NEU 475: How A Senior Came To Love Her Major

Wait, you didn’t love your major? As a senior in college?

Yes, it’s the truth; going into my senior year as a Biology and Neuroscience double major, I was quite sure that in my career I wanted to pursue the ecological side of biology and wanted little to do with molecular biology and neuroscience. When I came to Concordia, I was completely unsure about what I wanted to major in or what career path I wanted to follow. Based on a questionnaire from a prospective student visit day, Concordia’s registrar gave me Biology and Neuroscience majors and placed me into freshman-level chemistry and biology along with inquiry courses.

Along the way, I discovered that I am most passionate about environmental studies and religion, but I have enjoyed classes across diverse subject matters from art to English in my four years at Concordia. I continued my Neuro major because PSEO credits would allow me to comfortably pursue two majors and minors and I certainly enjoyed aspects of the major including interdisciplinary foci emphasizing the nexus of neuroscience and art/music/literature etc., psychology-focused classes, animal behavior, and, of course, wonderful, passionate, and incredibly intelligent classmates. However, I could see that I didn’t share the intrinsic passion for the subject matter with my fellow Neuro majors.

What happened in NEU 475?

Ironically, NEU 475 (Neurochemistry) was the course that I was most nervous to take out of the entire Neuro major. Although I had done well academically in previous chemistry courses required for the major, I have no particular affinity or aptitude for chemistry and had to work hard for those grades. Additionally, I knew that most classmates going into this course had taken two semesters of organic chemistry and two semesters of biochemistry, giving them a strong foundation that made my one-semester survey of organic and biochemistry look pretty wimpy. Envisioning lengthy biochemical pathways to memorize, I walked into class on the first day with apprehension.

By the time we were a month into the course, my feelings had done a complete 180. We spent the first few weeks refreshing background knowledge about important neurochemical signaling pathways, which was useful even for the most neurochemically informed of my classmates and put us on a ‘level playing field’ knowing what we needed to be familiar with to succeed in course discussions. After that, we began discussing papers about different issues in neurochemistry. The format encouraged asking questions in class discussion after a close reading of the paper to ensure that we understood it as fully as possible. The next class period allowed us to each investigate one component of the paper (or tangentially related topic) and discuss them individually with classmates, coming together for a larger-group discussion on the third and final day addressing each paper.

The collaborative format of these discussions from days one through three erased my concerns of being the least knowledgeable in the class as we all brought our own expertise and passion into the topic at hand. I was able to relate ideas about Alzheimer’s, spirituality, ecology, animal behavior, and dozens more topics based on other classes I’ve taken and on personal experiences. I ‘blossomed’ in this course as I felt emboldened to ask questions and share ideas I had, confident that I was adding to the discussion rather than making myself look silly.

So, you ‘blossomed’, but did you BREW?

Yes! I will summarize this section using Concordia’s five goals for liberal learning as a framework:

  1. Instill a love for learning: Through neurochemistry, I gained confidence discussing neurochemical concepts from molecular signaling pathways to cultural implications of neurological disorders and greatly enjoyed doing so. My future considerations about subjects that might include neuroscientific components will spark this excitement to broaden conversations to do so.
  2. Develop foundational skills and transferable intellectual capacities: Beyond broad and neurochemistry-specific critical thinking skills, this class helped me greatly improve my science communication skills through weekly blog posts challenging us to translate these heavily molecular ideas into language that any reader should understand.
  3. Develop an understanding of disciplinary, interdisciplinary and intercultural perspectives and their connections: As stated above, the class informed my understanding of neurochemistry as a discipline in particular as well as how to make connections with other realms of science and humanities. Beyond this, our open-ended, student-led classroom discussions enabled us to draw from personal experiences, causing me to learn more about other students’ diverse perspectives on many current issues that we discussed.
  4. Cultivate an examined cultural, ethical, physical and spiritual self-understanding: I found myself doing significant self-examination and growing during this course as I reflected on what sparks my interest and passion. I found that the spiritual side of the issues we discussed was often what I was most drawn to, which helped inform my decision to apply to divinity graduate programs to continue my education and pursuing questions that are also often asked in neuroscientific contexts, such as the nature of consciousness, ethics, etc.
  5. Encourage responsible participation in the world: Finally, I was fortunate to work with neurochemistry classmates Kenny and Zach as well as three Social Work majors to complete a PEAK community action project aiming to educate educators about PTSD in children. This outreach into future classrooms and in support of future students was one of the most meaningful aspects of this course, or any I’ve taken at Concordia.

In summary, NEU 475 changed my outlook on my Neuroscience major as well as my future plans post-graduation. I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss neurochemical pathways, ethical queries, and current events with a fantastic group of motivated and intelligent scholars and wish everyone happiness in the future as they pursue their own passions!

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