Neuroscience and Psychology Undergrads Not Afraid to Get their Hands Dirty
by Sara Curnow Wilson
It might not be for everyone, but students in Debra Bangasser’s Functional Neuroanatomy course have a favorite activity: sheep brain dissection.
The dissection, which occurs near the end of the semester in the course’s recitation, gives students an opportunity to handle the material they learn about in lectures. Second year neuroscience major Attilio Ceretti says that the value of working with an actual brain cannot be underestimated.
“It’s one thing to look at a cartoon or diagram of a brain structure, but it’s another to see it in person,” Ceretti explains.
The dissection is one example the emphasis placed on hands-on research and experience by the undergraduate psychology and neuroscience curricula. In addition to classes like Bangasser’s with a laboratory component, psychology and neuroscience offerings include opportunities for students to work in faculty-run research labs or be placed in real world internships.
“We strongly suggest students get additional experiences outside of the classroom and we offer course credit for these experiences,” says Tania Giovannetti, associate professor and undergraduate chair of the psychology department.
One undergraduate who has benefited from working closely with a faculty mentor is psychology senior Joseph Orsini, who works in a lab run by Professor Lauren Alloy. Orsini has already presented his research at two major national conferences: those of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies and the Society for Research in Psychopathology.
Though Orsini began his undergraduate career with aspirations toward theater design, an introductory psychology class helped him realize his passion for psychology and encouraged him to transfer into the College of Liberal Arts. He says that the emphasis on research and assessment he received as an undergraduate has prepared him for his future career.
“These experiences gave me a powerful appreciation for the necessity and importance of research,” he says.
Both programs are evolving and adding new offerings to keep up with undergraduate demand. According to Giovanetti, the psychology department is currently working to set up research experiences for undergraduates at the Temple hospital.
Even the space in which undergraduates like Ceretti have their recitations is an illustration of the programs’ commitment to their undergraduates. The room, a wet lab, is a new addition to Weiss Hall. Though work in a wet lab has always been an important component for faculty and graduate students, this is the first wet lab for undergraduate student use.
Bangasser, the faculty lead on the project, stresses the importance of wet lab access for undergraduates.
“This new laboratory provides a place where students can develop competencies that will facilitate success at Temple and beyond,” she says.
Recitation leader Rob Cole says the student reactions to the wet lab have been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s something different,” he says. “They aren’t just sitting in a regular classroom listening to a lecture. Here, they are able to engage in a more active learning environment.”
Ceretti says this active engagement sets his experience apart from that of students at other universities.
“There are many college students who could go their whole undergraduate careers without working on actual brain matter.”