Neuroscience is the study of the brain and nervous system, with an emphasis on how the nervous system affects human behavior. Neuroscientists are interested in understanding how the human nervous system develops and functions throughout life, and seek to find ways to prevent or cure neurological disorders. Therefore, neuroscience draws from many different areas of study, including biology and the life sciences, chemistry, psychology, physics and biomedical engineering. Although it has connections to the social sciences and humanities, neuroscience is firmly based in the laboratory. It is there that neuroscientists study the relationship of the brain to behavior, the biological basis of thought, and how memories are stored or lost. It is topics like Why does addiction occur?, How can we help nerves to regenerate?, What causes depression?, and How can we treat pain?, that consume the interest of neuroscientists.
Although many universities have neuroscience departments, even at the undergraduate level, many neuroscientists have gotten their initial training in areas such as biology, pharmacology, physiology, or psychology. Typical introductory courses in this major include general and organic chemistry, math (including calculus and statistics), physics, psychology, and general biology. More advanced courses may include neurobiology; cognitive, developmental and systems neuroscience; behavioral and evolutionary neuroscience and neuropharmacology. Although undergraduate programs may allow for a concentration in one area of neuroscience or neurobiology, it is at the graduate level that most of the specialization occurs. Thus, most neuroscience majors go on to pursue an M.D. or Ph.D. degree, or both. In choosing an undergraduate program, look carefully at the course offerings to deter-mine the emphasis of that school’s neuroscience program and to see if the courses offered in their majors correspond with your interests.
As a neuroscience major, you’ll develop skills that are applicable to many career areas. Some of these skills include:
• Laboratory and research skills—designing experiments and recording and reporting results, operating scientific equipment, applying scientific theory to real-world problems
• Critical thinking and analytical skills—creating new ways of looking at problems and finding solutions, analyzing data and drawing conclusions
• Communication skills—interacting effectively with other members of your team, utilizing different forms of media to present findings
• Organizational skills—working both independently and as a member of a team towards a goal, identifying and applying resources toward solving a problem
While research careers in the neurosciences generally require graduate degrees, some undergraduate majors go into teaching, journalism, nursing, psychology, radiology, or medical technology. They may also pursue a variety of alternate career paths in areas such as biotechnology, public health, social science research, and consulting. Others pursue a medical degree to become practicing neurosurgeons or psychiatrists. Still others will focus their graduate studies and life work on one of the sub-specialties described in the sidebar to the left.
To learn more about this rapidly expand-ing field, explore the website of the Society for Neuroscience at www.sfn.org.
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