Program Requirements

The core component of the graduate Cognitive Neuroscience Admitting Program (CNAP) is an intensive two-year sequence intended to prepare each student for independent research in cognitive neuroscience. As indicated below in detail, during the first year all students will take a core curriculum centered on a year-long core course in cognitive neuroscience (“Principles of Cognitive Neuroscience I and II”). The first year also includes three laboratory rotations (fall, spring, and summer semesters) that should be in three different sub-disciplines of the field, as well as training in ethics and scientific presentation. Students will be expected to declare a departmental affiliation by December of their second year.

During the second year of the program, students will take electives pertinent to the area of their expressed interest and the department with which they have affiliated, as well as having the option to complete an additional lab rotation, which can be in the lab in which they see as likely to carry out their primary thesis work, or in an additional lab.

By December of the second year each student will be expected to formally identify a primary and a secondary mentor for his/her thesis work. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the Program, the two mentors will generally be in two different sub-disciplines. The principal reason for this requirement is that such interdisciplinary collaboration will inevitably be required in cognitive neurosciences in the foreseeable future. Examples of these cross-cutting interests might be: 1) a primary mentor in human cognitive psychology and a secondary mentor in brain imaging; 2) a primary mentor in cognitive brain imaging and a secondary mentor in biomedical engineering 3) a primary mentor in philosophy of mind and a secondary in neuropsychology. Obviously, many other such combinations are possible. It will be the explicit job of the Director of Graduate Studies and of the Program Steering Committee (see below) to make sure that each specific combination makes sense for the individual student and that together the mentors have an appropriate level and combination of training experience. The Program Steering Committee will formally review the progress of each trainee at the end of each semester.

Once the selection of mentors and department has been made the student should meet with the Director of Graduate Studies of the declared department and begin to fulfill the requirements towards the Ph.D. Agreements have been made between the Cognitive Neuroscience Admitting Program and many participating departments to adjust the departmental requirements to accommodate the CNAP requirements.

First-Year Advising

The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), Dr. Tobias Egner, runs the Program, guided by a Program Steering Committee comprised of faculty members from various participating departments. Colleen Bauer ( ) is the program coordinator and is responsible for keeping student records and organizing the details of the participants’ involvement in the program. In general, she is the person to see first about logistical questions or problems.

First-year students are advised by the DGS, who will help students select appropriate course work and rotations and give general advice until the primary and secondary thesis advisors have been chosen. Students first meet with the DGS at the time of matriculation; subsequent meetings are usually held at the end of each semester/summer session but students are free to request a meeting at any time. After a thesis committee is identified, this group assumes the major responsibility for advising students, although the DGS and the Steering Committee will continue to monitor each student’s progress and be available to deal with any problems that arise.

Laboratory Rotations

Lab rotations are designed to give the student a wide range of knowledge in cognitive neuroscience. The interdisciplinary nature of the program means that a student is not expected to know upon matriculation which professor or lab the student will ultimately choose to work in after all their rotations are completed.

When rotating through a lab, students will often be paired with a senior lab member (e.g., a postdoctoral fellow or senior grad student) to work on an ongoing research project; alternatively, they may be given a new project. Once the lab rotation comes to an end, students will not be expected to finish any project they have been working on while rotating. Should the student wish to complete work on a project, they could do so during the fall semester of their second year after all three lab rotations are completed. In any event, these are individual choices to be made jointly by the student and the professor of the relevant lab.


The core curriculum of the program unfolds over the first two years. The coursework is necessarily more cohesive during the first year, diverging during the second year as each student focuses on their particular interests and on various requirements of the department with which they have chosen to affiliate. It is suggested that students take at least twelve academic credit hours and one continuation credit each semester of their first two years. All students will take at least one elective course each semester of their second year in the area of their specific interests; generally, these will be expected to satisfy the requirements of the department with which they will affiliate (1- 3 credits each).

The organization of the curriculum is as follows:

Fall Semester of Year 1:

  • Responsible Conduct in Research Training. This is a discussion course in research ethics required for all incoming Ph.D. students in biomedical programs at Duke. Students will attend a day-long meeting during their Orientation week. Students are then required to continue their training by attending at least three Responsible Conduct in Research Forums (making a total of 6 credit hours) within the first three years of their program of study. This number may be increased at any time to meet changes in federal regulations.
  • Two week Neuroscience Bootcamp.
  • Principles of Cognitive Neuroscience I. A comprehensive introduction to the field, including the neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and methodologies needed by cognitive neuroscientists. 3 credits.
  • Psychology & Neuroscience First-Year Seminar. This year-long course introduces students to graduate school and academia, talk preparation and practice, grant writing, career paths, and research ethics. 1.5 credits
  • Cognitive Neuroscience Presentation Colloquium. Course designed to ensure that students become proficient in scientific presentations, of both their own work and that of others. This year-long course entails two weekly lunchtime meetings, one being a journal club and the other a colloquium/talk series. Meetings include discussion and constructive feedback by the group, on both the scientific content and the effectiveness of the presentation. Registration required for 1st and 2nd-year CNAP students until completion of degree. 1 credit.
  • Optional elective 1 – 3 credits
  • First Laboratory Rotation: 3 – 5 credits

Spring Semester of Year 1:

  • Neurobiology of Disease. Intensive January course. 2 credits.
  • Principles of Cognitive Neuroscience II. Ongoing introduction to the scope of cognitive neuroscience and its methodology. 3 credits.
  • The Cognitive Neuroscience Presentation Colloquium continues through the spring semester. 1 credit   
  • The Psychology & Neuroscience First-Year Seminar continues through the spring semester. 1.5 credits
  • Second Laboratory rotation: 5-7 credits
  • Optional elective 1 – 3 credits
  • Responsible Conduct in Research Training. Ongoing from the first semester; no credit

Summer Semester of Year 1:

  • Third Laboratory Rotation: 5 credits

Year 2:

  • Electives. All students will take at least one to two elective courses each semester in the area of their specific interests. These should count toward satisfying the requirements of the department with which they plan to affiliate in December of their second year.
  • Student presentation course (fall semester). Ongoing from Year 1; 1 credit
  • Fourth Laboratory rotation (optional)

Year 3 and thereafter:

  • The CNAP requirements are completed in year 2 and the student must then focus on completing department-specific requirements. However, students are expected to continue their involvement in CNAP through The Friday Talk Series and other CNAP events for the duration of their graduate study.

Teaching Requirements

All students in the program will be expected to teach during their graduate study as part of their graduate education. The number of teaching assistantships will vary based on the department they join although there will be a minimum of 2 teaching assistantships required. Teaching assistantships will generally take place in years 3 and 4 of graduate work.

Seminars and Talk Series

All students in CNAP are expected (and the 1st and 2nd year students are required) to attend and participate in the student journal club and CCN colloquium series (which together make up the Cognitive Neuroscience Presentation Colloquium course). Moreover, CNAP students are expected to also educate themselves by attending the Psychology & Neuroscience Department colloquium series and the Neurobiology Department's seminar series. Students should also benefit from the less formal weekly offerings provided by the various journal clubs, and from the Brain Imaging & Analysis Center (BIAC) seminar series. Especially important is the requirement that trainees participate in the Student Presentation Course (see above), where each trainee will develop and hone their presentation skills and get constructive feedback on any current research they may be undertaking as well as how to improve the effectiveness of their presentation(s). Students should register for this course every Fall for their first two years in graduate school. CNAP students are welcome to present each semester but a program requirement is that they present in their third and fifth year.

Grantsmanship and Career Development

As part of the Psychology & Neuroscience First-Year Seminar, all students in the graduate CNAP program will be encouraged to write (and submit, if they qualify) NSF and/or individual NIH or NIMH/NRSA fellowship applications for additional training support.

It is important that students be prepared for both academic careers and for careers in areas of the private sector where individuals with training in cognitive neuroscience are sought out. Therefore, it is important that the program produce students who will handle themselves well in scientific presentation and in the job market. Two features of the curriculum already described will be especially valuable in this regard: teaching the elements of good presentation and encouraging students to write and submit NSF or NIH/NRSA grant proposals. The former will help the students learn how to present their science in lectures as academic scientists; the latter will help them become familiar with the major granting agencies for work in cognitive neuroscience. Trainees who write fellowship proposals during training, whether they receive them or not, are more likely to write successful grants later. Trainees will also gain valuable experience in the classroom as Teaching Assistants, as described above. Finally, students will be mentored in the process of submitting papers for publication, in how best to present papers at conferences, and what type of conferences are the most useful to attend.

Learn More

Thinking of applying to CNAP?

For more information:

Contact Dr. Tobias Egner, Director of Graduate Studies for CNAP, , or Colleen Bauer, Program Coordinator,

Learn more about DIBS

The Duke Institute for Brain Sciences is a scientific institute with a collaborative spirit and a commitment to education, service and knowledge across disciplines. We encourage creativity, taking risks, sharing ideas and working together.


Sign up to receive email updates about DIBS news, events and more.