Concentration in Neuroethics

Students enrolled and in good-standing in the Neuroscience Doctoral program can earn a Concentration in Neuroethics within the Neuroscience doctoral program administered by the Neuroscience Institute (NI). The program is overseen by the appropriate faculty in the Department of Philosophy in conjunction with the NI’s Graduate Program Committee and Director for Graduate Studies. The Concentration is available to doctoral students in other PhD granting departments participating in the Brains & Behavior Area of Focus (Psychology, Biology, Math/Statistics, Chemistry, Physics/Astronomy, Computer Science), pending approval by the curriculum committees of those departments.

Neuroethics considers how ethical theories inform neuroscientific practice and how neuroscientific discoveries inform ethical theorizing. It is a new and exciting interdisciplinary field that links philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, legal studies, and other disciplines. For these reasons, a program in Neuroethics is an ideal tool to further promote connections among the departments comprising the Brains & Behavior Area of Focus, the interdepartmental program of the NI that aims to foster interdisciplinary interaction.

Need and Interest in the Program

The Concentration allows GSU students to develop an expertise in both neuroscience and ethical theory that is as valuable as it is rare in the United States. This training offers students a tremendous learning experience and places them at a competitive advantage in the job market.

There is currently a growing market for specialists in the interrelated areas of the ethics of neuroscience research, and of the neural basis of ethical behavior. One the one hand, there is a growing need for individuals with such expertise in the areas of research compliance and research design, particularly in the area of clinical trials. Neuroscientific expertise is also becoming central in the legal arena, as many cases are adjudicated based on the testimony of biomedical experts. Graduates with a concentration in neuroethics would thus have opportunities to find employment in academic research, in medical programs, or in the public and legal sector. They may focus on developing ethical protocols for the proper conduct of neuroscientific research, for instance research involving cognitive enhancement or direct manipulation of the brain, or they may use their expertise to develop appropriate regulations for any number of biomedical research activities. They may consider the implications of brain scanning technology with respect to lie detection, marketing, and the prediction of future behavior. They may contribute to the emerging legal debates about the role of neuroscientific information in judicial decisions about criminal guilt and punishment.

In the area of academic research and teaching, students trained in neuroethics may find positions within neuroscience, psychiatry, or psychology departments in the burgeoning area of moral psychology, studying for instance the role of emotions in moral reasoning, the neuroscience of addiction, and the role of neurobiological deficits in immoral and criminal behavior. In addition, the area of social neuroscience, including both human and nonhuman research studies, now includes research into social processes such as cooperation, altruism, and empathy, all of which touch directly on both a neuroscientific and a philosophical analysis of ethics. As such, we see this concentration as an aid to scientifically trained individuals who may, on the one hand, wish to pursue academic career paths in basic and applied research in a growing area of neuroscience, or who, on the other hand, wish to pursue alternative careers in research administration, policy making or legal affairs.

The concentration will not impede student progress through the graduate program. As outlined in the following section, students will be allowed to use the required Neuroethics course (Neur 6530, 3 hours) to count toward the “Neuroscience Elective” hours required for the degree, and one of the additional courses (3 hours) may be used count toward the required “Topics, Concepts and Seminar” hours. The additional 6 hours required for the concentration can be taken in lieu of additional hours of “Neur 9910 Advanced Research” or “Neur 9920 Advanced Directed Readings” above the minimum of 54 semester hours of research credit required for the degree. Students in natural science doctoral programs, including the Neuroscience graduate program, graduate with research hours far in excess of the minimum. Neuroscience doctoral students who have graduated to date have averaged 244 credit hours of Neur 9910, 9920, and 9999 combined. As such, any additional hours of coursework taken for the Neuroethics Concentration can easily be incorporated into a graduate student’s program by substituting for additional research or directed reading hours without impeding progress.

Administration and Curriculum

The Philosophy faculty who are jointly appointed with the NI will oversee the Neuroethics Concentration, along with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Committee of the NI. The administration of the concentration would include:

  • Admissions:  Admission to the Concentration, and the certification of its successful completion, will be managed by the Philosophy faculty jointly appointed in the NI in consultation with the NI Director of Graduate Studies. Both applicants to the PhD program in Neuroscience and continuing students at any stage of their graduate training in the NI may apply to participate in the Neuroethics Concentration. Entering students will be admitted competitively on the basis of their overall promise and stated interest in Neuroethics. Continuing students will be admitted on a rolling basis if they petition the Graduate Committee of the NI, provided they are in good standing in the Neuroscience PhD program. Once admitted, students will complete the Concentration requirements as they complete the requirements for their PhD.
  • Supervision & Advisement: Neuroscience PhD students who enroll in the Neuroethics Concentration will be able to work under the supervision of core and associate members of the NI and to have these faculty on their PhD committees. Students in the Concentration are not required to focus their dissertation on Neuroethics, but they have the option of doing so under the direction of Philosophy faculty who are associate members of the NI. Advisement will be provided by the student’s PhD supervisor and by the Director of Graduate Studies of the NI.

Requirements for the Concentration in Neuroethics for Neuroscience PhD students:

  • Neuroethics PhD students must satisfy all requirements for the Ph.D. degree in Neuroscience:
  • A minimum of 90 hours of graduate credit.
  • The Master of Science in Neuroscience (36 hours), including a minimum of 28 hours of graduate classroom coursework:
    • Neuroscience core course (NEUR 8000, 4 hours).
    • Core elective courses (select 2 of the following: NEUR 8010, 8020, 8030, 8420, 3 hours each, 6 hours total).
    • Quantitative course requirement (either NEUR 8040 or NEUR 8380, 4 hours).
    • Graduate Studies core courses (NEUR 8600, 1 hour, and NEUR 8050, 3 hours; 4 hours total).
    • Neuroscience electives (10 hours, 6 of which must be Topics, Concepts and/or Seminar courses).
    • Successful completion of the Qualifying Exam.
  • A minimum of 54 semester hours of research credit. This requirement can be satisfied by a combination of Neur 9910 Advanced Research, Neur 9999 Dissertation Research (minimum 20 hours) and Neur 9920 Advanced Directed Readings or the equivalent.
  • An approved dissertation proposal.
  • An approved dissertation.
  • A successful dissertation defense.
  • PhD students with a Concentration in Neuroethics must take 12 hours of coursework in Neuroethics (4 courses) to satisfy the concentration, and receive a grade of B or better in each of these courses. One of these courses (those with Neur 6000-level numbers) may be used to satisfy the Neuroscience Elective requirement and one of these courses (those with Neur 8000-level numbers) may be used to satisfy 3 of the required 8 hours of the topics/concepts/seminar requirement.  The additional 6 hours in Neuroethics courses can be taken in lieu of additional credit hours in research (Neur 9910) or directed readings (Neur 9920) that current Neuroscience doctoral students currently take in excess of the minimum 54 credit hours required for the PhD.
  • One of these additional courses (3 hours) would be a required course in Neuroethics which has been proposed concurrently with this proposal (Phil 6780/Neur 6530 Neuroethics).
  • The other 9 hours would be chosen from the following list of classes: Phil 6700/Neur 6550 Ethics, Phil 6340/Neur 6510 Philosophy and Cognitive Science, Phil 6740/Neur 6560 Advanced Biomedical Ethics, Phil 6330/Neur 6520 Philosophy of Mind, Phil 6130/Neur 6500 Philosophy of Science, Phil 6820/Neur 6570 Philosophy of Law, Phil 8330/Neur 8760 Seminar in Philosophy of Mind, Phil 8130/Neur 8750 Seminar in Philosophy of Science, Phil 8700/Neur 8763 Seminar in Ethics, Phil 8740/Neur 8764 Seminar in Biomedical Ethics, and (at least) three new classes to be proposed (including Phil 6790/Neur 8762 Topics in Neuroethics, Phil 6770/Neur 6540 Moral Psychology, and Phil 8770/Neur 8761 Seminar in Moral Psychology).