Choose neuroscience if you want to know why you forgot why you walked into a room.

I can talk about the Neuroscience & Behavior major at Barnard for hours on end. The newer iteration of the major has a great combination of flexibility in electives and general science courses. As a junior on the pre-health track, this has been especially helpful for me to juggle my pre-med requirements while also being able to take classes across courses in cognate disciplines, including psychology, biology, chemistry, physics, cognition, and computer science.

Major Requirements:

  • Core neuro courses: (3 of the 5 MUST be taken at Barnard)

→ Intro to Neuroscience (NSBV BC1001)

→ Laboratory in Neuroscience (NSBV BC2001)

→ Systems & Behavioral Neuroscience (NSBV BC3001)

→ Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience (NSBV BC3361) or Molecular & Cellular Neuroscience (BIOL BC3362) 

→ Statistics & Experimental Design (NSBV BC2002) or Statistics (PSYC BC1101) or Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences (PSYC UN1610) or Introduction to Statistics (STAT UN1101) or Calculus-based Introduction to Statistics (STAT UN1201)

  • Introductory courses from the cognate discipline: (ANY 3 from the below list)

YOU MUST TAKE Biology: Intro to Cell & Molecular Biology (Lecture & Lab; BIOL BC1502 & 1503)

2 courses (1 lect; 1 lect+lab) from any of the following:

→ Biology: Intro to Organismal/Evolution Biology (Lect & Lab; BIOL BC1500 & 1501)

→ Chemistry: General Chemistry (Lect & Lab; CHEM BC2001 & 2012)

→ Computer Science: An Introduction to Computational Thinking (COMS BC1016+lab COMS BC1017), Intro to Information Science (COMS W1001), Computing in Context (COMS W1002), or Intro to Computer Science/Programming in Java (COMS W1004)

→ Physics: Mechanics (Lect PHYS BC2010; Lect & Lab PHYS BC2001), Electricity & Magnetism (Lect PHYS BC2020; Lect & Lab PHYS BC2002), General Physics I (UN1201)

→ Psychology: Introduction to Psychology (Lect & Lab; PSYC BC1001 & 1010)

  • 3 electives ( out of 75+ electives offered!! )
  • Research Seminar: Senior Research Seminar (NSBV BC3593-4) or Neuroscience Guided Research (NSBV BC3591-2) or Neuronal Circuits (NSBV BC3590)

My freshman year, I crammed so many of the major requirements just because I had the opportunity to be able to do so. Take it from me, DO NOT DO THAT. This, in my opinion, is the best outline for when to take which classes:

Freshman Fall: You just got on campus!! Have fun, find a friends group, and develop some good study habits! Use this semester to get into a healthy routine. If you’re in the process of figuring out where your interests lie, join a neuroscience club (listed at the bottom of the page)! 

This would be a good time to take either General Chemistry (Lect & Lab; CHEM BC2001 & 2012) or Intro to Organismal/Evolution Biology (Lect & Lab; BIOL BC1500 & 1501)

Freshman Spring: Take your first neuroscience class! Intro to Neuroscience (NSBV BC1001) will be a good way to put a feeler out for the major. This semester you should also take Intro to Cell & Molecular Biology (Lect & Lab; BIOL BC1502 & 1503). Make sure to supplement these “science-heavy” classes with things you’re interested in like a fun tap class or yoga!!

Sophomore Fall: Intro Neuro should have given you an idea of how you feel about the major. This semester, it’s a good idea to take another class from those in the cognate disciplines! This could mean Intro to Psychology or a class from the bio, chem, physics, or comp-sci department. There’s a lot of flexibility here! If you feel inclined to do so, I would recommend taking an intro level stats class as well.

Sophomore Spring: This semester you can try your hand at an “upper level” neuroscience lecture. Your biology and intro neuro classes should have you feeling prepared for Systems & Behavioral Neuroscience (NSBV BC3001). This semester you get to declare your major!! Congratulations <3

Junior Fall: Now the fun begins! This semester you should try to take Laboratory in Neuroscience (NSBV BC2001) and your final class from the cognate disciplines!! 

Junior Spring: You’re now about/more than halfway through the major!! This semester, take Systems & Behavioral Neuroscience (NSBV BC3001). If you were unable to take a lab in neuroscience last year, try to get a spot this semester. You can also take your first of three electives this semester!

Senior Fall: It’s senior seminar time!! Work with your advisor to come up with a plan for your senior seminar/thesis. This is a 2-semester course. At the same time as the seminar, you can do your second of the three electives. The finish line is so close.

Senior Spring: You have just two more neuro courses left!!! Your final elective and senior seminar. Well done! On behalf of the entire NSB major and Bwog, we are so very proud of you. Celebrate your hard work and know you are so deserving of all the success coming your way. The NSB major is no easy feat, my friend!

I must note that this guideline is different from one person to the next. As I stated before, there is so much flexibility with the NSB major. Make sure to work closely with your advisor to find what works best for you to achieve your individualistic goals.

My freshman and sophomore years were a whirlwind of some of the best… and worst neuro classes. Here are some of the incredible neuro seminars/electives that I think deserve a shout-out! (they are in no particular order):

Visual Neuroscience: From the Eyeball to the Mind’s eye:

Professor: Dr. Alex White

Class synopsis: This course explores the complex process of seeing, which, despite feeling effortless, involves the absorption of electromagnetic radiation through the eyes and requires intricate optics and the coordinated action of millions of nerve cells. It delves into how light-induced electrical activity in neural networks underpins various aspects of vision, including color perception, motion, object recognition, and more. Students will examine specific topics and the principles of neural information coding, with applications in neuroscience, medicine, engineering, art, and design, also discussing vision loss and recovery.

Neural Plasticity

Professor: Dr. Tina Kao

Class synopsis: This seminar provides an overview of the mechanisms associated with neural plasticity. Students will obtain a basic working knowledge of the different types of neural plasticity, and how these affect cognitions and behaviors. Topics will vary weekly, and original scientific research articles, along with original scientific review articles, will be interpreted and discussed. The topics to be addressed range from structural, functional, injury, experience, and activity-induced neural plasticity. The scientific articles will encompass data collected from both human and non-human models.

Topics in Neurobiology: Applications of Neuroimaging in Aging and Disease

Professors: Yunglin Gazes and Patrick Lao

Class Synopsis: This course will traverse the most widely used neuroimaging techniques and explore how each one is applied to understand the workings and failures of the brain in aging and diseases. Students will learn the strengths and weaknesses of each neuroimaging technique and gain a basic understanding of the neurological conditions that can be investigated with each technique.

Neuroscience/ General Science club recommendations: 

→ Columbia Nueroscience Society (CNS)

→ Grey Matters 

→ Barnard Network of Pre-Medical Students

→ Columbia University Science Journal 

→ Biomedical Engineering Society

→ Chandler Society for Undergraduate Chemistry

→ Charles Drew Pre-Medical Society

→ Columbia Bioethics Society

More clubs can be found here.

Here are some of my tips for how to prepare for core neuro courses offered at Barnard. For Systems and Behavior, I found that it really helped to read the class slides both before and immediately after lecture. I would then review the material covered during the week on Sunday. This class was relatively easy to do well in if you take the effort to understand the content and I found that it laid an excellent foundation for Cell and Molecular neuroscience. I took Cell and Molecular with Prof. Zadina and it’s probably one of my favorite classes I’ve taken in the Barnard NSB department. The crux of doing well in the class is constant practice and religiously staying up to date with the material. Prof. Zadina’s class is ideal for the responsible student who is ready to allocate a solid chunk of time during the week towards studying for the class. You get out the class how much you are willing to put in, and this worked for the type of student I am! The Lab in Neuroscience was similar. The goal of this course is to introduce you to important skills that you would need to be able to conduct basic in-vivo experiments in actual scientific practice. 

Final thoughts: The NSB major tests your patience. At times you will feel overwhelmed and defeated, but know that you are NOT ALONE! Once you find your groove in the major, your classes will start becoming “easier” to digest. I’ve found it beneficial to reach out to others in my classes and form study groups. The NSB major is filled with the most delightful neuro nerds with interests that are so niche and wonderful to engage in. If you’re ever at a loss as to what to do, reach out to an upperclassman or your major advisor, because just like glial cells, we’re here to offer support (hehehe) <3. To the reader of this long spiel, you have such a delightful journey ahead of you, and I wish you the best of luck!!

Franken-neuron header image via author’s unrestricted access to Canva