By ADAM FALLUJI – CENTO WRITER
THE BEHAVIORAL NEUROSCIENCE (BNS) MAJOR IS AN INNOVATIVE AND EXPANDING FIELD FOR STUDENTS
College is the best time to explore one’s interests—and choosing a major is one way to do so. Declaring a major allows an undergraduate student to immerse him/herself in a direction of study; however, there are so many to choose from, with some being less-straightforward than others. Centre’s Behavioral Neuroscience (BNS) major covers a variety of topics within the field. Being a BNS major and has been a worthy experience for students.
The aim of the discipline is to understand the basis of human and biological behavior as well as how different pathological conditions can affect the nervous system. Thus, a thorough exposure to anatomical, chemical, and biological sciences as well as psychological sciences are foundations that the major has implemented into the curriculum. For this reason, in years past the major was named ‘psychobiology’.
To fulfill their course requirements for the major, students can pursue several different directions. One focuses on the brain and behavioral sciences, another closely examines clinical psychology and cognition, while a third is geared toward molecular-level studies such as cell biology and organic chemistry.
“I see it as a very descriptive field,” BNS faculty member and Assistant Professor of Psychology Dr. Aaron Godlaski said. “[It’s studying] what happens in your head when you do ‘x.’ Part of its’ attractiveness is this empirical stance on how we act. However, I think it’s important to recognize the boundedness of what we can do, what questions we can answer, and what we say we know.”
The BNS major is backed by dedicated professors who are continually expanding their knowledge in the field for their students.
“The professors are really into what they do. The field is young so they always stay up-to-date,” senior BNS major Meghan Holliday said. “My classmates are always really engaged in learning, too. We feed off of each other and that makes a great learning environment.”
Declaring BNS as their major also gives students the potential to pursue a wide array of experience in the field outside of the classroom.
“We’re really interested in helping students seek research and internships. There’s always a new book about the interesting cases a neuroscientist is seeing. As a field, neuroscience has come a great distance in the last 20 years,” Godlaski said, “but we’ve only just scratched the surface. It’s a growing field and right now we’re only limited by our technology. We’re always training students in new aspects of research.”
BNS majors are involved in the areas of research outside of Centre College.
“[The BNS major] has challenged me and my critical thinking,” Holliday said. “We do a lot of work with journal articles and papers, criticizing and contemplating research done by highly educated experts in the field.”
For senior Jack Schafer, studying abroad during CentreTerm and taking a BNS-related course in the Caribbean has in been the highlight of his years spent pursing the major at Centre.
“The most memorable experience I’ve had as a BNS major is my experience in Barbados,” Schafer said. “Although I’m not pursuing it as a professional career, being fortunate enough to travel to study and research Vervet monkeys, immerse myself in Bajan culture for about a month, take a comprehensive exam by the pool, and give presentations in a remote tropical paradise is always nice.”
The major fits well with a liberal arts curriculum through which students broaden their perspectives and mentalities. Students interested in pre-health careers, such as pre-med, lab research, or psychology, can all find common ground within BNS.
“I came to college wanting to work in health and to work with people. But I also needed something to help me fill-out my general education requirements,” Holliday said. “This path gave me a great foundation for working with people and [gaining a] perspective on mental disorders, on the nervous system, and how the brain and behavior connect. It’s not just for medicine, though. People going into psychology and other areas can benefit [from pursuing the major.]”
In planning ahead for his career, Schafer decided to declare BNS as his major because of the similarity between required coursework for the major and what is required when applying to nursing school.
“I was a nursing major at the school I transferred from and so I chose behavioral neuroscience because I love psychology and it would still be filling out my pre-requisites for nursing school if I decided to do that,” Schafer said. “My favorite class is BNS 380, which is Sensation and Perception. The human sensory system and how we perceive our world through the five senses is incredible. It’s really funny whenever friends bring up illusions or weird things they’ve noticed and I can explain some of the science behind them.”
The professors working in BNS are just as passionate as the students are, constantly staying on top of new material and excited to help their students pursue their thoughts.
“I really enjoy the coursework I teach. I have a background in this area but I’m largely trained in clinical practice. I’m challenged by the students to push my own knowledge; when the students are engaged in the material, boring lectures become more of a dialogue. And that’s really the learning process and I enjoy taking part in that,” Godlaski said. “Students get to be engaged in the research process by watching their own ideas go into fruition. I’m regularly impressed by our students’ creativity toward the things I’m teaching. And as the students zoom in on their research, I advise them to zoom back out and consider the big picture—how their research crosses over with other things.”
BNS continues to be a growing major at Centre, made up of passionate students and professors eager to expand their knowledge in the field.