need advice on pursuing a career in neuroscience

Jason Eriksen jerikse at bsd.meddean.luc.edu
Thu Feb 19 09:51:46 EST 1998


On Wed, 18 Feb 1998 11:50:23 -0700, Adams Justin Brent
<adamsj at ibg.colorado.edu> wrote:

>I am 25 years old, and I have just graduated with a degree in psychology,
>and pretty decent grades.  I am interested in getting into a neuroscience
>graduate school, but have some questions.  Many of the schools I have
>looked at ask for a serious background in biochemisty, biology, and
>mathematics.  While I have the biology background, I have not had
>biochemisty (or any chemistry), and I have only had the minimum
>requirement of math.  So: 1) can I get into a decent neuroscience program?
>2) will I be able to get through the first year without the chemistry and
>math background?  3) should I take these classes through an undergraduate
>program before I apply to a graduate school?

You will probably need to take some additional courses, especially in
biochemistry and organic chemistry. Students who have only taken
psychology courses are often at a very substantial disadvantage with
students who have majored in biology because they are unprepared for
the heavy amount of biochemical and biology material that is found in
first year courses. You really need to take a few biology courses,
especially biochemistry, before trying to enter into a Ph.D. program.
You will spend a few years playing catch-up with the other students
otherwise. 

Good neuroscience programs have gotten more and more selective in the
past few years. In the program that I attend, I believe that they
typically take 1 student per hundred applicants. 

Some schools admit minimally qualified / unqualified applicants.
Beware of graduate schools that pay small stipends that are far below
the current 14-15 thousand average. These schools, often large state
schools, are known for using graduate students as sources of cheap
slave labor, giving their students heavy TA responsibilites on top of
research  and flunking out many of their students after several years.

In short, I strongly suggest taking biochem and chemistry courses.
Most schools will not admit you unless you have had these.
Substantially less important are mathematical courses, unless you plan
to do a lot of electrophysiology work on channel function. 

>I am also trying to decide how to use a PhD in neuroscience.  I am
>extremely interested in the fuction and physiology of the human brain, and
>I am leaning in the direction of neuropharmacology, either research or
>administration.  

Neuroscience is a wonderful field because it is really a
cross-discipline; you can work in essentially any area of science that
you want. The job choices are extremely broad. While you should think
about potential areas that you can go into, you won't have a clear
idea of the areas that you are going to go into until you get to
graduate school and start learning in detail. 

Jason



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