Yale College will offer a major in neuroscience next year, the product of a collaboration between the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department and the Psychology Department.
The new major will offer students greater breadth into the study of neuroscience, with required coursework both in molecular, cellular and biological approaches and in systems, circuits and behavior. Students interested in the field will have the option of entering the neuroscience major or one of the two existing neuroscience-related tracks — neurobiology in MCDB or neuroscience in psychology. The neuroscience major will be available to members of the class of 2018 and later, as the major will use existing courses as requirements, according to MCDB chair Vivian Irish.
“Neuroscience is a tremendously broad and interdisciplinary field, and the only way to offer comparably integrative and rigorous training was to develop an independent neuroscience major,” said Marvin Chun, a psychology professor and one of the two directors of undergraduate studies for the new major. “We want our neuroscience students to be the most broadly and the most rigorously trained amongst all our peer schools.”
Yale faculty have discussed the need for an undergraduate neuroscience major for many years, according to Chun. With the upcoming Yale College expansion in mind, the departments started to lay out the major last fall.
According to MCDB professor Damon Clark, the collaborating departments created an integrative program of study for undergraduates spanning neuroscience — from molecules and cells up to human brain imaging.
In particular, Chun said, the major will counteract the lack of extensive behavior and human brain research in the MCDB track and molecular or cellular neuroscience work in the psychology track.
Significant interest in the new joint neuroscience major is expected, particularly with the planned expansion of the undergraduate population, Irish said, noting that the department has already seen interest since the major was formally announced in an email to MCDB and psychology students last Friday.
Samantha Marquez ’18, a psychology major on the neuroscience track, said she now plans to select her senior year courses such that she can graduate in the first class of the neuroscience major next spring.
“I think this new neuroscience major is going to provide the perfect balance to study both the biological and molecular roots of the brain and the behavioral manifestations of these neural communications,” Marquez said. “This unique combination is what is going to make this an amazing opportunity for future classes.”
Marquez added that she hopes that the departments will provide some flexibility for rising juniors and seniors.
Ariel Lowrey ’18, another psychology major on the neuroscience track, said she would have chosen to major in neuroscience had it been announced earlier, but the number of requirements means she is unlikely to make the switch.
However, Lowrey emphasized the value of the new major as an incentive for Yale to offer more courses that teach computing for neuroscience, including languages such as MATLAB.
“With the addition of the Advanced Allied Core requirement, the major has a focus on computer science, which is becoming increasingly useful and necessary in neuroscience research,” she said.
Like the MCDB neurobiology track, the major will require 18.5 credits, but there will be greater flexibility in course selection, Clark said. In addition to taking two neuroscience foundation courses and one lab course, students will select 11 electives from the Quantitative, Systems/Circuits/Behavior, Molecular/Cellular/Biological, Basic Allied and Advanced Allied cores, according to the draft of the major’s description in the Yale College Programs of Study.
“Compared to the tracks, the neuroscience major will require extensive coursework in both departments, and while quite demanding, it also offers more flexibility in electives across many departments,” Chun said.
Jane Huang ’20, who is interested in the neurobiology track of MCDB and is now considering the neuroscience major, said the new major is appealing because students in the MCDB track only take a few electives in neuroscience, while the neuroscience major allows deeper exploration into the field, in addition to relevant coursework in math and computer science.
The existing psychology neuroscience track and MCDB neurobiology track will still be available, as they provide students with the option to pursue more focused courses of study in neuroscience, according to Clark.
“The new major offers students a chance to explore neurology at a much deeper level than the track-specific majors,” said Jessica Trinh ’20, a potential neuroscience major. “I found the MCDB major with neurobiology track limiting in the amount of room I have to take the neurology courses I’m interested in taking during my time here at Yale. With neuroscience, I believe I can make more connections with how the brain works at the molecular level to the overall broader scale.”
After next year, during which the application process will occur at the start of the school year, students will be invited to apply to the neuroscience major at the end of their freshman year, according to Irish. Chun said that the faculty hopes that implementing an application process will allow them to better gauge student interest, ensure that students are prepared to fulfill the requirements and manage the size of the program.
About two dozen students graduate in the neuroscience track of the psychology major every year, according to Chun.