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Despite new building, Neuroscience courses on the decline

While a new $180 million neuroscience building was completed in the fall of 2013, the program will only be offering three elective courses for the neuroscience certificate in the fall of 2014, compared with seven this semester and nine in the fall of 2013.

In order to get the neuroscience certificate, students need to take two core courses and three electives.

According to the Registrar’s website, the neuroscience electives offered next fall are NEU 408: Cellular and Systems Neuroscience, NEU 501A/501B: From Molecules to Systems and NEU 336: The Diversity of Brains. NEU 501A/501B are graduate courses but are open to undergraduates.

Asif Ghazanfar, co-director of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Certificate Program, said that the neuroscience program recognizes that the limited course offerings next fall could be seen as an issue. He added that the department is surprised by the low number of electives and believes it to be the result of a statistical fluctuation.

“It’s hard to figure out exactly why that happened because the way neuroscience is right now, it’s not a department,” Ghazanfar said. “We don’t really get to assign which faculty teaches what course and when they should teach it. We’re also not involved in deciding who takes a leave and who doesn’t take leave … some people go on sabbaticals, people are having kids. It just really seemed like a weird kind of perfect storm of events occurred.”

Ghazanfar noted that under normal situations the neuroscience program would never have so few electives.

Professor Jonathan Cohen, the co-director of the Princeton Neurological Institute, also said that the small amount of courses offered in the fall is a statistical fluctuation, attributing it to the inherent differences between a certificate program and a major.

“A certificate isn’t as rigorous or rich a program as a major,” Cohen said. “Again, the faculty has to balance their commitments to the majors of their departments as well as to the certificate.”

He added that he thinks the neuroscience program on campus has become more coordinated and grown with time, noting that 47 seniors graduated with neuroscience certificates last year compared with two when he started teaching at the University in the late 1990s.

Cohen also noted that although the course offerings for this fall do constitute a decrease from past semesters, NEU 501 and 502, the core courses for the graduate program, are also available to undergraduates and regularly taken by undergraduates as electives.

Lynse Cooper ’16, a psychology concentrator who is pursuing a certificate in neuroscience, said that many of the courses offered by the program are graduate courses that she cannot take.

“It kind of makes it hard for me to work on my certificate, but I’m planning on going abroad, so I think I should be able to do some of my certificate classes if I study abroad,” Cooper said.

Ghazanfar stated that although he is not in a position to make any promises, he hopes that the program will be made into a department soon.

“What it looks like is we’ll go through this process and … get the groundwork laid next year and that we’d actually have it be official the year after,” he said.

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