As a neuroscience major, one of the first questions I am often asked is “What do you actually study?” It is a valid question, especially because neuroscience isn’t something that many people get exposure to in high school. The truth is that that there is no one right answer to that infamous question. Rather neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field that has many paths. That being said, it can be extremely fun, exciting, and insightful and is something I absolutely recommend pursuing. Hopefully this article will help to shed some light onto the major.
I suppose it is best to start by explaining how I became interested in neuroscience. I never took neuroscience in high school (I don’t think that is an option at any school near where I grew up) rather I kept bumping into the subject. From studying vision in my high school psych class to genetics in AP Biology, I continued to encounter facets of the field in other classes. Each time I did, it became a new topic/subject that I enjoyed and appreciated. When I finally realized that there was a major that combined everything loved in a way that would allow me to study the brain (something that had fascinated me for years), I knew the major was for me. When I finally got to college, I declared the neuroscience major my first year.
It is important to actually define neuroscience. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, neuroscience is…
“a branch (as neurophysiology) of science that deals with the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, or molecular biology of nerves and nervous tissue and especially their relation to behavior and learning”
So what does a neuroscience major actually consist of? The truth is that it varies and that there is no one right answer. This is going to be my answer to a lot of things (sorry in advance). The requirements sometimes are more from a biological approach and other times are more from a psychological approach. At my college (Smith College), the major includes not only neuroscience, but also courses like cellular biology, organic chemistry, statistics, and genetics. While psychology is not part of the major here, it often is at other schools.
How flexible your course are will vary from school to school. That being said, the norm is that you will have some core courses that are required (such as an intro chemistry class) and some areas that are more flexible (such as taking upper level labs but you get to pick from a variety of them). You should go into the major expecting to take a lot of lab-based courses and will probably have the option to pursue research in the form of a thesis.
While not true of all neuroscience programs, going into the major you should be aware that you may not be able to actually take neuroscience classes until sophomore or junior year. As previously mentioned, neuroscience is very interdisciplinary and some programs feel it is important to have a solid foundation before actually taking neuroscience. If you hope to delve into neuroscience early on, I would recommend looking at liberal arts colleges, as they tend to have fewer pre-requisites.
I love the neuroscience major for so many reasons. From learning about the impact of stress on the circadian rhythm (a biological rhythm involved with things like sleep) to understanding why when studying certain tricks are more effective for developing long-term memories than other tricks. No matter what we are studying, it feels not only applicable to everyday life but also is just fascinating and engaging.
If you like biological, chemistry, physics, psychology, sociology, or a range of other subjects you may want to look into the neuroscience major. Perhaps you will find a great way to combine your interests!