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Neuroscience

Name: Lydia Liang

Year: Class of 2014

Hometown: Rockville, MD and Flushing, NY

Major: Neuroscience

IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD (MOSTLY)

Can you guess that organ?

It is more powerful than the world’s biggest supercomputer, belying its fragility. It contains every key to success any motivational speaker has ever discovered. It’s a control freak. More intricate than the most complex works of art, it has created and brought the finest dreams and aspirations of humanity to fruition.

Granted, different people have had different perspectives about this organ throughout history. Ancient Egyptians considered it so inconsequential that when they mummified their dead for the afterlife, they scraped this organ out through the nostrils and discarded it as excess snot. Aristotle, in one of his more questionable revelations, portrayed this organ as a convenient built-in air conditioner that cooled the blood.

I’m talking about the brain, of course! Your brain is the party in your head, the cranial stuffing that seethes with one hundred billion neurons that daily form an estimated five hundred trillion connections with each other. The reliability with which the brain operates, and the horrible consequences to a person when something does go wrong, is what first captured my interest in Neuroscience. How could something that weighs two to three pounds do so much?

Consider the following. Your brain’s slowest speed of message transmission, 260 miles an hour is faster than a race car… The blood vessels in your brain stretch 100,000 miles, or 4 times around the Earth… On average, your brain thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day… Science rules!

 

When I came to Hopkins as a Neuroscience major, I learned that understanding what makes us who we are inside and how we interact with our environment is not only about the brain. The brain is just a (very important) part of our nervous system, which looks a whole lot like we do:

It is composed of nervous tissue that includes the brain and spinal cord, puppeteers every single area of your body, and is actually responsible for everything you do. You want to know why you’re so smart? Thank your Maker, your mother, and your father, but also thank your nervous system. Through the Neuroscience major at Hopkins, you will obtain a broad foundation in understanding the nervous system, as well as advanced training in one of three concentrations – Cognitive, Systems, and Cellular/Molecular – because there is so much to learn about Neuroscience and so little time.

Who, me?

If you become a Neuroscience major, I promise that you will also sharpen your sense of wonder about the world around you. During the course of learning about Neuroscience, it gets very difficult to take your neighbor for granted. You will look at them and begin to see what a miracle it is that they are talking to you, that they have a unique personality, even that their visual system and judgment circuitry can coordinate to perceive the dishes piling up in the sink and not do anything about them (just kidding, I have great roommates). It does get intense fast. A deeper understanding of the glory of others will challenge you to consider them before yourself. With great brains comes great responsibility…

There is no doubt that it takes a lot of studying. It’s most certainly worth it – a detailed understanding of how our bodies are able to interact with our environments is the biggest joy of being a Neuroscience major. Relationships with dedicated faculty, friendships with passionate peers, and the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research in a structured and mentored environment also rank among the greatest benefits of Neuroscience at Hopkins. Below, I’ve highlighted some of the most important features of the Neuroscience major, along with some things I have learned in Nervous System I, one of the core Neuroscience classes. Going into the second semester of my sophomore year, it is one of the classes that I have enjoyed most. Hope you enjoy this taste of Neuroscience too! Thank you for reading what I have to say, and have a blessed rest of the year. See you in Baltimore soon!

 

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Click here to access more information about the Neuroscience Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Neuroscience question thread.

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Neuroscience

Name: Deanna Chieco

Year: Class of 2009

Hometown: Katonah, NY

Major: Neuroscience

EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT MAJORING IN NEUROSCIENCE

IMG_0130 When I came to the Hopkins campus for the Accepted Student Orientation, I had heard of the term “neuroscience” but did not really know much else about it.  During that orientation, I went to the information session offered by the program, and I was immediately amazed by the energy and enthusiasm of the faculty members.  They handed us goodie bags filled with brain-shaped erasers, wind-up walking brain toys, and lots of candy.  Perhaps this was pure marketing, but I completely fell for it.  This was my first indication that the neuroscience program cares for its students, which would be proven over and over again throughout my years here.

As you might have noticed, I have been using the term neuroscience program rather than department.  In fact, the neuroscience major is run interdepartmentally, drawing on faculty from Psychological & Brain Sciences, Cognitive Science, Biology, the Mind/Brain Institute, and the medical campus.  I think that the interdepartmental nature of neuroscience truly strengthens the major.  While all neuroscience students take the core requirements, you are given the option of concentrating in either cognitive, systems, or cellular/molecular neuroscience with your electives.  This means you can direct your studies towards the aspects of neuroscience that appeal the most to you.

Regarding the requirements for the neuroscience major, all students need to take biology, chemistry, math, and physics classes.  These classes provide the scientific background that is needed for many of the core courses, and it is usually recommended that you begin to take Aplysia these classes in your freshman year.  There are also some introductory neuroscience classes, which don’t count towards the major that you can take in freshman year.  Yet, the real core classes start in sophomore year with Cognitive Neuroscience, and two semesters of The Nervous System.  These three courses move between cognitive, systems, and cellular/molecular understandings of how the brain works.  The final core requirement is the Neuroscience Lab, which is one of my favorite classes.  In this course, students dissect sheep brains in order to understand neuroanatomy.  Additionally, we attempted to electronically record from electrons in the nervous system of an Aplysia (a very simple sea organism – see photo).

After you take these core requirements, you are able to decide from many electives.  I took classes such as Neuroplasticity, Psychopharmacology, Primate Brain Function, and Cognitive Development.  Some courses are seminars and recent scientific findings are discussed; other courses are based on lectures and exams.  There are so many interesting electives to choose from that it can be difficult to decide.  This is where you can take advantage of the interdisciplinary aspects of the major.  Also, it is possible in the junior and senior year to take courses at the medical school that have been approved as neuroscience electives.  This is an exciting opportunity for students who are interested in pursuing graduate studies.

So what does one do with a neuroscience major?  The short answer is that one can do almost anything.  Neuroscience is pervading so many different fields, including economics and education, because knowledge of the how the brain works is fundamental to understanding people’s behaviors.  I would say that the majority of neuroscience students at Hopkins are interested in going to medical school.  If you are pre-med, neuroscience is a great major because most of the pre-med requirements coincide with the major requirements.  This makes it easy to double major or to take other fun classes.  Many other neuroscience majors decide to pursue graduate studies.  Neuroscience is a new and exciting field, and many people are intrigued by scientific study.

Though I am a pre-med, and greatly appreciated that the requirements overlapped, the reason I Neuron became interested in neuroscience is because I am fascinated by how the mind/brain works.  The field of neuroscience asks really intriguing questions about how humans interact with the world, how a nervous system develops, how perceptions and thoughts might occur, and what Brain imaginghappens to the brain in light of injuries.  One of the greatest opportunities within the major is that each student becomes personally involved on a quest to answer some of these questions.  Research is a requirement for the major but it should really be considered a great opportunity to become more involved with faculty members and the workings of a neuroscience laboratory.  I began working in a developmental neurobiology laboratory in the summer before my junior year.  Though only two semesters of research is required, I will have spent two years in my lab by the time I graduate.  This is a very common scenario because students are often compelled by the projects on which they are working.  I had the chance to work with one of the neuroscience professors outside of the classroom, and I found that she became a real mentor to me.

Also, students participate in valuable research.  We are not assigned trivial tasks like washing dishes but collaborate on true scientific inquiries.  Through research, I have become more comfortable with neuroscientific techniques, reading complex journal articles, and presenting my work in front of others.  Not all research has to include the traditional benchwork done in a biology lab.  There are plenty of opportunities in psychology labs in preparing cognitive experiments or at the medical school for more clinical research.  There are research labs that study the nervous systems of animals or labs that try to use imaging techniques to map the human brain.  Students can really choose from a variety of labs in order to pursue their own interests.

One of my favorite things about the neuroscience major is that there is a real sense of community within the program.  Nu Rho Psi is the undergraduate neuroscience organization on campus.  I joined this group in my sophomore year.  The group is responsible for bringing interesting speakers to campus, organizing social events for the majors, and coordinating research symposia.  I participated in a poster session in which students presented their research to faculty and other neuroscience majors.  Also, I am one of the co-leaders of Brain Awareness Week, which has speakers and events that try to get the whole campus involved.  Another interesting program that is run by Nu Rho Psi is known as Making Neuroscience Fun.  In this program, pairs of students make presentations in Baltimore city schools about basic neuroscience facts.  For example, I made a presentation to first-graders about the different senses.  These presentations are a lot of fun, and they are a great way to share some of what you have learned about the brain.

Overall I think that neuroscience is a great major if you are interested in natural sciences.  Also, if you are considering graduate or medical school, the major is very accommodating.  Though all students must participate in research, there is a Master’s program that is offered for students that become really involved with their research projects.  This program can be completed with the Bachelor’s degree in either four or five years.  Within the neuroscience program, the faculty members take the time to know their students.  Though there are many neuroscience students on campus, the program can still feel like a small major at times.  I have really appreciated the opportunity to participate in a research project and to get to know my professors and fellow neuroscience majors better.

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Click here to access more information about the Neuroscience Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Neuroscience question thread.

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