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J.D. / Ph.D.

J.D. / Ph.D. in Law and Neuroscience

For Prospective Students

Vanderbilt offers a Dual Degree (J.D./Ph.D.) in Law and Neuroscience.
Read the press release.

Vanderbilt's J.D./Ph.D. Students in Law & Neuroscience

Matthew Ginther

Christopher Sundby




Q:  How do I apply to the dual degree track?
You will need to apply to, and fulfill all the requirements for, the law and neuroscience degree tracks separately.  But in each application, please state clearly that you are applying for the J.D./Ph.D. dual degree track in law and neuroscience. 

Q:  What law and neuroscience application requirements should I be aware of?
For the J.D. application, you will need to take the LSAT examination, and submit at least two letters of recommendation, transcripts of previous academic work, and other standard materials.  For detailed
Vanderbilt Law School (VLS) application information, please see the Vanderbilt Law School Prospective Students Page  and information on the J.D. Application Process .  For the neuroscience Ph.D. application, you will need to take the GRE examination, and submit at least two letters of recommendation, transcripts of previous academic work, and other standard materials.  For detailed neuroscience application information, please apply through the official website for the Vanderbilt Brain Institute  (VBI). 

Q:  What should applications emphasize?
A:  For your law application, you should at a minimum indicate the nature of your interest in law, the strengths of your preparation, and any special skills you may have.  You should also clearly express your interest in pursuing dual degrees in law and neuroscience.  For your neuroscience application, however, you should not create substantial overlap with your law application, but rather focus on demonstrating an ability to perform high quality research, as you would for any Ph.D. track in the biosciences.  You should make it very clear in your statement of purpose and your neuroscience interviews that you are also seeking admission to VLS through application for the dual-degree track. 

Q:  Who should I contact if I have questions about the Dual Degree Track?

A:  For the J.D. degree, you may contact at VLS: Professor Owen Jones .  For the neuroscience Ph.D. degree, you may contact at VBI: Professors Mark Wallace  and/or Bruce Carter .  We encourage you to contact these faculty members as soon as you decide to apply so that they are aware of your interest.

  Do applications for the J.D. and Ph.D. have to be submitted at the same time, or are J.D. students able to apply to the neuroscience Ph.D. after completing the first year of law school?
Students who want to pursue a dual degree arrangement typically apply for both degrees at once.  If a student has already enrolled in the J.D. track at VLS, there is no guarantee of admission to the neuroscience Ph.D. track through VBI, so applying sequentially, instead of simultaneously, makes sense only if an applicant would want to join the J.D. track even if she or he were not accepted later to the Ph.D. track. 

Q: I'm a 1-L at another law school.  May I apply to and, if accepted, transfer into the J.D./Ph.D. dual degree program at Vanderbilt?
A:  No.  Students transferring to the Law School are not eligible for dual degree programs.

Q: How many students are enrolled in the dual degree track each year?
There is no set quota.  Instead we admit students from time to time if they have exceptional talent, initiative, and promise.  It may be informative to review recent data for enrollments in the separate neuroscience Ph.D. and J.D. tracks: VBI generally enrolls 15 new neuroscience Ph.D. students each year, and VLS has enrolled an average of 194 new J.D. students each year over the last ten years.

Q:  What financial support is available?
The law school offers quite considerable financial support, in various forms, to many of its incoming students.  (For example, about 85% of J.D. students received merit-based or need-based scholarships, with a median award of $20,000 per year, in 2014/2015.)  All JD applicants, including all JD/PhD applicants, should therefore review the financial support described at this link and apply for that support.  In addition, the law school offers, from time to time, scholarship support specific to JD/PhD students in Law & Neuroscience.  When support is available for the current application season, it is announced at this location no later than September of the current application year. While in the neuroscience PhD program, the student will receive full tuition remission and a stipend equivalent to other biomedical PhD programs.  

Q:  How long does the dual degree track take to complete?
Normally, if each degree is earned separately, the J.D. takes 3 years, the Ph.D. in neuroscience takes approximately 5 years.  In the dual degree track, one semester is saved in each (2 ½ + 4 ½), and both degrees are awarded simultaneously upon completion of both sets of requirements. Therefore, the presumptive total time to completion is seven years.  Note that the American Bar Association requires that, absent extraordinary circumstances, each law degree be completed within 7 (seven) years of when it is commenced. 

Q: Who advises me after I am enrolled?
  At VLS, Professor Owen Jones advises students and approves course schedules.  At VBI, Professor Bruce Carter, the Director of Graduate Studies for the Neuroscience track, advises students and approves course schedules.

Q:  Am I required to be “In Residence” for a set period of time?
Yes. For technical tuition purposes, you must be in residence for five semesters for the J.D. degree (taking a minimum of 10 credits each semester, but adding to 76 credits total), and an additional five semesters for the Ph.D. Therefore, normally, it will take a minimum of five years to satisfy these twin requirements.

Are there specific course requirements?
A:  Each track has its own set of required courses, and you are encouraged to visit the main VLS and VBI website listed above for the most complete and up-to-date information. Generally speaking, law students must take as a set all the required first year courses (including Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Property, and Regulatory State) as well as, in subsequent coursework in Constitutional Law,  Professional Responsibility, and Professional Skills. A research paper are also required.  Similarly, neuroscience Ph.D. students must take core courses during the first two years of their neuroscience studies, including the required didactic courses of Fundamentals of Neuroscience I and II and Neurobiology of Disease, as well as a professional development course (Neuroscience Discussions), which emphasizes grant writing skills. However, beyond specific required courses, both degrees allow maximum flexibility in course selection so that, within the limits of what the respective advisors are willing to approve, each student can tailor his or her coursework to individual research interests and professional objectives. 

Q:  How many credit hours are required for the two degrees?
A:  88 hours are required for the Law degree.  In the case of dual-degree students, 12 of those 88 hours can be earned from neuroscience courses taken in the Graduate school, which are simultaneously counted toward satisfaction of the Ph.D requirements. That means that 76 credits must be earned through Law School courses (although a student who wants to do so may take more than 76 hours.)  Participation in certain student activities (such as law journals and moot court) may require a commitment to additional credit-hours. On the Ph.D. side, 12 hours of Law School courses are reciprocally double-counted, toward the 60 hours required in the Graduate School.  Again, see the two program websites for the most current information. 

Q:  May I receive law credit hours for special VLS course and student work outside the scope of traditional required and elective VLS courses?
A:  Yes. You may receive up to 5 credit hours for extracurricular work on law journals or Moot Court. You may also receive credit hours for Supervised Independent Study, Summer Externships and Research Assistantships.

Q: Will I be able to do laboratory work?
Yes. Most students will begin doing laboratory work after they complete the Qualifying Examinations for the Ph.D. degree. VBI has a fairly flexible policy for laboratory rotations. In the standard case, a student will rotate through three labs; such multiple rotations are generally seen as in the best interests of the student. However, some students may rotate through only two labs, and others may have well-developed interests such that they will go directly to work in just a single lab. The flexible VBI policy on rotations allows such decisions to be made on a case-by-case basis. Some students may express a lab preference during the admissions process, and some may formally request permission to work in one or more specific labs after they have matriculated, while others may be placed in a rotation through normal administrative processes. Bench and office space are limited across the various participating labs, but every effort is made to accommodate the preferences of students and the investigators whose labs have openings.

Q:  Must I take law or neuroscience courses in any particular order?
A:  Because most students in the dual degree program will already have a background in neuroscience, but not in law, students will take the first two years of their seven year track in the law school.   Most students will then take their didactic neuroscience courses as a coherent “block” during the subsequent four semesters.  In some circumstances, a student may take a course across departments, while in residence in the other department.  (See requirements, above, about being in residence.) 

Q: When will I take the Qualifying Examinations for the Ph.D.?
The Qualifying Examinations take place after a student has completed their two years of didactic neuroscience coursework, which will normally be at the end of the fourth year of the seven year track.  It tests a student’s knowledge of the didactic course material, and his or her synthetic thinking skills. After the exam, he or she will officially become a doctoral candidate, and in the standard case the student will then focus on neuroscience research from that point forward (rather than further neuroscience coursework) while also gradually completing additional law courses.

Q:  Is it possible for law and neuroscience J.D./Ph.D. students to apply to participate in law review?
  Yes.  And this is a particularly good idea for those interested in an academic path – given that the law review experience and credential can be very helpful.  Students apply for law review during the write-on competition at the end of their first year of law school.  If accepted, dual-degree students typically have the option to begin their law review commitment the following fall, or the fall after that.  Once a student starts the law review commitment, it generally extends for 4 consecutive semesters.   

Q: Will I get to or have to work as a Teaching Assistant in the Graduate School?
A:  There is no requirement that a dual-degree J.D./Ph.D. student serve as a Teaching Assistant, though some students may wish to do so.  Every effort is made to accommodate the preferences of students with respect to teaching opportunities. For those with academic aspirations, teaching assistantships and similar positions are generally available, providing opportunities to lecture, lead discussions, prepare lesson plans, write, and grade quizzes and exams, and the like. For students whose interests do not include teaching, every effort is made to provide exposure to tasks that suit each student’s career goals. 

Q:  Will I get to or have to work as a Research Assistant in the Law School?  
A:  Although there are no Teaching Assistants in the Law School, professors do regularly seek and hire Research Assistants (for either credits or hourly pay).  There is no requirement that a dual-degree student serve as a Research Assistant.  Doing so, however, can often be advisable, as it provides the student with a close research opportunity, as well as the chance to get to know a professor, as a potential recommender.  Those dual-degree students who seek to become a Research Assistant will ordinarily be able to do so.

Q:  Will I be able to publish research results?
A:   All J.D./Ph.D. students are encouraged to contribute to the scholarly literature in their respective specialties whenever possible during their careers, and are particularly encouraged to aim to do research while enrolled as Vanderbilt graduate students that will lead eventually to scholarly publications. The Neuroscience Graduate Program requires a minimum of one first-authored manuscript in a peer reviewed publication prior to graduation.

Q: Are dual-degree students eligible within the Law School for Order of the Coif and the Founder’s Medal?
A: Generally speaking, they are eligible for both (though it is wise to check on the official requirements, which may change from time to time).  Note that, at least as of 2015, eligibility for Order of the Coif requires a minimum of 66 graded credit hours (which for dual-degree students must be accumulated in 5 rather than the traditional 6 semesters).  
Q:  For what sorts of careers does this JD/PhD prepare students? 

A:   There are a variety of possibilities.  A graduate might apply for a tenure-track position in a law school, to teach and research in neurolaw.  Similarly, a graduate might seek a faculty position in a Psychology or Neuroscience department, with a focus on legally relevant decision-making.  A third possibility would be to become a consulting expert on neurolaw litigation. A fourth involves specializing, as an attorney, in neurolaw matters.  There may be others.

Q:  When will I actually receive the degrees?
A:  The two degrees will typically be awarded together at the end of seven years.  In special circumstances, it may be possible to earn the J.D. after five years. In the latter case, a student will have to have taken law-eligible courses worth at least 88 credit hours, including no more than 6 credit hours of appropriate non-law courses. 

Q:  How can I learn more about the field of law and neuroscience?
A:   The best way to stay abreast of new developments is to subscribe to Neurolaw News (the free e-newsletter from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience):  
You can access a variety of other resources online including:
The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience:
The Law and Neuroscience Bibliography:
“Law and Neuroscience in the United States”:
“Law and Neuroscience”:
Law and Neuroscience Blog:  

Q: Is this the official location of information about degree requirements?

A: No.  This page attempts to answer common questions, in casual language.  The official policies of the Law School and VBI can be obtained elsewhere on the respective program websites.