Department of Cell and Neurobiology

Bishop Medical Teaching and Research Building 401
1333 San Pablo Street
Los Angeles 90089-9112
(323) 442-1881
FAX: (323) 442-3466

Graduate Advisory Committee Chair: Joel Schechter (323) 442-1862


Professor and Chair: Pat Levitt

William M. Keck Chair in Medicine: Martin Pera

Provost Professor of Cell and Neurobiology, Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Psychology: Pat Levitt

Professors: M. Fini; T.H. McNeill*; M. Pera; J.E. Schechter*; M. Snow; R. I. Wood*; S.Y. Ying

Associate Professors: G.H. Albrecht*; J. Chen; K. Eagleson; J.A. Garner*; R. Gopalakrishna*; J.D. Miller; P. Elyse Schauwecker; B.G. Slavin*; H. Sucov*

Assistant Professors: A. Bonnin; K. Chang; G. Crump; L. Ma; Francesca Mariani; H. Tao; B. Thompson; H. Wu; Q. Ying

Associate Professor Clinical: J.D. Miller*

Assistant Professor Clinical: M. Winfield

Adjunct Professor: Vijaya Kumari

Emeritus Professors: D.A. Berman*; Dwight Warren III

Emeritus Associate Professor: C.K. Haun*

*Recipient of university-wide or school teaching award.

The Department of Cell and Neurobiology provides interdisciplinary training in molecular, cellular and systems biology. Ongoing programs explore basic mechanisms in molecular and cellular neurobiology, neurogenetics, endocrinology, pharmacology, stem cell biology and vertebrate evolution. Disease-oriented research, bridging basic and clinical disciplines, investigates inherited or acquired disorders in vision, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and steroid abuse. The challenge is to weld interdisciplinary activities into a conduit for transferring basic science discoveries into more effective and innovative clinical interventions in the treatment of disease-related disabilities.

The Department of Cell and Neurobiology has 34 primary faculty members, including 21 dual appointments in other university departments or research institutes.

The graduate program of the Department of Cell and Neurobiology is dedicated to excellence and state-of-the-art training and education in molecular and cellular aspects of normal function and in acquired or genetic disorders that cause human disease. Professional and intellectual development is fostered through a broadly based curriculum from which students can tailor a menu of specialization and by a supportive environment of faculty interactions. Graduate education is designed to prepare the student for a lifetime of learning, exploring the limits of research, teaching and creative activities.

Master of Science and Certificate Program in Clinical, Biomedical, and Translational Investigations

Refer here for certificate and degree requirements.

Cell and Neurobiology Graduate Program

The graduate program offered in cell and neurobiology provides a flexible, individualized course of study directed toward developing independent, resourceful scholars. The major thrust of this program is devoted to students training for the Ph.D. degree but study toward the M.S. degree is also possible.


Master of Science The prerequisite for applicants to the M.S. graduate program in cell and neurobiology is a bachelor’s degree with a science major or equivalent. Applicants should have a superior undergraduate record at an accredited college or university. Additional requirements include three letters of recommendation and satisfactory performance on the general and advanced (biology or chemistry) portions of the Graduate Record Examinations. Students are normally admitted for the academic year beginning in the fall; however admission to the master’s program can begin in the spring semester with approval from the Graduate Admission Committee. Application deadline for the following academic year is January 1.

Doctor of Philosophy Doctoral candidates interested in working with CNB faculty in the areas of neural, computational, cognitive and behavioral science should apply through either of the two university wide interdisciplinary graduate programs at USC: the neuroscience graduate program or the Program in Biomedical and Biological Science (PIBBS). Applicants interested in working with CNB faculty as part of the M.D./Ph.D. program should apply directly to the Keck School of Medicine.

Application deadlines:

M.D./Ph.D. program – American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) – November 1; Supplemental – December 1

Neuroscience – January 15 (see Graduate School for Ph.D. student funding deadline information)

PIBBS – December 15

Master of Science

The Master of Science degree is awarded for demonstrated competence in the cell biological sciences, broadly defined. Two options are available: (1) a non-thesis M.S. program based entirely on course work followed by a comprehensive examination; and (2) a thesis M.S. program that includes fewer courses but requires a written thesis based on original laboratory research. Students take courses both from the Department of Cell and Neurobiology and other departments to obtain a broad appreciation of structure and function. Students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0. The Master of Science candidate may engage in teaching if this is beneficial to the individual program.

Students in the non-thesis program must complete a minimum of 34 units of graduate level courses (500 or higher) beyond the baccalaureate degree.

Non-thesis students must take 16 units from the following list of courses: BISC 421, BME 552, BME 575L, BME 670, BME 671, CNB 501ab, CNB 511abL, CNB 512L, CNB 513, CNB 521, CNB 525, CNB 534, CNB 631, INTD 504, INTD 531, INTD 555, INTD 561, INTD 571, INTD 572, INTD 573, MICB 551, NEUR 524. All students must pass additional courses totaling 18 units. All course work must be approved by the student’s graduate adviser and the chair of the graduate program.

Students in the thesis program must complete a minimum of 38 units of graduate level courses (500 or higher) beyond the baccalaureate degree.

The regulations for thesis students are the same as specified above, except the student is required to take only 12 units from the course list and an additional 16 units from other departmental or non-departmental courses. Students will also take 6 units of CNB 590. The thesis M.S. student is required to take at least 4 units of Master’s Thesis (CNB 594). All course work must be approved by the student’s graduate adviser and the chair of the graduate program.

Doctor of Philosophy

The Ph.D. student develops background knowledge in cellular, molecular and structural biological sciences. The objective of the Ph.D. program is rigorous, original research experience obtained by design and execution of a dissertation project. Active research areas for which guidance is available include cell and molecular biology, neurobiology of circadian rhythms, visual neuroscience, neuropharmacology, neurodegenerative and neurogenetic diseases, developmental and cellular neuroscience, neuroendocrinology, reproductive endocrinology and evolutionary biology.

Research Tool-Statistics

Each student must demonstrate competence in statistics. The student must demonstrate competence in the theory and use of statistics including knowledge of regression, correlation and analysis of variance. A student who has prior experience in statistics should consult the faculty adviser and petition the Graduate Advisory Committee to waive the research tool requirement. This requirement may be fulfilled by obtaining a grade of B (3.0) or higher in specified courses. This requirement must be fulfilled before the qualifying examination.

Course Requirements

A minimum of 60 units of course credit is required for the Ph.D. Course requirements vary according to the specific needs of the student. Graduate students must take at least 16 units from the following list of courses: BISC 421, BME 552, BME 575L, BME 670, BME 671, CNB 501ab, CNB 511abL, CNB 512L, CNB 521, CNB 525, CNB 534, CNB 631, INTD 504, INTD 531, INTD 555, INTD 561, INTD 571, INTD 572, INTD 573, MICB 551, NEUR 524. Ph.D. students must take additional classes or research units totaling 44 units from other departmental or non-departmental courses. All course work must be approved by the student’s graduate adviser and the chair of the graduate program.

Prior to the qualifying examination, each student must complete at least three, eight-week periods of introductory research in the laboratories of departmental faculty. The purpose of the laboratory rotations is to encourage one-on-one interactions between new students and departmental faculty while at the same time providing an introduction to research in a sampling of departmental laboratories.

Course work outside of the departmental offerings is often encouraged and may be required by the student’s guidance committee. In most instances, a program will include extradepartmental courses such as physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology. A grade point average of a least 3.0 (A = 4.0) must be maintained in both departmental and overall course work.

Communication Skills Requirement

The department considers teaching experience to be an important part of graduate education. Students in the Ph.D. program are required to serve a teaching practicum during at least one semester of their graduate training.

Screening Procedure

The Graduate Affairs Committee conducts a screening for each student at the end of one full year in the program. The committee reviews thoroughly all facets of the student’s performance in the graduate program. The student’s progress must be judged satisfactory before a guidance committee can be nominated.

Guidance Committee

Students are expected to select a general area of research interest and a dissertation adviser as soon as possible but no later than 18 months after entering the graduate program in this department. The dissertation adviser and the Graduate Affairs Committee consult with the student to select a guidance committee. After the student has successfully completed the first-year screening, the guidance committee’s nomination is forwarded to the Graduate School.

Qualifying Examination

Before the end of their fifth semester of graduate standing, students in the Ph.D. program must pass both the written and oral portions of a qualifying examination. The examination is intended to reveal the student’s insight and understanding of general concepts and the ability to design and defend a dissertation research project. The examination is designed and administered by the student’s guidance committee.

Dissertation and Oral Defense

After the student has passed the qualifying examination, a dissertation committee (commonly comprising the former guidance committee) is appointed to advise the student regarding the research project and to supervise writing of the dissertation. The dissertation must be an original contribution giving evidence of the student’s ability to perform independent and innovative research. The final oral defense shall be open to the public and the dissertation adviser will entertain questions from the dissertation committee and assembled audience.