Advice to New CC Neuroscience Majors
What advice would you give to CC psychology/neuroscience majors who want to go on to graduate school in the neurosciences?
Take time off after you graduate from CC and try to get research/lab experience. Not only will working in a lab make you a stronger applicant, but you might find that your interests shift, or become more focused as a result of your internship. Additionally, you might find that you make valuable connections with people that can help you get into the graduate school of your choice.
See #2, hindsight. Also, don't assume that once you have taken an exam you can forget the material. It is true you can learn it again if need be, but it will be assumed that you remember what you learned in undergrad, and that material will be used as the basis for more in-depth study.
Try to decide a general area of research that you are interested in. Make certain that there are multiple researchers within that feild that you could work with at any school you wish to apply to.
Assess for yourself why it is you want to go to grad school and make certain the programs and faculty you are interested in will support your goals. If basic science research interests you, be certain that your curiosity is enough to motivate you through the mindless and tedious parts of research. If you are interested in research with direct clinical applications, ask professors how their research is or will be applied in the clinical setting. If you are interested in teaching, make certain the faculty you are interested in working with (not just program directors) would be supportive of you taking time to gain extra experience TAing/teaching (Most faculty in large research universities have chosen to be there because they want to do research, and many find teaching a chore to be avoided. I've found some faculty don't understand why anyone would want to teach and/or don't want students taking time from their research in order to teach/TA.) If you are thinking of going to graduate school because you don't think you can get into medical school and graduate school is something else you can do in science, I'd explore other options that will keep you working directly with people--physical or occupational therapy, counseling degrees in psychology or social work etc.
In addition to what I said in question 2, when searching for a graduate school, research the school thoroughly. Know the city and the people (students and professors). Really be able to match names (professors) with the work they do. Collegiality is an important aspect to graduate school. Know the strengths and weaknesses of programs and make sure they match your interests. When applying, be in contact with professors that work in your area of interest, and make sure they would be interested in you. Sometimes professors don't want students in their lab, can't afford another student (literally not having proper funding), or already has enough students in the lab.
An absolute must is research experience and a solid background in molecularbiology. If computational neuroscience is an interest, coursework in computerscience and mathematics is a must. This is, of course, in addition to theneuroscience coursework. Best to cover all bases, especially at a liberalarts school where many specialized types of courses are not available.
Do LOTS of research on graduate programs before you apply. Also, ifnecessary (and I would actually recommend it), take a year or two off tothink about what type of neuroscience you are interested in pursuing.Neuroscience is a much broader discipline than you think it is... figuringout what kind of methodology/ies you want to concentrate on in grad schooltakes a lot of time and research but is immensely helpful. With regards topicking a program, the best thing you can do is to read up on the researchof professors whose labs you are interested in joining. If you find a fewresearchers whose work particularly intrigues you, you should contact themby email and inform them of your interest in becoming part of their lab.If possible, visit each lab in person and get to know the professor andgrad students. It will make a world of difference when final admissionsdecisions are being handed down. I know of a number of present graduatestudents in Cornell's biopsychology and neurobiology programs whose gradesand test scores did not meet the programs' minimum levels, but who managed to squeak by through the recommendations of one professor.
Neuroscience is an extremely broad field, so it is a good idea to have anunderstanding of the different areas of research in neuroscience beforeyou start graduate school. Try to acquire basic knowledge of biochemistryand molecular biology, genetics, physiology, computer science(particularly if you are interested in modelling), and psychology. Pick auniversity which is strong in your particular area of interest, or if youare not sure what kind of research you want to do ultimately, pick aschool which has a broad variety of research options.
Also, it is important to get some research experience while you are stillan undergrad. It would be a good idea to spend a summer doing research in a big lab at a research university. You may be able to get a temporaryposition as a research assistant or find some kind of scholarship you canapply for so that you can afford to do this. Pick a university where youthink you might enjoy going to graduate school. You can make contactsthere which will facilitate your acceptance to graduate school. Also,because the atmosphere at a research university is quite different than atCC, you will learn a lot about how to get along in that kind of environment.
Thoroughly research any programs that you are interested in attending. Ask specific questions about coursework requirements, funding, and graduation rates. Make concrete plans with the professors you are interested in working with. Be up front about your interests in joining the lab, and ask about projects, grants, and time availability of that professor. You may want a professor who provides instruction every day, or you may want more independence but it is important to find out what to expect ahead of time. Also, think about what type of questions you want to research, what methodologies you want to learn, and how you feel about animal research.
Again, do a senior thesis. Nothing can prepare you better for graduate school life than writing your own paper in undergrad. Also, undergraduate research is a must! No student can make an educated decision on whether or not graduate school is the appropriate choice for them if they have never previously worked in a lab. Finally, students should always research the many different fields of neuroscience before they make a decision. There are so many choices, and nobody wants to look back and think "I wish I would have..."
I would first of all take advantage of all the helpful faculty at Colorado College. They have already been through the process, first of all, and second, they have a large network of resources. I would also recommend taking all available challenges that you can at CC. By this, I mean that you should take every applicable class no matter how difficult it may be, and that you should choose to work on more challenging projects instead of ones which will take less time (for example, do a senior thesis instead of taking a couple of blocks off). I suggest this because 1) it will look better to grad schools, and 2) because you will end up doing it again anyway, so you might as well have an introduction to these topics while you are in a nurturing environment like CC. Think of it this way, it might seem hard now, but it will be twice as hard in grad school.
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