Course policies

From the Bulletin:

NBIO 145b: Systems Neuroscience. Explores fundamental questions in neuroscience about how our brains extract and compute features and functions--such as direction of motion from visual stimuli--and how experience allows the microcircuits within our brains to become better tuned to such features. Understanding these processes requires insight into the cellular and network mechanisms that give rise to them. We will examine classical literature and recent advances in understanding the cellular and network properties of brain microcircuits. The course emphasizes reading from original papers, exploration of neural circuit simulations, and extensive class discussion. Usually offered every year.

Structure of the course:

In-class paper discussions – Classroom time is devoted to discussing research papers. ALL students are expected to read the papers and come to class prepared to present figures and discuss the papers. Specific students will be assigned to particular figures, but all should be prepared to step in and present in the event that someone is absent.

The class also requires each student to submit, once per week, a "thought/question" form in advance of the class discussion (please submit at least 1 hour prior to class). I suggest as a rule of thumb that students with last names A-M write before Tuesday's classes, and those with the last names beginning with N-Z write Friday, but you can pick either day. I will use the Thoughts/Questions to dynamically adjust the focus of the class each day. The form will collect your username to help me grade, but I pledge not to associate the questions/thoughts with your names (I'll read the form with the names off the edge of the window), so don't feel concerned about asking what you might feel is a silly question. And I'll never associate a name w/ a thought or question I might present to the class. The web form is under the "Daily Business" navigation bar.

Presenting a figure: Students should explain the "purpose" of making the measurements in the figure ("what is the point of the figure?"), in addition to explaining the measurements, be prepared to explain the details of how the measurements were made and how they were plotted. I will probably ask: "How else could the data have looked? Why did they do this experiment and not another experiment?" Students should briefly rehearse their figure presentation, and should seek help in advance if they have trouble understanding the paper.

Problem sets / homework sets – Homework sets are completed outside of class. There are 4-5 homework sets during the course, most in the first half of the course. Homework is designed to compliment and deepen the student's understanding of concepts covered in the paper discussions.

Term papers – There will be a term paper that is outlined in the homework section of the website. This will mostly take the place of homework in the end of March and throughout April. The purpose of the term paper is to allow the student to independently explore topics that are not covered in the paper discussion and to practice scientific writing. The audience of the term paper will be fellow upper level undergraduate and graduate students.


We have 1 required text that we will read in the first weeks of class:

  • Animal Eyes 2nd edn. M. F. Land and D.-E. Nilsson (2012). Oxford University Press, Oxford, 271 pp, Hardback, Paperback. ISBN 978-0-19-958114-6.

We have 2 recommended books. These books are on reserve in the Main Library on campus.

  • Neuroscience by Purves et al., 5th edition. If you have Principles of Neuroscience by Kandel et. al left over from Nbio 140, this text is acceptable as well (you will be required to read about topics, but not in a particular textbook).

  • Spikes: Exploring the neural code, by Rieke et al.

A great book on writing is the following (makes good bedtime reading):

Some homework requires access to Matlab. Matlab is available in the Goldfarb and Farber computer clusters here on campus, and is also available in many research laboratories. Students who don't have easy access to Matlab in one of these locations can install Matlab using the university's site license.

Collaboration policy:

Students are encouraged to discuss the homework sets, with some limitations:

  • Students should attempt each homework question for 20 minutes before seeking help on that portion from other students or the professor.

  • Students may talk about concepts in emails, message boards, or on a whiteboard, and may debate whether various solutions are correct.

  • Students are not permitted to exchange written homework solutions; each student should write their own solutions themselves and understand what they are turning in.

  • When you have consulted other students while completing your homework, credit them by including their names.

Asking questions:

We will use the site to handle questions. When anyone asks a question, the entire class will be able to see the answer. If the question is not a clarifying question, I am very likely to give a hint rather than spelling out the solution, so leave yourself plenty of time to complete the assignments. See the "Ask a question" link on the left side bar to log-in. You can also send a private question to the instructor if you have a question about your homework grade.

In addition, there will be office hours in my office (Bassine 326, which is inside Bassine 324) from 9:00am - 10:00am Mondays and 2:30pm - 3:30pm Wednesdays.


The overall course grade will consist of a weighted average of scores for in-class participation (33.33%, of which 5% is the thoughts/question form participation), out-of-class problem sets (33.33%), and the term papers (33.33%, of which 5% is the peer review portion). There is no final exam but the homework and term paper will probably require more time for completion than in a typical course. It is important to begin work on these early, as typically they will be difficult to complete on the last day. Each student can turn in 1 assignment up to 4 days late without penalty; other problem sets will lose 10% of the maximum credit per hour they are late.