By Kaitlyn Alford
On September 5, Noah McIndoo (C’19) became the first Sewanee student to declare a major in neuroscience. He’s excited and a bit nervous to be the among the first students to take the new comprehensive examination.
The neuroscience major is a new addition of study, building off the existing minor. In April of 2013, after three semesters of planning, neuroscience was introduced as an interdisciplinary minor field of study with courses to be taught in the psychology and biology departments. In 2014 Dr. Brandy Tiernan, assistant professor of psychology, was hired to serve as the chair of the Neuroscience department and to develop and oversee the neuroscience major.
Currently, Dr. Katherine Cammack, assistant professor of psychology, and Dr. Chris Shelley, assistant professor of biology, teach for the program as well. Neuroscience majors will graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science and will have taken classes in neuroscience, psychology, biology, and at least one class from another department, which could include math, physics, or philosophy.
This will be Shelley’s first year on staff with the University, having recently joined the staff of the biology department to teach cellular and molecular biology. The neuroscience department is also advised by Dr. Helen Bateman, associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Clint Smith, assistant professor of biology.
The neuroscience department may be young, but Tiernan is quick to note that “the growth is so exciting. It’s only been two weeks and we already have six declared majors, and two of those will be comping this spring!”
Tiernan is most excited to see how student involvement with the department will shift and grow over the course of upcoming semesters. The campus neuroscience club, Neurds, is growing quickly as well.
Madelyne Williams (C’19), president of Neurds, echoed Tiernan’s excitement. “It’s an exciting time to join Neurds because members have the power to mold the club to their vision. Our primary goal is to promote neuroscience on campus and to the community. We hope to accomplish this, in part, by planning and hosting events that portray learning about the brain in a fun and tangible way,” she explained.
The students aren’t the only ones getting to work, though. There are already many projects being conducted by these professors and their students.
Tiernan has been working with her 12 research assistants, whom she affectionately refers to as her “Labbies,” in her Emotion and Cognitive Control Lab on a few different projects, including a joint study with researchers at Yale University.
Focus groups are being conducted locally to learn more about how people perceive mental healthcare and the stigmas surrounding it. Tiernan is most excited about a study she is conducting examining the neurocognitive effects of ostracism on people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.
The neuroscience department may now have a full major to offer, but the department’s work is hardly done. “We really want the program to be rigorous, to be comparable to both our peer and aspirational institutions,” said Tiernan. “We really want our students to not only enjoy their courses and to have fun with the major, but to go to graduate school and be able to speak intelligently about what they’ve learned.”
The interdisciplinary nature of the department lends itself particularly well to growth as students can find interest in the subject from the perspective of psychology or as part of a bio-medical track.
Tiernan encourages anyone who may be interested to go ahead and take an intro class. Introduction to Neuroscience will be offered again in the spring. In the meantime, interested students may contact Tiernan in order to set an appointment or ask questions regarding the neuroscience major, minor, or its connection to their current psychology or biology studies.