At the end of the first year students must pass a qualifying examination. The exam consists of both oral and written parts. The oral exam tests basic principles of neuroscience that have been covered in the required first year coursework. For the written section students must write and defend a paper on a subtopic of interest that is outside their dissertation lab's specific research area. The goal of the qualifying exam is to ensure that the student has acquired a strong, basic understanding of neuroscience, has gained the ability to develop and write a research paper, and can demonstrate mastery of the methodological and conceptual basis of a research project.