Classes Ex-Zamm-ined: Introduction to Neuroscience
by Lauren Zammerilla
Our brain is at the center of everything we do. Every thought. Every emotion. Every action. Every sense. Every aspect of our life is controlled by this 1.5 kilogram mass of neural tissue. If this fascinates you, then perhaps you should consider enrolling in NROSCI 1000: Introduction to Neuroscience.
Don’t let the “Introduction” part of the title fool you – this course is far more than a simple overview. Throughout the semester, you will examine the science of the nervous system and its role in the control of physiological systems and behaviors. The interesting topics, stimulating lectures (by Dr. Edward Stricker, the course’s instructor), and challenging, yet satisfying nature of exams make this course a must for any determined and curious science student.
Why do we get hungry or thirsty? If the brain cannot regenerate lost neurons, how can we recover following brain damage? How do we hear sounds? These are just a few of the questions explored throughout the course. Everyday, humans take so many bodily functions for granted – for instance, seeing in color. You wake up, look around and never once think about the multitude of neuronal processes that are simultaneously occurring inside your brain.
For me, the course was incredibly interesting given the majority of topics that could be applied to my life. Maintaining a stable internal environment (like body temperature and blood sugar) is something that the body does exceptionally well, even though the external environment is constantly changing. If you are a curious, inquisitive person, you might be asking yourself how we do this. Not to worry! You will learn everything you wanted – and maybe more than you wanted – in this course.
Learning the components and steps of body processes is just the first step of the class. Once you have a thorough understanding of the way our bodies work, Stricker challenges you to go a step further. What if there is a blockage at point A? Or an outside stimulus causes point B to become overactive? If a person is injured at Point C, what will happen to Point A? Challenging? Yes. Exhilarating? Also, yes.
Simply memorizing facts won’t cut it in this course. In order to excel, you must truly understand and be able to apply concepts to the “what-if ” questions that are not explicitly discussed during lecture. The exams consist of 20 questions: 19 multiple choice and 1 short answer question. Since the class is 75 minutes, you have adequate time to pace yourself. There are four exams (none are cumulative), and the final grade is based solely on the average score of all four exams.
Each exam is open book, but don’t let yourself feel comfortable just yet. You should know everything in your notebook inside and out before going into the exam as you will have no time to look up facts that you should already know. The notebook merely serves as a guide, just so you can have the processes laid out in front of you when answering the “what if” style questions.
The exams are challenging, but fair. After taking each exam, I was exhausted; each question requires putting all the puzzle pieces together to reach a conclusion. Although tedious, I enjoyed the challenge. In addition, I felt that the test accurately tested my knowledge of the topics and never asked unfair or irrelevant questions.
Studying for the exams is not easy, but Stricker offers advice for us worried souls. “First, ask a question every time you don’t understand something and keep asking until you understand the answer,” he said. “Second, pay attention to the questions (and answers) of other students in class, which includes reading the exchanges on the CourseWeb page. Third, do the homework assignments properly. And fourth, start studying for the exam (i.e., try to understand things) immediately.
The Q and A section on CourseWeb is extremely helpful. You should definitely read and understand the answers for each lecture before going into the exam. The homework is neither submitted nor graded and is simply questions posted on CourseWeb after each class. Even though they are not for submission, the questions are beneficial and test your comprehension of that lecture’s material.
If you’re an inquisitive student with an innate desire to learn, then I would definitely recommend this course. It requires a great deal of time and energy, but it is ultimately worth it. NROSCI 1000 has probably been one of my favorite classes at Pitt, and it solidified my decision to become a neuroscience major. If you’re still reading this article, then you must possess some sort of interest and motivation. So go enroll!