Description of Course Goals and Curriculum
While NEU 201 (STN) is an introductory course over the anatomy and mechanisms of neurons, NEU 202, or Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience (EC), provides a broad overview of all of the topics that neuroscience covers. This class provides a taste of all of the different aspects that neuroscientists study, such as: methods of collecting data, perception, sensation, attention, motor control, learning, memory, and neuroeconomics. Every week or so is dedicated to one of these broad topics. While the first couple of weeks may be slow and boring, it sets up the fundamental basis of how the research from the other topics are derived. If you’re thinking to concentrate or snag a certificate in Neuroscience, you should (and must--it’s a pre-requisite) take this class to see what kind of areas you’re most fascinated by!
The class is composed of:
- 2 lectures a week (1 hr 20 min each)
- 1 precept (50 min)
Throughout the course, there is 1 quiz (9% of grade), 1 midterm (10%) , and 1 final (38%) and all of them are open notes and culumative. The 1st quiz has been established so that it can expose you to the way that the professor presents the questions. The material that will be covered is laid out for you beforehand. If you don’t ace it with flying colors, don’t fret! If your score is better on the midterm, then the midterm grade will replace that of your quiz. This course is set up so that you can learn the material rather than constantly worry about grades.
Lastly, if this is your first or second neuroscience and/or psychology class, research participation is necessary to pass the class (unless you’re under 18 years of age). No, you’re not working in a lab, but instead of reading about the experiments done on mice, you get to participate in the study! While it may be bothersome, it gives you a chance to experience and understand how real research is done.
Learning From Classroom Instruction
The lectures are printed out and up for grabs at the beginning of class (usually 8 slides per side; double sided). The professor expects you to write your notes on them. While she discourages taking notes on a computer, if you have a reason to do so (i.e. illegible handwriting), then you may!
The lectures are (almost) all composed of figures of data from scientific studies of the past to the most current research out there. I know that it’s tiring to hear “GO TO LECTURE”, but you really don’t want to miss out. On average, she goes through about 20 figures--from all different papers, so your alternative is 1) finding someone with really good notes that you can even understand or… 2) going through all 20 papers to understand it yourself. Not ideal. So, when they come up on the presentation slide and she’s telling you details, don’t write down nitty-gritty details like the year, but rather focus on the main points of the studies such as the outcome or what it tells you about understanding human behavior. If you’re still confused, ask her to clarify before she moves on or look up the study on your own (each figure is accompanied by the author & title to be found easily). Unfortunately, Professor Niv doesn’t always state her points in the most clear way possible, but does so in a roundabout way. It’s important to note that she will never unfairly give you a question about a detail she didn’t talk about, so you only really need to find the specific figure. Occasionally, there are videos to demonstrate the topic of interest--quite a bit of quiz/exam material comes from these, so take good notes!
Aside from the lecture itself, you only have 1 assignment for this component. You’ll write 1 paragraph about a certain figure that will be assigned to you and turn it in. However, if you took good notes, it should take 15-20 min max to complete!
There is 1 paper that is relevant to the topic that is being taught in lecture that you’re expected to read and discuss in precept each week. Precept is a completely separate entity from lecture. Although the topics are connected, you will never be given questions that pertain to anything outside of lecture. Precept is really just there to fine tune your skills of reading scientific journal articles.
It’s made up of little (but not trivial) assignments throughout the semester:
- 2 figure presentations (explaining the figure of the paper for ~1 min)
- 8 weekly journals (literally 3 sentences connecting any topic discussed in lecture to your life)
- Group projects
They’re not hard in any means, but it is quite easy to lose track of them. The key to success to earning all of the points for precept are to document how many you have done/when they are due!
Learning For and From Assignments
Because the lectures are basically all figures--so are all of the exam questions. All of the examinations are open notes, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t study for them! The assessments are all in-class and taken via BlackBoard. While some questions have a single part, others have multiple. Sometimes, you’re required to draw out graphs too. As stated before, the quiz gives you a template for how the questions will be like from the future and how you are going to be expected to think.
A question will give you a situation similar to the figure that has been taught in lecture. It’s your job to connect this situation to a specific figure. Because your notes are available to you at all times, if you took excellent notes, the answers are available on your paper. They don’t really require you to think outside the box, but rather test your application/connection to the reviewed studies to different situations. The BEST thing you can do is organization. Make sure that you have all your lectures in order, numbered, labeled, or whatever you have to do to ensure that when you know the figure you want to find, you can locate it quickly. A lot of the material is intuitive--while the upside is that it is relatively easy to understand because it seems obvious, the downside is that it’s really hard to explain in words. In order to grasp everything, either study in groups and explain the figures verbally to one another or compile a document and comprehensively explain the figures in your own words.
Sadly, examinations are not handed back, so you won’t be able to review the questions (unless you come in for office hours). However, when they are going through missed questions in class, you can take detailed notes to study for later! Don’t write down questions verbatim but write down the concepts and figures that came up. The important reason why they don’t give exams back: QUESTIONS ARE REUSED!!! You’ll come to learn that the professor loves some topics… which come up on every examination…
As for the other assignments, they’re really just in place to aid you to read and analyze journal articles better. Of course, the group projects reflect the group environment that you’ll be working in as a future (neuro)scientist!
The course textbook for this course is “recommended”, but even the professor tells you that it’s not necessary. Having bought one, it’s essentially useless and a waste of $100. Yes, you can look up clarifying explanations for confusing points, but it contains so much more context and unnecessary information that you’re always better off asking the person next to you or asking your preceptor/professor on Piazza.
Speaking of Piazza, it’s basically a forum where the students/preceptors/professor in the class can ask/answer questions. For practice, ask for sample questions. At times, the professor will also ask for students to pose their own questions and mark which ones are good to review. While it’s worthwhile asking a question in person, you can often get a better and much faster response online---AND you can ask it anonymously!
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection
This class isn’t necessarily demanding in terms of time, but more for organization. It is possible to just take good notes during lectures and focus on other time restraining classes during the week. You can cram studying for exams until a few days before, but as always, it’s not recommended. No matter the quality of your notes, after some time, your memory wears off and your understanding won’t be as clear as it was before. Ideally, you would update a document for your own explanation of each figure after every lecture, but if time doesn’t allow it, you’ll be okay. This course doesn’t have to be on the top list of your priorities, but don’t forget about it! :)