Chances for a cogsci/neuroscience PhD with a psych major?

<p>I'm a 4th year psychology major at UC Berkeley. I ended up picking psychology for my major and I honestly regret it... the problem is that we don't have an interdisciplinary neuroscience here. Berkeley does have molecular & cell biology - neurobiology but since it's more on a cellular/molecular level, it's not really what I want (and it requires a lot of non-neurobiology coursework), and we do have a cognitive science major, but it's a bit too interdisciplinary for my taste (philosophy, linguistics, etc). I thought about switching to cogsci at one point, but it was honestly too late by the time I started thinking about it. I would have to take so many classes that I wouldn't have time for undergraduate research, and I didn't want to spend my last two years taking classes like philosophy.</p>

<p>Anyway, I want to go into more of a cognitive/behavioral neuroscience area for my PhD... I'm not I'm looking into programs, but I feel like I'm at a huge disadvantage. It's so competitive--would many programs consider an applicant with a weaker neuroscience background?</p>

<p>My strong points are that I have a 3.97 GPA, and since I'm graduating soon I can't imagine it will change too much. I do have some cognitive/neuroscience area psychology classes, both in my department and cross-listed with cog sci, but not that many. I work at a cog psych lab that is very related to what I want to do specialize in--and I have a really good family-related reason for why I want to study what I do that will work well for college apps. I plan on taking more classes (e.g., neurobio, math, physics) after graduation to make up for having a weaker background. I don't know how it will look to grad schools that I did the tough classes after graduating... It's not that I didn't want to challenge myself while I was an undergrad student. I just didn't really realize what I wanted until later. If I could go back, I probably would have gone for neurobio or cogsci.</p>

<p>What are my chances? What "tier" schools should I be aiming for? I'd appreciate any advice.</p>

<p>TL;DR - I'm a psych major at a top public school, with a good GPA and relevant research experience, and I will make up coursework next year. I want to go into a cognitive/behavioral area neuroscience program. Chances?</p>

<p>(thank you for reading, I know that was a bit wordy...)</p>

<p>You’re in the highest tier of grad school applicants. You also rightly perceive that in top programs with four applicants with all the right measurables per opening, competition gets dicey and ultimately turns into a bit of a crapshoot. So you are looking for people to alleviate your anxiety. Well, we can’t. Apply and wait it out. </p>


<p>I take it you are going to take classes next year and work in a lab? If so, that will be an advantage. </p>

<p>It seems as if you are 1) taking the relevant prerequisite coursework next year and 2) are already getting cognitive psych lab experience this year, and will get more next year. If that is the case, I don’t think it will matter that psychology is your undergraduate major. I’m in a psychology department that has a pretty heavy cogsci/cog neuro arm to it, and most of the majors here were psych major undergrads. It’s an interdisciplinary field; you just need to have the basic biology courses.</p>

<p>Here’s what Stanford (top neuroscience program) has to say:</p>

<p>*Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the Neurosciences, students are enrolled with backgrounds ranging from computational to biological. Students from traditional biology backgrounds are expected to show strong achievement in molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry and neuroscience. Students from more quantitative backgrounds should demonstrate considerable competence in mathematics (calculus, differential equations, linear algebra), physics, probability theory, and statistics. Students from psychology backgrounds should be well versed in cognitive science, experimental psychology, neuroscience and statistics. We are looking primarily for talented, highly motivated students irrespective of exact disciplinary background. Similarly, research experience is very important, but the exact disciplinary area is not critical. *</p>

<p>And Johns Hopkins:</p>

<p>Applicants should have a B.S. or B.A. with a major in any of the Biological or Physical sciences (Biological Psychology, Mathematics, Physics or Computer Science are all OK). Recommended course requirements for entry into the Program are mathematics through calculus, general physics, general biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry.</p>


<p>Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the Neuroscience program, our students have diverse backgrounds in physical and/or biological sciences. The program has as prerequisites undergraduate courses in biology, physics, inorganic and organic chemistry, and calculus (although students not trained in one or more of these areas may make them up after enrollment</p>

<p>You get the picture. Some programs are going to be more biomedical than others; where they are housed is a good indication of that. A neuroscience program that is part of the biology department or a biomedical department at a medical center will probably be populated with more biology, chemistry, etc. students. A program housed in a psychology department will likely have a lot of psych students.</p>

<p>Also note that some schools have two or more ways into this. Columbia, for example, as a combined neuroscience “program”/working group that is made up of scholars from a variety of departments, including psychology, biology, biostatistics, epidemiology, several medical specialties, biochemistry, biomedical engineering, etc. Also, your own school appears to have two ways to study neuroscience: the PhD program in neuroscience (<a href=“”></a>) and the behavioral neuroscience concentration within the psychology department (<a href=“”></a>).</p>

<p>One last note: This statement in your post concerned me:</p>



<p>In general, it is actually not a good idea to use family-related or personal reasons to explain why you want to study something, especially something health-related (e.g, “my favorite grandfather has Alzheimer’s and I want to cure the disease because of my experiences with him,” “my cousin has schizophrenia and so I want to understand the neural bases of the disease”). See also [url=&lt;a href=“]this[/url”&gt;]this[/url</a>] article on the “kisses of death” for graduate school applications - it’s from a survey of psychologists but similar rules apply in related fields and fields with health-related outcomes. The idea (as silly as it sounds) is that you’re supposed to have a professional, academic interest in your field - not a mostly personal one. So while I think most of us have at least somewhat person reasons for our research interests, focus on writing about the professional ones (lab experiences, volunteering, work, etc.)</p>

<p>See also the paragraph about excessive altruism, as I think that’s related. Remember, applying to graduate school is different from college apps - while in college admissions officers are concerned with your personal characteristics, on the graduate level those evaluating your app want to know about your professional qualifications and readiness to not only study their higher-level stuff, but to basically work for them as an employee in their labs and represent their graduate program to the world.</p>

<p>It’s not that I’m looking for people to alleviate my anxiety, really. It’s just that I want to be realistic about where I apply. I wouldn’t want to aim too high and not get in anywhere or not apply to great programs that seem out of my league if I do have a chance.</p>

<p>I will be working in the lab, yes. I’ve talked to a few people from different graduate departments and some current graduate students and from what I’ve heard that’s most important… so I’m hoping it’s enough of an advantage to make up for weaker parts of my background.</p>

<p>Juillet - thank you! Some universities like Johns Hopkins might be a stretch since chem and ochem would be two years of work, really and for UCSF I might be lacking too much… but ones like Stanford or Columbia seem like a possibility - thank you for pointing out those programs to me! Sadly the UCs don’t like taking their own students back for grad school, from what I understand, so my chances probably aren’t very high at Berkeley. I’ve also been looking into programs that are very specific to the subject my lab basically deals with and have interdisciplinary connections to cogsci/neuroscience departments. I’m thinking their requirements wouldn’t span so many subjects and my lab experience would be even more important. </p>

<p>As for the kiss of death - it’s not a mental health disorder or trauma. In retrospect I should have cleared that up since neuroscience/cogsci implies that. Without going into too much detail online, it’s a sensory disability, so perception/cognition research comes into play, but it is a physical syndrome, not a psychological disorder. I don’t think it would have any mental health implications about my family, and I have no intention of giving personal information about my family past saying that the research at my lab is applied to technology that one of my younger siblings uses. I just wanted to note that I’ve had some involvement with the community that benefits from the research, and to indicate/imply that I’ve been interested in that community and that technology since I was young, i.e., it isn’t a random area of research because that’s just the lab that happened to take me. I see your point about excessive altruism, but that wasn’t something I planned on emphasizing… I figured it would be a given since it’s applied research related to healthcare, right? I definitely plan on talking about the lab mostly. I just thought 1-2 sentences with a personal touch might make it seem more genuine. Would that still be problematic? I just can’t imagine not mentioning it at all, since watching my sibling go through it is what led me to developing a professional/academic interest in the field as I got older.</p>

<p>* Sadly the UCs don’t like taking their own students back for grad school, from what I understand, so my chances probably aren’t very high at Berkeley.*</p>

<p>I’ve heard this said, but I haven’t seen anyone give hard-and-fast evidence for it. I’d imagine that it varies a lot by department and UC; it just really depends. I’d advise that you speak to someone in the neuroscience department about it it while you’re there; you may be surprised at what you hear.</p>

<p>As for the kiss of death - I was using the clinical psychology stuff as an example, but this isn’t limited to mental health - it applies for physical health and sensory/perception disorders, too. I personally think it’s stupid - but the scientific world, for some reason, wants us to separate our personal and professional interests in a way that’s unrealistic.</p>

<p>HOWEVER, I think if you phrase it more the way you do in your second post - some involvement in the community that benefits from the research - it may be okay. In fact, I think I broke the rule a teeny bit in my own personal statement - not about how I got into my research, but why I wanted to do research. I wrote a sentence or two about working as a data collection intern in a low-income area one summer and how being welcomed by the community there, and being seen as a sort of force for community good, made me really want to be a researcher and help solve problems in vulnerable communities. So I think if you mentioned your involvement in the research community for this particular disorder and that led to your current interest in a professional, somewhat depersonalized way, it might work. You just may want to have a professor read it over and ask specifically about that part.</p>

<p>As a side note - you don’t need to express interest in it from the time you were very young. As a matter of fact, I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the “I’ve wanted to study X since I was very young” or “As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a cancer researcher” kind of statements are actually eyeroll-inducing for a lot of professors/committees. In fact, it’s totally okay if you fell in love with this area of research because you started randomly working in this lab in college. You can, of course, express that this is a long-held interest if you want, but it wouldn’t be weird if you just picked up the interest in college.</p>