Neuroscience and Behavior: A Perfect Major for the Curious Mind

Author: Shannon Rooney

NeuroscienceProfessor Nancy Michael and junior neuroscience and behavior major Akua Agyei-Boateng

Junior Akua Agyei-Boateng chose to major in neuroscience and behavior through the College of Science because, she says, it’s like three majors in one. “It is in a sense a combined biology, psychology, and premed triple major,” she says. “It is a major that realizes the intersectionality of those three topics by cutting out the extra and emphasizing the important elements of each.”

The growing field of neuroscience is dedicated to understanding the body’s nervous systems—the brain, spinal cord, sensory organs, and the nerves that connect them with the rest of the body. And as scientists develop their understanding of how the brain and other organs operate, they can provide valuable information to any number of other fields.

For example, marketers can understand how consumers make purchasing decisions. Attorneys can use what we know about learning and memory to understand eyewitness testimony. Educators and policymakers can help design an educational system that caters to student learning.

“Social work, education, policy, law, business—you can take this degree into all of these fields and offer a very unique perspective,” says Nancy Michael, assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies for neuroscience and behavior. She adds that the major itself offers students the flexibility to explore the topics that pique their curiosity.

The College of Science offers a bachelor of science in neuroscience and behavior, but Notre Dame students can also complete a bachelor of arts in neuroscience and behavior through the College of Arts and Letters. Students in both colleges take certain foundational science courses such as chemistry, physics, and applied mathematics, and electives range from animal behavior to artificial intelligence to biological anthropology.  

Either path will prepare students to pursue a variety of careers, professional programs such as medicine, dentistry, veterinary studies, clinical psychology, or other health professions, and graduate programs in areas such as neuroscience, the biological sciences, or psychology.

That cross-disciplinary experience is exactly what student Agyei-Boateng loves about her major. “It is a particularly great major for people like me who have a general interest in [biology, psychology, and premed] but would prefer not to be forced to take in-depth classes unless I choose to do so.”

Agyei-Boateng is also a Kellogg International Scholar through Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies. The program provides opportunities for students to work with research faculty to acquire skills which will later translate into an individual research project on a developing nation. Agyei-Boateng is working with history professor Mariana Candido, an expert on West Africa, where Agyei-Boateng was born, though she grew up in Alexandria, Virginia. She’ll roll what she’s learning into her own research project and plans to write her senior thesis on her findings.

When she graduates, Agyei-Boateng plans to pursue a combined M.D./Ph.D. that will merge her interests in medicine, the sciences, and African studies. When she’s finished her education and training, Agyei-Boateng wants to join an organization like Doctors Without Borders so she can simultaneously practice medicine and conduct research on the development of Africa.   

But it’s not necessary to have your future nailed down from the time you start at Notre Dame. Agyei-Boateng entered as a biological sciences intent and let her growing curiosity guide her education. “I had always been interested in the functions of the brain as it relates to everyday life and that is something you get to learn about as a neuroscience and behavior major. It may not always be a direct link that is established in one class but from the many courses that you take in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology, as well as some sociology courses, those links begin to form and that is so exciting to me.”

Study your passions and choose a major that will continue to hold your interest throughout your undergraduate years, she advises, and you’ll set yourself up for a rewarding career.