Wednesday, May 23, 2018

New five-year Master’s neuroscience program emphasizes research

Alex Coggin ’16

Contributing Writer

The Neuroscience department at Trinity College has approved a new five year Bachelor’s/Master’s program for undergraduates wishing to continue their study in neuroscience. The program will be made available to students who have demonstrated academic excellence within the Neuroscience major. In order to qualify, students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or greater during their time at Trinity, and they also must have a faculty sponsor. Students would be encouraged to apply to the program by the conclusion of their junior year.

The new program was proposed in part as a response to the current structure of Trinity’s degree program. Currently, students graduate after four years with a BA in Neuroscience. Students that wish to pursue either medical school or a possible Ph. D. after Trinity must first earn their MA. However, in order to be accepted into many MA Neuroscience programs, an increasing number of schools require an additional year of research after the BA degree is earned. Since about 40-50 percent of Neuroscience majors at Trinity go on to attend medical school, this leaves many students searching for a location to perform their research. Students commonly turn to hospitals or other outside institutions to be hired as research assistants. Students would then have to take a year to do research, and then apply to an MA program. This extra year is somewhat cumbersome to those wishing to pursue higher degrees. The new five year BA/MA program will eliminate this step, allowing students to simultaneously research and take graduate level classes.

Research is a vital part of the Neuroscience major—some students actively participate in this part of the department beginning during their first year at Trinity. Research­­ is an important way to experience learning alongside faculty and to apply classroom knowledge to the real world. Some current research topics within the Neuroscience major include topics such as “Memory and Long-term Potentiation” and “Neuroplasticity of Memory Systems in Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury.” Participation in these types of research projects helps to strengthen later applications to medical schools or Ph. D. programs, and extended research is becoming an increasingly important part of admittance to many programs.

Availability of the new program hinges mainly on level of commitment of the student. Students that show a high level of dedication and interested in their specific area of study will be offered the opportunity. This means that there will only be between one and five students per year entering this new program. Those students who need only one more year of study to complete current work are especially suited for the five-year option. Many Neuroscience students at Trinity have found that despite their research time at the College coming to a close, they do not feel as though they have been provided enough opportunity to finish what they began.

Five-year BA/MA programs are growing in popularity in other colleges and universities that are similar to Trinity. Wesleyan University also offers a BA/MA program that focuses on research, and admittance is only open to students that perform above the University’s academic average. Like Trinity neuroscience BA/MA students, they must acquire the recommendation of a professor.

Brendan Kelley ’14, a Neuroscience major at Trinity, praised the convenience of the new program. “I know Trinity has a great neuroscience program, so given the opportunity, I would rather stay here for another year.” Faculty and students develop a close connection through their time together, and many would prefer another year at Trinity than to research for a year somewhere else.

Although this new program appeals to many students, its components require such a high level of commitment and skill make it extremely small and specific. When prompted about whether Trinity may plan to revise this program in the future if more students show an interest, Associate Professor of Biology and Neuroscience and Director of the new program Professor Guardiola-Diaz stated that there are no current plans to expand. Despite these limitations, the selectivity of the program does, however, have a silver lining: it will certainly promote constructive competition within the major and the Neuroscience department to ensure Trinity students are prepared after graduation.

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