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Neuroscience Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What departmental resources are available to me
A: Although Neuroscience is a “committee concentration” within the Life Sciences, our home department is MCB. Check out this guide to MCB Resources (talks, research, advising, and fun!)
Q: When should I take Neuro 80/MCB 80?
A: Ordinarily the fall semester of your sophomore year. You can also take it fall freshman year if you’re especially excited! Note: this is the same course, it is just listed with two different names. Enroll in whichever course title you want to appear on your transcript.
Q: I don’t understand the math requirement. Do I have to take 2 math classes to concentrate in Neuroscience?
A: The math requirement depends on your track and your proficiency level.
For students in the Neurobiology and MBB tracks, we reserve two concentration requirements for math. We require you to demonstrate calculus proficiency at the level of Math 1a. If you start at the level of Math Ma, this means you will need to take 2 math classes (Math Ma and then Math Mb). If you start directly with Math 1a, you will have completed the calculus portion of our requirement in one course, but you will still need to complete 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, Stat 102, Stat 104, Stat 110, etc.) or select computer science courses (e.g., CS50, CS51, etc.). Finally, if you demonstrate basic calculus proficiency (AP Calc. score of 4 or 5, or Harvard placement test into Math 1b or above) before arriving at Harvard, you may choose to take any two courses in Math, Computer Science (*select courses only), or Statistics.
Students completing the Computational Neuroscience track must complete Math 21a, 21b, and Stat 110.
Q: What is a Neuro tutorial?
A: Neuro tutorials are listed as the Neuro 101 series. Neurobiology, MBB, and Computational Neuroscience track students as well as Neuroscience secondary students may count one of these courses toward the advanced neuro 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. Most 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 scientist 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 neuro courses, where they discuss advanced readings with upper-level students and sometimes graduate students. Tutorials are often a favorite class among Neuroscience concentrators.
All Neuro tutorials require LPSA/LS 1a and Neuro 80, but other prerequisites are at the discretion of the instructor. Neuro 101 courses also fulfill the MBB junior tutorial/seminar requirement for NON-Neuroscience concentrators only. Each tutorial is open to qualified students from all concentrations, but Neuroscience concentrators will be given priority. Tutorials are capped at 12-15 students.
Q: How can I preview the Neuro tutorials?
A: There is a tutorial fair on or before the first day of class, where you can meet the tutors and learn more about the various offerings. An announcement about the exact date and time will be send to all concentrators ahead of the event. See the tutorials page for more details:
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 the lottery deadline. Popular tutorials may need to be lotteried, so you should enter at least 2-3 choices. Priority is given to Neuroscience concentrators. You will be emailed your assignment by 9 AM the next morning).
Q: Does Neuro 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 Neuro tutorial? Which counts for what? Is either one required?
A: Neuro tutorials are listed as the Neuro 101 series. Neurobiology, MBB, and Computational Neuroscience students may count one of these courses toward the advanced neuro course requirement. Students are encouraged to take a tutorial class in their junior year. Neuro 101 tutorials, although strongly recommended, are not required for the concentration.
Neuro 101 courses also fulfill the MBB junior tutorial/seminar requirement for non-Neuroscience concentrators only. MBB track students in the Neuroscience concentration 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 neuro course requirement. One MBB seminar is required for the Neuro/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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Can you please explain the difference between the Neurobiology track and the 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 ‘Neuroscience’ as your field of study.
In terms of requirements, the main differences are:
*Neuro/MBB track approved courses are listed exclusively on the neuroscience course webpage:
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 ‘Research & Thesis’ page
Q: If I am interested in writing a Neuroscience thesis, what are the requirements for my project?
First, your research must provide mechanistic insight into how the brain works. This typically involves either working directly with the cells of the nervous system (e.g., network/cellular/molecular/genetics research on neurons or glia) or using non-invasive brain imaging techniques to study the activity/connectivity of neuronal populations in humans (e.g., fMRI, MRI, DTI, EEG, TMS, NIRS, etc.).
Second, you must analyze primary data rather than conducting a meta-analysis or literature review, although you do not have to collect the data yourself.
Finally, you must work with a Harvard-affiliated PI at the College, HMS, or one of the Harvard affiliated hospitals (e.g., MGH, Boston Children’s, McLean).
Abstracts from previous years are available on the “research and thesis” page of our website if you’d like to get an idea of what kinds of projects are acceptable.
Q: Is a thesis required for Neuroscience?
A: It depends on your track:
Q: How do students get Honors in Neuroscience?
A: See this page for information explaining Honors in Neuroscience
Q: Who advises me?
A: Once you have declared your concentration, your concentration advisor (Dr. Ryan Draft, Dr. Kristina Penikis, or 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 Neuroscience ‘Contact Us’ page for contact details.
What can I do with a degree in Neuroscience?
Many students assume that concentrating in Neuroscience 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 Neuroscience. 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 (email@example.com).
Academia, Teaching, & Education
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.)
Business & Law
Government & policy
Writing & Publishing
Consulting (advise people with your neuro background)
Non-profit research or Foundation (e.g. Michael J. Fox Foundation)
If you would like more guidance: