Understanding the brain and the biological basis of human behavior
While a relatively newer major in the grand scheme of Agnes Scott (starting roughly fifteen years ago), neuroscience is consistently ranked one of the most popular majors on campus. It’s likely because the field is so broad, allowing our students to take jobs in every field from medicine, veterinary medicine and physical therapy to research techs, medical scribes and research assistants to grant writers, lawyers and teachers.
Interested in learning more about neuroscience at Agnes Scott? Here’s just a small overview of what the major may offer you, featuring a student perspective by Tess Dishaw ‘25 from Houston, TX.
What is neuroscience, exactly?
The neuroscience program is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of the nervous system with the goal of understanding the biological basis of human behavior. It includes a wide range of approaches from molecular biology of nerve cells to the biological basis for complex psychological phenomena such as disordered behavior and cognition. The field includes instruction in biology, chemistry and psychology for a wider context.
What kinds of classes can I take with a neuroscience major?
All neuroscience majors begin with a broad understanding of fields, taking classes in organic chemistry, physics and biology. You’ll also take a class in research statistics to prepare you for your foundational neuroscience classes–which contain inquiry-based research labs.
After that, students can vary their electives based on their future interests; they may choose electives in molecular biology, behavioral (such as anatomy, animal behavior or neuroendocrinology), psychology (such as developmental psych, cognitive neuroscience or animal and human learning) or data analysis (such as introduction to computer programming or data analysis math courses). Students can also complete directed research courses or for-credit internships.
Tess says that the variety is what drew her to the major: “As a neuroscience major you can take a variety of classes, with the focus being on biology and psychology classes (with some chemistry and philosophy mixed in). My favorite class I have taken, which I view as the core of the neuroscience major, is cellular neuroscience.”
What skills will I learn?
“The neuroscience major encompasses so many skills. I have learned everything from how to write a formal lab report to how to present in front of large audiences,” says Tess. Neuroscience majors are prepared for numerous programs, including the stringent requirements for graduate and medical schools. The broad skill base includes both neuroscience foundations (understanding the nervous system), research design, data analysis, critical thinking and ethics. Students will also graduate well-versed in lab skills, writing and speaking, teamwork, exposure to patient environment and networking.
“One of my favorite skills I have gained from my time studying neuroscience is the ability to break down dense topics into understandable pieces. This has served me outside of neuroscience too, as I am able to better analyze and work through complex ideas in all fields and also present those ideas to others,” says Tess.
What internships or special programs can I do with a neuroscience major?
All neuroscience majors are required to complete research or an internship during their time at Agnes Scott. Research opportunities are available with professors on campus, including in the Cognitive Neuroscience and Animal Behavior Lab with Dr. Bonnie Perdue. Students may also choose research experiences off-campus, through REUs and locations such as the Emory Autism Center, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Zoo Atlanta. Students are invited to showcase their field research each year at an event called Scotties with Nerves, Agnes Scott’s annual neuroscience research symposium.
Tess has had her own experiences with research in the neuroscience major, even having the chance to present and publish her own work. “I have been really fortunate to have participated in research during the past two summers through the Agnes Scott STEM Scholars. I was able to work with a professor at Emory School of Medicine in the neuropsychology department. I have learned so much from my time working in research and have gotten many great opportunities (I traveled to San Diego to present last spring and recently published work!).”
Students also complete internships in numerous fields, with some research sites including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; the CDC in the Parasitic Diseases Lab; Duke Institute Brain Sciences; Emory Brain Health Center; Grady Hospital Trauma Project; National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke; PBS Digital Studio; and UN Office on Drugs & Crime. Students work with the neuroscience faculty, in addition to the Office of Internship & Career Development, to find these internship opportunities.
Where are neuroscience graduates now?
Agnes Scott neuroscience graduates work in fields across the spectrum, including behavioral health, biomedical, forensics, market research, medicine, pharmaceuticals and science advocacy. Recent alums have worked at locations such as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; Discovery Litigation Services; Emory Healthcare; Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Stanford University Monack Laboratory; U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA); and Yerkes National Primate Research Center.
For those going into graduate school, recent graduate programs include: Doctor of Medicine (Emory University); Master of Public Health (Georgia State University, Emory University); Doctor of Physical Therapy (Mercer University, Emory University) Nazareth College of Rochester); Clinical Mental Health (Mercer University, Georgia Tech); Speech-Language Pathology (George Washington University); Doctorate of Neuroscience (University of Illinois, Georgetown University); and Clinical Nurse Leader (Xavier University).
What are the benefits of studying neuroscience at Agnes Scott College?
- Experienced Faculty: While neuroscience is a newer field for those in liberal arts, it is not new on our campus or with our faculty. Students work with dedicated professors who are experts in the field, such as: Dr. Barbara Blatchley, whose research interests are in the biology of depression and other factors influencing the development of the brain; Dr. Stacey Dutton, a behavioral neuroscientist who focuses on ion channels; Dr. Jennifer Larimore, who focuses on neurobiology; and Dr. Bonnie Perdue, whose research focuses on studying cognitive processes from a comparative and developmental perspective.
- The Inclusive Women’s College Difference: Women and non-binary individuals in STEM are often overshadowed in male-dominated STEM fields. Students in Agnes Scott STEM classes are able to voice opinions and questions without their own perspectives being overshadowed. Additionally, students in the STEM courses do not have a racial or ethnic majority, meaning that classes are able to to connect to wider contexts.
- Neuroscience & the Liberal Arts: Agnes Scott is able to offer STEM students the ability to connect what they are learning in neuroscience to other coursework. Numerous students double-major or major and minor, meaning that being a neuroscience major and a creative arts-dance minor is not only allowed, but encouraged, just as students are encouraged to make connections between those fields. Tess says that being in neuroscience major at a liberal arts college has allowed her to be incredibly well-rounded. “I feel confident not only in my abilities in a lab, but also in writing up the results of research into a professional paper. The neuroscience labs here are also designed to give students the unique opportunity to self-design a project with model organisms (and present it at numerous symposiums).”
- Research & Internships: As mentioned, Agnes Scott requires all neuroscience majors to have a research or internship experience (or more than one!). Says Tess, “Studying as a neuroscience major at Agnes Scott requires you to have a professional experience (internship, research, capstone project) and this means that students have real-life experience of the applications of the neuroscience major.” Because of Agnes Scott’s low faculty to student ratio, students are able to begin research options early and to have assistance in finding internship opportunities.
Not enough reasons? Tess has one big reason why the neuroscience major at Agnes Scott is amazing. “The neuroscience community (students and faculty) is incredibly tight-knit, and I have felt supported every step in my undergraduate career.”