Course Program for Neurobiology Majors

The Major in Neurobiology is designed to educate students in the foundations of biology and neurobiology while providing opportunities for advanced study on a range of disciplines ranging from cell and molecular neuroscience to cognitive science and psychology as well as the interfaces among these disciplines. The curriculum will include the breadth of subject matter encompassed by neurobiology and the rapidly advancing knowledge at the forefront of this discipline. Graduates will be well prepared for advanced study in biological sciences, particularly neuroscience, medicine, business or law, as well as professions in education and biotechnology. 

For questions on this major, consult your academic advisor or the Director of the Neurobiology major, Prof. Thomas Coate (202-687-9143;

Program for the Neurobiology major

The Neurobiology major program is described in detail below in the following sections:

  • Biology Courses (required and elective), Additional Required Courses, Comprehensive Exam, and RISE. Completion of all requirements is necessary to obtain the major. 
  • All majors in the department will fulfill the University Integrated Writing Requirement by completion of the coursework in the major. Students will gain exposure and instruction in Foundations of Biology, the Gateway course in the major, and upper-level coursework. No additional coursework is necessary. 
  • Declaration in  the major will be in the fall of the second year. 

AP and IB credit in Biology

The Department of Biology accepts one of the following: the AP Exam in Biology, the AP Exam in Environmental Biology, or the IB Higher-level Biology exam.

  • Students who receive a score of 5 on the AP Biology Exam will receive 4 upper division elective credits, 2 of which will count towards the major.
  • Students with a score of 4 on the AP Biology Exam will receive 3 upper division elective credits, 1 of which will count towards the major.
  • Students with a score of 6 or 7 on the IB Higher-level Biology Exam will receive 4 upper division elective credits, 2 of which will count towards the major.

Courses in the first year

Normally, the first year includes biology, chemistry, mathematics and general education courses:

Fall term: We recommend 4 courses and seminar

  • Foundations in Biology I with laboratory (BIOL-103, -113)
  • First year seminar (BIOL-101)
  • General Chemistry with laboratory (CHEM-001, -009)
  • Mathematics (generally Calculus I)
  • General education (one course): language, English, History, Philosophy or Theology

Spring term: 5 courses is the normal load

  • First year seminar (BIOL-101)
  • Foundations in Biology II with laboratory (BIOL-104, -114)
  • General Chemistry with laboratory (CHEM-002, -010)
  • Mathematics (Probability and Statistics, or Calculus II)
  • General Education (two courses): language, English, History, Philosophy or Theology

Courses in the upper years

  • Second year, Spring term – all Neurobiology majors will complete BIOL-195 Neurobiology
  • Fourth year, Fall term – all Neurobiology majors will enroll in BIOL-401 Senior Seminar

Program for majors

Biology Courses

Required core courses

(28 credits):

  • BIOL-101 First-year seminar (1 credit). This course is required for first year students and is recommended for transfer students and those students who enter the program after the first-year (contact the department chair or your advisor).
  • BIOL-103, -113 Foundations in Biology I with laboratory (5 credits)
  • BIOL-104, -114 Foundations in Biology II with laboratory (5 credits)
  • BIOL-195 Neurobiology (4 credits)
  • BIOL-354 Synaptic Transmission (3 credits)
  • BIOL-376 Developmental Neurobiology (3 credits)
  • BIOL-380 Sensory Systems (3 credits)
  • BIOL-414 Neurodisorders (3 credits)
  • BIOL-401 Senior Seminar in Biology (1 credit) [to be taken during the fall term of the last year]

Elective Courses

(21 credits) Enrollment in graduate-level courses (numbered 500 or greater) is at the discretion of the instructor. No more than two courses from Group B (Psychology and Animal Behavior classes) can count as Neurobiology electives, unless they are part of a student’s Interdisciplinary Group choice. Students may take up to 3 credits from Group C and up to 3 credits from the Interdisciplinary Group. Groups B, C, and the Interdisciplinary Group are not required.

Group A
  • Biological Chemistry (BIOL-151)
  • Genetics (BIOL-152)
  • Mammalian Physiology (BIOL-175)
  • Research Tutorial (BIOL-340). This research – laboratory, literature, or internship – must be in an area of neuroscience and be approved by the director of the major.
  • RISE, Research Intensive Senior Experience (BIOL-341/-342). This research – laboratory, literature, or internship, but not teaching – must be in an area of neuroscience and be approved by the director of the major.
  • Immunobiology (BIOL-358)
  • Cell Biology (BIOL-363)
  • Developmental Biology (BIOL-373)
  • Endocrinology (BIOL-425)
  • Genomics and Bioinformatics (BIOL-379)
  • Genetic Conflict (BIOL-387)
  • Molecular Biology (BIOL-390)
  • Modeling Biological Populations (BIOL-422)
  • Advanced Developmental Biology (BIOL-424)
  • Architecture and Dynamics of the Nucleus (BIOL-426) 
  • The Dynamic Brain (BIOL-429)
  • Unsung Receptors (BIOL-439)
  • Advanced Molecular Biology (BIOL-480)
  • Functional Neuroimaging and Cognition (NSCI-525)
  • Molecular Mechanisms of Neurodegeneration (NSCI-556)
  • In addition, some of the 1-credit courses will count – consult with the Director of the Neurobiology major
Group B
  • General Psychology (PSYC-001)
  • Research Methods and Statistics (PSYC-002)
  • Physiological Psychology (PSYCH-120)
  • Cognition (PSYCH-130)
  • Monkeys Apes and Humans (PSYCH-223)
  • Animal Behavior (BIOL-226)
  • Psychology of Memory (PSYC-231)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience (PSYC-234)
  • Social and Affective Neurosciences (PSYC-235)
  • Psychology of Aging (PSYC-263)
  • Cognitive Neurogenetics (PSYC-350)
Group C
  • Organic Chemistry I (CHEM-115)
  • Principles of Physics (PHYS-101)
  • Mechanics (PHYS-151)
  • Computer Science I (COSC-051)
  • Biostatistical Methods (MATH-325)
Interdisciplinary Group

The Interdisciplinary Group is intended to allow students to reach beyond the conventions of our neurobiology major to where neuroscience meets other disciplines. Courses in this category require approval by the director of the neurobiology major; approvals will typically happen en masse during registration. Courses in this category are typically upper- or graduate level. Examples include:

  • Network Neuroscience of Learning (PSYC-347)
  • Brain and Language (NSCI-523)

Additional Science Courses Required

  • CHEM-001/-009 and -002/-010 General Chemistry with laboratory 
  • MATH-035 Calculus I
  • MATH-036 Calculus II or MATH-040 Probability and Statistics or MATH-140 Introduction to Mathematical Statistics

RISE – Research Intensive Senior Experience

RISE, a commitment for two semesters, is an option for Neurobiology majors and is intended to be selective. Research will be conducted over two semesters in the senior year and is awarded a total of six credits. However, students may begin research earlier, generally in the third year and in the summer between the third and fourth years by enrolling in Research Tutorial (BIOL-340)

The RISE options are research in the laboratory, field or computer-based, or meta-analysis of data (but not teaching). 

Students may find primary research mentors from among department faculty or faculty in other units across the university.

If the primary faculty mentor is not from the Biology department, the student must also find a co-mentor from among department faculty. Students register for the Research Tutorial or RISE section of their department mentor. 

RISE – (6 credits total)

  • BIOL-341 (fall) and BIOL-342 (spring) RISE