Neurochemistry and the future of neuroscience

Richard Norman rnorman at
Thu Feb 7 16:35:03 EST 2002

jonesmat at (Matt Jones) wrote in message news:<b86268d4.0202070805.338e9342 at>...

<snip early stuff>
> First, in my opinion it doesn't make any difference what degree you
> get. What matters is what subjects, disciplines and methods you
> eventually learn. I have one colleague in the Psychology department
> that makes electrical recordings from monkey brains, and another in
> the same department who mostly does mathematical modeling of brain
> function. Meanwhile, in my department, Physiology, there are
> behavioral psychologists, molecular biologists, anatomists, and oh
> yeah, physiologists. So my advice would be to pick the general
> subjects within neuroscience that you want to study, then enter any
> good program that has good faculty versed in those areas, whether it
> be a Psychology, Physiology, Neuroscience, Pharmacology or Computer
> Science department (there are plenty others too).
> Next, a word about pharmacology: Pharmacology is not the study of
> drugs and when to prescribe them. That is pharmacy. Pharmacology is
> the study of the mechanisms of interactions between drugs (including
> endogenous neurotransmitters) and their receptors. If you do
> pharmacology properly, it is a very mathematically rigorous,
> theoretically-grounded hardcore discipline. There's also plenty of
> opportunities for applying physics and computer science in
> pharmacology.
> But from what you said, it doesn't seem that pharmacology is really
> what you're after. It sounds like you're interested in a) how the
> brain processes information, b) how artificial machines process
> information, c) interfacing brains with other machines.
> If you're already doing Biochem and Comp. Sci., I'd say that's a
> pretty good basis for the things that you're interested in. Except
> Biochem does n't really address the issue of information processing
> much, does it? You should check into more "physiological" disciplines,
> especially ones having to do with "electrophysiology". This is the
> study of electrical phenomenon, including stuff like the spike firing
> that neurons use to encode and transmit information.
> There's lots of different kinds of electrophysiology, and people do it
> in all sorts of different departments, so you need to look at the
> research interests of the faculty rather than just the name of the
> department.
> Matt

This is all excellent advice.  It is exactly what I recommend to
my own undergraduate students at Univ. Michigan-Dearborn.

The specific major is not important at all -- it just depends on what
you know and what you do. Select a department for study by finding
faculty doing what you are interested in.  And I often recommend
Pharmacology as an excellent choice for students interested in the
biochemical aspects of physiology.  It really is "applied

If you really want to understand how the brain works, the "real"
brain, not a virtual brain or a computer model of someone's impression
of what a brain is, make sure you get some good, solid laboratory
experience in experimental basic science courses -- physiology,
neurobiology, physiological psych, whatever.

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