Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Neuroscience Department and Major Requirements




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Neuroscience Department and Major Requirements

1. When was the Neuroscience Department established at Wellesley?

The Psychobiology Program, which preceded the Neuroscience Program, was formed around 1970 - one of the first programs of its kind in the country. Because this field expanded and was no longer well-represented by focusing only on biological and psychological aspects, the Program and the major were expanded in 1998 to include chemistry, physics and computer science. At that time, the name “Neuroscience Program” was adopted to reflect the broader nature of the field. The curriculum also was revised to include courses from these areas. In 2007, the faculty teaching in neuroscience were appointed directly to the program, rather than having appointments in the various departments. This was done to provide a more cohesive experience for students and to stabilize the curriculum by having the “core” faculty in neuroscience teach only in the Neuroscience Program. At this time, we planned and implemented the core curriculum that serves as the foundation for the current major. In 2019, the Neuroscience Program became the Neuroscience Department, which better represents how we function and the prominence of our curriculum and research.  Because Neuroscience is a broad, interdisciplinary field, we remain an interdepartmental major. Students benefit from the involvement and contribution of the cognate departments, in addition to the dedicated neuroscience faculty who teach the core courses and most of the advanced 300-level classes in neuroscience. This interdepartmental nature of the major can only strengthen the student experience. It’s the best of both worlds - a faculty appointed in the Neuroscience Department and dedicated to its mission, as well as a breadth of experience across several departments.

2. Is Neuroscience only a major? Can I minor in Neuroscience?

Currently, the Neuroscience Department offers only a major. A minor is not possible.

3.I am not planning to major in Neuroscience but am interested in the field. Is there any course available I can take just for fun?

NEUR100 is intended for non-majors as well as for those who think they might be interested in the major. The course covers the breadth of the field, and introduces students to basic concepts and to some of the diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s Disease. Because neuroscience is likely to touch all of us at some time in our lives, it’s important to offer a course that introduces the ideas and challenges of modern neuroscience, that is accessible to all students regardless of whether they consider themselves future scientists.

4.Can I take Neuroscience courses abroad and do they count toward the major?

Yes, many students who go abroad for their junior year take courses that count for the major. This is generally easy to organize if you travel to an English-speaking country and we have liaisons with specific schools that offer appropriate courses. You can talk to any of the neuroscience faculty to learn more about the opportunities abroad that include neuroscience classes.

5.Can I take one course from each of the three areas of concentration for 200 and 300 levels?

Yes, we require that all students sample courses from at least 2 of the 3 areas of concentration, but courses can certainly be spread across all 3 of these, and many students do this. Also, if a student samples from 2 areas at the 200-level, she does not need to stay with these same areas at the 300-level (again, as long as there is breadth in the courses across two of these).

6.If I have not taken a course from one of the three areas of concentration as a 200 level course, can I take one in the 300 level? (e.g. if I took 200 level in cellular and molecular neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience, can I take a 300 level system and computational neuroscience course?)

Yes, you can! Just be sure you understand the prerequisites. We are happy for students to gain as much breadth as possible in their major program.

7.Do I have to take NEUR100 in the first semester of my first year in order to major in Neuroscience?

No, students take NEUR100 in the 1st or 2nd terms of the first year, and sometimes even in their 2nd year at Wellesley. We encourage students to try and take this during the 1 st year if possible if they think they may want to major in neuroscience. But this is not always possible either because of scheduling or enrollment pressures. Even if taking NEUR100 is delayed for some reason, we encourage students to come to neuroscience faculty for advising and to take other foundational courses that will make a major possible, even if NEUR100 is taken in the 2 nd year at Wellesley. Students also should come to neuroscience functions and get involved in the Neuroscience Club and other activities, if they are interested in the major.

8. Can I still major in Neuroscience if I did not take NEUR100 in my first year?

Yes (see answer above), but it is good to get some advising from a neuroscience faculty member so that other foundational courses in the major are underway. If some other requirements have been fulfilled during the 1 st year, a major is very possible even if NEUR100 is taken in year 2.

9. Are there any requirements prior to majoring in Neuroscience?

There are no expectations of past preparation to join in the Neuroscience Department. NEUR100 starts at the beginning and will bring all students to a similar level of proficiency, regardless of their backgrounds in science or math.

10.Will my advanced placement credits (AP Biology) or transfer credits count toward the major?

The AP credits (e.g., cell biology) count towards graduation but not towards the major. Therefore, all neuroscience majors should take BISC110, even if they have taken AP Biology.

11.How can I receive Honors in Neuroscience?

Honors in the neuroscience major is possible if a student does independent research in a faculty member’s lab, and writes a thesis. We have a booklet about research and the thesis experience in neuroscience, that students can get from the Department Chair or from the administrative assistants in Neuroscience. Independent research that leads to a thesis and honors is listed as NEUR360/370 in the catalogue.

12.What is the difference between a practicum in NEUR100 and a lab in upper level courses?

A practicum is essentially a mini-lab. It meets for only 70 minutes each week (instead of 3 ½ hours like a lab does), and therefore the experiences are not as in-depth. The goal of the practicum is to provide a hands-on introduction to neuroscience, but without the added burden of lab reports. In the practicum, for example, students dissect sheep brains and learn the parts of the mammalian brain, record electrical signals from electric fish, analyze and compile data from stacks of confocal images, learn some basic statistics, and analyze clinical data from a patient in a problem-based learning section. So, the practicum is a brief introduction to some of the tools and approaches used in neuroscience. NEUR200 has a full lab component, where students will delve more deeply into some of these areas and perform experimental work.

13.Who should I contact if I have questions about course requirements?

Any of the neuroscience faculty can advise you. If you have concerns or questions about a specific course, it is best to ask the instructor for that course regarding background expectations.<

14.Is there an advising system to support students in the department to ensure they are on track for the major?

Yes, you will choose a faculty member as an advisor and we expect to meet with each student on a regular basis to review progress in the major, to plan a junior year or semester abroad, and to debrief about challenges you may be facing in your classes. We are there to help you progress and are happy to help whenever there are questions or concerns.

15.Can I attend events and seminars hosted by the Neuroscience department even if I am not a major?

Yes, we love to have members from the entire Wellesley community come to our lectures and other events. In fact, we often see citizens from the town at our lectures, if the topic is of broad interest. So, come to our events, watch for our fliers that advertise these, and bring your friends as well!

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1. Are there opportunities for students to participate in Neuroscience research at Wellesley?

Neuroscience students are eligible to do research for neuroscience credit in any of the neuroscience faculty labs, as well as in the labs of faculty in biology , chemistry and some in psychology . There is some pressure to join the labs of neuroscience faculty because there are a lot of students and only a few of us. Nevertheless, we are adding new faculty and new opportunities all the time, and each lab generally involves many students in research each term. So, the best advice is to contact faculty whose work interests you early in your time at Wellesley. Most faculty encourage students to sit in on lab meetings and get to know about the work in the lab prior to taking on a project. If you express interest in a lab early, show an interest by attending these meetings, and take the relevant background courses, most students who want to work in a neuroscience lab are able to arrange this. Many students work in the same lab for several years. Off-campus opportunities also are available in research labs in various Boston institutions, for those who are interested in this possibility.

2.Are lab positions paid or do they count toward course credit?

Lab positions can be paid or count for course credit, but not both. Course credit is the most common route, but some paid positions are available. Check with the faculty member who runs the lab in which you are interested, to see what the options are.

3. Can I research in other fields if I am a Neuroscience major?

Neuroscience majors can get course credit in neuroscience working with any faculty in Neuroscience, Biological Sciences or Chemistry . In addition, some faculty in Psychology and Computer Science have neuroscience students in their labs. So, we encourage students to explore all these possibilities.

4.Do independent research credits count toward the major?

No, independent research does not count towards the minimum major, although it does count towards graduation. We do consider research a critical part of every student’s experience at Wellesley.

5.What is the difference between a NEUR 250, 250G and 250H?

These are slightly different versions of the same experience. NEUR 250 is independent research in a faculty lab, and is generally elected by a 1 st or 2 nd year student. 250G is a group research experience. 250H is a half unit of course credit, while 250 is a full unit of course credit. We generally expect that students taking a full unit of independent research will spend 10-12 hours per week on average in the lab, while a student electing a half unit of credit will spend 5-6 hours per week. This is the same expectation as for a regular course at Wellesley.

6.Can I take an independent research course in Neuroscience if I am not a major?

Yes, Neuroscience faculty often have students from other majors (science and non-science) in their labs.

7.Can I research off-campus and count it as an independent study course?

Yes, this is possible and many students enjoy this option. You need an on-campus advisor to monitor the work as well as an off-campus advisor, but this is generally not an obstacle to working off campus. Our booklet about research discusses this as well as other opportunities.<

8.Where can I find on or off-campus summer internships and research opportunities in Neuroscience?

The best source for this information is via the “FUN” (Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience).This organization posts internship and job opportunities, as well as a variety of other kinds of helpful links and information.

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1. Are there any courses recommended for graduate study in neuroscience that are not included in the major requirement?

Yes, and these are noted in the course catalogue at the end of the neuroscience course information. These include courses in physics, math and computer science. The specific mixture of courses depends on what area of neuroscience is of most interest. So, check out the catalogue information and talk to the neuroscience faculty to get the most up-to-date advice.

2.How does the department prepare students for future study in medical and graduate school in neuroscience?

The Neuroscience curriculum provides a solid scientific background in areas relevant to medical school and graduate school in neuroscience, and also trains students how to think and learn independently. We consider this skill-based training as important as the scientific content we introduce. Because we will not always be there to guide and instruct, we want to be sure that you have the necessary skills to find information, analyze data, read critically and formulate your own hypotheses. This is perhaps the most important and relevant aspect of training in neuroscience ---to learn to grapple with problems and challenges with confidence in your abilities. You will benefit from these skills no matter what career you may choose.

3.Are there support from faculty or an advisor-system to guide students in applying to graduate school in Neuroscience?

Yes, the neuroscience faculty are intimately involved in advising students regarding graduate schools in Neuroscience and related fields. Just come and talk to us! We do not have an organized “committee” for this purpose, but depend on students to self-identify and come to us for discussion. We also organize lectures from graduate school deans and others who can provide important information regarding expectations for graduate schools, and ways that students can best present themselves in their applications. Applying to graduate school in neuroscience often includes contacting faculty researchers at graduate schools of interest and initiating a conversation, and so please talk to us about this aspect.

4.What are some career options for majors in Neuroscience other than attending medical or graduate school?

A neuroscience major prepares students for a broad range of opportunities. In addition to medical and graduate school, in recent years our students have gone into various aspects of public health (e.g. international public health, epidemiology), teaching, health policy, law school (often with a specific interest in patent law), and consulting. The options are almost infinite. In NEUR300, the capstone course in the neuroscience major, part of the curriculum focuses on career options. One of the student assignments is to interview someone who has your “dream” job, and report back at a special symposium with fellow students. This is an educational (and often eye-opening!) experience, and the symposium allows all students to hear about each other’s interests. Students learn a lot about career options and tend to enjoy this part of the course in particular.

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