Application Process

Application Instructions and Deadlines

The Doctoral Program in Neurobiology and Behavior is part of the Coordinated Doctoral Programs in Biomedical Sciences at Columbia University. Applications for admission to the PhD program are through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) at the Medical Center campus.  Applications for the fall 2020 term will be accepted on the GSAS website starting in September 2019. The application deadline is December 1, 2019. Applicants are asked to choose one of five possible specializations on their application.  These specializations are: Animal Models of Nervous System Disorders, Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, Neural Development, Neurobiology of Behavior and Cognition, and Theoretical Neuroscience. Individual faculty interests often span more than one specialization.  This choice does not limit the research topics that students can address once they enter the program, rather it allows the program to better match applicants with researchers in their general area of interest during the application process.

Animal Models of Nervous System Disorders: Research groups focus on understanding the biological underpinnings of neurological and psychiatric diseases.  Research topics include models of psychiatric disorders, depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease, neural degeneration and repair, stem cell models of nervous system disorders, and diseases of the motor system including spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). 

Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience: Research groups focus on the molecular basis of nervous system structure and function, including ion channel structure and regulation, molecular and cellular biology of the synapse, synaptic physiology, molecular analysis of the neuronal cytoskeleton, and the biology of glial cells.  Experimental approaches include slice physiology, optogenetics, in vivo recording, biochemistry and genomic analysis.

Neural Development: Research groups focus on the genetic and molecular basis of neuronal specification and nervous system development and the developmental basis of disorders of the nervous system.  Topics of study include stem cell biology, neuronal and glial specification and differentiation, axonal and dendritic patterning, neuronal circuit assembly, and synaptic development.  Experimental approaches range from genetic and transcriptome analysis of neural precursors to functional interrogation of mature neuronal circuits in worms, flies, and mice.

Neurobiology of Behavior and Cognition: Research groups study neural circuits and systems and their roles in perception, behavior, and cognition. Topics of study include sensory systems, motor systems, attention, decision-making, reward learning, emotional processing, navigation, learning and memory, social communication, and the neural circuits underlying these and other functions including cortical, hippocampal, cerebellar, hindbrain and spinal circuits and invertebrate circuits. Experimental approaches include genetic, molecular, and optogenetic methods for studying circuits, electrophysiology, imaging, and behavior, often in close interaction with computational work.

Theoretical Neuroscience: Research groups use theoretical (mathematical and computational) methods to model neural circuits and systems and to analyze neural data.  Topics of study may span across neuroscience.

Open House

Applicants selected to visit Columbia will be invited to either of two open house events.  Open house dates for 2020 are January 23-24 and February 6-7.  Prospective students who are invited to attend an open house are encouraged to arrive in time to participate in an evening reception on January 23rd or February 6th.  The next day, applicants typically have a full day of meetings with faculty, students, and program representatives, visits to student housing, and an evening event to familiarize students with the some of the many social and cultural offerings of New York City.  Open house events are a critical part of the application process.  They are designed to provide students with essential information and contacts that will allow successful transitions to graduate school at Columbia University and to life in the vibrant city of New York.


Columbia University admits students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the University.  It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, handicap, national and ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other University-administered programs. Columbia University is an affirmative action and equal opportunity employer.