Neuroscience deals with the study of the nervous system. It encompasses anatomy, morphology, physiology, developmental biology, mathematical modeling, and molecular basis of the nervous system and the neuron or the nerve cell. It also deals with the behavior, cognitive abilities, and other higher-order functions that humans can.
Neuroscience can be a bit challenging at first. It includes topics that cover the properties and functions of the neuron and neural circuits that the neuron takes part in. It might be a bit difficult to memorize the terms that are included in the anatomy. It also consists of various psychiatric and behavioral disorders. Memorizing and understanding the symptoms of various disorders can be a bit tricky, especially when more than one disorder shows the same symptom.
As mentioned above, it includes all the aspects of the nervous system. Hence, one will have to take courses like physiology, molecular biology, endocrinology, toxicology, psychology, genetics, and cell biology, to name a few concerning neuroscience. This can be a bit difficult as the amount of information is enormous, and most of it has to be memorized.
The field of neuroscience is dynamic. New information is obtained about the brain and its functions daily, which changes the study course. One will have to be quick and eager to learn. It is very easy to fall behind if you take a break or miss out on a lecture. This being said, the word “hard” is highly subjective. The course might be “hard” for one person but not for another. A thorough understanding of the curriculum and an eagerness to learn about the brain and the nervous system might help.
Let us explore the courses covered in neuroscience to understand the field of study better. The courses cover most of the aspects of the nervous system. Along with this, students can choose a set of electives to further their knowledge about the nervous system.
The courses like genetics, molecular biology, cell biology, metabolism, gene expression, and neurobiology are included. You get to learn about microorganisms like bacteria and other pathogens like viruses before moving on to complex organisms like human beings. Genetics covers the inheritance of traits, the occurrence of various disorders, mutations. Cancer genetics deals with random mutations leading to cancerous cells, inheritance of cancer genes, etc.
Molecular biology includes the molecular process taking place in the cell-like transcription, translation, and protein modification. Cell biology covers the cell structure and function. This course, as well as the molecular biology course, will include lab work.
Neurobiology will cover all aspects of the nervous system. It includes cognitive neuroscience, behavior, genetics, cell biology, developmental biology, the evolution of the nervous system, and toxicology. Cognitive neuroscience and certain animal behavior study consist of laboratory work. Neurobiology of stress includes the brain’s resistance to stress, and brain functions to deal with stress will also be covered. Mind and brain courses that deal with the theories of monism and dualism are also included.
Chemistry is included in the main curriculum. This includes chemistry I and II. The course covers atomic chemistry, organic chemistry, stoichiochemistry, bonding, chemical structures, and thermochemistry. It also includes laboratory work. Labwork concentrates on data recording techniques, quantitative measurements, and other scientific lab techniques and practices. The organic chemistry module also includes laboratory work. This includes the synthesis of organic compounds and polymers.
In most programs, only one college-level course in physics is required. The topics covered are thermodynamics, waves, gravitation, particle physics, electricity, and relativity. Around 8-9 hours of physics is required for the neuroscience course. This includes both labwork and regular classwork.
This is where it gets tricky. Math is a subject that requires a particular skill, and not many are interested in it. The course covers calculus, both integral and differential, functions, geometry, theorems, and statistics. Statistics, designing the experiment, data analysis, hypothesis verification will be separate and different from the usual math work. Understanding different statistical techniques will help in analyzing data collected from an experiment.
As mentioned before, neuroscience is a broad and dynamic field. It covers topics like the development of the nervous system, physiology of the neuron or the nerve cell, functions of the brain, cognitive and abstract functions. Laboratory work includes computer simulations to understand the working and functions of the nervous system. Computational neuroscience is a major branch of neuroscience.
It consists of theoretical analysis and mathematical models of the nervous system. This helps to understand the functions and properties of the nervous system. Another major part of neuroscience is behavioral neuroscience. In this, the behavior of humans and other organisms is studied in detail and the behavioral disorders that occur in humans.
These courses are covered in all the universities providing neuroscience majors. The electives might differ in each university. The list below explains the courses offered by Dartmouth University for neuroscience. This will give a clear idea of what to expect from this course. The list of topics might vary depending on the university you choose. But the structure of the course remains more or less the same. Since the courses are updated often, it is always wise to check the university’s main website before applying.
The following list must be completed to get a neuroscience major:
- 6 Prerequisite Courses – Prerequisite courses are obligatory. These set the base for the specialized training that will be provided later on. Students are required to complete six prerequisite courses. Two courses are common for all. The rest four can be chosen from the two categories given on the site.
- 4 Core Courses – Core subjects are the ones that are required to earn a diploma. Here, the core subjects cover the understanding of the qualitative and quantitative analysis of behavior and the nervous system. Students are required to complete four core courses that are explained in detail on the site.
- 4 Elective Courses – Elective courses provide a better understanding of various subfields of neuroscience as well as the techniques that are needed in this field. The elective courses change as new topics and information become available in the field of neuroscience. Hence it is important to closely follow the university website to be updated about the courses available. Elective courses aim to expand the interest of students in that particular field. Students are required to complete four elective courses and at least two of them should be 40s level or higher. A detailed list of the elective courses is available on the site.
- 1 Culminating Experience – One culminating experience must be completed by the end of the course. The list of items is available on thesite.
This above-mentioned curriculum is followed by most universities providing a neuroscience major. Harvard University, Dartmouth, University of California, MIT are some of the leading universities offering neuroscience majors. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the word “hard” is subjective. However, if you are interested in the courses mentioned above and are eager to learn about the brain, working of the nervous system, and behavior, then the course might be the one for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the career opportunities for a Neuroscience Major?
Some of the career paths for neuroscience majors are:
- Cognitive Neuroscientist
- Behavioral Neuroscientist
- Clinical Sciences
- How is Neuroscience different from Psychology?
Psychology concentrates on behavior, feelings and it includes observing the person and understanding why they do what they do. Neuroscience deals with studying the brain and the nervous system to understand chemical and physical processes.