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Majors and Neuroscience PhD

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by Palaver87, Jun 19, 2008.

  1. Palaver87

    Palaver87 10+ Year Member

    Jan 5, 2007
    I am doubling in molecular biology and psychology. I was thinking dropping molecular biology because the courses are extremely hard and time consuming, and I don't think it's a smart chioce unless I want to do a PhD in molecular bio. I was thinking of doing just psychology, but I want to get into a Neuroscience PhD - preferably macroscale involving imaging methods like cognitive neuroscience. Psychology classes are much more easier, and I think I can raise my BCPM GPA higher by just taking freshmen/sophomore geared biology courses as I already have finished up to junior year requirements.

    However, I am concerned about how MD/PhD programs look at applicants who earn a non-biology degree. I know MD programs don't care, but what about MD/PhD programs? Also, do neuroscience PhD programs prefer bio over psych? I have taken a significant amount of bio so far (med school requirements + 3 more advanced classes).

    There is a significant portion of biological psychology and macroscale neuroscience courses in the Psych department, but it is not exactly as bio concentrated as like bioengineering. What do you guys think?
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  3. Ariodant

    Ariodant Fiat Lux 7+ Year Member

    Dec 12, 2007
    Although I get the impression that programs like hardcore science majors, I do know MSTP students with history or other humanity majors, and they are doing very well. As long as you fulfill your required courses, do your psychology-related research well and ace the MCAT, I don't see why you would be at a disadvantage.
  4. magwi11

    magwi11 MD/PhD - MS3 7+ Year Member

    Nov 14, 2007
    I was a psychology major, who applied with an expressed interest (and experience) in imaging and cognitive and affective neuroscience. I think I did pretty well in the process, but I had almost enough advanced courses for a bio major, and I had pretty extensive research experience (2+ years full time). As long as you have enough coursework to have a solid background in science and you can do the research, you'll be fine.

    You might want to check the websites for the neuroscience departments at the schools your most interested in. While you won't (always) be held to the admissions requirements of the graduate department you are interested in, if they have required courses, it certainly wouldn't hurt you to take them.
  5. redoc

    redoc 2+ Year Member

    Nov 3, 2007

    I agree. MSTP programs are more concerned with research experience, GPA, and MCAT than major. I am a neuroscience major and will be pursuing a Ph.D in neuroscience. The only disadvantage that being a psychology major may serve you is that you may be less knowledgeable in the field of neuroscience than a neuroscience major.
  6. 194342

    194342 Physician 7+ Year Member

    Mar 17, 2008
    I can only answer this question for the big state school I attend (I'm in undergrad). The graduate student I work with who is a PhD candidate majored in mathematics and psychology in undergrad. She actually only took the intro level biology courses in undergrad and now she does a ton of immunohistochemistry in the lab I volunteer in. She told me at one point she wanted to only do cognitive research but changed her mind when she did her lab rotations within the department of neuroscience.

    So, I'm going to guess most PhD programs won't care too much about your major as long as you have some biology background. They'll teach you all the stuff you need in the graduate courses.
  7. strangeglove

    strangeglove 7+ Year Member

    Oct 28, 2006
    You will most likely have to take some of these "hard" molecular biology-type classes as part of the PhD in neuroscience, even if you focus on cognitive neuroscience. If you're that averse, you may want to consider a PhD in psychology, through which you can specialize in cognitive neuroscience without any molecular biology background. This may be a little harder to arrange within an MD-PhD program, but should be easier to arrange than a PhD in anthropology or some such liberal arts subject. It may also seem less prestigious to you to have a PhD in psychology than one in neuroscience (if you're like most MD-PhD's). Also, you will have to learn a fair amount of molecular biology in medical school, though I personally found this to be much easier than the molecular biology I took in college, except that I was taking it along with anatomy and a few other unfamiliar classes.
  8. magwi11

    magwi11 MD/PhD - MS3 7+ Year Member

    Nov 14, 2007

    I think that thinking that this would only be "a little harder to arrange" is overly optimistic. As someone interested in cognitive neuroscience with a psychology background, I looked into options like this as I was first considering programs. At many places, it is no more an option than getting your Ph.D. in Literature, and at other places where it might be an option, the funding is less/different/not there at all. I am not saying that there are no schools that offer the option, but be careful and make sure that you ask, because sometimes, even when you would like to work with someone who's research is clearly "science" department affiliation with psychology as opposed to neuroscience is an obstacle that falls in the range of huge to insurmountable.
  9. HippocratesMSTP


    Jan 17, 2008
    ...and they took me! It did not appear to be a disadvantage, but you'll need to make sure that your MCAT scores reflect the fact that you can be competitive with science majors. You also need to make sure you get plenty of research experience; your recommendations from those PI's will be very meaningful. I don't necessarily think you need to consider that your PhD will be in Psychology--mine will be in Neuroscience, as will that of another MSTP student here who, like you, majored in Psychology. Different schools, though, obviously look on different kinds of research differently, so you need to be sure that you frame your research interests carefully when writing essays or being interviewed. Some people see fMRI work and the like as not being hard science--you'll have to show them that you're interested in using these (and/or other) tools rigorously. (As a side note, I'm not interested in human research, but the other MSTP with the Psych major is, so obviously, at least here, you can do either with a non-science major.) Also, write well. It's crucial.

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