Tips for neuroscience majors (7 great tips)

When planning your professional career, a critical issue is to select the best majors for you. If you are planning to follow a career in neuroscience, I will give you numerous tips that surely will assist you when organizing your courses.

The optimal majors for your neuroscience career change from one academic institution to another, so you will find here an overview that must be refined with additional searches. 

In general, to get a major in neuroscience you must take prerequisite courses, core and elective courses, and a final activity.

To place you in perspective, you will take your neuroscience majors as a part of your bachelor’s degree. After finishing your bachelorette, you may be ready to get a job, but when envisioning a more advanced career in neuroscience, you should sequentially enter Master, Doctorate, and PostDoctoral training.

What is major? Which is the difference with a degree?

You get a degree (bachelor, master, Ph.D., medical doctor) upon completion of a set of specific requirements.  

A major is the particular area of study you choose while obtaining your degree. It is often called a “major concentration”. So, a major is coupled with your degree when you graduate, and it provides employers and/or graduate programs with an idea about which is your academic background, and what may they expect from you either in future academic programs or in the workplace. For example, you may major in evolution theory and get a Bachelor of Biology, or you may major in contemporary Mexican poetry and get a Bachelor of Humanities.    

So, you can see that a degree is coupled with a major. The features of this coupling vary according to the institution and the nature of the degree itself. 

You may find that your institution offers “specializations” or “concentrations” within a major or a degree program. This way you can focus even more in your career. On some academic programs the specialization program is called a “minor degree”, and it is always subordinated to the major. For example, let us imagine that you are particularly interested in Chagas’ disease. You could apply for a program like this:

  1. Degree: bachelor in neuroscience.
  2. Major: species evolution.
  3. Specialization: insect evolution.

You will surely wonder when and how you must program your major or whether it is already specified in your degree program.  You may choose among several options.

When and how to choose my major? 

  • You may carefully plan your major even before starting your degree program.  In fact, you may follow two majors and a minor. 
  •  You may begin your degree without a specific major in mind, but a piece of parsimonious advice is to have selected your major no later than at the end of the first year of your degree program. 
  • You may change your major along the way if you have reasons to do so. Keep in mind that it does not necessarily mean to alter your degree project.  

In the next section, I will show you a typical major program in neuroscience. 

A typical major curriculum in neuroscience 

A specific department in your institution will administer the Neuroscience major for example,  The Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS).  This program recommends having a major proposal by the end of their first year. The programs may change every year, or specifically they will change after a specific date. So, take this into account whenever, and be sure you are updated.  

This neuroscience major comprises: 

  • Six prerequisite or mandatory courses.
  • Four core or central courses.
  • Four optional or elective courses.
  • One final or culminating experience. 

The prerequisite courses

This is a set of mandatory, general courses that set the basis for the specialized training that lies ahead. In this major program you most complete six courses, as follows:

  

  1. PSYC 6 Introduction to Neuroscience 
  2. PSYC 10 Statistics OR
    BIOL 29 Statistics

In addition to the two courses above, you must take four of the following courses. 

Category 1:

  • CHEM 5 General Chemistry
  • CHEM 6 General Chemistry
  • PHYS 3 General Physics I
  • PHYS 4 General Physics II

Category 2:

  • MATH 3 Introduction to Calculus
  • MATH 4 Calculus with Applications
  • MATH 8 Calculus of Functions
  • COSC 1 Introduction to Computer Science
  • COSC 10 Problem Solving with Computer Science
  • COSC 31 Algorithms
  • ENGS 20 Introduction to Computer Science with applications in Engineering

For this particular major, the administrators point specific issues to be considered, for example:

  •  Students cannot get major credit for taking both PSYC 10 and BIOL 29.
  • Students in the class of 2023 and earlier may take any 4 courses from the lists below.  Students in the class of 2024 and later must take at least one course from each category.

Most undergraduate major programs have a course category called “Non-recording option” or NRO. They assist students who want to take courses with greater than usual academic risk.  

 For this specific program, there are notes of caution: 

  • You can take any NRO prerequisite courses EXCEPT PSYC 6 and 10 and BIOL 29. 
  • You need to obtain a grade no lower than a C in PSYC 6. Those who fail to obtain a C or better in PSYC 6 may still be able to complete the major if  they earn a C or better in their next two Neuroscience courses.

The prerequisite courses give you a solid framework to advance to the next step, whis is the set of core courses.    

What is a core course? 

It refers to subjects that all the students must approve to move on to their next level or get a diploma. In most high schools, the core courses include specific classes in English language arts, math, science, and social studies. 

The content and duration of the core courses depend on the specific programs you are following and the institution that offers them.

For a neuroscience major, core courses provide a comprehensive background in the quantitative and qualitative assessment of behavior as it relates to the brain.  

In the program I have discussed so far, the core courses for neuroscience run as follows.  You must complete four of the following courses:    

  1. PSYC 28: Cognitive Psychology OR
    PSYC 38: Cognitive Neuroscience.
  2. PSYC 37: Behavioral Neuroscience.
  3. PSYC 35: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience OR
    BIOL 12 Cell Structure and Function AND BIOL 13 Gene Expression and Inheritance.
  4. PSYC 36 Systems Neuroscience with Laboratory.

As an example of cautionary notes, pay attention to this: 

  • “While PSYC 28 or PSYC 38 are strongly recommended, students in the class of 2023 or earlier may alternatively fulfill this requirement by taking PSYC 21”.
  • “Students who elect to take the Biology 12/13 sequence to satisfy their cellular/molecular neuroscience requirement can take Psychology 35 as one of the four elective credits”.
  • “Students cannot get major credit for both PSYC 28 and PSYC 38”.
  • “Core courses CANNOT be taken as an NRO”.

What is an optional or elective course?

It is designed to lead you towards a broad understanding of the neuroscience field and its  techniques. The electives courses are dynamic, since  they are intended to cover a broad extension of interests for neuroscientists. Elective subjects should assist students at expanding their interest in the academy and the pursuit of scientific and humanistic knowledge.

It is customary that each academic institution frequently updates the available elective courses. For example, here you will find a recent update for electives in the neuroscience  program discussed here, starting at August 5th 2020 and ending at spring 2021.

You must complete four elective courses, and two of them must be at the 40’s level or higher. 

You will find below a list of elective courses in the college program that I selected for this discussion. 

Summer Term 2020. 

PSYC 50.08. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Winter, 2.

Fall Term 2020. 

PSYC 21. Perception. Tse, Remote with synchronous components, in the E block. 

40. Introduction to Computational Neuroscience. Granger. (Crosslist COSC 16, COGS 21) ), Remote with synchronous components, in the K block.

50.12. Neuroscience of Stress. Nautiyal, Remote with synchronous components, in the E block. 

51.02. Facial Perception. Gobbini. (Crosslist COGS 11.04), Remote with synchronous components in the J block. 

53.13. Social Neuroscience. Meyer, Remote with synchronous components, in the D block. 60. Principles of Human Brain Mapping with fMRI. Chang, Remote with synchronous components in the K block. 

80.04. The Weight Among Us: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About Obesity. Clark, Remote with synchronous components in the D block. 

80.05. Mind, Brain, and Health. Wager, Remote with synchronous components, in the K block. 

81.08. Animal Cognition. van der Meer, Remote with synchronous components, in the J block.

BIOL 74. Advanced Neurobiology. COSC 76. Artificial Intelligence. Quattrini Li. 

COSC 76. Artificial Intelligence. Quattrini Li.

Winter Term 2021.

 PSYC 50.01. Neuroscience of Mental Illness. Funnell, 12 

50.07. Exotic Sensory Systems. K. Finn, 2. 

50.09. Motivation, Drugs and Addiction. Smith, 11. 

51.12. Visual Cognition. Störmer, 2A. 

60. Principles of Human Brain Mapping with fMRI. Finn, 2A. 

80.02. Neuroeconomics. Soltani, 10A. 

81.11. Real World Scene Perception. Robertson, 10A. 

EDUC 64. Development of the Exceptional Child. Coch, 9L. 

COSC 78. Deep Learning. Torresani.

MUSC 14.01. Music, Mind, Invention. Casey.

Spring Term 2021.

 PSYC 22. Learning. Fournier, Smedley, 11. 

35. Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience. Hoppa, 12. (Crosslist BIOL 49) (Previously offered as PSYC 46) 

50.02. Decision Making: Linking Behavior to Brain. Soltani, 9L. 

51.09. Human Memory. Manning, 2. 

53.14. Social Neurocognition. Stolk, 12. 

54.05. Consumer Neuroscience. K.R. Clark, 11. 

60. Principles of Human Brain Mapping with fMRI. Wager, 2A. 

80.01. Neuroscience of Reward. Smith, 2A. . 

BIOL 37. Endocrinology. 10A.

69. Cell Signaling. 10A. 

EDUC 50. The Reading Brain. Coch, 2A.

And now it comes the final step: the culminating experience. It is accomplished by doing research in neuroscience under the direction of a faculty advisor (for example PSYC 90 or 91) or coursing an upper-level seminar related to neuroscience (PSYC 80s for example).

Culminating experience

You must complete one of the following: 

  • BIOL 74 Advanced Neurobiology Seminar OR
  • PSYC 80s level seminar – Approved seminar with neuroscience emphasis OR
  • PSYC 90 Independent Neuroscience Research (see Independent Research for permission form) OR
  • PSYC 91.

Setting a major for your neuroscience bachelor, master or Ph.D. degree, will allow you to  focus on a particular area of interest, at the same time that you follow the general program of your specific course. To choose your optimal major according to your professional expectations deserves careful planning and attention. By designing an optimal major you will be able to follow and properly monitor your progress and make timely corrections and adjustments. 

References (in addition to linked text above)

Kandel, Eric R. (2012). Principles of Neural Science, Fifth Edition. McGraw-Hill Education. pp. I. Overall perspective. ISBN 978-0071390118.

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