We Get It, You’re A Science Major

“They said, if you aren’t studying cellular/molecular mechanisms, you’re not studying neuroscience,” one kid from my seminar class told our professor. “I told her she was wrong. I’m right, right?”

My professor nodded. Another girl chimed in, “I bet they’re a CST neuro major.” Murmurs of how she was “the worst” made their way around the small group of us that stood in front of our professor, waiting patiently for her answer.

I graduated with a B.S. in Neuroscience from the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) at Temple University. This is the same B.S. in Neuroscience given by the College of Science and Technology (CST). They are two completely different programs; CST has eleven required labs in their curriculum, CLA only has three, and where CLA focuses on behavior and systems, CST is rooted almost entirely in cellular and molecular.

Guess which program “doesn’t count” in the eyes of most neuro majors.

I’ll give you a hint: it’s the one I graduated from.

“You’re right,” my professor replied kindly. “One without the other doesn’t mean much.”

The room was mostly empty except for the maybe six of us huddled in the front of the room after class. It sounded a lot louder than that as everyone erupted into their own questions, comments, and opinions. Some of these same people held similar reservations until I joined the class. Suddenly CLA wasn’t as washed up as everyone thought it was. I didn’t just know the molecules, I knew the pathways, I knew behaviors, I knew neuro.

Because it’s the same degree.

But this whole CLA-CST beef isn’t a new phenomenon (duh, have you seen the Tupac and Biggie docuseries on Netflix?). But, it is a microcosm of how annoyingly elitist some scientists get.

I hope some of you are reading this wondering what the hell I’m talking about – keep that innocence.

For the rest of you who know what the hell I’m talking about – choose your fighter: The Geneticists versus the Biochemists versus Everyone Else; The Physicists versus the Chemists; Internal Med versus Surgeons.

These kinds of feuds are not new. And that’s annoying!

I have had an internal medicine doctor scoff at a surgeon’s opinion because they “slice and dice” and “don’t know actual medicine.” (Which, first of all, sir, have you seen some of the absolute ninnies that work in INTERNAL? Not the point, let’s discuss that another time). A week later, that same surgeon rolled his eyes at the internal doc for “reading so many books” that he “forgot the actual medicine.” Unsurprisingly, that project never really took off.

I’ve had professors tell me my degree wasn’t “real science” because it was just biology and some people think that’s a soft science. Others have split opinions because genetics is better than biochemistry is better than behavioral research. Don’t get me started on the rifts between graduate programs.

I say this coming from the unlisted, unforeseen option: journalism. I was two semesters deep when I switched into neuroscience, with three electives too many to join CST and still graduate on time. So I switched to CLA. I have had to explain this to every doctor, researcher, or both that I have worked with. And that’s annoying. I have had to defend this against peers who questioned my ability because I came from the school across campus. And that’s Annoying.

It’s the same degree. But it’s not just about the degree; I’m almost expected to look down on the field I fell in love with. However, I am not a jaded ex.

This pseudo-elitism that any one science, specialty, or concentration is better than another while both are simultaneously more valuable than any humanities or arts degree is complete, utter nonsense. (Unless you’re in evolutionary psychology and trying to justify your opinion that women are inferior, in which case I’ll have a post just for you.) If everyone was in science, we would know a lot about the world, with no way of interpreting it or escaping it or any of the million other things arts, humanities, and trades do for us as a society. And honestly, if your field was for everyone, you’d probably be out of a job.

This, of course, is not to say that I would excel at a physics or organic chemistry-heavy course, and it’s definitely not to say that we don’t need anyone in a given discipline. Instead, this is more of a hypothesis. If we stopped focusing so much on the discipline and more on the scientific end-goal of answering questions, then science would move a lot faster.

The best illustration I can think of is the field of neuroimmunology (we get it, you’re a neuro major). Up until five or ten years ago, the fields of neuroscience and immunology were two very separate, distinct fields. Then the lymphatic system was discovered in the brain, and voila, neuroimmunology was born. Since its advent, neuroimm has specialized even further, encapsulating research in the gut microbiome, traumatic brain injury, developmental disorders, and a whole host of other topics. But without merging these fields, we would still probably think that the nervous system was independent of the rest of the body’s immunity.

Despite the unnecessary explanations and inquiries laced with condescension, I still wouldn’t change the college I got my degree from. The CLA neuro program, though aggravating in its newness and non-CST reputation, prepared me for neuro better than the plethora of lab courses woven into the CST curriculum. That’s not to say those labs aren’t important, but I’m the kind of neuroscientist that consults someone else about the physics of an MRI.

Differences aside, the neuro programs at Temple gave me a chance to do what I love. And as corny as it may be, I love learning especially about the brain and its many complexities. My mentor, who fostered my curiousness about the nervous system, evolution, and cellular brain mechanisms, teaches out of CLA. The professors of the neuro electives in CST also fostered my love of learning. All of them got me to believe I could make it in this field. And what else? They’re mostly women.

These women and their respective colleges taught me a lot, both academically and personally, and not once did they seem bothered about which college it was. As far as the pettiness of scientific elitism, that taught me something too.

I want to be the science major who loves it, not the one who has to prove I know it.


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