Undergraduate Degree Gives Students a Head Start in Neuroscience

Posted: May 7, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: May 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

By Marjorie Musick

For students who want to be brain surgeons or work for pharmaceutical companies creating new treatments for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases, Mason’s bachelor of science in neuroscience could be a great place to start.

This interdisciplinary program prepares graduates for work in the neuroscience field, medical school or other graduate study. One hundred and seven students are currently enrolled.

Launched in the fall of 2006 under the direction of Ann Butler, the four-year program examines the relationship between the nervous system and behavior while studying the underlying neuronal mechanisms.

“Neuroscience is a new and a growing field, and students are excited about it. In a sense, it bridges a lot of other disciplines ranging from behavioral neuroscience to cognitive neuroscience to computational neuroscience, so graduates can work with anything from drugs to computers,” says Jane Flinn, program director.

“The program really does attract people with a breadth of interests.”

After gaining a broad understanding of biological systems at the cellular level through traditional biology and physiology courses, participants delve into high-level neurology topics in classes such as Cellular Neuroscience and Systems Neuroscience.

They are taught about the brain’s interaction with the rest of the body and even get hands-on experience dissecting a sheep’s brain.

“A lot of entering students choose neuroscience because it mixes all of the core sciences — biology, chemistry, physics — with the newest neuroscience topics from the research field,” says Caitlin Groeber, a doctoral student in the biopsychology program and a student advisor for the bachelor of science in neuroscience.

“We take little bits of all of the sciences and put them together in a comprehensive degree program.”

Although the goal of many enrolled students is to attend medical school or pursue another type of graduate degree, Flinn notes that graduates are also qualified to work as research assistants at university labs, pharmaceutical companies and organizations such as the National Institutes of Health.

“Our students leave with a lot of skills and have been taught to think analytically, so they are qualified for positions in many kinds of research settings. We’ve got a student right now who is interested in prostheses, for example, and is looking for opportunities to further pursue his research,” says Flinn.

“With as much work as we’ve put into building the program, it’s really nice to see that the students not only enjoy their studies but are also successful in the field.”

For additional information, see the program web site.

Write to gazette at gazette@gmu.edu