Undergraduate Neurobiology Student Resources

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  • Neuro FAQs

    Neurobiology Frequently Asked Questions

     Q: When should I take MCB 80 or 81?

    A: Ordinarily the fall semester of your sophomore year. You can also take it fall freshman year if you’re especially excited!

    Q: I don’t understand the math requirement. Do I have to take 2 math classes to concentrate in Neurobiology?

    A: We reserve two concentration requirements for math. We require one math course at or above the level of Math 1b (e.g., 1b, 19a, 21a or 21b, etc). If you start at the level of Math 1a, this means you will need to take at least 2 math classes (Math 1a then Math 1b). If you start directly with Math 1b (or higher), you still need to fulfill the second requirement. This second course becomes flexible and can be fulfilled with any math or statistics course at any level (e.g., Math 19a, Stats 102, Stats 104, Stats 110, etc.)

    Q: What is a Neurobiology tutorial?

    A: Neurobiology tutorials are listed as the Neurobiology 101 series. Neurobiology, Neurobiology/MBB, and Neurobiology secondary students may count one of these courses toward the advanced neurobiology course requirement. Tutorial credit is the equivalent of one regular 4-credit course, but instead of being confined to one semester, these courses meet throughout the year – both fall and spring semesters. So, a tutorial can be considered to be ‘half’ of a regular course for each semester – both in terms of the credit you receive and the amount of work involved. They are usually taken as a fifth class; some students will take it as their fifth class one semester and their fourth class in the other semester. (This allows students to complete a regular eight-course load for the year.) Tutorials must be taken for a letter grade, and cannot be divided or combined for credit.

    The tutorial courses serve many goals. First, tutorials provide undergraduates with the opportunity to associate with a professional biologist over an extended period of time and to explore important research topics that are not covered in depth in other undergraduate offerings. Second, tutorials are designed to help students become comfortable with reading, understanding, and discussing the scientific literature in an intimate and relatively informal setting. Finally, tutorials can serve as one entry point for thesis work and help students to identify research topics and potential sponsors. Tutorials are ordinarily taken in the junior year. Students often report that the tutorial experience prepares them well for moving on to the larger advanced Neurobiology courses, where they discuss advanced readings with upper-level students and sometimes graduate students. Tutorials are often a favorite class among Neurobiology concentrators.

    All Neurobiology tutorials require LPSA/LS 1a and MCB 80/81 but other prerequisites are at the discretion of the instructor. Neurobiology 101 courses also fulfill the MBB junior tutorial/seminar requirement for NON-Neurobiology concentrators only. Each tutorial is open to qualified students from all concentrations, but Neurobiology concentrators will be given priority. Tutorials are capped at 12 students.

    Q: Can I shop the Neurobiology tutorials?

    A: Yes. You can and should shop any tutorials that interest you. Tutorial enrollment is limited and you may not get your first choice, so it is important that you also shop any additional tutorials you would consider.

    There is also a tutorial fair on/or before the first day of class in the Bauer Lab Lobby, where you can meet the Tutors in person and learn more about the different classes. An announcement about the exact date and time will be send to all concentrators ahead of the event.

    Q: How do I sign up to take a tutorial class?

    A: You must enter your preferences into the sectioning form (see instructions here) by Wednesday midnight (the day before course registration day). Popular tutorials may need to be lotteried so you should enter at least 3 choices. Priority is given to Neurobiology concentrators. If you have to miss tutorial during shopping period (not advisable), you should contact the instructor before course registration day.

    Since some of our tutorials do not meet until Wednesday evening (the day before course registration day), we cannot determine final enrollment until late that night. You will be emailed your assignment by 6 AM the next morning – course registration day (Thursday).

    Q: Does Neurobiology 91 count as an Advanced Neuro elective?

    A: No. Neuro 91 simply formalizes your independent work in a laboratory as course credit on your transcript. The letter grade for the semester is provided by your research director. For this course, you are expected to work ~15 hours per week in the lab during the semester. You can enroll in Neuro 91 starting Junior Spring, and it can be taken twice for credit.

    Q: What’s the difference between an MBB seminar and a Neurobiology tutorial? Which counts for what? Is either one required?

    A: Neurobiology tutorials are listed as the Neurobiology 101 series. Neurobiology and Neurobiology/MBB students may count one of these courses toward the advanced neurobiology course requirement. Students are encouraged to take a tutorial class in their junior year. Neurobiology 101 tutorials, although strongly recommended, are not required for the concentration.

    Neurobiology 101 courses also fulfill the MBB junior tutorial/seminar requirement for non-Neurobiology concentrators only. Neurobiology/MBB concentrators must fulfill this requirement with an MBB seminar (see next paragraph).

    MBB seminars are listed as the MBB 980 series, and are regular 4-credit courses that meet during one semester. MBB seminars do NOT count toward the advanced neurobiology course requirement. One MBB seminar is required for the Neurobiology/MBB track, fulfilling the “Seminar in Mind, Brain, and Behavior” requirement for those students. MBB seminars are also taken by MBB students in other concentrations (e.g., Philosophy, Economics, etc.). Contact Shawn Harriman for more information about MBB seminars: shawn_harriman@harvard.edu.

    Q: Can you please explain the difference between the Neurobiology track and the Neurobiology/MBB track?

    A: Yes. First, you should realize that your track affects what course requirements you must fulfill to graduate. Your track affiliation can change and is not officially declared until your final semester. Regardless of what track you choose, your diploma and transcript will list ‘Neurobiology’ as your field of study.

    In terms of requirements, the main differences are:

    • MBB track requires the completion of a research thesis (including the Neuro 91 and Neuro 99 research courses). Thesis writers should plan to start research work by junior year spring semester at the latest.
    • MBB track requires one less physical science course (i.e., 2 instead of 3) and one less advanced neurobiology course (i.e., 2 instead of 3). In place of these courses, MBB track students take one of the approved MBB junior year seminars* and two approved MBB electives*

    *Neurobiology/MBB track approved courses are listed exclusively on the neurobiology course webpage:

    https://www.mcb.harvard.edu/undergraduate/neurobiology/neurobio-courses/?course-button=mbbjuniorseminars

    MBB seminars and electives allow students to explore courses that inform the study the brain from a variety of other disciplines, such as: philosophy, psychology, linguistics, computer science, history of science, economics, human evolutionary biology, etc.

    Q: When can I start doing research? I’ve never worked in a lab before — will that hurt my chances of finding a thesis lab? How do I find a lab?

    A: You can start research anytime after matriculation, but many students wait until sophomore or junior year to start work in a lab. Often it takes time to discover from coursework what topics and approaches are most exciting to you.

    No experience is necessary to join a lab; not having experience will not affect your chances of getting into a lab. Faculty typically pair an undergraduate researcher with a daily mentor in the lab (i.e., an advanced grad student or post-doc) who can teach you the techniques and skills you need for your project after you join. All you need is enthusiasm and dedication!

    Students wishing to write a thesis should have joined a lab by the start of junior year spring semester.

    Refer to this guide for advice on “Looking for a Lab? at the ‘Neurobio Guide’ page:

    https://www.mcb.harvard.edu/undergraduate/neurobiology/research-and-thesis/?course-button=guidetofindingalab

    Q: Is a thesis required for Neurobiology?

    A: It depends on your track:

    • Neurobiology track and Comp. Neuro Track: No; however, it is necessary (not sufficient) to get highest honors (see below). Moreover, completing a thesis positively affects yours Honors determination (see below).
    • MBB track: Yes, a completed thesis is required to graduate.

    Q: How do students get Honors in Neurobiology?

    A: Information explaining Honors in Neurobiology can be found here:

    https://www.mcb.harvard.edu/undergraduate/neurobiology/neurobio-requirements/?course-button=honorsinfo

    Q: Who advises me?

    A: Once you have declared your concentration, your concentration advisers (Dr. Ryan Draft and Dr. Laura Magnotti) are your adviser for the remainder of your time at Harvard College. They should be the first people you go to for any and all academic advice, questions, concerns or issues. See the Neurobiology ‘Contact Us’ page for contact details:

    https://www.mcb.harvard.edu/undergraduate/neurobiology/neurobio-contact-us/

  • Career Guide

    Careers

    What can I do with a degree in Neurobiology?

    Many students assume that concentrating in Neurobiology will lead them in only two directions – either to medical school or into research.  It surprises many people to learn however, that there are almost limitless career possibilities in Neurobiology.  Why?  If you think about it, the brain is necessarily involved in everything we do, from making decisions with our money, to learning new skills and languages, to moving our muscles during sports or other fine motor tasks, to perceiving the space and environment around us.  As a result, neuroscience can bring an extremely important perspective to almost any field.

    To help you to ‘brainstorm’ career ideas, we have listed some fields in which a neuroscience background can be helpful.  Although it may take some creativity, one can specialize in each of these fields to deal largely with brain-related topics.  Please note that there are probably many other career ideas that are not on this list.  Some of these careers (but not all) will require further schooling, whether that is business, law, graduate, or medical school, or other experience and training.

    We are always working to improve this list.  If you have more ideas to add, please send them to Dr. Ryan Draft (draft@fas.harvard.edu).

    Academia, Teaching, & Education

    • Research lab head (principal investigator), running a lab of research scientists, postdocs, technicians, and students
    • Other research positions in an academic lab, for example, research scientist, technician, lab manager, etc. (see Biotech for more detail.  Note: research may be purely clinical, working with patient populations, etc.)
    • Professor (teach at undergraduate and/or graduate level, may also be lab head)
    • Instructor, lecturer, or guest lecturer (may also have a research position)
    • Dean (may also teach, have research position or lab)
    • Run an academic program (Neurobiology advisor or coordinator, etc.)
    • High school science teacher – can specialize in neuro
    • Elementary, junior high science teacher
    • Run a (neuro)science program at a youth education center (e.g. a city-wide program for public schools, create a program for private schools, a summer program, etc.)
    • Teach Neuroscience to medical students
    • Teach public about Neuroscience (non-profit organization, Allen Brain Institute, etc.)
    • Teach Neuroscience to adults (continuing education programs, run seminars for companies who want employees to understand brain/health better, train hospital employees about the brain, etc.)
    • Work to improve funding for science education
    • Teach abroad (developing nation or other) about Neuroscience

    — NYT article on teaching: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/21/health/research/21brain.html?_r=1&em

    — Neuro-based education program:  http://jensenlearning.com/what-is-brain-based-research.php?gclid=CK3gzfrH5p4CFaM45Qod5m49Jw

    Health-Related Careers

    • Clinical psychologist (could specialize in behavioral neuroscience)
    • Physician (M.D. or D.O.)
    • Optometrist
    • Nurse (for example, in neurology ward, neuro-oncology, pediatric neurology, etc.)
    • Nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant (can specialize in neuro-related)
    • Speech & language therapist (especially important for neurological patients with damage to left hemisphere, or children with neurodevelopmental disorders)
    • Occupational therapist for adults (especially important following stroke, loss of basic function to take care of one’s self, etc.)
    • Occupational therapist for children (teaching how to compensate/alleviate developmental disorders, e.g. SPD, autism, ADD, motor disorders, etc.)
    • Physical therapist (especially important following stroke, when working to regain function, etc.)
    • Audiologist (assess hearing function in babies, children, or adults)
    • Nutritionist (Your neuro background gives you a unique perspective on how nutrients and metabolism affect the nervous system.  In your practice, you could specialize in neurological function.)
    • Social worker (Your background would help you to understand the specific issues affecting neurological patients upon re-entering their environment following hospitalization.)
    • Clinical researcher – could work at a number of levels, from technician to research scientist, etc.
    • Pharmacist (Specialize in how drugs mimic neurotransmitters in the brain.)
    • MRI technician
    • Technician for other neurological procedures, e.g. deep brain stimulation
    • Radiation physicist (this is someone who calculates precisely how radiation should be used to target tumors, for example tumors within the brain)
    • Administrator or coordinator (for example, of a neurology ward or team of neurology residents and attending physicians)
    • Run a public service project in an underserved area with limited medical care

    Which specialty?  Here are some neuro-related health specialties (whether for doctor, nurse, or other).  You may not have considered all of these:

    Neurology, neurosurgery, neuro-oncology, pediatric neurology, neuropathology, neurodegenerative disease (AD, PD), neuroradiology, neuromuscular function, sleep medicine, pain medicine, anesthesiology, ear-nose-throat, rehabilitation medicine, movement disorders, ophthalmology, epilepsy, behavioral neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology, etc.)

    Global Health

    • Run a clinical research project in another country (or work for one)
    • Run a public service project in a developing nation (or work for one)
    • Work for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – specialize in neurological disease
    • Global health reporting and/or data collection – focus on neurological health
    • Many other options here (e.g. UN, NGOs, MSF, OXFAM, USAID, World Bank)

    Biotech industry

    • Research scientist – do the actual experiments (Note: research may be basic science or purely clinical, working with patient populations, etc.)
    • Research director (direct the bench scientists)
    • Technician in biotech lab (could do biological, chemical, computational work, or even animal husbandry, brain dissections, etc.)
    • Laboratory manager (run day-to-day lab operations)
    • Executive (e.g. manager, department director, research facilities director)
    • Press/Media writer, ‘New Drug Application’ writer
    • Public relations – spokesperson to public, media, etc.
    • Human resources
    • Patient coordinator
    • Fundraising (Understanding the science can help to make fundraisers more effective.)

    Business & Law

    • Neuroeconomist or economics consultant
    • Chief-Scientific-Officer (CSO), Executive Director or other high-level at private company, non-profit foundation, government institution, or academic program
    • Marketing or advertising consultant (What is going on in the brain when someone picks the red toothpaste over the blue toothpaste?  How do we design the launch of a new drug?)
    • Equity consultant, analyst or broker for an equity firm, venture capitalist or hedge fund (Is a biotech or pharmaceutical company a good investment?)
    • Spokesperson for a neuro company – for example, educate public on the research that is going on at Michael J. Fox Foundation
    • Patent lawyer (for example, draft a patent application to secure intellectual property rights for a neurobiological technique or product developed at Harvard)
    • Lawyer (e.g. specialize in neurodegenerative disease cases, or child developmental problems)
    • See all options under “Biotech industry”
    • Consultant (they look for people with science background) – see “Consulting”
    • Design & sell neuro-related products (for example, see:
    • http://www.rapidlearningcenter.com/biology/neuroscience/neuroscience.html
    • http://jensenlearning.com/what-is-brain-based-research.php?gclid=CK3gzfrH5p4CFaM45Qod5m49Jw
    • http://www.harvardapparatus.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/haicat1_10001_11051_37714_-1_HAI_Categories_N

    Government & policy

    • Work for a governmental office (Centers for Disease control, National Institutes of Health, Federal Drug Administration, etc.) that oversees public policy toward neurological disease, the aging brain, etc.
    • Capitol Hill Staffer (work in congressional office, science/health-related initiatives)
    • Congressional advisor (advise on policy for the care of children with neurodevelopmental diseases, intellectual disability, autism, epilepsy, etc.)
    • Advise on policy for the care of persons with psychiatric problems, etc.
    • Work at the National Institutes for Health (oversees funding for all science in the US)
    • Grants administrator and/or reviewer (Program manager – NSF, NIH)
    • NIH Program Director (e.g. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/About-NINDS/Who-We-Are/Program-Directors)
    • Global Health Organizations (see above)

    Writing & Publishing

    • Scientific journal editor (for example, Neuron, Cell, Nature, Science, Nature Neurosci, J. Neurosci, J. Neurobiology, J. Neurophysiology, Trends in Neurosciences, etc. etc. etc.)
    • Scientific journalist (correspondent or columnist)
    • Creative writing about the brain – for kids or adults
    • Write biographies for famous neuroscientists
    • Web design and writing for the NIH or other neuroscience organization
    • Science education blogger (for example at Nature: http://www.nature.com/scitable)
    • Science publishing (writing, editing, recruitment of writers)
    • Produce science education material web/print (Scholastic, Nature Educ, Pearson Publishing)

    Consulting (advise people with your neuro background)

    • Management consulting (specialize in science: biotech, pharma, healthcare)
    • Private consulting firm
    • Lobbyist (for foundations, biotech industry)
    • Library (medical or other)

    Non-profit research or Foundation (e.g. Michael J. Fox Foundation)

    • See all items under “Biotech industry” – those also apply here
    • Grants specialist
    • Discovery specialist for a research foundation (coordinate academic and biotech research to cure a specific disease)

    Creative sector

    • Graphic designer for any company/organization/website on this list – they need people who know what the brain looks like!
    • Design web-based scientific education material (NIH, Scitable, University Science Ctrs)
    • Start-up company in anything neuro-related (e.g. things on this list)
    • Science consultant for the media (e.g. a TV station – or Google?)
    • Artist who specializes in how the brain perceives space, color, texture, emotion, etc.
    • Architect who specializes in the brain’s perception of space, etc.
    • Creative writing about the brain – for kids or adults
    • Toy designer (use your knowledge of developing brains to shape toy products)
    • Musician/instructor (understanding hearing & brain enriches composition, performance)
    • Write neurosci-fi screenplays
    • Web design, art, and/or writing for any neuroscience organization
    • Advertising (use yoru knowledge of cognition to design advertising – print/web/TV)
    • Food scientist (How does food affect the brain?  Use your understanding of the taste & olfactory sensory systems to create dishes that maximally stimulate sensory neurons.  See also nutritionist under “Health-Related Careers”
    • Design neuroscientific products, for example:
    • http://www.harvardapparatus.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/haicat1_10001_11051_37714_-1_HAI_Categories_N

    If you would like more guidance:

    • This book talks about different types of career options for scientists:
      • Careers in Science and Engineering; A Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond   http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=5129&page=R1
    • The Office of Career Services also provides a number of career resources:  http://ocs.fas.harvard.edu/
    • The Center for Public Interest Careers: https://publicservice.fas.harvard.edu/cpic