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Neuroscience MS considering switch to EE. Help?

  1. Dec 22, 2012 #1
    If this post looks too long for you to read, please go to the end, read the summary paragraph and respond to that.

    I'm going to summarize my history as concisely as I can without leaving out any important info. So I got a BS in Neuroscience (3.8 GPA), and throughout undergrad, I knew I wanted to get a PhD in Neuroscience and eventually get grants and research whatever I wanted to study. I am interested in learning and memory from a network standpoint and the oscillatory activity involved in these processes, like memory consolidation during sleep, etc. Since I've got to graduate school, I have learned that my original goal is nearly impossible (and that view was supported from this forum, though it was specifically for Physics PhDs), but this is where the problem arises. I came to this school to work for someone who lost funding, but instead found a lab I didn't even know was there because they are doing in vivo electrophysiology studying the role of hippocampus in learning and memory. I have two PIs/mentors and they are extremely hard to work with; they don't care about letting/helping me learn techniques and the resources I am given access to are very limited and for limited time periods. I get the feeling that they don't even want me in the lab. Their last graduate student graduated in 2002 and it took him 7.5 years to get his PhD (from an MS in EE) with 4 second author publications (on PI first, other last on all of them). The feeling I get is that there were a lot of problems during this time period, and I was told they were not allowed to have another student until I came along, though I didn't know this before joining.

    So I could hopefully get my MS by the end of this summer with a 3.97 GPA, but I know if I tell them I want to do this my access to resources will become even more scarce. And I highly doubt I would get a good letter of recommendation from them. I have no publications yet, but I wrote an NRSA (grad student research proposal) that I am planning to submit in April. I know I could write a review paper based on my literature search, but I cannot perform research on my ideas and I don't know when I would ever get a research publication. This is a much larger story that I won't share unless you have questions because I already feel like I wrote too much.

    I have seriously been considering a change to electrical engineering with specialties in solar energy and/or the space industry. I chose Neuroscience because I wanted to search for the unknown and make inventions that would change people's lives for the better. During my interview, I was asked, if Neuroscience did not exist, what would you study and why? I nearly immediately answered Astrophysics and said because I want to learn about something we do not understand. I feel like the approach taken by Neuroscience will never lead to a complete understanding of the brain, and I am starting to feel like the PhD job market is so small.

    But from my interest of helping the world, I have thought about learning and improving PV cell technology because this seems to me as the most immediate need of the world; a sustainable energy source. I would like to take an EE approach because I was very interested in Neurophysiology, and I believe that rearrangement of synapses is the neural basis of learning. From this, I find it logical to extend this interest to the arrangement of electrical circuits made to optimize performance. My final hopes would be to take my knowledge of solar energy and work in the space industry. If it isn't obvious by now, I would be an astronaut if I could pick anything.

    So do these interests make sense to anyone here?

    I found this site (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_would_you_self_teach_yourself_electrical_engineering) and bought Engineering Mathematics by K.A. Stroud which I am planning to learn from ASAP and then buy Advance Engineering Mathematics. How possible is pursuing a similar thing with my background? I have only taken Calculus I and algebra-based physics I & II, but I know I could learn anything I wanted if I had the time and money to do it. My main problem with going back to undergrad is my $60,000 debt that I already need to make $200 monthly payments on (which is easy with my graduate stipend; I've paid much more than that monthly), and I don't know what kind of job I could get while studying EE. I have been considering switching programs to get a PhD in computational neuroscience, would this help me get my foot in the door in the EE fields I am interested in? I am just looking for the best way to do what I want to do without almost doubling my school debt. Any advice would be great.

    Summary: I am in graduate school, but the environment with my two mentors is very difficult and I am starting to feel like a PhD in Neuroscience may not be the best way to go with my life. I am really interested in studying EE with a focus on solar energy/PV cell technology and/or the space industry. I have massive debt and loan payments I need to make now so I feel very reluctant about going back to undergrad. Is there any other way of getting into the EE field, possibly by mastering the mathematics on my own? Would a PhD in Computational Neuroscience be useful?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 22, 2012 #2
    I cannot comment on the Neuroscience as I don't know anything. Can you transfer to another college? With your GPA, you should be able to find a college to accept you to continue your PHD. The most important thing is to ask yourself which field you like the most. Don't just give up because you are in the wrong school. If your first choice is Neuroscience, then find another school.

    As for going into EE, It is going to be a long road to make up the math. I don't advice you to go with engineering math or any short cut. In the long run, you waste more time. I was a biochem major, I only had cal 1 and non cal physics like you as I am into organic and biochem. After 30 years career as an EE and manager of EE, I felt so strongly about the math that I spent over 2 years making up all the math from page 1 of calulus to ODE and PDE.........after I retired!!!

    Math is a language of science, it is not about solving an equation. A lot of upper division books use calculus as language as other topics use English as language. Case in point, EM is more an advanced course of vector calculus than electronics. Communication and signal processing has a lot of Fourier Transform, probability, statistic and sets. You really have to spend the time to get the feel, not just rush through using engineering mathematics type of condensed book. The electronics part of EE is not as hard, you master the math, the others are easier. Yes, you can study on your own while you are working. You have such good grades, if I can do it on my own, you can definitely do it.

    As for finding a grad school in EE, I did talk to Santa Clara University and San Jose State. The much better school is Santa Clara, and they don't care whether you have an undergrad in EE. You have to fullfill minimum requirement and you can apply to the grad school. But of all things, San Jose state, which is not very good to put it politely, they require you to get the BSEE. I was going to pursue a post grad degree, but I absolutely am not willing to go through the undergrad with them, hell, I can teach some of the undergrad electronic classes in SJSU!!! Then Santa Clara is way too expensive. So I decided to study on my own. So the bottom line is email to the school you want to go to and see their policies, do assume anything.

    But the most important thing is what you want in life. Don't let the professors sway you away from what you want.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2012
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