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November 7, 2014

Faculty, students petition for new neuroscience major

In the culmination of a long effort to create a neuroscience major, 61 percent of students responded to a survey distributed by the Neuro Club saying that they would pursue it. The results of this survey will be discussed in an upcoming meeting with Peggy Mason, one of the members of the University’s Department of Neurobiology who is leading the cause, as well as other members of the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division (BSCD).

Neuro Club is an RSO for students with an interest in neuroscience. Fourth-year Anya Krok, president and founding member of the club, is very optimistic about the possibility of this major becoming a reality within the year “as evidenced by curriculum changes for third-years interested in majoring in this starting this quarter.” These curriculum changes refocus the course and make it applicable to a neuroscience major.

Although it is unclear how the survey was advertised and distributed, in addition to the 61 percent of students who said they would be interested in pursuing a neuroscience major, 91 percent of those who answered “yes” would be eligible to pursue the major. This, Krok believes, is promising.

Mason said that there was broad support for the major from departments across the University. “We are in a place where [people from all over the University are] on board that this is a great thing to happen,” Mason said.

When asked about the feasibility of this major coming to exist the director of the BSCD Laurens Mets declined to comment.

The major has been in development for the past three years. As a first-year Krok started the Neuro Club and began contacting faculty to see whether or not she could start a major. Faculty who felt similarly to Krok, including Mason and Cliff Ragsdale, a professor of the Intro to Neuroscience class, started the campaign.

Part of the reason it has taken so long for a neuroscience major to come close to becoming reality is that the BSCD in the University only has one major. According to Mason, creating a new major “infinitely [increases] the variation… so there is a cultural inertia that [needs to be] worked through.”

Krok said that cultural inertia comes from the fear that if neuroscience, which is a specialization within Biology, becomes a major other specializations like endocrinology could become majors as well. 

The University already offers a course called Introduction to Neuroscience that would be required for all neuroscience majors. Although the neuroscience major will be in many ways grounded in the biological sciences, Mason believes that students should “receive a strong background in the breadth of neuroscience” meaning that a person would graduate “with a strong understanding of the nervous system” and all that pertains to it.

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