The Neuroscience Department

The Neuroscience Department

RACHEL LANGAN

Do you find the brain fascinating? Do you want to understand how it works? The neuroscience department may be the place for you! This is the unofficial guide to all things neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin.

5 Reasons You Should Be a Neuroscience Major, Now.

A list of completely factual, unbiased reasons.

  1. You will immediately seem more intelligent. - “Wooow neuroscience. Do you want to become like, a neurosurgeon or something?”

 http://giphy.com/search/kelly-kapoor

http://giphy.com/search/kelly-kapoor

2. It will allow you to grow cool facial hair. - Seriously. All of the best neuroscientists have it.

 

3. You will become the most interesting person to talk to at parties. - “Did you know there are 86 BILLION neurons in your brain?”

 

4. Your career is likely to be very fashionable. - Lab coats are sexy.

 http://www.medicallyequipped.com/products/?cat=womens-lab-coats--jackets&cat_id=148

http://www.medicallyequipped.com/products/?cat=womens-lab-coats--jackets&cat_id=148

 

5. It’s pretty. - What other science field can be so artsy?

 

Although I’m sure you’re already convinced neuroscience is the best major, click on the links below for some more helpful information about the department, including:

Advice from the experts:

Other links:

 


 

Advice from the experts

A conversation with those who know the department best.
 

 Advice from: Dr. Michael Mauk, Neural Systems

How did one of the the department’s leading neuroscientists end up in the field? “By accident,” according to Dr. Mauk.

Originally a math major and college baseball player with most of his focus on the latter, Mauk stumbled upon neuroscience after striking up a conversation about baseball with a researcher. “One thing led to another, and I ended up working in his lab.” This was how he first discovered his enjoyment of the lab setting, and advises that students also get involved in a lab “sooner rather than later.” In this way, students can figure out if research is really a career path they want to pursue. “If you dread going to lab everyday, then you know early on and can make a painless transition out of science if it’s not for you.” Some tips he had for gaining a research position included contacting professors directly, expressing your interest in their research, and also not getting discouraged while you search. “As you know, it’s not always a fast process.”

I pressed on the realities of a career in science, asking if he ever had doubts about working in the field. “Oh, all the time. The worst is once you feel like you’re locked in.” Dr. Mauk described his first experience with writing a grant as a postdoc, receiving less than ideal feedback. “I was told the fundamental concepts of my ideas were wrong. I received a score worse than I had ever heard spoken aloud.” Understandably discouraged, Mauk went home for the weekend with doubts that he really had a career in science. However, these doubts didn’t last long. “By that Sunday, I was more angry at the decision and wanted to prove them wrong. And in fact, I eventually received the same grant, and some of the research that came from it ended up in textbooks.”

Mauk’s perseverance in the face of adversity reveals qualities that seem to be essential to excelling as a scientist. “In many careers, you have to learn to deal with failure. In science, you have to also deal with constant criticism. I think that’s something more unique to science-it’s just in the nature of scientists to criticise each other. But that’s how we push each other to do better.”

Though there are challenges to choosing science as a career path, having a passion for the field will make it all worth it. Mauk states, “I had fun doing the science, and I think that’s what always kept me going.” This passion can be important not only in times of self doubt and failures, but also at accepting the lack of immediate gratification in science. “Science is slow. You may come up with an idea in ‘89, but you don’t get the tools or grant until ‘92, and then you don’t publish until ‘95, but people don’t start paying attention to it until ‘03. Now that may be exaggerating, it’s not always like that, but sometimes it is.”

Mauk encourages students to do some introspection on whether they too have a true passion before committing to a career path in science. “A lot of people watch a Ted Talk or tv show and think, ‘wow, wouldn’t it be cool to think about that stuff everyday?’ but neuroscience is still a science. There is a lot of math, and while you don’t necessarily have to be a math whiz, you need to be able to understand and appreciate its role [in neuroscience].”

When choosing a specific neuroscience degree path, Dr. Mauk is a proponent of the BS degree, which he views as more complete for those who want to pursue neuroscience. Though it may be more challenging with a heavier science course load, “it gives you a set of skills that will serve you in the long run. It all comes down to what you want to get out of your education at UT.” Before choosing a BSA degree, it is important to realize why it was created. “The BSA was originally intended for those with an interest in science and also in the liberal arts. So if you liked science, but also had a special interest in music, for an example, then you would be a BSA. The BSA was meant to bridge two different disciplines into one degree. It wasn’t intended to be an easier route, or a way to get a higher GPA, and shouldn’t be taken for those reasons.”

I ended our conversation by asking where he saw the field of neuroscience going in the future. His simple reply of “I don’t know,” highlights one of the most exciting aspects of neuroscience: the vastness of what remains unknown. He elaborated by saying, “I think framing the question that way is the wrong way to approach it. I could give you my opinion, and you could go ask 19 other people and they would all have a different answer. Everyone is trying to predict what area of neuroscience is going to be important in the future, but I think it’s more about having the best people. I don’t know where neuroscience is going to be in 15 years, but I know it’s going to be led by the best people.” Mauk believes this is the answer to making a greater neuroscience department at UT. “When you are surrounded with a great group of people and continue building that, you will make the most progress.”  


 

Advice from: Rob Poyner

Neuroscience Adviser

After years of advising undergraduates in the sciences, Poyner has a few tips on how to do the neuroscience degree like a pro.

When should you decide on a BS and when should you decide on a BSA? According to Poyner, it all comes down to your plans for the future. “If you want to go to graduate school, then I would suggest the BS, which has more science, more research, and help with independent research.” For those who are interested in drug interaction and pharmacy school, industry, or medical school, Poyner suggests the BSA degree. “There has been a shift in the focus of medical education. Social sciences have become increasingly important.” Instead of wanting pre-medical students with just a high GPA and heavy science background, medical schools are looking for students who will be able to relate to to their patients. “Studies have shown a doctor’s attitude and relationship to their patients has a huge impact on the outcome of the patient’s successful treatment.”

I asked about some common mistakes he has seen is advisees make. “Trying to do too much in one semester.” Poyner thinks UT students, who are smart and driven, can do almost anything academically, but forget about other committments they have that take time. “It’s important to understand your limits and understand what works best for you. Just because that person is taking 17 hours, doesn’t mean you have to.” Poyner often notices students playing this comparison game, but suggests students shouldn’t just do something because other people are too. “You aren’t that person.”

Within the neuroscience major specifically, Poyner often sees students not taking courses in the order suggested. This can be detrimental when students want to take a neuroscience course, but haven’t completed the required pre-requisites. “Students don’t understand that the faculty laid it out for a reason. Physics will help you in the upper division courses.”

Before choosing neuroscience as a major, Poyner suggests introspection. “Do you like physics? Students should be aware that (physics) plays a larger role than they realize.” He also encourages students to get involved in research, and praises the neuroscience department specifically for its openness and encouragement of undergraduate research. Although getting into contact with many researchers at UT can be a challenge, the neuroscience department faculty are generally easy to access and talk to. He also suggests research because it’s exciting. “When you are in a lab and you’re slicing brains, you are going to learn more.”

Poyner’s last piece of advice to students is to step back every once and awhile and celebrate accomplishments you make. “This is a good institution, and getting a degree is a huge accomplishment and you should feel proud and good about that.” Although there will be highs and lows, Poynor suggests consistency is key. “The students who do best are the ones who don’t give up and always keep going. Your time at UT will be over before you know it.”


 

Advice from a Pre-Grad Senior: Eszter Kish

Why did you choose a BS in Neuroscience?

I wanted to do neuroscience research, and the B.S. in neuroscience was essentially designed with a career in neuroscience research in mind. I liked the heavy research requirements and quantitative focus. This is partly also why I decided to pick up a B.S. in math (statistics and probability) later on as well. It's a good complement to any scientific degree, and much of how neurons communicate with each other can be boiled down to statistics. (I also just really liked both topics.)

What are some recommendations for freshmen majoring in neuroscience?

  • Definitely supplement your neuroscience degree with something else, be it a double major or extensive research experience. A neuroscience undergraduate degree isn't worth all that much on it's own. I am a huge proponent of undergraduate research. Not only will it help make you a more well-rounded person, but if you're in a good lab that takes mentoring their undergrads seriously, you will learn to think like a scientist. Much of this comes from learning to trust yourself to solve problems on your own.

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions! That's half of science. The other half is trying to find the answers.

  • HUGE TIP: If you are working in a lab where you're not fully engaged, either because you don't find the work interesting or because you are not provided the right amount of mentorship and involvement in the scientific process, GET OUT. Find a lab that you enjoy working in. You'll get a lot more out of it, and UT has lots of very different research labs.

  • Learn to read scientific papers. This is a great skill to have, and you learn about topics of interest straight from the source.

What are some things you did outside of classes that you enjoyed?

  • I was a member and an officer in Synapse, the undergraduate neuroscience club. It let me meet other undergrads who shared my neuroscience interests as well as exposed me to a variety of topics in neuroscience. Active involvement in this club also improved my leadership and speaking skills, two very important factors in a scientific career.

  • I did a lot of research as an undergrad. I worked in 3 research labs before I found one that had the right dynamic and fit my way of thinking. Don't be afraid to explore, you don't know what's out there until you do... but start early. Working in the same lab for an extended period of time provides a level of depth and understanding that short bursts don't.

  • I took part in 2 summer undergraduate research programs. These are great because you can solely focus on research during a summer in an immersive lab environment (and they usually pay fairly well). I highly encourage any undergraduate interested in research to apply. NSF has a webpage dedicated to these summer programs, and Google's always a handy tool.

What are some things you wish you had done differently?

I have a tendency to get very excited about ideas and jump into things until I'm overwhelmed with responsibilities. This isn't very fun. It's stressful and can harm the quality of the work. So I wish I would've focused a bit more on my mental health and creative hobbies rather than solely on my career. But lesson learned, and that's exactly what I'm doing now.

What career path do you plan to take?

Neuroscience research! I'm currently interviewing for PhD programs.

Favorite class you took and why:

I really liked the neuroimaging and neurobiology lab courses. They're very hands on and I learned skills that are extremely applicable in a neuroscience research setting. Both of these classes also allow you to try to figure some of the steps out on your own and try to explain the reasoning behind the experiments and their outcome. Not only is this fun since because it requires creative engagement, but these are both big components of a scientific career.

Least favorite class you took and why:

I didn't like numerical analysis. It was hard, and I didn't find it interesting. There was a lot of memorization involved with not much conceptual background, which is the opposite of my cup of tea. I also don't think that psychology classes go into enough depth, but I guess that's why I study neuroscience.


 

Advice from a Pre-Grad Senior: Ashkan Jahangiri

Why did you choose a BS in Neuroscience?

I chose the BS program for neuroscience specifically because of the great labs offered.

What are some recommendations for freshmen majoring in neuroscience?

Freshmen with more of a direct interest in biology should embrace physics, math, and the more computational aspects of neuroscience sooner rather than later. Proficiency in these areas are critical to a well-rounded understanding of (neuro)science and research. However, they tend to be neglected in favor of pursuing specialized biology courses.

What are some things you did outside of classes that you enjoyed?

Undergraduate research is the best opportunity offered by the university outside formal education. Beyond the obvious benefits (time management, a better perspective on science, lab skills, etc.), undergraduate researchers do science and interact regularly with individuals who are not their peers. This unique situation provides numerous benefits to the undergraduate regardless of their post-UT plans.

What career path do you plan to take with this major?

I plan to pursue a PhD in neuroscience after I graduate.

Favorite classes you took and why:

Dr. Dan Johnston’s cellular neurophysiology course was the greatest classroom experience of my time at UT. Many of the concepts that the survey courses (Neural Systems I and II) introduce were satisfyingly tied together and expounded upon. My approach to thinking about the brain solidified from an abstract, theoretical perspective to a more concrete understanding of neurons and the nature of their interactions.  

 

Advice from a Pre-Med Senior: Summer Walton

Why did you choose a BSA in Neuroscience?

I actually came into UT as a biochemistry major. I knew I wanted to be on the pre-med track but didn’t know what I should major in. I just picked the most science-y option. Once I got to UT and heard more about what biochemistry actually was, I knew it wasn’t going to be my major for long. I wanted to stay science, but I also wanted to do something psychology-related. My high school psychology teacher was life-changing and opened up my eye to the curious nature of the brain. Thinking science of the brain would be a good combination of my two interests, I transferred into the neuroscience department.

As for my specific degree, I couldn’t be happier that I chose the BSA. I love the flexibility that it has given me. As a pre-health student, I wanted to take more classes outside of science to show medical school admissions committees that I was well-rounded. I have a huge interest in psychology, so the BSA allowed me to fit multiple psych classes and ultimately pursue a second major. Additionally, I didn’t want to take so many labs. I was fine with one or maybe two, but no more than that. I ended up not taking any at all!

What are some recommendations for freshmen majoring in neuroscience?

The requirements have changed since I entered the program, so I’m not sure if this option is still available, but DON’T take Neural Systems until your sophomore year. There is a fair amount of intro biology in the course, so it’s beneficial to take bio first. Additionally, there is plenty of reading and studying to do, so between just starting college, intro bio, intro chem, and probably at least one more class, you could easily get overwhelmed.

Meet with your advisor to set up your 4-year plan. It’s annoying, but super beneficial to have everything planned out. That way, if a neuro class fills up that you wanted and cannot get into another, you have a layout of what class you can swap out and take a different semester.They’ll tell you when you’re taking too much, where you could swap classes, and help you find alternatives when registering goes wrong. Because it almost always does.

Don’t get intimidated! Science at UT is no joke, but you can definitely handle it. Set up good study habits from the beginning, play around with note-taking and see what works for you (which may differ for each class), and meet people in your classes so that you can create study guides together.

What are some things you did outside of classes that you enjoyed?

  • Research in a psychology lab

  • Alpha Epsilon Delta (Pre-Health Honor Society)

  • Shadowed a neurologist

What are some things you wish you had done differently?

  • Started in the major to begin with

  • Researched what neuroscience actually entails to begin with. After finishing both Neural Systems courses, I realized that this concentration is, at least as taught by UT, more focused on circuitry and molecular concepts as opposed to big picture ideas. I still enjoy my major, but definitely didn’t know what I was getting into and could’ve easily realized that I didn’t want to pursue the degree.

  • Meet more upperclassmen before signing up for upper division classes. I was super conflicted on what I should take, didn’t understand that almost all courses are only offered either fall or spring, and didn’t know anything about faculty.

What career path do you plan to take with this major?

I will be attending medical school at Southwestern beginning this fall.

Favorite classes you took and why:

Principles of Drug Action

  • This course is basically an intro to pharmacology course. I learned SO much about how drugs actually go through our body, what makes drugs dangerous, and even learned about addiction and cancer. For pre-health neuro students, this class feels like it should be a necessity. It also gave me an upper edge for when I took Neurobiology of Addiction because the first exam in that course was basically an overview of topics discussed in Principles of Drug Action.

  • His structure is 3 tests and a final, no homework.

  • I enjoyed going to class, but it wasn’t necessary. He posts detailed PowerPoints that you could simply memorize and still do well on exams.

Least favorite classes you took and why:

Neural Systems II with Dr. Drew and Dr. Zemelman

  • I personally had a tough time with the double professor aspect. It was the first time they taught together, so maybe by now they’ve smoothed out the rough patches. I felt like every time they switched, I had to change how I took notes, what to listen for, and overall struggled to find the importance. It was also evident on the exams who wrote each question.

  • The concepts weren’t as interesting to me as the Neural Systems I ones.

  • I never felt like I had a good idea of what would be on exams. Maybe it was because I was a lower classman and hadn’t gotten the hang of upper division coursework yet, but I felt like the exams never matched what I had prepped for.

 

Advice from a Pre-Med Senior: Rahil Doctor

Why did you choose a BSA in Neuroscience?

I chose the BSA path because I wanted to pursue the Business Foundations Certificate. I’ve always had an interest in business and to have that liberty to study something outside my major was great.

What are some recommendations for freshmen majoring in neuroscience?

I would definitely recommend making an effort to get to know your professors. As daunting and scary as it sounds, you can learn a lot and get exposed to a variety of opportunities that may be available in their line of work. If you’re interested in research at all, I would say that it is better to get into a lab as early as possible so that if you enjoy it then you have more time to get what you want out of it but if you realize it’s not for you then you have time to change course.

What are some things you did outside of classes that you enjoyed?

I really enjoy working out and playing sports, so I would form intramural sports teams with my friends. I also got really involved with AED, the best pre-health org in the world, and loved the friendships and opportunities it afforded me. I also got pretty involved in The Muscular Dystrophy Organization, mainly by being a camp counselor/cabin leader at the week long summer camp.

What are some things you wish you had done differently?

I wish I had learned more overall. Once you graduate college you realize there is so much more to learn and that every day is precious if you’re trying to master some idea or work. I wish I spent more hours in the library.

What career path do you plan to take with this major?

I was also pre-med, so I always planned to go to medical school. I chose Neuroscience because I wanted to learn more about the brain and how we operate on a micro level.

Favorite classes you took and why:

My favorite class was probably Neural Systems 1 because Professor Mauk was an extraordinary teacher and the material was super new at the time so it was a huge eye opener.

Least favorite classes you took and why:

From Eyes to the Brain taught by Professor Snodderly was one of my least favorite just due to the fact that we learned in such a sporadic and specific method that I was never able to bring things full circle and understand the topic at a macro level.


 

What your next 4 years will (probably) look like

 

A course outline for the next four years as a neuroscience major.

A quick note on BS vs BSA Degree Plan

BS

  • 12 hours of lab courses
  • 9 hours upper division neuroscience courses
  • 3 hours of research

80% Science, 20% Core Classes

BSA

  • 12 hours of upper division neuroscience courses
  • 15 hours of a minor or certificate

60% Science, 20% Minor/Certificate, 20% Core Classes

Freshman Year

Fall

Class Schedule:

  • Introductory Biology I (BIO 311C)

  • Introductory Chemistry I (CH 301)

  • Calculus I (M 408C or 408N)

  • Signature Course (UGS 302 or 303)

  • Visual and Performing Arts Course

Spring

Class Schedule:

  • Introductory Biology II (BIO 311D)

  • Introductory Chemistry II (CH 302)

  • Calculus II (M 408S) or Statistics (SDS 328M)

  • Chemistry Lab (CH 204)

  • English Rhetoric (RHE 306)

Sophomore Year

Fall

Class Schedule:

  • Physics I (PHY 317K) and Physics I Lab (PHY 117M)

  • Neural Systems I (NEU 330)

  • Genetics (BIO 325)

  • Biology Lab (BIO 206L)

  • English Course (E 316L, M, N, or P)

Spring

Class Schedule:

  • Physics II (PHY 317L) and Physics II Lab (PHY 117N)

  • Neural Systems II (NEU 335)

  • Statistics (SDS 328M) or General Elective

  • Language Arts and Culture Course

  • Social Science

Junior Year

Fall

Class Schedule:

  • NEU Upper Division Lecture/Lab

  • NEU Upper Division Lecture/Lab

  • Language Arts and Culture

  • Minor/Certificate Course or NEU Upper Division Lecture/Lab

  • History Course (HIS 315K)

Spring

Class Schedule:

  • NEU Upper Division Lecture/Lab

  • NEU Upper Division Lecture/Lab

  • Language Arts and Culture

  • Minor/Certificate Course or NEU Upper Division Lecture/Lab

  • History Course (HIS 315L)

Senior Year

Fall

Class Schedule:

  • NEU Upper Division Lab or Minor/Certificate Course

  • NEU Upper Division Lab or Minor/Certificate Coure

  • General Elective

  • General Elective

  • Government Course (GOV 310L)

Spring

Class Schedule:

  • NEU Upper Division Lab or Minor/Certificate Course

  • NEU Upper Division Lab or Minor/Certificate Course

  • General Elective

  • General Elective

  • Government Course (GOV 312L)

 

How to get involved: Opportunities for Neuroscience Majors

Research Lab Information

Neuroscience Research Faculty (categorized by research area):

Link: https://neuroscience.utexas.edu/faculty-research/faculty-by-research-area

 

Student Organizations

Synapse: Undergraduate Neuroscience Organization

Link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/synapseUTAustin/

 

Neuroscience Related Programs:

Neuroscience Undergraduate Reading Program (NURP)

Mentorship program for undergraduate students to get matched to a neuroscience graduate student with common interests. Over the course of the semester, undergraduates will read journal articles and reviews on a central topic and give a short presentation at the end of the semester.

Contact Information:

Kathryn Bonnen

Email: kathryn.bonnen@utexas.edu


 

Who Should I Contact?

When you want to learn more about the department as a whole:

Neuroscience Department Administrative Office

Phone: 512-232-7594

Location: Norman Hackerman Building Suite 3.368

 

Dr. Michael Mauk

Neuroscience Department Chair

Phone: 512-232-3978

Email: mauk@utexas.edu

 

When you want to talk to someone about whether the undergraduate neuroscience major would be a good fit for you:

Dr. Michael Drew

Undergraduate Neuroscience Department Chair

Phone: 512-232-6367

Email: drew@mail.clm.utexas.edu

 

When you want to talk to an advisor about your options:

Biology Advising Center

Phone: 512-471-4920

Location: Norman Hackerman Building Suite 2.606

 

When you (make the best decision of your life and) decide to change your major to neuroscience:

(Insert your personal advisor’s name, phone, and email here.)

 

Cool Neuroscience Links:

(because you can never have too much neuroscience in your life)
 

 https://memegenerator.net/instance/62181602

https://memegenerator.net/instance/62181602

 

1. Brain Matters - Podcast

Interviews with modern neuroscientists about their research and how they ended up in the field. ***Developed by UT neuroscience graduate students!

Link: http://brainpodcast.com/

 

2. All In The Mind - Radio Broadcast

Weekly radio broadcast exploring topics of the brain and behavior.

Link: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/

 

3. Neurophilosophy - Blog

Neuroscience related blog posts by developmental neurobiologist and author Mo Costandi.

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/science/neurophilosophy

 

4. American Academy of Neurology - Podcast

Short summaries and interviews with neurologists and neuroscientists recently published in the American Academy of Neurology Journal. (A personal favorite)

Link: https://www.aan.com/rss/?event=feed&channel=1

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