Overview of Neurobiology Bachelor's Degree Programs
The exciting field of neurobiology tries to understand the nervous system via cellular, molecular and behavioral approaches. Bachelor's degree programs in neurobiology are academically rigorous programs designed for students who are interested in the workings of the human brain and who want to go on to a career in related research or medical practice. A number of colleges and universities offer a neurobiology program as a path of study within biology or neuroscience departments. This article tells you what you need to know about the admission requirements, required courses, career options and how to choose the best neurobiology program for you.
Admission Requirements for Neurobiology Programs
Neurobiology programs tend to be small programs within top tier schools and involve a competitive admission process. You will need to have completed high school with a strong academic record, and you may also need to complete one to two years of core math and sciences coursework in college before applying to your school's neurobiology program. If this is the case, the admissions committee will also need to see a minimum GPA for those prerequisite courses and good general academic standing. You should be ready to provide an essay explaining your interest in the program and your commitment to a career in neurobiology.
Neurobiology Program Coursework
After gaining a strong, multidisciplinary foundation in hard and social sciences, you can look forward to several progressively advanced courses in the following areas:
Cell and Molecular Biology
This course is what separates neurobiology from neuroscience. It focuses on the structure and function of the nerve cells and synapses -- the connection between nerve cells -- that make up the nervous system. It also covers the molecules that are involved in neural communication, memory, and learning.
Behavioral and Cognitive Neurobiology
Behavioral neurobiology looks at the way the brain controls mental activity. This course might focus specifically on human behavior using the method of comparative psychology, or it might cover animal behavior more broadly. It also introduces the field of neuroethology, which deals with how the biological components of the nervous system produce sensory perceptions and complex behavioral output, like emotion.
Neurological Disorders and Brain Disease
Disruption of normal nervous system functioning leads to physical or psychological disorder. You will learn about the different types of diseases and disorders that can affect humans, and what is understood about their underlying causes. Some of these include Alzheimer's, amnesia, Down syndrome, and Parkinson's disease. This course also discusses how conditions are studied and diagnosed, as well as the treatment options that currently or might one day exist.
In the context of neurobiology, this course could cover the processes that underlie what look like highly structured and complex neural circuits. Or, it could look at the how the brain changes over the course of an organism's life and which factors influence change. The environment, genetics, and cellular function are all factors to consider and discuss. The biology of aging examines age-induced alterations to organ system functioning.
Careers in neurobiology are often laboratory based, and practical learning in a lab environment is a key tenet of neurobiology bachelor's programs. Many of the above courses will include laboratory components as well. In lab, you will conduct dissection exercises, learn about various computer programs and modeling techniques and topics in neuro-electrical activity. This course is also important for learning how to conduct experiments and report research results, critical skills for any scientific career path.
How to Choose a Neurobiology Program
There are several factors that differentiate neurobiology programs from one another. One important one is the research activities of the faculty and whether undergraduate students have the opportunity to work with faculty in a laboratory. This is a valuable experience that may make you more competitive in graduate school applications or the job market. You should also look at the size of each neurobiology program, as smaller, close-knit programs might allow for more participation in the lectures and practical sessions, as well as a more tailored experience. Finally, be sure that the program you choose will meet the requirements of any academic program (like a Ph.D. program or medical school) you might be considering for the future.
Career Options in Neurobiology
With a bachelor's degree in neurobiology, you could work as a research assistant or technician, but almost all professionals in this field go on to a graduate program or medical school. You could work toward becoming a medical research scientist, for which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median salary of $80,530 in 2016 and job growth of 8% from 2014-2024. Other options include: