Student club petitions UBC to provide more comprehensive undergraduate neuroscience education

The UBC Neuroscience Club is putting forward a petition and a survey to assess the student’s desire for a new “comprehensive undergraduate neuroscience major,” or additional courses that are more neuroscience and less behavioural focused.

Preliminary data of 130 responses from the survey shows that a majority of students are supportive of expanding neuroscience education at UBC. In particular, they are interested in adding courses focusing on neurodegeneration, computational neuroscience and neuroanatomy.

“There seems to be a gap in people finding not as many courses available in the topics they’re interested in,” said club VP Finance Farhad Ghaseminejad.

“People are involved in research labs at UBC and they volunteer at labs as undergraduates, but they don’t have a complementary course to basically complement their degree as a whole.”

With the initial goal of 100 signatures being reached within a week of publishing the petition, the club has since increased it to 200 signatures. Ultimately, they want to get an overview of where students feel improvements could be made, which will be communicated to the administration once sufficient data has been gathered.

“Our main goal with the petition is to enhance neuroscience education at UBC,” said club President Alireza Kamyabi.

“Whether that’s done through additional courses in the behavioural neuroscience program, or whether we create a comprehensive neuroscience major is really up to the expertise of the faculty and the administration.”

How to create a major

In the past, the development of a neuroscience major has received little attention — with faculty members occasionally bringing the subject to the table — according to Simon Peacock, dean of the faculty of science.

“To be candid, it’s been very limited [discussion] and there hasn’t been a lot of follow up in the things I think I, or any dean, would want to see before committing the resources to doing this,” said Peacock.

“There are a number of questions that I think most people would have and these haven’t come up yet.”

But if there is more interest in the creation of a new major this time, receiving support from the faculty would be the important first step in putting forward a proposal in Senate — UBC’s highest academic governance body.

According to Senate Student-at-large Daniel Lam, previous proposals that passed through the body have come from faculty members and not from the students directly. And while he felt that anything is feasible, it was a matter of determining whether creating a new program or modifying the current program would be the better option.

“Do I think this is feasible? I think absolutely it is,” said Lam.

“It’s just a matter of whether or not faculty and the department are willing to make changes to the existing program at hand, or if they're willing to create a new program as I think [The Neuroscience Club] may have wanted.”

One major consideration would be the job prospects after graduation for undergraduate neuroscience students.

“One of the things I would be assessing is, ‘What is the demand for neuroscientists?’ because you put a lot of resources into a program, a lot of political capitol, getting everybody to buy-in, and if the students don’t get jobs in that field, have we really done the right thing here?” said Peacock.

“I want to see before moving forward some sort of assessment of market analysis.”

A clear indication of sustained interest would also communicate to UBC that there is a need for a neuroscience program, especially since creating a new major would present administrative challenges like finding the appropriate academic space and resources for the program.

“It’ll require that we commit to delivering ‘X’ courses a year to service the neuroscience program,” said Peacock, “and that enthusiasm has to be there year-in and year-out.”

If successful, the proposal would then have to pass through several layers of discussion and approval within Senate, a fee approval from UBC Board of Governors and a final approval from the Ministry of Advanced Education. Although the timeline to receive approval from all required sources can vary, the suggested time of submission is 14-16 months before the starting date of the first cohort.

“It does cross traditional structures of the university and that just means it’s a bit more challenging, but that doesn’t mean it’s not doable,” said Peacock.

“If you have some real faculty champions, who recognize that this is a complex space, but it’s the right thing to do and are willing to help the students move this forward, I think it can be done.”