BA in Neuroscience

Nervous systems allow animals to interact with each other and their environments much more quickly and flexibly than other organisms that lack them. By taking in sensory information, processing that information in the context of previously learned memories, and producing motor outputs, nervous systems directly generate the breathtaking variety of behaviors that we observe across human and nonhuman animals. But how does a network of interconnected nerve cells—from perhaps a few hundred in small invertebrates to roughly 100 billion in humans—perform this remarkable function? How do healthy human brains generate our conscious experiences, our emotions, our unmatched behavioral complexity, and our near-limitless capacity for forming new memories? How do disorders of and injuries to our nervous systems generate the debilitating symptoms—such as memory loss and paralysis—that affect people with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or spinal cord damage? And what opportunities—such as novel drug treatments or brain-controlled prosthetics—might we someday use to treat these pathologies?

The undergraduate major in Neuroscience is motivated by an enthusiasm for exploring these and other questions in the field, alongside an urgency to foster general scientific literacy amidst a constant stream of news stories heralding “life-changing” discoveries. Growing academic interest and popular fascination with the brain signal a dynamic time for the field of neuroscience and inform our two broad goals: to prepare students for careers in neuroscience or other natural sciences in both academia and private industry, and to nurture skills and competencies that apply to these and other postgraduate trajectories, including education, law, public policy, communication, sales and marketing, engineering, public health, and clinical and behavioral therapy.

Learning Outcomes

Students who complete the Major in Neuroscience will:

  1. Master the fundamentals of neuroscience spanning the breadth of the field, from the theoretical to the experimental, and across multiple levels of analysis. For example, how does the functional neuroanatomy of sensory processing support language ability, and/or what cellular features and molecular mechanisms lead to neurodegenerative disorders?
  2. Write effectively for a scientific audience, which entails synthesizing and citing the scientific literature, writing clearly, concisely, logically, and objectively, and adhering to the conventions of the most common formats in the field (such as grant proposals and research articles).
  3. Demonstrate competency in the scientific method, evidence-based reasoning, and experimental design, for example, by crafting testable hypotheses, identifying manipulated and measured variables, understanding experimental controls, and differentiating correlational from experimental research.

Requirements

All first-year, first-time students will pursue coursework in the BU Hub, a general education program that is integrated into the entire undergraduate experience. BU Hub requirements are flexible and can be satisfied in many different ways, through coursework in and beyond the neuroscience major and, in some cases, through cocurricular activities. Students majoring in neuroscience will ordinarily, through coursework in the major, satisfy BU Hub requirements in Scientific Inquiry I and II, Quantitative Reasoning I and II, Ethical Reasoning, Writing-Intensive, Critical Thinking, Research & Information Literacy, and Teamwork/Collaboration, with opportunities to satisfy Oral and/or Signed Communication and Historical Consciousness through electives. Neuroscience majors who are on the prehealth track will generally satisfy additional BU Hub requirements in Social Inquiry and The Individual in Community as well. Remaining BU Hub requirements will be satisfied by selecting from a wide range of available courses outside the major or cocurricular experiences.

  • Seventeen 4-credit courses are required for the Neuroscience major. These include seven basic natural science courses that provide an appropriate background for neuroscience, five core neuroscience courses, and five electives. Elective courses are grouped based on whether they fall into one of the three principal domains of neuroscience (Group 1: Neurobiology; Group 2: Cognitive; or Group 3: Computational) or concern non-neuroscience topics but provide useful knowledge or skills for students working toward specific postgraduate paths (Restricted List electives). Students must complete electives in at least two of the three groups and cannot count more than two electives from the Restricted List toward the major.
  • The major also carries a research requirement. Students may complete the research requirement in one of three ways:
    1. Successful completion of CAS NE 102/116 and NE 203/218;
    2. Participation in two consecutive semesters of faculty-mentored research for four or more credits each as a junior or senior conducted under guidelines established by the program:
      a. Directed Study in Neuroscience (CAS NE 391, 392, 491, or 492)
      b. Neuroscience Honors Thesis (CAS NE 401/402);
    3. Successful completion of an upper-level lab course in neuroscience from one of the three elective groups.
  • A grade of C or higher is required for major credit in all courses except for the two Required Basic Science chemistry courses, where a grade of C– or higher is required for major credit.

Required Basic Science Courses (7 total)

  • Two courses in chemistry: CAS CH 101 and 102 (or CH 101 and 116; or CH 109 and 110; or CH 111 and 112).
  • Two courses in physics: CAS PY 105 and 106 (or PY 211 and 212; or PY 241 and 242; or PY 251 and 252).
  • Two courses in calculus: CAS MA 123 (or MA 121) and CAS MA 124 (or MA 122).
  • One course in statistics: CAS NE 212; can alternatively be satisfied with a two-course sequence of CAS MA 115 and 116 (or MA 213 and 214).

Required Core Courses (5 total)

Courses marked with an asterisk (*) contain a lab component.

CAS NE 101, NE 102* (or NE 116*), NE 202, NE 203* (or NE 218* or BI 325), and NE 204*. (Note: NE 102*/116* is a prerequisite for NE 203*/218.) Students who took CAS BI 108 prior to declaring a major in neuroscience may use that course in place of NE 102/116. Successful completion of both NE 102*/116* and NE 203*/218* satisfies the research requirement. Students who elect BI 325 instead of NE 203*/218* or who are using previously earned credit for BI 108 in place of NE 102 will be required to either conduct research with a faculty member, or take an upper-level elective with a lab component to satisfy the research requirement. Students may not receive credit for (1) both CAS NE 101 and PS 231, or (2) both CAS NE 212 and PS 211.

Upper-Level Electives (5 total)

Choose five courses from the following three groups. Students must take courses in at least two of the three groups to satisfy the breadth requirement; up to two courses may come from a fourth, restricted electives list (these courses will not satisfy the breadth requirement or the research requirement).

Group 1: Neurobiology

CAS BI 585, BI 599, NE 230, NE 322*, NE 349, NE 445*, NE 455, NE 481, NE 520, NE 525, NE 535, NE 542, NE 556, NE 561, NE 589, NE 594, NE 598, BI 599, MET BI 366.

Group 2: Cognitive

CAS NE 234, NE 327*, NE 328*, NE 329*, NE 333, NE 337, NE 338, NE 456, NE 499, NE 521, NE 528, NE 529, NE 531, NE 532, NE 544, NE 592.

Group 3: Computational

CAS CN 510*, CN 530*, CS 542, CS 565, MA 565, MA 573, MA 578, NE 340*, NE 449*, NE 530, NE 560, NE 593.

Restricted Electives (maximum of 2 toward the major)

CAS BI 203 or BI 213, BI 315, CH 203 or CH 218, CS 111, CS 112, MA 226, MA 242, MA 416; ENG EK 127.

Undergraduate Research Requirement Options

Students may take CAS NE 191/192 or NE 291/292 for credit, although only CAS NE 391/392, 491/492, or NE 401/402 will satisfy the research requirement.

Prehealth Students

Prehealth students majoring in neuroscience should visit the Pre-Professional Advising office, 100 Bay State Road, 4th floor, as early as possible to discuss prehealth requirements.

Honors in the Major

Neuroscience students may pursue honors in the major by completing a year-long Senior Thesis in Neuroscience (CAS NE 401 and 402), during which they engage in independent neuroscience research in the lab of a faculty member at BU or an approved outside institution. Students may apply in the summer prior to their senior year as long as they meet the GPA requirement (3.4 or higher) and have at least one semester or summer of prior research experience in the lab in which they propose to complete their Senior Thesis. The application consists of a concise research proposal outlining the project to be completed along with consent of the proposed faculty mentor. If approved, students will graduate with Honors in Neuroscience if they successfully complete their year-long research project with grades of B+ or higher in both NE 401 and NE 402, which requires:

  • Dedicating 12–16 hours per week to their research project;
  • Preparation and submission of a 35-to-50-page honors thesis presenting the research project in the style of a scientific manuscript; and
  • Successful defense of the thesis in front of a committee of three faculty members.