YC Formalizing Neuroscience Major
For years, Yeshiva College students who wish to pursue a program of study in neuroscience have taken an informal array of courses across the Departments of Biology, Psychology, Philosophy, Chemistry, and Physics. Beginning last year, in response to demonstrated student interest, YC administrators have worked to develop an official neuroscience major.
YC Deans Barry Eichler and Raji Viswanathan have worked closely with University Professor of Psychology and Special Assistant to the Provost for Curriculum Development Norman Adler—“the mover and shaker,” in Dr. Eichler’s words—to assemble the best program of study. The proposed neuroscience major incorporates courses from many of the aforementioned departments, but also introduces new YC courses in neuroscience not hosted officially by any current YC departments.
At this point, the major proposal must go through the Curriculum Committee, which will make a recommendation to the faculty, who will vote on whether to approve the program.
The proposed neuroscience major is geared primarily toward pre-medical or pre-research students. Students must take two semesters of Principles of Biology, General Chemistry, Introduction to Physics, and Calculus (though Introduction to Statistics may be substituted for Calculus II). These courses, all part of the standard pre-med requirements, are crucial for understanding the depth and complexity of the field of neuroscience, according to Dr. Viswanathan.
The major will begin with a new course, Introduction to Neuroscience, which will include a mandatory laboratory component. At the end of the major, students will enroll in the neuroscience capstone experience, which will explore cutting-edge topics in the field. “There are commonalities at the beginning and end,” says Dr. Viswanathan, “with flexibility in the middle.”
Such flexibility is manifest in the proposed creation of three different neuroscience tracks. Track 1 will be geared toward students interested in psychology; Track 2, biology majors; Track 3, those who want to study chemical physics. In each track, students will have the opportunities for extra-curricular neuroscience research.
The capstone experience, Current Topics in Neuroscience, would be modeled after graduate seminars, and would be taught by a team of guest lecturers.
In assembling the neuroscience program, the YC administration hopes to bring together professors from several departments. Because such faculty members do not form their own “neuroscience department,” they will not have a budget to hire new faculty. But if the proposal is approved there will most likely be new faculty hired to teach the introductory neuroscience courses.
In earlier years, certain students have tried to push the Yeshiva administration to introduce a neuroscience major, but met significant resistance. Dr. Eichler attributes this past resistance to “faculty development issues.” Additionally, he notes that “there’s a commitment by Norman Adler that’s making this happen now. If we didn’t have Norm, I don’t think we could do this.”
Daniel First (YC ’13) spearheaded the student effort to standardize the study of neuroscience in YC. After researching the models of neuroscience majors at other universities, First worked closely with Dr. Adler, Provost Dr. Morton Lowengrub, and Deans Eichler and Viswanathan to discuss and propose ways that Yeshiva might bring its neuroscience resources together most effectively.
Dr. Adler designed the Biological Basis of Behavior Program at the University of Pennsylvania, the first integrated undergraduate program in behavioral neuroscience. His program was a prototype, later imitated by numerous university programs. For his innovative, formative contributions to neuroscience education, Dr. Adler received the Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Higher Education.
“Our students are the best and brightest of the modern Torah world,” says Dr. Adler. “They should take their place at the forefront of this developing field, so it is probably the right time for the institution to recognize and develop a program.”
Reflecting on the study of neuroscience in general, Dr. Adler maintains that “neuroscience is, perhaps, the emergent science of the 21st century. The 400 billion neurons of the human brain are/is the most complex ‘machine’ in the natural universe—and the mechanism by which our humanity, intellect, and neshama [soul] find and express themselves.”
Dr. Adler concludes, “Every day, in the blessing of Asher Yatzar, we marvel at God’s ‘forming man with wisdom.’ If we marvel at the mechanics of the body, how can we not study it?”