Turns out, two out of my four classes this semester are what I would consider a guided independent study. The cool part is, I never thought that type of class would fall under my neuroscience major.
This Spring I’m taking two neuroscience upper levels: Neuroimmunology: Writing About the Nervous System, and The Neuroscience of Motivation and Reward. When I was registering for these classes last fall, I took them both for face value. I read the course names and descriptions and thought to myself wow, how cool do those topics sound? Plus, one was taught by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Hendry, and the other was taught by a professor I’d never had before, Dr. Janak—a good balance, right?
Neuroimmunology was listed as a writing intensive class so I knew I would be using different skills than I normally do in a science class. I imagined we would be writing papers instead of taking exams, reading a paper here and there and having discussions about conclusions and future directions. What I didn’t know is that for the first half of the semester, our small seminar class would be thrown into lectures about immunology (fun fact! I don’t know anything about the immune system). The second half of the class, however, focuses on independent research projects. Our professor, who is not a specialist in neuroimmunology, designed the class so he would learn from our projects as well. After choosing a topic, it is our responsibility to research and read as much material as we can before crafting a paper and a presentation to give to the class.
Neuroscience of Motivation and Reward is a once a week, 2.5 hour seminar. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this class, other than what I imagined to be a very long lecture and potentially some class discussion. While Dr. Janak does lecture about topics she finds relevant and interesting, she builds on information that we’ve learned in the past. Rather than focus on the mechanistic portion of the concepts, she focuses on studies that have been done to solidify a theory or concept. As a result, we read assigned papers and are expected to present them to the class, highlighting the conclusions and how they relate to what we know. After two weeks of lecture I realized this class related a lot to the lab I work in at the med campus, which will be a nice complement!
Okay, so what are my conclusions? I never, ever in my life have had to read so much scientific literature. I haven’t even had to use PubMed or Google Scholar as many times as I have in the last two weeks. Some common themes as I’m reading tend to be taking hours to get through a paper and understanding maybe 40% of it. But I’ve never seen some of these topics before, and it’s so interesting. Just last week, JHU_Emily found me reading a packet on the microbiology of the immune system, which we both laughed about because, honestly, I couldn’t explain it to you even though I just read it…but I’ll get there eventually. Scientific literature is an art I haven’t quite grasped yet, but I can’t wait for the day when I start to see it fit together. Will that be this semester? Stay tuned…For now, I’ll just do my best to tackle its complexities.