innovative, world-class training in a synergistic, exciting atmosphere, we invite you to explore our faculty research areas below!


Meet Our Neuroscience Doctoral Program Alumni

Sheila Baker, PhD
Associate Professor of Biochemistry & Ophthalmology & Visual Science
University of Iowa
PhD Mentor: Joseph Besharse, PhD

Diane Bishop (Tait), PhD
Principal Medical Science Liaison
Biogen, Cambridge MA
PhD Mentor: Joseph Carroll, PhD

Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, PhD
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Neuroscience
West Virginia University School of Medicine
PhD Mentor: Edgar DeYoe, PhD

Brian Clark, PhD
Assistant Professor
Washington School of Medicine - St. Louis
PhD Mentor: Brian Link, PhD

Eric Clark, PhD
Life Sciences Cell and Gene Therapy Management Consultant
Accenture, Evanston, Illinois
PhD Mentor: Brian Link, PhD

Ashley (Reynolds) Cowie, PhD
Patent Scientist
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
PhD Mentor: Cheryl Stucky, PhD

Brian Curry, PhD, MBA
Assistant Vice President
International Affairs
Concordia University
Adjunct Faculty, Carroll University
PhD Mentor: Danny Riley, PhD

Melissa (Diedrichs) Kelly, PhD
Clinical Genomic Variant Scientist
HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology
PhD Mentor: Joseph Carroll, PhD

Joseph Fogerty, PhD
Research Associate
Cole Eye Institute - Cleveland Clinic
PhD Mentor: Joseph Besharse, PhD

Ryan Hillmer, PhD
Assistant Professor
Director, Anatomical Gift Registry
MCW, Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology, & Anatomy
PhD Mentor: Brian Link, PhD

Wendy Huddleston, PT, PhD
Associate Professor
Doctor of Physical Therapy Interim Program Director
UW-Milwaukee, College of Health Sciences
PhD Mentor: Edgar DeYoe, PhD

Christine Insinna, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow (CRTA)
Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute
PhD Mentor: Joseph Besharse, PhD

Sean McGarry, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher
University of Calgary, Alberta
PhD Mentor: Peter LaViolette, PhD

Joel Mielsfeld, PhD 
Assistant Professor
MCW, Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences
PhD Mentor: Brian Link, PhD

Francie Moehring, PhD
Senior Medical Communications Consultant
Boston Strategic Partners | Freelance Science Writer
PhD Mentor: Cheryl Stucky, PhD

Natalie Nawarawong, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of Texas at Austin
PhD Mentor: Christopher Olsen, PhD

Sivesh Pillay, PhD
Program Manager, Research Division
MCW, Department of Anesthesiology
PhD Mentor: Tony Hudetz, PhD

Michael A. Pizzi, DO, PhD
Medical Director Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit
Assistant Professor of Neurology
University of Florida - Jacksonville
PhD Mentor: Maria Crowe, PhD

Alexander Puckett, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher
The University of Queensland, Australia
PhD Mentor: Edgar DeYoe, PhD

Danielle Reitsma, PhD
Project Manager
Discovery, External Collaborations at AbbVie
PhD Mentor: Edgar DeYoe, PhD

Daniel Roberson, PhD
John H Bradley Department of Veterans Affairs, Outpatient Clinic
PhD Mentor: Jay Neitz, PhD

Benjamin Sajdak, PhD
Morgridge Interdisciplinary Postdoctoral Fellow
Morgridge Institute for Research
McPherson Eye Research Institute, Madison WI&
PhD Mentor: Joseph Carroll, PhD

Alexander Salmon, PhD
Software Developer
Translational Imaging Innovations, Hickory, NC
PhD Mentor: Joseph Carroll, PhD

Andrew Salzwedel, PhD
Data Scientist
AGDATA, LP, Charlotte, North Carolina
PhD Mentor: Edgar DeYoe, PhD

Stephanie Santarriago, PhD
Research Fellow
Department of Psychiatry
Mass General Hospital, Boston MA
PhD Mentor: Matthew Scaglione, MD

Daniel Shefchik, PhD
Director, Risk Analytics
Evolent Health
PhD Mentor: James Hyde, PhD

Leah Shriver, PhD
Associate Professor, Departments of Chemistry and Biology
University of Akron
PhD Mentor: Bonnie Dittel, PhD

Benjamin Stengel, PhD
Project Manager
PhD Mentor: Jeffrey Binder, MD

Daniel Vilceanu, MD, PhD
Staff Physician
Omaha VA Medical Center
Columbia, Missouri
PhD Mentor: Cheryl Stucky, PhD

Andy Weyer, DPT, PhD
Faculty Instructor
Department of Biology
City College of San Francisco
PhD Mentor: Cheryl Stucky, PhD

Application Information

Online Application
The MCW Graduate School operates on a rolling admissions basis. However, applications accepted by the priority application deadline of December 15 will receive first priority for admission the following Fall. Students are admitted once per year.

Send official transcripts from all current or previously attended undergraduate, graduate and medical institutions directly to the MCW Graduate School. Transcripts in the hands of prospective students are not accepted as "official" unless they are submitted in their original envelope with signed seals intact. A grade point average of 3.0 or higher is ideal. Electronic transcripts may be accepted from institutions that use either eSCRIP-SAFENational Clearinghouse and/or Parchment transcript delivery companies.

GRE Results
An official test score, GRE or otherwise, is no longer required for admission consideration. However, test score submissions will be consider if they are submitted voluntarily.

Letters of Recommendation
Send three letters of recommendation. Recommenders should submit their letter of recommendation via scan-and-email to or by mail to:

MCW Graduate School
8701 Watertown Plank Rd.
Milwaukee, WI 53226

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required of all applicants who did not receive a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a U.S.-based, non-online degree granting program. Please arrange for your TOEFL scores to be sent directly to the MCW Graduate School from Educational Testing Services (ETS). Use institution code 1519. A score of 100 on the internet-based version is recommended for competitive consideration. Applicants who wish to request a waiver of the TOEFL must do so in writing via email to
Academic Standards
On the basis of the factors listed below, individual programs will judge whether the applicant has the intellectual capability, professional commitment, research interest and experience to succeed in the program. Additional measures may be taken to determine if the applicant has the physical, communicative, and behavioral attributes necessary to complete the required course of study and research offered by the program.

Aptitude and Commitment to Research

As conveyed in a personal statement, 3 letters of recommendation, and in an interview (in person or by phone). A successful applicant will show strong motivation, passion for discovery and excitement for neuroscience research.

Experience in Research
A highly competitive applicant will have research experience in a lab, and neuroscience research is preferred.

Grade Point Average (GPA)
For basic science programs a GPA of 3.0 in science and math courses and a 3.0 overall or better. The Graduate School conducts an evaluation of foreign transcripts to determine equivalencies. Grade point average is based on a 4.0 point scale. A highly competitive applicant will have a GPA of 3.5 or higher and significant math, biology, chemistry or neuroscience coursework.

Interpretation of Minimum Admission Requirements
The Admission Committees of individual programs evaluates the overall ability of their applicants based on these criteria and subsequently report their recommendations regarding the admission of specific applicant’s to the Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The GPA and GRE scores of most matriculated students are significantly above the minimum requirements listed above, however applicants with lower scores may be offered admission in exceptional cases. In the special circumstance of recommending admission of an applicant who does not meet the minimum standards, the recommendation from the Admission Committee must be accompanied by a written explanation of the Admission Committee’s rationale for waiving the usual standards. The Dean will review that explanation along with the application and make the final admission decision.
Technical Standards
Technical standards, distinguished from academic standards for admission to The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), consist of the minimum physical, cognitive, and emotional attributes required to provide reasonable assurance that a student can complete the entire course of study and participate fully in all aspects of their training. Technical standards described here are a prerequisite for admission to, and for graduation from, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Physical Requirements
After adequate training and experience, the candidate must be capable of performing the experimental work required by the graduate program which he/she has entered. The specific requirements will vary from program to program, and within the specific research area with a program.

A successful candidate will have strong communication skills, both in oral and written form, and a mature ability to effectively handle critique.

Intellectual, Conceptual, Integrative and Quantitative Abilities
A candidate must have strong critical problem-solving skills in neuroscience. These skills include strong scientific rigor, honesty, understanding of the scientific method and the ability to measure, calculate, reason, analyze and synthesize.

Behavioral and Social Attributes

A candidate must possess the emotional health, maturity and self-discipline required for full utilization of his/her intellectual ability and for successful participation in and completion of the Neuroscience Doctoral Program.

MCW may require that an applicant undergo a skills evaluation. MCW will endeavor to select and administer evaluations that accurately reflect the applicant's or student's aptitude or achievement level rather than the applicant's or student's disability.
Review of completed applications from degree seeking candidates is conducted by a faculty committee within the academic program. The outcome of the committee’s review is forwarded to the Dean as a recommendation for admission or rejection.

Offers of Admission

All offers of admission are made officially and solely by the Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences on behalf of MCW and the academic program.

International Applicants
International applicants must provide official documents of college/or university transcripts/mark sheets in the language of instruction and in English. If academic records do not include proof of degree award, official documents of the diplomas/certificate must also be provided. Official documents bear the original seals, stamps or signatures of the institution officials. All academic credentials are reviewed and verified by the Graduate School.

Minority Admissions
MCW encourages the application, admission, and retention of ethnic or racial minority applicants into its graduate programs. In order to ensure that the affirmative action goals are upheld, and that all appropriate efforts are made to promote the admission of minority applicants, these applications are reviewed by both the Program Admissions Committee and, if necessary, the Admissions and Student Welfare Committee. MCW uses the same criteria as the Association of American Medical Colleges to identify minority groups.

MCW is committed to capitalizing on technological advances that create new opportunities for participation by disabled persons and will incorporate changes into its programs where feasible. A qualified disabled applicant or student shall not on the basis of his or her disability (except those which would preclude meeting the above-listed technical standards) be excluded from participation in graduate programs of the Medical College of Wisconsin.


Listed below are the required and elective courses most often taken by our NDP students. There are many additional courses offered by other departments at the Medical College of Wisconsin that can be taken by students in the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program depending upon their research interests. In addition, graduate courses offered at Marquette University or University of Wisconsin Milwaukee can be taken for credit to satisfy some elective requirements; more information is available from the MCW School of Graduate Studies.
Biochemistry of the Cell
Course Number: 16202
Number of Credits: 4

This interdisciplinary course provides students with a solid foundation in the understanding of the structure and function of proteins. This knowledge is then applied to proteins involved in various metabolic pathways to understand the manner in which these pathways are organized and controlled. The material is presented primarily in lecture format, interspersed with occasional discussion sessions.
Techniques in Molecular and Cellular Biology

Course Number: 16242
Number of Credits: 2

The objective for the Techniques course is to provide a theoretical and practical foundation underlying a number of the most common experimental techniques required for biomedical research. The information presented in this course will introduce procedures and experimental strategies that are commonly used in biomedical research projects, and will facilitate students’ comprehension of the scientific literature even if they don’t use the techniques in their own research. The lecture materials present the theory behind each technique, the practical limitations of each techniques, and the types of questions that each technique addresses, with emphasis on how each can be applied to generate new insight into biomedical research questions.

Molecular and Cellular Biology

Course Number:16244
Number of Credits: 4

This interdisciplinary course provides students with a solid foundation in the areas of gene expression and cell biology. The material is presented primarily in lecture format, but a significant number of discussion sections are also included

Fundamentals of Neuroscience
Course Number:12211
Number of Credits: 3

This course follows a multidisciplinary approach to current knowledge about the structural and functional properties of the nervous system. The mechanisms of the nervous system are described at the molecular, cellular, and multi-cellular levels. The course includes both lectures and laboratory sessions. The purpose of this course is to introduce PhD students to the anatomy and function of the human nervous system.
Mechanisms of Cellular Signaling

Course Number: 16250
Number of Credits: 4

This interdisciplinary course provides first-year graduate students with a foundation in cellular signal transduction. The course has three sections; in the first, students learn the basic building blocks of signaling, including ligands, receptors and adaptor proteins; in the second section, students learn about representative signaling cascades; and in the third section, students consider signaling in the context of cellular or tissue biology. The material is presented in lectures, primary paper discussions and in open-ended discussion sessions.

Classical and Molecular Genetics

Course Number: 16252
Number of Credits: 4

This interdisciplinary course provides students with a foundation in classical and molecular genetics, model systems genetics, the replication, repair and recombination of the genetic material, developmental biology, cancer, and genomics. The material is presented primarily in lecture format, but a significant number of discussion sections are also included.

Biology of Vision

Course Number: 31257
Number of Credits: 3

This lecture/discussion course explores the functional organization and development of the visual system as revealed by the use of a variety of anatomical, cell biological, genetic, physiological and behavioral methods. It is designed for students who wish to gain a basic understanding of the biological basis for vision and to share in the excitement of the latest developments in this field. Topics include: Development of the eye and visual system, fundamental principles of regulated gene expression, the cell biology of the photoreceptors and retina, phototransduction and neural processing in the retina, functional architecture of retina and visual system, the anatomy, physiology and perceptual significance of parallel pathways.

Physiological Genomes

Course Number: 08230
Number of Credits: 5

This course will cover topics in Physiological Genomics at an advanced level emphasizing the tools and techniques that are available to investigators exploring the relationship between genotype and phenotype. Material will be selected to emphasize high throughput screening and Bioinformatics techniques. Specific examples of applications of physiological genomics to important research problems will be discussed. Students will acquire the expertise required to develop a research proposal and will participate in a mock study section to witness the process by which grants are reviewed.

Essential Physiological Genomics

Course Number: 08229
Number of Credits: 2

This course covers genome sequence, functional genomic analysis, genome and gene manipulation, and grant writing. The students will learn about the latest advances in the field of physiological genomics, how to apply genomic approaches to study complex physiological problems and how to develop a grant proposal.

Cellular Signal Transduction

Course Number: 07224
Number of Credits: 3

This course provides an in-depth presentation of mechanisms of cellular signaling at a level designed for doctoral students in the biomedical sciences. The emphasis is on receptors, second messenger systems, G proteins and signal transduction.

Advanced Systems Neuroscience

Course Number: 12221
Number of Credits: 3

This course covers seven selected areas in systems neuroscience, including: neuronal information processing and control systems, cerebral hemodynamics, metabolism and neuronal activity, sensory systems, motor systems, attentional systems, learning and memory and motivational systems. Some lectures introducing fundamental concepts and current research topics are presented but learning occurs primarily through readings and discussions.

Advanced Cell Biology

Course Number: 31250
Number of Credits: 3

Lectures and readings in the renewal, differentiation, communication, adhesion, secretion, motility, gene activity, and mitochondrial dynamics of eukaryotic cells.

Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology

Course Number: 12237
Number of Credits: 3

Readings and discussion in cellular, molecular, and developmental neurobiology. Among the topics covered in this course are ion channels and the ionic basis of potentials; mechanisms of synaptic transmission; neurotransmitter receptors and their receptors; sensory signal transduction and neural development.

Journal Club

Course Number: 12298
Number of Credits: 1

Weekly readings will be selected from both contemporary and historical literature in neuroscience. Informal discussions will include participation from both neuroscience faculty and students

Graduate Neuroanatomy

Course Number: 12213A
Number of Credits: 1

Contact Us

Graduate School
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8701 Watertown Plank Rd.
Milwaukee, WI 53226

(414) 955-8218

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