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How hard is Neuroscience?

  1. Feb 22, 2009 #1
    Greetings, I am 14 years of age and I am thinking of choosing a profession revolving around neuroscience.

    My query is how hard is it to enroll in the related university and how much work does it require?

    -Thanks
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 22, 2009 #2

    Math Is Hard

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    I have a few friends who study cognitive neuroscience. They began with a B.S. in psychology or biology or cognitive science(4 years), and then entered PhD programs to do research on their area of interest (6-7 years).
    The difficulty of getting into the university (for your undergrad) is going to depend on your high school record and also which school you apply to.
     
  4. Feb 22, 2009 #3

    atyy

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    Wow, Math Is Hard censured and censored my statement that neuroscience is easy.

    Anyway, to provide examples of the neuroscience I find fascinating, I recommend reading Oliver Sacks's "Awakenings", "Musicophilia" or Norman Doidge's "The Brain That Changes Itself". I don't know enough to say if everything in Doidge's book is accurate but his description of eg. Merzenich's work as far-reaching is spot on.

    Although neuroscience is easy, I would recommend doing some hard majors in college like electrical engineering or physics. Choose things where you learn how to phrase a theory precisely, and where the match to experiment is important, and take every chance you can to learn how experiments are done in real life (doesn't have to be a neuroscience experiment, the Cavendish experiment is fine), or how engineers make things that really work, though of course, you may learn string theory for fun (string theory will probably not be relevant to neuroscience within my lifetime, unless I'm a Boltzmann brain ...)!
     
  5. Feb 22, 2009 #4
    Don't listen to this guy, he clearly has no idea what he is talking about. His claims that "you learn how experiments are done in real life" only in physics are ridiculous. It is no surprise that for someone going into neuroscience, the relevant experimental methods to learn about are in neuroscience itself.

    That said, in many areas of neuroscience it is very helpful (or even necessary) to have a background in electrical engineering, physics, mathematics etc. This does not make neuroscience "easy". There is no sense in which learning about string theory will make you a better neuroscientist as he implies. That doesn't mean that quantitative skills are not important. Nor does it mean that mathematical maturity is unimportant.
     
  6. Feb 22, 2009 #5

    atyy

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    I made no such claim.

    I made no such implication.
     
  7. Feb 22, 2009 #6
    Haha, right

    In any case, we are in agreement that quantitative science is a useful background to have for a neuroscientist. This just doesn't mean that "neuroscience is easy" as you claim.
     
  8. Feb 22, 2009 #7

    atyy

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    OK, let me rephrase what I said to see if I can make it clearer. I meant that you don't have to be an undergraduate in biology and neuroscience in order to do excellent graduate work in neuroscience. Hence if one chose to be an undergraduate in physics, as long as one learnt how physics experiments are done, that would be plenty good for one to figure out how to do experiments in neuroscience. The one thing that may not be entirely true there is that some neuroscience experiments require good surgical skills, which may take a while to pick up. Even then, I submit that with a good teacher, patience and practice, surgical skills in neuroscience are quite learnable.

    Regarding string theory, what I meant is that it is not useful for neuroscience. However, if one finds string theory fun, one should just do it as an undergrad and not be overly concerned about doing only neuroscience stuff. You could replace "string theory" with "music performance" or "competitive swimming" or "helping out in homeless shelters" in my sentence, and the intent of my sentence would be preserved (except that the part about Boltzmann brains would be even less true).

    Yes, agreed, a quantitative background is definitely useful! I'll concede that my claim that "neuroscience is easy" isn't agreed upon by at least 90% of neuroscientists. BTW, my original statement was that *experimental* neuroscience is easy (that was censored, which is why you don't see it on this thread). My personal philosophy for excellent experiments is actually to ask (others, but more especially one's self) as many stupid questions as possible, because stupid questions often come from assumptions in textbooks and literature that are unstated and perhaps even unquestioned. I would also like to encourage all stupid people that they can make progress in neuroscience by doing experiments, even if they are not smart enough to become theorists!

    "What one fool can do, another can".
    http://web.mst.edu/~lmhall/quotes/SPThompson1.html
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2009
  9. Feb 22, 2009 #8
    Ah, so this is just your standard "theory>experiment" snobbery. :tongue2:

    It should be pointed out that (unlike in physics) in neuroscience, it is still possible for a single person to meaningfully contribute to both theory and experiment. Admittedly there are people who only do experimental work but (at least in systems and cognitive neuroscience) they are becoming more and more rare. The proportion of people who are "only theorists" is also probably increasing... At the same time, most theoretical work in neuroscience is much closer to experimental data than it is in physics.

    In my graduate program we have about 20 students in my class and I think less than 5 of us majored in neuroscience as undergraduates. So your comments about being able to major in anything else and still go into neuroscience are very true. I myself double majored in mathematics and neuroscience.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2009
  10. Feb 22, 2009 #9

    atyy

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    Nope, reverse snobbery. I'm an experimentalist and proud of my stupidity! :smile:
     
  11. Feb 23, 2009 #10

    Math Is Hard

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    Why would you assume that experimental neuroscientists don't ask these of questions? If anything, they ask many smart questions, which they formulate after extensive literature reviews of questions that other experimenters have researched. Do you read neuroscience journals? Do you understand the submission process for proposing a study? If you can't give incredibly persuasive justification as to why your hypothesis is valid, and why it is worthy of the expense, the effort, and possible risk of harm or suffering to subjects, an IRB board is not going to approve your study. Experiments are not conducted capriciously.

    A completely idiotic statement. Experiments are not going to be conducted without detailed knowledge of theory, especially if the hypothesis challenges mainstream knowledge. Experimentalists ARE theorists. Due diligence and sufficient education must be in place. Do you seriously think a university will let any "stupid person" with a "dumb question" into their vivarium to cut up rat brains? Even the most benign of proposed behavioral experiments can spend months in review with an IRB board.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2009
  12. Feb 26, 2009 #11
    Thanks for all the help, interesting.
     
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