BCSC 241: Syllabus

Fall 2023

Time & Location

Tuesdays, Thursdays 9:40AM-10:55AM
Meeting Location: Meliora Hall Room 205

4 Credits: In addition to the 3 credit hours (150 minutes) of in-class instructed time per week, students will meet for 1 credit hour (50 minutes) per week to discuss original research papers prior to in-class discussions. Refer to Credit Hour Policy below.

Discussion sessions (recitations)

Tuesdays 11AM-12noon in Meliora 324
Tuesdays 3PM-4PM in Meliora 324
Tuesdays 4PM-5PM in Meliora 324
Tuesdays 5PM-6PM in Meliora 324


Instructor: Farran Briggs, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Office: 314 Meliora
Office hours: Mondays 1-5PM (for alternative appointments, please email the instructor)

Teaching Assistants:
Sean Lydon (Sean_Lydon@urmc.rochester.edu)
Tanique McDonald (Tanique_McDonald@urmc.rochester.edu)
Jay Gonzalez-Amoretti (John_GonzalezAmoretti@urmc.rochester.edu)

Course Description

This course takes a bottom-up approach to understanding the neurons and circuits of the sensory systems in the mammalian brain. Thematic topics include: structural and functional diversity among sensory neuronal populations and common themes across sensory systems: parallel information processing, coordination among feedforward/ feedback circuits, and neuronal plasticity during development of functional domains. The final course module will focus on exploring the neuronal mechanisms of attention, again from a neuron- and circuit-centric perspective. Multiple sensory systems will be discussed with primary emphasis on the visual system as a model for understanding structure/function relationships. The course will also introduce students to modern methodological approaches in systems neuroscience. A major goal of the course is to familiarize students with reading and critiquing primary research literature through weekly readings, small group discussions, and short written summaries of scientific papers.


  • 30% of final grade will be based on participation throughout the course. Students must attend all classes to receive the full participation credit (excused absences must be requested in writing prior to absence). Participation includes asking questions, active participation in discussions, and turning in weekly write-ups PRIOR to class on the due date (usually Thursday). Participation in independent out-of-class, student-led small group discussions (to satisfy the Credit Hour Policy, see below) is also required and will be assessed through weekly short write-ups that are turned in prior to class on Thursday. Write-ups are graded on a 5-point scale. Students must demonstrate understanding of the paper, participate in small group discussion, and turn in the write-up on time to receive full credit for each write-up. Late submissions of write-ups will receive partial credit. A write-up template is posted in the Course Materials folder on Blackboard.
  • 45% of final grade will be based on performance on three written take-home examinations. These will be critical evaluations of original research papers relevant to topics covered in class (~3-5 pages single-spaced, excluding references).
  • 25% of final grade will be based on performance on a final take-home examination. This longer format essay (~5-10 pages single-spaced, excluding references) will be on a subject chosen by each student under the topic of cellular and circuit mechanisms of perceptual phenomena. A topic proposal will be due two weeks prior to the due date for the final exam. The instructor will review each topic with each student to ensure it will satisfy the final exam requirements.
  • Late assignments will receive partial credit.
  • All written assignments should be turned in by emailing a PDF or Word version to Dr. Briggs (farran_briggs@urmc.rochester.edu) and the TAs by each deadline. Title of document should include last name and assignment number/week.


  • Blackboard will be used to access reading materials. Additional resources and resource links will also be available through the course page on Blackboard.
  • Course texts will be listed in this syllabus and included on Blackboard, listed in reference to each class session.
  • Library resources can also be accessed through the course page on Blackboard and include published research databases such as PubMed.

Assessment and Student Support

  • Course Learning Outcomes: The objectives of this course are to provide a foundation of knowledge about the structure, organization, and function of sensory systems, to provide students with skills to critically evaluate scientific literature, and to advance students’ skills at critical scientific writing. Assessment of these acquired skills will be through participation in discussions and through written assignments.
  • Academic Support Services: Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning; Writing, Speaking, and Argument Program


  • Academic Honesty: All assignments and activities associated with this course must be performed in accordance with the University of Rochester’s Academic Honesty Policy. You are encouraged to discuss course readings and assignments with your fellow students. However, all written work must be done independently and not in collaboration with another. I discourage using ChatGPT or similar aids for all assignments. If you use such an aid, you must disclose this at the top of your assignment. In order to make appropriate help available for your essays, I encourage you to consult with me, the course TAs, and with the College Writing, Speaking and Argument Program. The final research paper will require citations and “Works Cited” following the MLA format. More information is available at: honesty policy
    Full UR policy
  • Plagiarism: Please refer to the Honesty Policy for a definition of plagiarism. In scientific writing, plagiarism includes improper citation of primary sources. All citations in written assignments must follow the MLA format and include page numbers for cited articles and materials. Sources must be given regardless of whether the idea, phrase, or other material is quoted directly, paraphrased or summarized in the student-writer’s own words. Direct quotes must always be placed in quotation marks in addition to the other citation information that is required.
  • Rules for Collaboration: The intent of these rules is to help you share ideas with other students that can help you do the assignments well, while preventing you from substituting (accidentally or intentionally) the words of other students for your own in your written work. 1) You may verbally discuss any aspects of any assignment (including ideas about how to do it well) with anyone face-to-face or via phone or video call. 2) Do NOT discuss any aspect of any assignment with classmates via email, text message, chat/IM, online discussion forum, social media post or any other written means. Please note that you are encouraged to discuss any aspect of any assignment with the course instructor and course TAs and you are welcome to take notes on the basis of these interactions. Only primary sources are acceptable citations in your written assignments (e.g. commentary about original research that is not your own is not permitted). All assignments will be checked for overlapping wording. If the instructor suspects that you have violated the rules on collaboration or use of sources, the instructor will report this as a violation of the University’s policy on academic honesty, and this can result in severe sanctions.
  • Disability Resources: The University of Rochester respects and welcomes students of all backgrounds and abilities. In the event you encounter any barrier(s) to full participation in this course due to the impact of disability, please contact the Office of Disability Resources. The access coordinators in the Office of Disability Resources can meet with you to discuss the barriers you are experiencing and explain the eligibility process for establishing academic accommodations. You can reach the Office of Disability Resources at their website or (585) 276-5075, Taylor Hall.
  • Attendance Policy: Any excused absences must be requested in writing prior to the absence. Students must attend all classes to receive full credit for the participation portion of their grade.
  • Credit Hour Policy: This course follows the College credit hour policy for 4-credit courses. This course meets twice weekly for 3 hours (150 minutes) per week. The course also includes independent out-of-class, student-led small group discussions for 1 hour (50 minutes) per week. TAs will be present at these out-of-class discussions to answer questions. In this course, students will complete the enriched independent out-of-class, student-led small group discussions of original research papers that will be assigned each week and made available through Blackboard. These small group discussions will prepare students for in-class discussions of the readings in which student participation will count toward the participation portion of the final grade. Part of the participation portion of the grade will be on-time submission of write-ups of small group discussions. These will be due prior to class on Thursday. These independent small group discussions should not be considered “additional” or “extra” activities, but rather required course sessions. On-time completion of write-ups will count toward the participation grade (5 total points available per write-up).
  • Inclusivity Policy: All interactions within and associated with this course should adhere to the University’s mission to support a diverse and inclusive community. For further information, please refer to the inclusivity policy
  • Incomplete Policy: This course follows the University's policy on incomplete grades.
  • S/F Policy: The Satisfactory/Fail (S/F) option is available for this course. Please refer to: this website
  • Withdrawal Policy: This course follows the University's policy on course withdrawals