What is the Cognitive Neuroscience Admitting Program (CNAP)?

The Cognitive Neuroscience Admitting Program (CNAP) is designed for students interested in an approach to cognitive neuroscience that integrates ideas and techniques across different aspects of this rapidly growing field. Students apply directly to this admitting program however the Ph.D. is granted from one of the participating departments. The key features of the training program include two years of course work and laboratory rotations providing a general training in cognitive neuroscience, followed by students selecting a department and two advisors for their thesis research who have expertise in the different subdisciplines that best define the students' interests. A list of potential faculty advisors and mentors can be found here.

A Truly Interdisciplinary Program

Students enrolled in the cognitive neuroscience program (both the admitting and the certificate program) will gain a thorough understanding of the intellectual issues that drive this rapidly growing field, as well as expertise in the major methods for cognitive brain research. The overarching aim of the program is to train students in innovative approaches to research on higher human brain functions, including, but not limited to, perception, attention, memory, language, emotion, motor control, executive functions, consciousness and the evolution of mental processes. A variety of disciplines and techniques are poised to make significant progress in understanding these aspects of brain function; training a new generation of thinkers capable of applying the breadth of the relevant conceptual and technical approaches will illuminate higher human brain functions in both normal individuals and those afflicted by neurological or mental diseases.

Duke began to develop cognitive neuroscience in the late 1990s and has done so with significant resources, as indicated by the creation of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center (BIAC), and the Center for Neuroengineering. CNAP draws from each of these entities, as well as from faculty throughout Duke Medical Center and Duke's Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. By its nature, the training program cuts across departmental boundaries, with faculty from neurobiology, psychology & neuroscience, radiology, psychiatry, biomedical engineering, evolutionary anthropology, neurology, biology, and philosophy. Thus, the program explicitly involves collaboration between multiple departments of the Schools of Arts & Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Certificate in Cognitive Neuroscience

Graduate students accepted into any PhD program at Duke who do not enter through CNAP can opt to take a certificate in cognitive neuroscience. In addition to the curricular requirements of their home department, students in the certificate program must complete the graduate core course in cognitive neuroscience and participate in relevant seminars and journal clubs. In addition, students will be asked to give at least one research talk during their graduate career in the fall presentation course.

A Wealth of Resources

In addition to the breadth and depth of the faculty, the program has an unusually rich environment for training and research with fMRI, EEG laboratories and extensive facilities for psychophysical studies in humans, as well as behavioral and physiological studies in non-human primates and rodents. Facilities and equipment available for research include the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center’s (BIAC) two research-dedicated MRI suites, an expansion bay (currently housing the MRI Simulation Facilities), additional image analysis laboratories, and an RF coil construction shop. The BIAC small-bore 7T MRI scanner is located in the adjacent Sands Building for easy animal access. BIAC’s computing facilities consist of a high-speed network of Windows and Linux servers, workstations and cluster nodes. Data analysis is performed using custom-developed software, commercial software (e.g., Analyze), and software obtained from other research MRI centers (e.g., FSL, FreeSurfer, SPM).

Faculty laboratories also include equipment for recording electrical potentials directly from the scalp in adults and infants and computing event-related potentials (ERPs). The Center for Cognitive Neuroscience also maintains shared behavioral test facilities suitable for collecting data on group interaction as well as sound-attenuated and electrically-isolated facilities for psychophysical testing, eye-tracking, electromyography, galvanic-skin response, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

In addition, students may avail themselves of research facilities for recording electrophysiological data from behaving animals. Transgenic facilities also permit manipulation of neuronal circuitry in genetically-modified mice, including optogenetic techniques for activating neurons with light.

Genomic and computational biology also provides research facilities for conducting high-throughput genetic analyses of human and animal DNA using microarrays and other techniques. Genetic data can then be combined with behavioral data to model neural function measured with fMRI or electrophysiological methods.

Preparation for the Future

We are committed to preparing students both for academic careers as well as for areas of the private sector in which individuals with training in cognitive neuroscience are sought out, such as the computer industry, research and development in the areas of pattern recognition, the broad domains of public policy, decision making and game theory, journalism, and public education about how the human brain operates just to name a few.