Van Horn-1

Illustration of various tissue types of the human head and brain including skin, skull, grey matter, white matter, in addition to hemorrhage and edema associated with traumatic brain injury. (Van Horn Lab)


Transgene labeling of brainstem autonomic neurons on the fetal mouse. (Levitt Lab)


Localization of synaptogenesis transcripts in developing neurons. (Levitt Lab)

Zingg (3)

Section through mouse brain showing cell bodies and axons associated with neural tracer injections in various parts of the brain. Photo provided by NGP Student Brian Zingg.

Zingg (2)

Fluorescently labeled thalamic (red) and brainstem (green) projecting neurons in mouse auditory cortex. Photo provided by NGP Student Brian Zingg.

Shih Lab

Our recent publication shows that MAO A mediates prostate tumorigenesis and cancer. (Shih Lab)

A computer simulation displaying a map of sensory space within the brain. While maps of sensory space are ubiquitous in the brain, computer simulations can be used to study the map formation problem. In the figure, color indicates the orientation turning preference of each neuron; gray lines highlight the distortion between the physical neuron locations of the brain surface and the location of the cell’s preferred stimulus in the visual field (colored dot). Figure provided by Rishabh Jain. (Mel Lab)

A perfect image of a drosophila brain staining. Image provided by Hui Yang. (Dickman Lab)

(Neuroscience Graduate students Chien-Hua Wang-rear and Anna Kamitakahara – foreground) together with postdoc Karine Bouyer, PhD. (Simerly Lab)

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife’s Brain and Creativity Institute, is particularly interested in social emotions that promote learning, motivation and resilience, such as compassion, admiration and inspiration. Photo by Steve Cohn.


The USC Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) is the largest and only university-wide PhD program at USC. The Ph.D Program in Neuroscience at USC offers students a broad-based curriculum and state-of-the-training in modern neuroscience methods and techniques. More than 100 faculty from 18 departments participate in the program.

A NIH-designated T32 Neuroscience Training Program, NGP students and faculty come from a variety of academic backgrounds to study questions spanning the spectrum of modern neuroscience research. Key questions include:

  • how do molecules work together in time and space to build functioning nerve cells?
  • how do individual neurons and their interconnections lead to the emergent properties of neural circuits?
  • how do the information processing functions of neural circuits lead to complex behaviors, memories, emotions, and thought?
  • how do disturbances in development, aging and nervous system injury lead to mental and neurological disorders, and how can we develop better therapies?

Departing from the traditional focus on individual disciplines, USC Neuroscience is characterized by collaborative interactions between faculty and students who have undergraduate or graduate degrees in biology, engineering, mathematics, computer science, psychology, neuroscience, molecular biology, behavior, cell biology, genetics and other disciplines.  They work at many different levels of analysis, including research on cell-molecular neurobiology, systems-level analysis of normal and disrupted neural circuits due to disease, neural engineering, and cognitive and computational neuroscience. In addition to our NIH Neuroscience T32 training, grant, the diversity in research is matched by our faculty also having training positions on Hearing and Communication and Stem Cell and Developmental Biology NIH T32 Training Grants. This reflects the national recognition of the excellence of the research programs of our training faculty, who seek to work with the best and brightest students in their laboratories.”

When combined with a varied curriculum, a focus on professional development, grant writing, and science communication, weekly seminars, an annual graduate student symposium, and an extremely active neuroscience graduate student forum, the USC Neuroscience Graduate Program provides a highly supportive, research-intensive training experience designed to prepare students for a variety of successful careers.

July 1, 2016

Grad students learn the art of fellowship funding at USC.

Application workshops pay off with a record number of National Science Foundation Fellowships.

Panthea Heydari Video

Preparing for grad school these days means more than being ready for late nights in the lab. It can also mean looking for fellowship opportunities that could jumpstart a young scholar’s career.

At USC, students are taught how to write fellowship applications that shine — and the efforts are paying off. This year, 37 Trojans were awarded or received an honorable mention for the coveted National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which provides a $34,000-per-year stipend for three years and opens doors to international research opportunities. In 2010, USC had just eight recipients.

“It’s basically the Harry Potter scar on your forehead indicating you’re an amazing scholar,” said Meredith Drake Reitan, associate dean for graduate fellowships at the USC Graduate School. There are about 2,000 NSF Fellowships awarded each year, and competition is fierce, Drake Reitan said. The success is rate is about 15 percent.

“The fellowship program is about research potential,” she said. “Faculty members might say, ‘They’re not ready to apply to for the NSF Fellowship because their research hasn’t quite jelled.’ But that’s actually right where the NSF wants them — it’s designed to be an early career accelerator.”

Besides encouraging faculty to talk to more students about fellowship opportunities, the Graduate School is actively preparing them for the application process. Last year, the school hosted its first boot camp for the process. Forty-five students heard from current or former fellows as well as those who had served on review committees. In addition to the NSF program, they learned about the Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship and the Soros Fellowship.

Success after the first attempt

Panthea Heydari, a student in USC’s Graduate Neuroscience Program, is a current NSF Fellow. Unlike most applicants, she received the award on her first try. She had heard how competitive the program was and figured she didn’t have much chance, but could at least learn from the experience and prepare for a stronger application in the future.

But the review committee was impressed. Heydari studies stroke rehabilitation in patients selected from lower-income areas surrounding USC, Keck Hospital and Ranchos Los Amigos Hospital in Downey. The fact that her research could have a direct impact on these communities was a key part of her application.

What Heydari learned was how to convey her research quickly and with passion. A former NSF Fellowship reviewer spoke to participants about having just a few minutes to look over each application, then making a case for the most deserving applicants.

“There really needs to be a way to catch the reader’s attention and fight for your proposal,” Heydari said. “If it comes down to a tie, they fight for you. I kept coming back to that idea when I was writing.”

From Texas to USC Annenberg

Ignacio Cruz is another one of this year’s NSF Fellows — the first from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Cruz is a first-generation student who received his undergraduate degree last year from the University of Texas, Austin. He decided to jump straight into a PhD program at USC Annenberg, where he’s studying how communication technologies affects the workplace: How do they influence office social networks, harm or help productivity or lead to communication overload?

Cruz represents a small but growing group of NSF Fellows, nationally and at USC: social scientists.

“Sometimes people think these awards only go to the hard sciences,” Cruz said. “It was rewarding to see how my research covered a variety of fields in information, psychology and communication.”

He said being a doctoral student makes it hard to squeeze in time to write demanding applications. Attending the Graduate School’s boot camp, where he learned to write essay drafts and peer-edit that work with other young scholars, was invaluable.

“We started in August,” Cruz said. “By November, we were more than halfway done, and it’s just a matter of getting the application in.”

Cruz added that before the boot camp, he had only tried applying for the Ford Foundation. The boot camp helped him explore funding opportunities he didn’t know existed.

“There are pots of money across the board, and it’s really about learning to market your research in a way that people can see the impact you can make.”

The benefits of boot camps

Heydari also stressed the writing benefits that came out of the boot camps. Since filing her own application, she’s helped set up workshops and seen the progression of students as they bounce ideas off one another and revise each other’s work.

“I personally think it should be required for all grad students to apply for external fellowships,” she said. “Even if you don’t get it, it’s such a great skill to take all these things you know and put them into an application.”

Drake Reitan said 75 participants are already scheduled to participate in the upcoming fellowship boot camp in August. She’s also in talks with the Health Sciences Campus to possibly create a boot camp for the National Institutes of Health NRSA F32 Fellowship.

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February 8, 2016

Feb 29: USC Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) is honored to be hosting Dr. Pedro Valdes-Sosa, from Havana, Cuba.

Pedro-Feb 29

Dr. Pedro Valdes-Sosa, will be our Distinguished Lecturer on Monday February 29th.  His lecture is estimated to be first time in over 50 years that a Cuban neuroscientist has visited and lectured on the University Park Campus.  As such, Dr. Valdes-Sosa’s visit is expected to be a significant event for our university.

Dr. Valdes-Sosa studied medicine at the University of Havana and graduated in 1972. He also studied Mathematics in 1973. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1978 . In 1979 he undertook his postdoctoral training on “Neurometrics and Computational Techniques” and “Biophysical Modeling of brain electrical activity” with Prof. E. Roy John at the Brain Research Lab of New York University USA. In 2011 obtained his Doctor in Science degree.


He is a senior professor of the Higher Institute for Medical Sciences, full member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, full member of the Latin American Academy of Sciences, associate member of the International Center for Theoretical Physics. He has also been invited professor of the Institute of Statistical Mathematics of Japan, invited researcher of the Brain Science Institute of RIKEN, Japan and Honorary Professor of UCL. 2010 Head of Overseas Team of Talent Introducing Base for Neuroinformation (111 Project) China. 2011 Visiting Professor for Senior International Scientific of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.  In addition, he has been Ph.D. advisor of 14 doctoral students. At present he is Distinguished Professor of Neuroinformatics of the Key Laboratory for Neuroinformation, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, and ex officio Program Chair of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping.


During his NGP lecture in the Hedco Auditorium, he will provide an overview of his research on neural signal oscillations as measured using both fMRI and electromagnetic brain imaging methods and the computational approaches needed to characterize these signals in health and in disease.  Following his NGP lecture, he will also be giving a University Lecture in the Seeley Mudd 123 Lecture Hall at 7pm on the role of science for enriching the emerging new relationship between Cuba and the United States following five decades of economic embargo and political isolation.  All interested NGP students and faculty are welcomed to attend.  Reception to follow.


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