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Engineering Biomed Engineering or Biology/Psych

  1. Aug 1, 2009 #1
    I was just wondering which path might lead to a better shot at being admitted in grad school for Cognitive Neuroscience assuming i have a high gpa and do research etc... I am considering a major in Biomedical Engineering or Biology w/ minor in Psych. I'm open to feedback and other suggestions.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 2, 2009 #2
    Neither. The hot stuff in cognitive neuroscience draws on physics, statistics, and philosophy. Not all biomedical engineering programs are the same, but the http://engineering.asu.edu/undergraduate/bme" [Broken] has an emphasis on cell biology and biocompatibility, the idea being to make machines that perform biological functions. All those mechanics of materials classes aren't going to be all that useful for your stated goal.

    Biology and psych does seem to fit the bill a lot better IMHO, but if you really want to be competitive you will probably need much more mathematics and physics than that program can provide. Psychology is good for the human research experience it can provide, and biology can provide a good foundation for understanding neurology, but it seems that one's time would be better spent mastering the difficult mathematics than the relatively easy anatomy.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Aug 2, 2009 #3
    Thanks for the input Ben. I understand your point on BME. The reason I had that particular program even as an option was because it just about satisfies most pre-med programs (which i was viewing as a viable option at the time).

    Ive only taken the lower undergrad courses in math and physics. Up to Calc II and Physics I II w/ calc. How deep in these fields do i actually consider going? Do I need to devote most of my studies to them?

    Ive been snooping around trying to see what those admitted into the Cognitive Neuroscience programs did as Undergrads but I can't find any information. Is there a site or something similar which divulges that sort of info?
  5. Aug 2, 2009 #4

    I have not seen any explicit listing of the typical courses of study of those who go into neuroscience. I have been making educated guesses based on the required courses for the graduate programs and upon the specialties of those who have PhDs in neuroscience.

    To take the first track, http://neuroscience.berkeley.edu/grad/train/Detailed-Course-Listing.pdf" [Broken] (PDF). Area A has what amount to advanced undergrad courses in cell biology and genetics. I personally think that one probably doesn't need a degree in biology to understand what is going on here, but a good foundation *is* required. That means University Chemistry II and University Biology II with associated labs at a minimum. If you wanted to get into genetics, you need organic chemistry as well.

    Area B is psychology, another subject you are considering. I know far less about this subject area, but the courses listed seem to be survey courses tightly focused on neuroscience, so my impression is that one could know less here and do well. Given that some people come into these programs from the hard sciences, not much background in psychology seems required.

    Area C is what I know best. For this reason you should take what I say with grain of salt, because I favor my own subjects! =) Area C has tricky subjects such as information theory, modern statistics, and linear systems. Since this is my own area of expertise, I tend to feel a little critical of the statistical methods of neuroscience practitioners. They probably feel the same way about my limited grasp of the relevant psychology and biology. Good math and programming skills are key in this area.

    The second track may be more fruitful. For example, http://osiris.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her/" is an American currently living in the UK who comes at neuroscience from the computer simulation angle. His undergraduate degree was in mathematics.

    My experience has been that individuals and institutions are generally open to questions such as yours. If you find someone whose career seems interesting, you might email them and ask about entry into the field. Based on the many kinds of people that work in neuroscience, I think there is a great deal of flexibility in what your undergrad degree is in. If you have a passion for the subject and the ability to distinguish yourself, I think you should do well.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  6. Aug 2, 2009 #5
    I appreciate the feedback Ben. Yes, I've e-mailed various personnel within the field this weekend, and plan to visit a couple of professors at the university I am attending in the coming week. Nothing beats a decision like an informed one. Hopefully by then I'll be able to step back and jump in.

    I realize you must be quite partial to physics, seeing as an advanced physicist/ mathematician can explain just about all occurrences in nature down to its simplest form. So I understand where you're coming from. lol
  7. Aug 2, 2009 #6
    I am a PhD student in cognitive/computational neuroscience at a top 5 school. It doesn't matter what you major in as an undergraduate to get into graduate school in this field. There are people in my department with all sorts of backgrounds including those you listed.

    What does matter is having research experience in neuroscience and seeming broadly knowledgeable and curious about the field at the time of your application.

    I myself double-majored in neuroscience and mathematics and minored in philosophy.
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