Aims and Scope of the Graduate Program
The Caltech Ph.D. program in social and decision neuroscience (SDN) prepares students to do research on the neurocomputational basis of decision-making and social interactions. Research in this area requires training in computational modeling, statistical methods, systems neuroscience, neural measuring methods such as fMRI, EEG or single unit recordings, as well as adequate understanding of related methods and results from the social sciences. Students’ career paths include faculty jobs in neuroscience, psychology or marketing; faculty jobs in economics, political science or finance programs; and industry positions in the technology, data science, finance, and neurotechnology sectors.
SDN Master’s Degree
Students are not admitted to work towards the master’s degree. The master’s degree might be awarded to an SDN student under exceptional circumstances. In order to be eligible for a master’s degree, students must complete at least 54 units of the courses required for the Ph.D. with a passing grade, as well as a minimum of 81 additional units of graduate work.
The program seeks to recruit top students interested in the neurocomputational basis of decision-making and social interactions. Ideal applicants will have very strong quantitative backgrounds, regardless of their undergraduate major. Previous exposure to neuroscience, psychology or economics is useful but not required. Detailed information on admission requirements can be found at www.hss.caltech.edu/graduate-studies/social-and-decision-neuroscience-phd-program/admissions.
Students are required to complete 81 units of graduate coursework related to social and decision neuroscience by the end of their second year, with a grade of B or higher in each class. The coursework must satisfy the following requirements. Students should take a minimum of 54 units during their first year and 27 units during their second year. First year coursework must include CNS/ Psy/Bi 102 ab (Brains, Minds, and Society) and two courses in statistics, econometrics or machine learning. Students are also required to take NB/Bi/CNS 150 (Introduction to Neuroscience), a graduate course in behavioral economics, and two additional upper-undergraduate or graduate courses (i.e., numbered 100 or higher) in economics, political science or finance.
Students are required to complete three quarters of lab rotations during their first year. These rotations should include work in two different labs, for a minimum of one quarter each. Lab rotation plans need to be approved by the option representative by the end of the second week of the fall quarter. Students must sign-up for 18 units of CNS 280 (Research in Computation and Neural Systems) or SS 300 (Research in the Social Science) for each quarter of lab rotations. Students are expected to become full members of a research group by the end of the spring quarter of their first year. The faculty member leading that lab becomes the student’s main adviser.
General Knowledge Exam
Students are required to take a written General Knowledge Exam in Social and Decision Neuroscience. The exam is offered during Spring quarter of the second year and students must pass it with a grade of at least 80%. A list of topics and references associated with the exam can be obtained from the option representative.
Students must satisfy the following additional requirements.
- They must enroll in Psy 283abc (Graduate Proseminar in Social and Decision Neuroscience) every quarter, from their first to their last quarter in residence. This weekly seminar provides training in academic skills such as writing, presenting, reviewing, and career strategy, as well as breadth of knowledge in Social and Decision Neuroscience.
- First year students must enroll for SS/Psy/CNS 285 each quarter it is offered during the academic year.
- Students must attend four social science seminars in economics, finance or political science every quarter, from their first to their last quarter in residence.
- Students are also required to complete Bi 252 (Responsible Conduct of Research) during their first year.
- Students must attend a conference and submit a grant proposal during their second year.
- Starting their second year, students are expected to TA a minimum of three quarters total during their graduate career.
- Starting the third year, students must present a poster or give a talk at a conference every academic year.
- Students must submit yearly progress reports to the SDN option representative by the last day of classes of the Spring quarter, starting on their first year. A template for the report can be obtained from the option representative. These reports will be reviewed by the entire SDN faculty and granted one of three outcomes: approval, conditional approval, or program termination. Students may receive at most one conditional approval of their yearly report during their time in the Ph.D. program.
Students must form a thesis committee and defend their thesis proposal to the committee. Students must pass this candidacy exam by the last day of classes of their third year. A thesis committee must have four members subject to the following constraints: at least one should be a neuroscience faculty member, at least one should be a non-neuro social science faculty member, and there should be at most one faculty member from another institution. The main adviser cannot serve as the chair of the thesis committee.
Thesis and Final Examination
The candidate is expected to complete and successfully defend their thesis by the last day of classes of the spring quarter of their fifth year. Extensions to an additional sixth year will be considered only at the candidacy exam stage and, if necessary, for the proposed research plan. The time of the defense should be determined in consultation with the main adviser, the thesis committee and, if necessary, the option representative. Students must submit a written copy of their dissertation to the the-sis committee at least two weeks prior to the thesis defense date.