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Northwestern University

College Introduces New Major in Neuroscience

Students interested in studying the brain and its inner workings now have a dedicated academic path to do so: Weinberg College’s new major in neuroscience.

Set to debut this fall, the neuroscience major offers a deep dive into the structure and function of the nervous system. The College has developed four new courses designed explicitly for the major, which will be offered alongside courses in five allied fields: biology; chemistry; computation and systems modeling; human behavior and cognition; and language and human communication. More new courses will be added in the future.

“The idea of developing a neuroscience major had been simmering for years, and it was finally time to do something about it,” says Professor of Neurobiology Catherine Woolley, who led the nine-member committee that developed the major. “The existing course offerings were not meeting student interest.”

Too often, Woolley says, students encountered neuroscience-related courses late in their academic careers, with little opportunity to take additional classes that piqued their interest. Students interested in studying neuroscience early in their academic journey, meanwhile, were forced to double-major to access a broad range of courses on the brain.

“Now, neuroscience majors will have a central core of brain-related courses to take together and then a choice of allied fields to pursue the studies most appealing to them,” Woolley says.

Advances in both molecular genetics and imaging technology have transformed the way researchers study the brain, sparking a revolution in the field of neuroscience. New discoveries about the brain have generated both headlines in the news and increased student interest in diseases and disorders of the nervous system, ranging from anxiety and addiction to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

“Given recent technological advances, we have the real potential to solve problems that seemed unsolvable just a decade ago, and students are eager to be a part of the solution,” Woolley says.

“Plus,” she adds, “understanding the brain is [central to understanding] what makes us who we are, and that’s very appealing to students.”

Woolley says about 50 students attended a pair of neuroscience-major information sessions in the spring, while about five dozen students have had personal one-on-ones with Valerie Kilman, the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Neurobiology, to learn more about the new major.

“There is definitely energetic interest,” Woolley says.

An increasingly interdisciplinary field, the neuroscience major will prepare students to tackle advanced study and professional work in a diverse range of careers, including scientific research, medicine, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and patent law.

“Even companies like Google are hiring neuroscientists, because there’s a lot of demand for understanding the mechanisms that drive human behavior,” Woolley says.

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