Have you ever wanted to know why you think the way you think? Do the things you do? At Samford University, there’s a way to explore this curiosity through a new major.
Starting this fall, Howard College of Arts and Sciences is launching a neuroscience degree giving students the opportunity to major in this field of study. Prior to this, only a neuroscience minor had been offered.
“This offers our undergraduate students an exciting option for those desiring to develop foundational knowledge in this area that can lead to a wide range of pathways for employment, further preparation in a health profession or graduate study in the field,” said Howard College of Arts and Sciences Dean Tim Hall.
Senior Julia Spruiell is changing her major from biology to neuroscience.
“I’m really excited,” Spruiell said. "I really love all things neuroscience, so I feel like this new major has the perfect balance of biology and psychology which I really enjoy."
Neuroscience is one of the fastest-growing fields in STEM. It explores the nervous system and its functions, delves deep into how the brain works, and how we process and interpret the world using biology, psychology and computational science.
But what makes this program different than other universities is that it is an interdisciplinary program between the Departments of Biology and Psychology.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure that it is balanced between both disciplines, not just both departments so that students come in understanding the great strengths,” said Psychology Department Chair and Professor Robert Elsner.
Elsner says students cannot truly answer the world’s greatest questions that neuroscience uncovers without studying multiple disciplines.
“Having an understanding of one without the other means you're deficient in understanding the whole and the applications,” Elsner said. “It also leaves out some of the greatest questions philosophically.”
In this program, students will also learn a wide range of disciplines. According to Elsner, one cannot understand the inner workings of the brain without incorporating disciplines like English to explain how we interpret words and their meaning.
“All of us have to study other things, otherwise what are we? How do we make the next great leap? How do we ask that beautiful naïve question that sets us up to make an advancement?" Elsner said.
“Because neuroscience is so interdisciplinary, it applies well to students who are creative and self-directed,” said Neuroscience Co-Director and Biology Professor Betsy Dobbins.
While a neuroscience major provides a strong basis for continued education in psychology, biology and health care, it is a launching pad for students to pursue other careers.
“When I first started looking into it, I thought health care was the only career path and it’s not,” Spruiell said. “You can do research, you can do tech, you can do business with it, there are so many different things. I think it’s interesting to study, but also to pursue as a career.”
Many neuroscientists move on to work for medically oriented corporations, biotech start-ups, government agencies, the military, medical instruments and video gaming companies.
“The tools and skills that you learn in neuroscience will impact you in ways that you can’t even imagine," Dobbins said. “In your parenting, in your interactions with other people, in the way you train your dog, I think it's a wonderful thing.”