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The Rise of Neuroscience: The Success of Haverford’s Newest Major

As the newest major at Haverford, Neuroscience has quickly become one of the most popular. In 2021, after six years of planning, the Bi-College Neuroscience major was approved to launch at Haverford and Bryn Mawr. 

The number of Haverford Neuroscience graduates quadrupled from five in 2022 to nineteen in 2023, while remaining at sixteen for both years at Bryn Mawr. The class of 2024, which graduates this spring, will have 39 Neuroscience majors across both schools.

Neuroscience has been part of Haverford academics since 1995 when it was introduced as a concentration in neural and behavioral science. It later became a minor under the “Neuroscience” title in 2013.  When the major was introduced in 2021, 53 students across the Bi-Co were already declared minors in Neuroscience. 

According to both Provost Linda Strong-Leek, who oversees the curriculum and academic committees at Haverford, and Professor Laura Been, Director of Neuroscience, the Neuroscience major was created due to a high amount of interest from students, who often asked why a major was not available.

The success of the new major is hardly surprising, considering the popularity of the Neuroscience minor and the shift from humanities to STEM majors that Haverford has witnessed over the last ten years. The increase in campus interest in neuroscience is somewhat expected, as neuroscience as a whole has become what Provost Strong-Leek described as “a burgeoning field of study nationwide.”

The Neuroscience major exemplifies the liberal arts education at Haverford, bringing together students with various backgrounds and interests. According to the Neuroscience program’s learning goals, majors study the nervous system and behavior from the molecular to cognitive level. Students interested in multiple areas of STEM or the social sciences no longer have to choose between them, but can rather enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of the Neuroscience program, which bridges the gaps between the fields of Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and other majors. 

“Most people have been personally impacted, or have a loved one who has been impacted, by a neurological disease, brain injury, or a mental health disorder,” remarked Professor Been. “Many of us have wondered about why we think or behave the way we do. Neuroscience allows us to ask and answer questions about these relatable topics.” 

For Umme Orthy ‘26, who's always been interested in Biology and Psychology, the Introduction to Neuroscience course taught by Professor Emily Black played a big role in her decision to declare a Neuroscience major in the spring. While Orthy originally thought the major may be too specific for her, she realized that she would ultimately learn “a mixture of everything.” As a sophomore, Orthy has already begun neuroscience research, working in Professor Robert Fairman’s Biology lab this past summer to investigate Huntington’s disease. 

The six-year-long development of the major was not without its challenges, but a donation helped to speed up the process. All new majors have to be approved by standing academic committees, and resources like space and faculty must be in order before commitments are finalized. Provost Strong-Leek reveals that “the stars seemed to align” when the committee received “funding from a generous donor” who pushed for the creation of a Neuroscience major, which allowed for the official launch of the major in 2021. 

In 2021, Provost Strong-Leek made the first official, full-time hire in Neuroscience, Dr. Patresee Robinson-Drummer, but she attributes most of the responsibility of the major’s creation to “the faculty in the Psychology and Biology Departments, as well as their Bi-Co colleagues, and the students.”

Because the Neuroscience major is a Bi-Co Interdisciplinary program instead of a department, it functions slightly differently than most majors in the Bi-Co, which are localized to one school and have faculty who teach courses specific to that department. In the Neuroscience program, many professors teaching Neuroscience courses and supervising Neuroscience research come from the Biology and Psychology Departments at either school. 

Provost Strong-Leek states that this joining together of faculty from both schools allows students to do research with professors who truly suit their interests. While some may view the sharing of resources and lab space as a potential downside of the major, Professor Been believes that it encourages the sharing of academic perspectives and approaches.   

The real challenge for the program, according to senior Neuroscience major Nikki Farrell, is the high demand for Neuroscience courses, which makes class registration more stressful. Farrell admits that “it can be a little frustrating since all its classes share priority with either the Bio or the Psych majors,” since many course requirements overlap between majors. 

Professor Been also acknowledges this issue, stating, “We are working hard to make sure our majors and minors can easily enroll in the courses they need to complete their major and minor requirements.” The program also hopes to expand its faculty in the coming semesters by filling tenure-track positions in Neurobiology and Computational Neuroscience. 

Ultimately, though, Farrell says being a Neuroscience major was worthwhile due to course diversity and increased schedule flexibility, citing the absence of a requirement for superlab, a stand-alone lab course with a time commitment of around 10 hours per week. This flexibility also makes it easier for students to study abroad, Farrell noted. 

During her time as a Neuroscience major, Farrell has done extensive research, stating that she has “enjoyed learning about neurodegeneration as one science mystery that we do not exactly understand.”

“It excites me to learn more about the brain and how it influences so much,” Farrell explained. “I find it fascinating how neurons control and manage so much, and learning more and more about it has been a driving force since long before I started research.”

Correction: This article originally stated that superlab was around 20 hours per week. Superlab takes around 10 hours per week. The Clerk deeply regrets the error.

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