Minh Nguyen, a fourth-year majoring in neuroscience and human physiology at the University of Oregon, was thankful as she held a human brain in her gloved hands in an anatomy lab last fall.
“It’s just the most amazing feeling ever,” Nguyen said. “I’m so thankful that I got to do that, thankful to the donors and thankful to the faculty or whoever set up that program for us.”
Nguyen said she has been fascinated by neuroscience since she was young and was excited when UO announced its new neuroscience degree in November 2019. She is one of about 25 students who have declared the major, which officially launched this fall.
UO is the first public university in Oregon to offer a neuroscience degree, allowing students to study the brain and behavior. Its interdisciplinary nature requires students to take courses in the biology, human physiology and psychology departments.
“To really get a good understanding of how the mind works, you have to study it at a number of different levels,” said Nicole Dudukovic, director of the neuroscience major. “By bringing in coursework from biology, human physiology and psychology, we’re hitting all of those different levels.”
Undergraduates in the program take foundational natural science courses similar to the lower-division requirements for biology and human physiology majors. Students also take the core neuroscience sequence, which includes human anatomy, human physiology, biopsychology and neurobiology.
Specialized, upper-division electives include clinical neuroscience—which examines brain disorders and their causes—and music and the brain. Dudukovic will teach cognitive neuroscience winter term, which focuses on brain scanning research, brain injuries and neurological disorders.
To graduate from the neuroscience program, students must conduct research at a neuroscience lab or take advanced skills courses on programming or computational techniques, according to UO’s neuroscience website.
“The purpose of the major is to make sure that students graduate from it with the skills that they need,” Dudukovic said, “whether they decide to go on and pursue a graduate degree in neuroscience or if they decide to pursue a health profession or even an industry job in the sciences.”
Dudukovic said getting involved in research is the biggest challenge neuroscience students are facing due to research restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she remains hopeful, as faculty have found creative ways to involve students in their research and organizations like the Center for Undergraduate Research and Engagement help connect students with opportunities on campus.
Nguyen currently does research at the McCormick lab where she studies the vagus nerve and its effect on the brain and epilepsy. “Being able to see how my baseline research—my background research in the lab—can potentially contribute to a much bigger cure for epilepsy is something that is just fascinating to me,” she said.
Nguyen said she was happy she had additional opportunities to explore the field within the new major. “It’s really amazing that they’re pushing forward with this and allowing students who are interested in neuroscience to explore classes specifically related to neuroscience,” she said.