From Synapse to Circuits to Self to Society

The field of neuroscience examines bidirectional relationships between the nervous system and behavior and includes perspectives from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. As an inherently interdisciplinary field, neuroscience applies various methodologies to study the molecular, cellular, developmental, structural, functional, computational, and pathophysiological aspects of the nervous system, while bearing in mind that nervous systems are embodied and are situated in complex, dynamic environments.

The neuroscience curriculum at Bates is structured so that students can appreciate how multiple levels of analysis and multiple scholarly frameworks are needed to understand the complexities of human and non-human animal behavior. At the cellular and molecular level, students engage with invertebrate animal models and cell cultures to learn how individual neurons process and produce electrochemical signals to support inter-cellular communication. Using rodent models at a bodily systems level, students learn how neurons interact to form circuits through which animals take in sensory information and produce motoric and other output that is adaptive for the animal in its environment. At the cognitive level, students study human perception, thought, and emotion by looking at the structure and function of human brains in neurotypical and atypical states. Here, students consider the consequences of neuroanatomical and neurochemical changes for human behavior as well as the effects that environmental variables may have on brain structure and function. At the computational level, students synthesize top-down and bottom-up strategies in an effort to explain how the brain works, using multidisciplinary techniques to develop, simulate, and analyze multi-scale models of neural function. At a cultural level, students consider how parameters of the human brain are shaped by social norms and institutions and how the brain, in turn, influences the formation, acquisition, and preservation of culture.

The neuroscience program fosters an active, learning-by-doing approach, as students conduct meaningful and innovative research at several points in their academic career, beginning in laboratory sections as supplementation to classroom learning and culminating with rigorous, independent research during the senior capstone experience. Importantly, however, another key goal of the neuroscience curriculum at Bates is to deepen capacity for a critical examination of the historical, political, and ethical contexts in which neuroscience operates such that students probe what it means to be a responsible consumer and producer of neuroscientific knowledge. By interrogating how neuroscience is done, for whom, by whom, for what purpose, and with what consequences, students come to reflect upon their own habits of mind, value systems, and politics of participation.

While progressing through the neuroscience curriculum at Bates, students can expect to achieve the following learning goals:

  • Understand core concepts that are foundational to the scientific study of the nervous system and that serve as starting points for discovery
  • Experience the interdisciplinary nature of neuroscience by participating in classroom and research experiences that cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries or levels of analysis
  • Explore the role of humanistic inquiry to evaluate neuroscience critically within a larger sociocultural, historical, and/or ethical framework
  • Develop a high level of scientific literacy and analytical skill so as to competently judge the merit of original neuroscience research and its representation in popular media
  • Apply critical thinking skills to formulate novel scientific questions and incorporate the appropriate analytical methodologies to address them
  • Communicate effectively about neuroscience in written and oral form to both specialized and broad audiences