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Highest Ranking Neuroscience PhD Programs

by Elissa Hansen
Top neuroscience PhD programs offer students both theoretical and practical training.

Top neuroscience PhD programs offer students both theoretical and practical training.

The four highest-ranked neuroscience doctoral programs, according to “U.S. News and World Report,” are evenly divided between the east coast and the west coast, with two on each side of the country. The nonprofit National Research Council has a more complex ranking system than "U.S. News and World Report" that measures neuroscience and neurobiology programs using multiple categories, but these four programs are still among its top-ten list for excellence in research.

Harvard University

Harvard University’s doctoral program in neuroscience is ranked No. 1 in the country by “U.S. News and World Report.” Harvard’s affiliations in the Boston area allow its students to conduct research and gain practical experience at several research sites. The affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, a large teaching hospital, is the home of the MGH Neuroscience Center, where 15 faculty members conduct research on brain and spinal cord injuries, neurodegenerative disease and gene therapy using cutting-edge equipment and techniques. Another affiliate is McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital that houses the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center.

Stanford University

Stanford University’s PhD program in neuroscience is not housed in a single department, but rather administered by the Interdepartmental Neurosciences Program. Because the program has well over 100 faculty members in different departments, students may choose from a wide variety of research groups. Research areas at Stanford include computational, molecular and cellular neurobiology, systems and sensory neurobiology, and signal transduction. About a quarter of the program’s PhD students are enrolled in the joint MD-PhD program. While “U.S. News and World Report” ranks Stanford’s program second in the country, the National Research Council rankings have it tied with Harvard’s for first place in research excellence.

University of California, San Francisco

Like its neighbor 33 miles to the south, the University of California, San Francisco, also has a massive, interdisciplinary neuroscience Ph.D. program, with 70 faculty members from 15 departments. The program offers a full calendar of events at which students can combine socialization and professionalization, including weekly seminars and an annual retreat. “U.S. News and World Report” names it the third best program in the nation, and the National Research Council ranks it just behind Harvard and Stanford for research quality.

Johns Hopkins University

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University’s doctoral program in neuroscience has 34 core faculty members, as well as 68 affiliated faculty. The program offers students the opportunity to conduct their dissertation work at Janelia Farms, a research center of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute that is celebrated for its collaborative atmosphere, and the program itself is known for building productive relationships among faculty and graduate students. As at Stanford, a subset of the PhD students are enrolled in the MD-PhD program. “U.S. News and World Report” ranks the program No. 4 in the country, and the National Research Council likewise places it behind UC San Francisco for research excellence.

About the Author

Elissa Hansen has more than nine years of editorial experience, and she specializes in academic editing across disciplines. She teaches university English and professional writing courses, holding a Bachelor of Arts in English and a certificate in technical communication from Cal Poly, a Master of Arts in English from the University of Wyoming, and a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota.

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