Neuroscience ... getting started after High School?

Alright… So In High School, I didn’t really know what I’d wanted to do, (Expecting I would go into art) so I didn’t really work for anything. In summary My GPA was pretty low, like 2.8-3.3 area, though I really need to check that number specifically. (Graduated June of 2011)

I’ve read through this, which had brought me here in the first place:

Anyway, what are those of you who have been in this area thinking would be good for me to do to get started? From the thread I’ve posted, it sounds… difficult to get anywhere even if you know what you are doing. Is it even something I should consider? How much do people look at the college you’ve gone to? I’ve been trying to get the idea of a time format for what happens, but it’s difficult to find… especially as a combination with Computer science. (CS would be alternative to both as well)

How much does the High School performance matter? Can I even get into a good program? What happens, between starting and completion? Are people… mean? It sounds like research science isn’t very friendly, and I don’t even understand how people get there… Well, I know basics.

Anyway… I don’t want to be asking to have someone do something for me, I just have been very stressed about this, and I guess I want to see if I am being unrealistic, or if I would even be able to enjoy such a career, as said thread was rather… dissuading. It seems some have had a history with this here, and responses are pretty educated.

Thanks for the time for those who can help. Sorry to talk so much.

With your GPA you can probably get into a state university (assuming you are in the US) that has a decent program which will allow you to get your act together, perform well, and get into a good graduate program. Many state universities require little more than a pulse to admit students. Staying in once you’re in is the hard part.

I did the neuroscience track of the biology major at Purdue a decade ago. Like I said, it was easy to get in but harder to stay in. The undergraduate classes were pleasantly rigorous and the lab work a joy. I did try my hand in a professor’s lab for a while where I was set up with a project and left to pursue it by myself. That was valuable experience. I got into that by attending the professor’s office hours a couple of times and asking interesting questions. I guess that happens rarely enough that it’s grounds for a lab invitation.

I didn’t pursue neuroscience into the graduate level, so I can’t tell you much about what happens there. I did do graduate school in another field, and from that experience I’m pretty sure that a good GPA and some good lab work as an undergraduate should get you into a good graduate program. Nobody will care about high school after your first day of undergraduate classes.

What have you been doing since you graduated? That can mitigate high school performance (somewhat) if it’s impressive.

What area of neuroscience are you interested in? Not to be a negative nelly, but my fiancee is a neuroendocrinologist. She did a pharmacology undergraduate degree (with a placement in industry) obtaining a first, and then a PhD in neuroendocrinology from a top UK university. She has an excellent publication and funding record for somebody at her career stage, yet she’s currently looking for a job either in industry or academia and has been for the last six months. The job situation for academic and industrial neuroscientists isn’t especially good, even though we are now in Cambridgeshire, which is one of the hubs of the UK pharmaceutical industry. The jobs she is applying for are not directly in her field.

With any sort of lab-based biomedical related job, it only takes one firm to go bust and then the job market is flooded with highly specialised researchers with a tonne of industry experience competing against you. They’re going to win out.

She was told by various recruiters that if she had any bioinformatics experience they’d be able to offer her 100 jobs today. From looking at the job market myself this looks to be true. They’re crying out for people with CS degrees who can understand enough biology to invent the next BLAST or FASTA search algorithm.

I actually prefer the honesty, if that’s the fact, you know?

I did want to combine Computer Science with Neuroscience, so more of a computational area, most preferably involved in cognition. While a long way from it, I want to be able to help build up to some point where thoughts or knowledge could be understood through some type of output or the inverse. (Am I making sense?)

So it sounds like CS is a good choice? Though you sound like you are saying Biology knowledge is more wanted right now? Though If biology is a base to Neuroscience, It seems that’d work with others who combine CS? Sorry If I am bothering asking so much. I just want to understand fully and not make a stupid mistake.

There are a lot of computational neuroscientists out there. If you look at the field of cognitive neuroscience you’ll find boatloads of programmers. And even labs specializing in basic neuroscience (like systems-level work) will benefit from having a good programmer on hand.

That being said, a good biology or psychology background will be more useful in getting into a graduate neuroscience program. I went to an engineering school for undergrad, majored in psychology and minored in chemistry. I got into several psychology/neuroscience graduate programs, all of which emphasized behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. After I got my PhD, I started a postdoc in a neuroscience department at a damn good university. I’ve only ever taken one programming class, but there are several times in my career where that kind of skill could have been very useful.

At it’s root, neuroscience is a specialized form of biology. So while it’s fine to major in CS (and I would definitely recommend that, if only for the flexibility it will give you later in your career), you should also spend a great deal of time taking basic biology classes and perusing the offerings from the psychology department. Especially the cognitive neuroscience classes they offer. And if you go to a big state school you’ll probably find some world-class researchers there. Talk to them. Take their classes. Volunteer to work in their labs. That kind of hand-on experience is much much more useful than you would expect.

Good luck!


I wish I’d known when I was your age that I’d eventually fall in love with the brain. If I could do it all over again I’d go into neurology.

No suggestions, except some books you MUST read and you’ll absolutely love:
When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales from Neurosurgery by Frank Vertosick Jr

Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks (anything written by Oliver Sacks is good)

The Family That Couldn’t Sleep: A Medical Mystery by D.T. Max

The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine

The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human by V. S. Ramachandran

Thank you very much, Panda. I will definitely look into those tonight! I do recognize a few, though I’ve never read any. I think those I recognize were brought up with small examples in other classes. Thanks for your input.

I hope this does not come off as rude, but it does seem like Neuroscience is becoming a trendy ambition. 35 years ago, when I was an undergrad, I majored in biology and psychology, working in a cognitive neuroscience lab. There were a few of us. (My path from there was med school.) Now quite a few colleges even have Neuroscience Programs for undergrads. The downside is that it can become like a degree in journalism: many graduates for few positions.

I would endorse combining the biology and psychology classes with CS. It gives you something that makes you stand out from the other potential candidates.

If your main interest is neuroscience (NSC), you will learn very little about NSC in an undergraduate Computer Science program. So, take as many bio, neuro, physio, bio-psych classes as you can, or find a University which also has a NSC minor. Once you hone your skills in CompSci, you can then focus on applying these skills to NSC. Think of an undergraduate degree as being divergent and a graduate degree as convergent. Knowing your age and location would hel with respect to giving advice.

DSeid, It does sound like that is a better plan, since it was mentioned earlier too. If Neuroscience isn’t the best path, that’s fine. Your suggestion Biology and Psychology seems like a nice one (Plus I very much like those as well) You don’t come off as rude at all, I prefer to know this ahead of time so I don’t make a choice that will mess things up later.

phungi, I’d assumed age would be easily estimated, I’m 19, 20 in May, and live in Washington state.

Your H.S. GPA won’t matter much in the long run. Do well at a state or even a Community college in year one and you can transfer on up to a school with the sorts of upper level classes you want and that will be better able to open other doors for you. Year one is going to be the intro science and psych classes that you need first, and those won’t vary too much from place to place.

My second oldest’s school even hasa neuroscience undergraduate program and like many smaller liberal arts schools, they are very open to students double majoring … in your case along with computer science perhaps. (Note the AI classwork offered.)

Good Luck!