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Done Differently

In hindsight, what would you have done differently at CC to prepare yourself better for graduate school?

I would have taken more biology and chemistry courses.  I’m still playing a bit of catch-up, because I am coming into my Ph.D. program with a different knowledge base than some of the other students.


I would have made more of a pursuit of high grades.  I was unaware of how high the bar for admission into graduate programs really is, and it is being raised all the time.


I would have taken more math classes and a computer programming class. There is a lot of mathamatics and programming used both in modeling neuronal networks and in analyzing MRI data. I also would have taken more courses that required discussion or writing. Communication abilities are very important.


I would have taken a genetics course, and I would have continually studied past coursework on my own. Neuroscience is truly a liberal arts industry: you apply everything. In addition to the required neuro courses, take genetics, histotechnique, and biochemistry. You're expected to know the basics of these topics. Past college courses will come back to bite you, and you will be expected to know the information without review in graduate school. They will not take time to let you catch up if you forgot what was taught to you as an undergraduate. For example:

a.) Physics: RC circuits, current, voltage, capacitance, resistance. All of these things apply to neuron physiology.

b.) Organic chemistry/Biochemistry: chemical mechanisms, lab technique, enzyme kinetics. These things apply to all benchwork, histotechnique, cellular mechanisms.

c.) Mathematics: differential equations, integrals, statistics. These apply to mathematical modeling techniques of biological systems and to data analysis.

So, work hard at CC to learn what needs to be learned, and retain that information through continuous SELF-INITIATED study.


I would have taken more molecular biology classes and more computer science coursework.


The one thing that I wish I had NOT done was sell myself short with regardto which classes I thought I could handle. (My experience may not be relevant for present neuroscience majors, who are required to take many of the classes I wish I had taken, but perhaps the general concept is stillimportant.) Instead, I would have taken the most difficult, heaviest course load possible. The graduate students with the most background in biology, psychology, and biochemistry are the ones who make the easiest transition into graduate study. It is possible to get into graduate neuroscience programs without having completed this extensive coursework,but not having it makes your life as a graduate student much harder andmore frustrating than it should be. Becoming a good neuroscientist takes an incredible amount of intellectual flexibility, as the field is rapidly evolving and will continue to diversify throughout our lifetime. If you finish your undergraduate studies with a solid knowledge base, you will bemore prepared to enter into this mindset than if you graduate without taking high-level chemistry and biology courses because they looked "too hard".


(1) I would have taken more mathematics courses.

(2) I would have started thinking about graduate school earlier in myundergraduate career. It is a good idea to begin planning for graduateschool in your sophomore or junior year. Also, I think that I should have visited more labs and talked to more professors before choosing a place togo to graduate school. It is very important to make personal contacts andto choose a good mentor. One way to find out if the professor you are thinking about working with is a good mentor is by talking to theprofessor's current and previous graduate students and post-docs. It isvery important to do this.


I would have taken more biology and chemistry courses. Even though many graduate programs allow you to complete these courses as part of your graduate study, you will most likely end up in very large (300 students!) undergraduate lecture courses. It's better to take advantage of the small classes and emphasis on teaching at CC.


I would have done a senior thesis! This would have saved me from the many basic mistakes that I am now facing by writing my first paper in graduate school!


I took a lot of upper level biology and chemistry courses while I was at CC, and I think those courses were beneficial. I wish that I had taken some sort of computer programming class. Computer programming knowledge makes a world of difference when you use computers in every aspect of your research, as I do. I would also recommend some molecular biology, because although my research is not in that area, the majority of labs are moving that direction.