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Life of the...Brain?

Nora B., Third Year
Nora B., Third Year

In third grade, I told my mom I wanted to be a neuroscientist. I was fascinated by the idea of examining my thoughts and the happenings inside my head that created those thoughts. Although at that age I was, of course, unaware of the details of neuroscientific research, I found that most of my questions about the world revolved around thoughts, minds, and sensations. Over the next nine years, I spent as much time as I could learning about the brain. So, naturally, the first student organization I joined when I arrived on the UChicago campus was NEURO club. As part of NEURO club, I invited speakers to campus in order to learn about the research they conducted. Their lectures were so informative and inspiring, and my interest in neuroscience continued to grow. Fortunately, at the end of my first year at the college, UChicago announced the addition of a new major: neuroscience.

I jumped into classes right away, and immediately, I felt confident that I had chosen the right major for me. In my “Sensation and Perception” class, we learned about how the brain processes the information it receives from the outside world. I remember turning to my friend at the end of our first class and exclaiming, “This is exactly what I want to be learning about!”

I’m currently in a class called “Photons to Consciousness: Cellular and Integrative Brain Function,” which explores current research in cellular networks and their role in brain function. Every week, we read about four publications from current researchers on topics like color vision, proprioception, and sleep. These papers dive into cellular and physiological research that has been very rewarding for me to engage with.

In addition to the fantastic classes I’ve taken, the interactions I’ve had and the relationships I’ve formed with neuroscience faculty members have made me feel a strong sense of community and support within the department. Peggy Mason, the director of UChicago’s neuroscience department, hosts weekly lunches where students can either speak with her or hear from a professor about the work they are doing. In one of these lunches, my classmates and I asked Dr. Mason questions about the major, our research goals, and possible career paths after graduation. During that time, I was really enjoying the conversations I was having in my social science class and so was also exploring the possibility of starting a double major in Philosophy. I shared this burgeoning interest with Dr. Mason, who encouraged me to indulge my interest in philosophy and even recommended a play I should see at the Court Theatre on campus called “The Hard Problem,” which is about understanding and studying consciousness.

Finally, an integral and exciting part of being a neuroscience major at UChicago is participating in research. Throughout my time at UChicago, I’ve worked in a few different labs that range from psychology and psychiatry to computational neuroscience and cellular neuroscience. Research positions at UChicago are very abundant, so almost all of my fellow majors have worked in labs at some point in their undergraduate careers. In order to encourage students to engage with their research at a deeper level with the research, the department has created a fellowship program that supports ten weeks of research over the summer.  

As I come to the close of my third year at UChicago, I feel confident that my neuroscience education has prepared me for what’s to come. My classes have exposed me to a wide range of theoretical and practical knowledge, all the while surrounding me with motivated and curious classmates. I’m so lucky that the major began in time for me to be part of it, and I look forward to seeing how the program grows in the coming years.

Submitted by Nora B. on Saturday, March 3, 2018