Jul 21, 2018  
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog 
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog

Developmental and Brain Sciences (PhD)

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The developmental and brain sciences (DBS) curriculum consists of a minimum of 60 credits: 30 credits earned through coursework (24 required credits and 6 elective credits) and 30 credits through research. Each student works with a primary faculty mentor and an advisory committee to develop and monitor a cohesive plan of work that reflects both program and individual goals. The PhD program is designed to take four-to-five years of full-time study.

Program Course Requirements

A list of the courses with links to the syllabi can be found here.



Students may also elect to take an Independent Study course or a course offered by another UMass Boston PhD program.  In all cases, Independent Studies must first be approved by the DBS graduate program director and the student’s advisory committee.

Research and Exam Requirements

Students will engage in research under the direction of a program faculty member, beginning in the first semester and continuing through the dissertation research.

First-year Report. This is an oral presentation to the student’s advisory committee. It should contain both a review of the student’s research accomplishments during his/her first year (including background, results, and significance) and a proposal for the work that will comprise the mentored research project (see below). Students are required to complete this milestone by the end of the second semester (late May).  There is no written component for the first year report; however, students will be required to apply for a grant of relevance to their research, such as an NRSA (http://grants.nih.gov/training/nrsa.htm) or GRFP (http://www.nsfgrfp.org).

Mentored Research Project (MRP). The MRP is the culmination of the student’s first two years of research. The MRP requires both an oral defense as well as a written component that should follow the format of an NRSA proposal. It is understood that elements of the student’s grant proposal and first-year report research will be incorporated into the MRP.  Students are required to complete their mentored research project by the end of the 4th semester. 

Dissertation Proposal and Defense

The dissertation is expected to represent an original and thorough body of research. Multiple formats for the dissertation may be acceptable, at the agreement of the student and the dissertation committee. For instance, a dissertation that encompasses three independent projects each with the scope (and expectation of submission) of a journal article may be acceptable instead of one large-scope project with multiple related experiments. Students are expected to complete their dissertation by the end of the 4th year.


The qualifier is used to assess knowledge and understanding of the field before the student advances to doctoral candidacy and formally begins the dissertation. The qualifier is comprised of a take-home exam, based on questions that require the student to engage critically with the literature. Typically, students will select questions from a set developed by program faculty. Students are required to take the qualifying exam by the end of their 5th semester.

Admission Requirements

The Developmental and Brain Sciences (DBS) program seeks applicants with a record of academic excellence who can present evidence of strong scientific background and training. A demonstrated potential for independent research is essential. Applicants should demonstrate substantial training in the biological and/or psychological sciences.

Successful applicants typically have a BS degree in psychology, biology, or cognitive science. Students with degrees in other fields (e.g. physical sciences, mathematics, engineering, computer science) and a strong interest in the foundations of neuroscience and behavior may also be considered for admission. 

Evaluation of applications is the responsibility of an admissions committee composed of DBS program core faculty members. All graduate admissions are handled according to university, Office of Graduate Admissions, and DBS Program guidelines and procedures. From our applicant pool, we undertake an extensive review of applications and will select approximately 10-20 people for interviews. Unfortunately, it is not feasible to interview more than this number, and faculty may not conduct interviews with applicants who have not undergone our review process and been officially selected for an interview. Students are admitted to the DBS program to work toward the PhD degree.

Admissions Application Requirements

  • A minimum of a BA/BS with a B (3.0) average or above in undergraduate and/or graduate-level coursework.
  • GRE scores (While subject-test GRE’s in the applicant’s area of study are not required, the applicant may choose to submit them.)
  • For international applicants, we do not accept FCE. We accept the TOEFL, the IELTS, or the PTE Academic. The TOEFL is required for non-native speakers of English.
  • A Curriculum Vitae (CV) should be submitted.
  • With respect to the required Statement of Intent and Interest, in addition to a general statement of your research interests and aptitudes and how they constitute a good match to the DBS program, please be sure to:
  1. list up to three faculty members you would like to work with, and why;
  2. indicate which specialization you would like to pursue (developmental behavioral neuroscience or developmental cognitive neuroscience);
  3. list any special honors or awards you have received for academic achievement;
  4. detail your relevant research experience (especially your role in the research and any specific contribution toward any resulting publications); 
  5. touch on your career objectives.

All application materials are submitted through the Office of Graduate Admissions. Please visit the Office of Graduate Admissions website to apply. The deadline for applications is December 15th of each year. Applications are accepted for admission the following fall. There are no spring semester admissions. 

If you have additional questions, please contact us at dbs@umb.edu.

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