Theoretical neuroscience is the quantitative study of neural systems. There are currently a number of courses on offer at Waterloo in this area, though it is not a recognized area of study. In October, 2006, the University of Waterloo established the first Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience in Canada. That proposal included a plan to launch a graduate program to complement the research focus of the Centre. We propose offering a diploma in Theoretical Neuroscience that complements a graduate degree in another established program (e.g. Psychology, Math, Engineering, Computer Science, etc.). This is the first graduate designation in the field offered by a Canadian University.

Type of Program

In accordance with Ontario Council on Graduate Studies (OCGS) statutes, the proposed diploma would be a Type 2 graduate diploma. Type 2 diplomas are “offered in conjunction with a Master’s (or Doctoral) degree, the admission to which requires that the candidate be already admitted to the Master’s (or Doctoral) program. This Diploma adds an additional, usually interdisciplinary, qualification to the higher degree. To be eligible for the Diploma in Theoretical Neuroscience, students would have to be enrolled in an M.A. or Ph.D. program in a department that already offers an OCGS-approved graduate degree. To receive the Diploma, students would have to fulfill all the requirements of the degree programs in which they are enrolled as well as the requirements for the Diploma.

Unlike experimental neuroscience, the focus of a program in theoretical neuroscience is largely mathematical. This allows the program to take advantage of U of W’s reputation for excellence in technical areas. A Diploma in Theoretical Neuroscience will provide students with a well-regarded expertise in the burgeoning field of neuroscience.


Students are required to complete 4 approved 1-term courses. The structure of the Diploma will be as follows:

1. One mandatory course:

Satisfaction of the requirements of this course consists of attendance at a prescribed number (10) of colloquia and seminars presented by the Centre. These will include presentations by students, faculty, and visiting researchers. Evidence of attendance will take the form of one page summaries of the attended seminars.

2. One core course from the following list:

Additional courses will be added to the list of core courses, as deemed appropriate by members of the Centre. The difference between mandatory and core courses is that every course on the mandatory list must be taken, and the student will be able to choose one of the courses on the short ‘core’ list.

3. Two courses to be chosen from the list in Appendix A.

Additional courses may be approved by agreement of the student’s supervisor and the Director of the Centre.

To be admitted to the Diploma in Theoretical Neuroscience, students will propose the set of courses that they wish to take to satisfy the requirements.

Students who satisfy these requirements will be well-versed in a variety of methods and applications relevant to theoretical neuroscience. In addition to their regular degree requirements, students will have been exposed to a the variety of approaches to theoretical neuroscience through TN 700. As well, the content of their degree will be focused on theoretical neuroscience through the directed selection of elective graduate courses, many of which are expected to be outside of the usual area of interest for students pursuing a particular kind of degree (e.g., engineering students will be encouraged to take neurophysiology courses, and psychology students will be encouraged to take mathematical modeling courses). The diploma will guide students to becoming uniquely qualified to undertake work in interdisciplinary field of theoretical neuroscience.


The Diploma will primarily be managed by the Director of the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, who will have the main responsibility for recruiting students and ensuring that they satisfy the requirements of the diploma. In addition the Director will regularly collect syllabi of courses that may count towards the diploma and ensure their content is appropriate for the diploma. General supervision of the program will be the responsibility of the members of the Centre, which is in turn supervised by the Dean of Arts.

Appendix A: Relevant graduate courses at Waterloo

Courses marked with * are highly recommended for students entering with a technical background. Courses marked with + are highly recommended for students entering with a non-technical background. Courses listed together are considered anti-requisites. Additional courses may be added to the list under consultation with the director.

  • +*AMATH 900 Cellular Mathematical Biology
  • *PSYCH 677A Fundamentals of Behavioural Neuroscience
  • PSYCH 779A Selected Topics in Cognitive Neuropsychology
  • *PSYCH 784 Human Neuroanatomy and Neuropathology
  • KIN 616 Neural Control of Human Movement
  • KIN 611 Biomechanics of Human Motion
  • *BIOL 678 Current Topics in Neurophysiology
  • SYDE 625 Tools of Intelligent Systems Design
  • SYDE 654 Graphic Theoretic Models for Complex Systems
  • SYDE 675 Pattern Recognition
  • SYDE 676, ECE 612 Information Theory in Pattern Synthesis and Analysis
  • +SYDE 631 Time Series Modeling
  • ECE 603 Statistical Signal Processing
  • ECE 685 Stochastic Processes for Dynamical Systems
  • AMATH 777, ECE 604 Stochastic Processes
  • AMATH 855 Advanced Systems Analysis and Control
  • ECE 688 Nonlinear Systems
  • +AMATH 655, ECE 682 Control Theory
  • AMATH 851 Stability Theory and Applications
  • +AMATH (in prep) Mathematics in Medicine and Biology
  • CS 786 Probabilistic Inference and Machine Learning
  • STAT 833 Stochastic Processes
  • +STAT 831 Generalized Linear Models and Applications
  • STAT 947 Topics in Biostatistics: Neuroinformatics

Note: AMATH = Applied Mathematics, PSYCH = Psychology, KIN = Kinesiology, BIOL = Biology, SYDE = Systems Design Engineering, ECE = Electrical and Computer Engineering, CS = Computer Science, STAT = Statistics

Waterloo researchers among top in Canada

Chris Eliasmith writing on a whiteboardChris Eliasmith, Director of the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, received the prestigious John C. Polanyi Award  and is also an inaugural member of the Royal Society of Canada's College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists.

How to Build a Brain

Chris Eliasmith’s team at the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience has built Spaun, the world’s largest simulation of a functioning brain. The related book is now available and for the full article Waterloo Stories.


This is a collection of coverage of work with Nengo (Neural Engineering Objects) that has appeared in the popular press recently.