Advanced skill training in Neuroscience courses: a case study of Drugs & Brain

Cluster Description

This cluster unites four graduate schools that share a dedication to enhance the learning experience in neuroscience courses, to include skill training and to stimulate an interdisciplinary mindset. Future neuroscientists should ideally combine a range of competences that go beyond in-depth knowledge of their research domain. Communication and networking skills, ability to manage international collaborations, and understanding the multidisciplinary context of neuroscience are arguably equally important. This cluster will develop and introduce novel teaching formats in order to achieve advanced training of multiple skills during a PhD-level neuroscience course.

This multidisciplinary five-days course covers all major neurobiological aspects related to traditional psychopharmacological treatments and new developments in drug modulation of brain function, its underlying mechanisms, as well as targetable biological systems and processes. Each school of this cluster provides specific expertise on one or more of these aspects.

The set-up of the course is intended to encourage active participation of students and to stimulate interaction between experts and participants. To achieve this, students will, after following expert lectures in the morning, work on challenging problems or statements, present and discuss the outcome in a plenary meeting, during live-streamed Q&A sessions. Further, students will present their research project in a pitch presentation. This will foster their argumentation, discussion and presentation skills, and encourage to network with peers and experts.
To assure that participants are well prepared for the course, profit maximally from the lectures and being fully equipped to engage in discussions, background material will be provided online in the form of prerecorded lectures, knowledge clips and literature. Students will study this material beforehand, and are monitored, i.e. using quizzes, in their progress.

The course is mainly intended for PhD students and junior post-docs. Second year master students with a strong motivation to pursue a PhD in neuroscience may attend providing places are available. A maximum of 50 participants can attend the course on-site. Another 50 students of NENS schools can participate in the online activities such as the access to the informative, background material on psychopharmacology and the online discussion platform.

Cluster Partners

Cluster Outcome

The purpose of this cluster was to explore how alternative teaching formats, as opposed to frontal teaching, can be introduced in traditional PhD-level courses. Combining the expertise of the four partners, we set-up a 4-day course on psychopharmacology (Drugs and the Brain: from Laboratory to Clinic). Due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation and uncertainty regarding travel restrictions, the course was turned to a full online format. We aimed to 1) prepare students before the course by offering background material, 2) stimulate active participation during interactive workshops with experts, and 3) practice presentation skills in plenary discussions.

The interactive parallel sessions were held in three online break-out rooms, each moderated by one of the experts. These 90min. discussions were based on specific cases, statements or research questions provided by the experts. For this, the participants read background material before the start of the course. The day was concluded by a plenary discussion, where representatives of each group presented a summary, followed by a plenary discussion with all participants and experts. Students indicated in an evaluation that the preparation and the daily interactive workshops, next to expert lectures, improved their learning experience.

Cluster Deliverables

The background material and most of the lectures are available on a restricted website. NENS members can receive login credentials by sending a request to


This cluster is jointly supported by IBRO-PERC, and the FENS Committee of Higher Education and Training (CHET).