The course

At the International School for Advanced Studies, we offer a set of research and expertise reflecting the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary nature of neurobiology. Our PhD programme combines scientific vivacity and cultural engagement, with a stimulating international work environment and a wide-learning method. All the courses are tailored on students’ needs, providing an exceptionally broadly based education. Teaching is carried out in English

The Neurobiology PhD offers a top-level training activity, based on a deeply problem-oriented approach to research. With six main keywords:

  • Internationality. Our students and post-docs come from all over the world, creating a multicultural and inspiring atmosphere.
  • Specialisation. Dedicated Lectures on Neurobiology by the best experts in the field are given during the whole PhD programme.
  • Collaboration. Frequent interactions with supervisors and other students build a highly cooperative environment.
  • Interdisciplinarity. Our research topics are at the interface between Neuroscience, Advanced Imaging and Bionanotechnogy.
  • Facilities. Access to a variety of innovative experimental tools and direct participation in new projects are guaranteed.
  • Perspective. We encourage a worldwide viewpoint from USA, EU, Middle East and Far East.

All these ingredients set the basis for our students to become the leading researchers in a fascinating and challenging research field.  

Students at SISSA actively collaborate in important scientific publications.
According to the latest available figures, over 41% of all the papers published by SISSA each year involved the participation of students (an average of roughly 400 papers). This percentage has costantly increased in the last years.

The PhD program


The aim of the Lectures of the PhD program in Neurobiology is to provide students with a common framework starting from different backgrounds.

Lectures will take place at the beginning of the PhD Program, so to have more time to focus on the scientific research project that will be carried out during the PhD. There will be a first set of lectures dedicated to specific experimental methodologies and safety procedures followed by two main scientific modules.All the lectures will be in English and will be held by an expert in the field.


Module 1 will be devoted to fundamental aspects of Neurophysiology and Neurobiology: we will review basic notions about neurons, synapses and sensory systems. We will also cover properties of neuronal networks underlying perception in the cortex and locomotion in the spinal cord.

Module 2 will be dedicated to emerging tools and experimental methodologies from Nanotechnology, which can be used to investigate molecular properties of neurons, synapses and sensory cells. Properties of the interactions between neurons and new materials, such carbon nanotubes and grapheme, will be covered as well as basic properties of Atomic Force Microscopy and advanced Photonics. 


Moreover, the students will have the chance to attend additional lectures  organized by other PhD courses at SISSA.

Students with specific scientific interests, not covered by the planned series of Lectures, will be encouraged to participate in International Schools devoted to these specific topics.



The essence of the PhD Program in Neurobiology is the completion of the scientific PhD Thesis which will consist in a project at the frontline of contemporary investigation in Neurobiology. 

At the beginning of the PhD course students receive information about the available research projects, which constitute the fundamental element of the PhD course.

Each new student will start, at the latest within the month of January after the beginning of the PhD course, working on a research project for his/her PhD dissertation agreed with one of the available Supervisors. The distribution of the projects aims at matching the student’s own experience and research interests with the needs of the research programs and the structures available. The Supervisor is finally assigned by the Teaching Board, taking into account the student’s wishes. 

Course program

Program of Lectures for the PhD in Neurobiology

List of Courses (for first year students): 

Neurophysiology and Neurobiology:

Sensory Systems: Chemical senses
Synaptic plasticity: from an ePhys. approach to behavior

Neural Control of Locomotion

Molecular Neurobiology

Neuroecology – History, Methods and Insights

Structural biology


Nanotechnology and Photonics:

Nanotools for Neuroscience

Advanced Optical Microscopy and Manipulation 

AFM imaging: Principles and Applications in Neurobiology


Technical courses (microscopy, cell cultures, etc.):

Microscopy techniques


Fluorescence techniques

Cell cultures

Primary cultures: dissociated and organotypic cultures

Information Technology Systems of the Neuroscience Area

Introduction to Electronics


Please find out the program of the courses in 2023-24 in the neurobiology calendar.

Candidate Selection & How to Apply

“Doctor Philosophiae” Entrance Exams

The International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste offers post-graduate training to obtain a

“Doctor Philosophiae” (Ph.D) degree in Neurobiology

The Ph.D programme lasts for four years with the possibility of obtaining the title at the end of the third year, and is based on teaching and research activities, with examinations to determine admission from one year to the next and the attainment of the Ph.D degree. The call applications for the academic year 2024-2025 can be found here.


Fellowships and other benefits

The School awards fellowships for 4 years. 

The yearly amount of the fellowships is, at the moment, of € 15.343,28 gross (11,41% tax). Candidates may also hold fellowships from other sources that may be increased by School funds up to the aforementioned amount. 

 A contribution towards living expenses of the amount of €100,00 gross per month will be awarded to those who will subscribe a registered rent contract in the Trieste province. 

A “laptop contribution” up to € 400,00 may be granted upon request and presentation of the relevant invoice. 

A contribution towards the expenses to be enrolled in the health insurance system up to € 198,77 will be granted to non-EU students only. 

Students enrolled in the third/fourth year can request a contribution of up to € 1.000,00 for their access to training and/or to create a network of academic contacts to help them in their future career. A contribution (70% of the amount of the fellowship) may be awarded to students who should be forced to suspend their activity due to illness, maternity or other serious reasons up to 5 months. 



The School welcomes applications from young candidates who are going to complete or have just complete their undergraduate studies with a strong interest in research. To be admitted to the School, candidates must be in possession of one of the following degrees by 31 October, 2022:

  • Italian laurea or laurea specialistica/magistrale in a scientific subject;
  • A University degree obtained abroad and considered equivalent to the aforementioned Italian degrees by the governing bodies of the School (i.e. M.Sc.).


Online application

An online application must be filled in and sent using the procedure available at the page by the deadlines shown in the schedule of each Ph.D course.

Candidates should upload the following documents in pdf format:

  • curriculum vitae et studiorum;
  • a certificate of University examinations taken (with marks);
  • a final degree certificate;
  • If, at the time of application, candidates should not be yet in possession of a degree certificate, they can submit it at the time of the examination.

European Union candidates can submit a personal declaration instead of the aforementioned certificates.

  • a copy of the diploma thesis (if any).

At the end of the procedure, candidates will have to indicate the names and email addresses of two professors that will receive an email requesting to send a recommendation letter through the same online procedure within two days of the announcement expiry date. 

The candidate will then have to print out the admission request form, sign it and send it through the same online procedure. 


Entrance Exam

All the information about the oral exams (also by videoconference) can be found here.



All students admitted to the School will be notified by email and will be asked to be present at the School starting from 4 November 2024. Failure to do so without a valid reason will result in the loss of the place and fellowship awarded.

In order to be enrolled and to be awarded the fellowship, admitted candidates must pay a “Regional Tax” of the amount of € 120.00 - € 160.00 per year. Information can be retrieved at


Head of the PhD course: Prof. Paul Heppenstall (

Students’ representative: Francesco Diversi (


Research Fields

Projects available for the first year students (Academic Year 2023-2024):

- Somatosensation

- Peripheral Nervous System

- Olfactory Systems and Ion Channels

- Synaptic Neurophysiology and Neuronal Networks

- Bionanotechnology

- New Materials and Neurons

- Neurophysiology of Motor control

- Spinal networks patho-physiology and locomotion 

- Interfaces to simultaneously stimulate and record signals from the spinal cord

- Computational modelling of ion channels, neurons, and networks

- Information processing and excitability in neocortical neurons

- In vitro optogenetic control of neuronal networks

Regulations for the PhD Course in Neurobiology

For general rules consult the teaching regulations for SISSA PhD courses

Regolamento didattico (in Italian)        Didactic regulations (in English) 



  1. The admissions to the PhD course in Neurobiology take place, usually, through a selection based on academic and scientific qualifications and an oral examination. Exceptionally qualified non EU-students can be admitted to the course only through evaluation of their academic and scientific qualifications.
  2. For the admissions, candidates must be in possession of the Italian Laurea (Laurea Specialistica, Laurea Magistralis or the old Laurea Quadriennale) in a scientific subject, or of a University degree obtained abroad and considered equivalent (i.e. M.Sc.) by the School Senate, after having received the approval from the Council of the Neuroscience Area. This degree must have been obtained before the PhD courses official starting date. 
  3. The Admission Committee for the entrance examination is composed of at least three members: two faculty members and one member from another institution (the external Committee member), nominated by the Council of the Neuroscience Area. 
  4. The entrance examination is aimed at verifying the candidate’s aptitude for scientific research and his/her level of knowledge of the basics in Neurobiology. For the evaluation, the Committee disposes of 100 points, 30 of which are for the academic and scientific qualifications and 70 for the oral examination.
  5. The following achievements are considered valid for evaluation:


  •       Academic qualifications: i.e. mark from the Laurea Degree, equivalent diplomas, participation in post-degree courses, scholarships;
  •      Scientific qualifications: i.e. publications, manuscripts and original scientific results.


       6. A written essay in English must be provided with the application documents, in which the candidate has to illustrate his/her previous academic background and the scientific motivations to pursue a PhD at SISSA and including a short list of theses projects among those available (see course website). The essay (about 800 words) will be used for an inital screening of suitable candidates to be invited to the oral exam. Are admitted to the oral examination only the candidates that have reached a score 21/30 points.

      7. The oral examination is a discussion on topics of basic neurobiology, on the previous experience of the candidate in relation to his/her academic curriculum (including the thesis project), on the research work carried out so far, on the research interests of the candidate. The exam can be done in Italian or in English. If the candidate decides to do the exam in Italian, he/she will need to prove his/her knowledge of the English language by reading and translating a short scientific text.

      8. The candidate passes the selection by reaching a score equal or higher than 70/100. At the end of the examinations, a list of the admitted candidates (starting from the highest score) is displayed by the Admission Committee. The Council of the Neuroscience Area examines the proceedings of the examination presented by the Admission Committee and decides the admissions to the PhD course.





  1. The teaching activity starts in November and is structured into courses and seminars held by the Teaching Board and by external lecturers. Students are expected to attend all suggested courses and if a student is not able to attend a given course he/she is expected to provide a justification to the PhD coordinator. It is up to the professor/lecturer to decide in what the exam for passing his/her course will consists of.
  2. Students are required to participate actively in group discussions on specific topics, in internal and external seminars and journal clubs.
  3. At the beginning of each PhD course the students receive information about the available research projects, which constitute the fundamental element of the PhD course.
  4. Each new student will start, at the latest within the month of January after the beginning of the PhD course, working on a research project for his/her PhD dissertation agreed with one of the available Supervisors. The distribution of the projects aims at matching the student’s own experience and research interests with the needs of the research programs and the structures available.
  5. The assignment of a student’s supervisor must be approved by the Teaching Board.
  6. Only under exceptional circumstances a student can ask for a change of his/her supervisor. The change must be approved by the Teaching Board.





  1. To be admitted to the following year each student must pass a qualification exam called Progress Report.
  2. The Progress Reports are usually held in September of each year. They consist of a presentation of the scientific activity carried out by the student during the last twelve months discussed in front of the Teaching Board, who will then evaluate the scientific and didactic progress of each student to decide if he/she is eligible to continue the PhD program the following academic year.
  3. The admission of a student to the following year is deliberated by The Council of the Neuroscience Area before the end of each academic year. The Teaching Board decides if, in occasion of the annual Progress Report, the work carried out by each student is of sufficient quality to lead to a future PhD thesis.





  1. Under motivated circumstances – and having discussed the issue with the Teaching Board – the supervisor may suggest that the student sits the examination to obtain a Master (Magister Philosophiae). The request must be approved by the Teaching Board.
  2. In case of approval of the above request the student will present a thesis that will be discussed in front of a Committee nominated by the Teaching Board. Generally, a student receiving a Master degree does not continue his/her studies to obtain a PhD.





  1. A student can spend from a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 4 years to complete his/her PhD project.
  2. Only in exceptional and motivated cases - and following the Council of the Neuroscience Area’s approval - it is possible for a student to present his/her PhD thesis after the fourth year, even though he/she no longer maintains the status of SISSA student.





  1. The Thesis to be defended for the Doctor Philosophiae title should contain original and published results (or results considered suitable for publication by the Teaching Board) on well-established scientific journals.
  2. The thesis should contain an abstract (max 500 words), an introduction in which the aim of the research project is clearly identified, a description of the methodology, a clear account of novel data and a systematic discussion followed by the bibliography of the authors cited in the text. In the event in which the amount of publications produced by the student during his PhD course is considered relevant, the Methods and the Results sections of the thesis can be formed directly by those publications.
  3. The candidate needs to attach to the thesis the list of publications originated from his research work, together with a statement where it is specified his/her direct and original contribution to each one of them.
  4. The Council of Neuroscience Area nominates the Board of Examiners for the PhD exam upon proposal by the Teaching Board. The Board of Examiners is composed by a minimum of 5 members of whom at least two are permanent professors at the School and two are external to the School. One of the external examiners, chosen according to his/her specific scientific competences and complete non-involvement with the candidate and with the supervisor, will be given the task to evaluate the thesis (which he/she will have received at least one month prior examination). This specific examiner will be also required to indicate corrections to be made to the thesis.
  5. It is the responsibility of the student to ensure rapid printing and binding of the Thesis. The final version of the Thesis is to be distributed to all the Members of the Board of Examiners at least two weeks before the examination date.
  6. The exam to obtain the title of Doctor Philosophiae consists in a public seminar followed by a discussion during which the examiners can ascertain the background knowledge in the field of research or in neurobiology in general. The Board of Examiners may:
  •  approve the Thesis and confer the PhD.  
  •  not approve the Thesis, in which case the student may present the Thesis at the next session, after having implemented his/her work where required. The final exam may be repeated only once.





  1. In case of serious personal reasons or in case of maternity/paternity leave, students can ask the Council of Neuroscience Area for his/her position to be held in a “status quo”, for up to a maximum of 12 months.





  1. Students, like any other member of the SISSA staff, are to respect the Codes of Behavior, to safeguard the dignity of female and male employees and students of the School. The Codes of Behavior can be found at the following link:
  2. Students are required to respect the rules of ethic and behaviour also in the lab. These rules are indicated in a document ad hoc prepared by the Teaching Board and handed in to the newcomers at the beginning of each academic year.