Neuroscience major offers five year B.A./M.A. program



The adjectives focused, ambitious, and incredibly determined undermine the accomplishments that Trinity Alumnae Emily Aiken ’15 has achieved at Trinity College. Excited and enthusiastic to be interviewed, Aiken provided the Tripod with information on her neuroscience major and just how important it is for females to be confident in their abilities. A star-student herself, Aiken was not shy to express the recognition females deserve in the sciences.

Rebecca Reingold: Describe your experience at trinity as an undergraduate?

Emily Aiken: Overall I would say my undergraduate experience was great.  I felt as though I was able to do so much in four years, yet I still which I had more time.  I studied abroad twice (Rome and the Netherlands), was a member and treasuer of Kappa Kappa Gamma, interned at the Institute of Living, was a Health Fellow at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, did undergraduate research for three years, and completed a senior honors thesis.  I tried to find a balance between my academic and social lives, which was often difficult, but retrospectively I would not change any part of my experience.

RR: Why did you choose to continue your education in the neuroscience field at Trinity?

EA: I chose to continue my graduate degree at Trinity because the program was unique compared to other schools, allowing me to finish my bachelors and masters in just five years.  Because I plan to further my education more after this year, the timeline of the Trinity program was extremely attractive.  I also have an amazing relationship with my research adviser at Trinity, which is an extremely important factor in selecting a graduate program.

RR: Do you feel females are under-represented in the neuroscience field? How would you encourage females to have a stronger presence in the STEM fields?

EA: It is hard to say.  At Trinity, I have always felt like females dominate the neuroscience program- even our new President is a neuroscientist.  However, I think that as a whole, females are under-represented across the sciences.  Though it is getting better, I don’t think that girls are encouraged at a young age to pursue the sciences.  I most definitely would encourage females to have a stronger presence in STEM fields.  Thankfully, the gender disparities in STEM appears to be changing for the better, and the career opportunities are endless.  Don’t shy away from a major or career field because you feel or hear that it is dominated by men.

RR: What are your plans after you receive your masters?

EA: After receiving my masters I ultimately plan to attend medical school.  With that being said I have not eliminated the possibility of applying to PhD or PsyD programs in clinical psychology.  I know that eventually I would like to be working with children in a clinical setting.  I am spending this year and the summer finishing up applications and then next year I am going to allow myself a little break from school while I await decisions.

RR: What does Trinity’s neuroscience grad program offer that other schools do not?

EA: The Trinity neuroscience grad program is unique because it is a dual-degree program.  This means that you start your masters during your junior year (or earlier), taking courses for your undergraduate major but at the graduate level for credit.  So in your 5th year (master’s year) you have a reduced course load, thus allowing you to primarily focus on your research.  Most masters programs at two years full time after undergrad.  This program is not only less time, but also costs significantly less because it is started during your undergrad years.  What is also unique to this program is that your research is a continuation from undergrad.  You continue in a lab that you have established yourself in, rather than having to worry about building new relationships at another school.

RR: What changes would you like to see in the neuroscience department?

EA: I personally would like to see that neuroscience program really define itself and become a separate department.  Right now it is a program that includes coursework throughout various departments (Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, etc.).  I think that it would be great to see the program continue to encourage students to take courses in these departments, but also offer more classes that are specific to neuroscience.

RR: What advice would you give to students preparing or considering going to grad school?

EA: I would say to plan ahead and to be happy about any decision you make.  Though the Trinity program is only one additional year, it is a big commitment.  You have to be happy and confident in the work you are doing, whether that be a masters, PhD, med school, law school, etc.  It can be hard at times to see your classmates and friends in the “working world” while you are still working towards another degree.  So you want to make a decision and be happy about it, if that means you need to work for a year or so before making the decision to get a graduate degree, then by all means do that.  Don’t force it.

RR: What career opportunities are there for students who are majoring in Neuroscience but don’t want to be a doctor? How can you apply your studies to other fields?

EA: There are plenty of other career opportunities for students majoring in neuroscience that don’t want to be a doctor.  If you still want to work on the clinical side of things you could continue your education taking a counseling route or earn your Ph.D enabling you to teach at the collegiate level.  There are also ways to bridge the gap between neuroscience and business.  For instance, students who have a background in the cellular/molecular side of neuroscience can work for pharmaceutical companies.  Neuroeconomics and neuromarketing are also newer fields with job opportunities.  Also the liberal arts degree does go far.  Just because you major in neuroscience doesn’t mean that you have to follow a specific career path.  If anything, employers will see that you have taken difficult courses and thus are able to think and problem solve.  In reality, you can work in any field that you want.

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