TL;DR Majors: Brain & Cognitive Science

By Shang Chen
April 07, 2021 · 2 minute read

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Brain & Cognitive Science is an innovative and exciting field of study offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. The department was founded in 1964 with the revolutionary idea that the study of the brain and the mind are as intertwined as the mechanics of the brain itself. Since then, the department has grown immensely, becoming one of the members of MIT’s School of Science alongside Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Mathematics, and Physics.

What is Brain & Cognitive Science (BCS)?

In the beginning, BCS was founded as the Department of Psychology and Brain Science. While the department has now merged with the neuroscience program, the use of both science and psychology remains the core principles of the major. Similar to the cognitive science major we have covered in past articles, the BCS major focuses on: “nurturing a diverse and innovative scientific community, one that thrives at the intersection of cognitive science, systems neuroscience, cellular and molecular neuroscience, and computation.”

By its nature BCS acknowledges that a holistic study of the brain requires objective studies in the field of neuroscience, chemistry, and programming combined with understanding and knowledge of the way people think, interact, and make decisions. By being at the intersection of both science and psychology, BCS allows students to join perhaps one of the most important and complex undertakings of human history: understanding the brain.

What types of work do BCS majors end up doing?

Due to the extensive and diverse coursework of the BCS major, students tend to be able to go into a variety of fields. The most common are the focuses on neuroscience and computation. The neuroscience track focuses the student towards a career in medicine, be it a doctor or a researcher. The computation track involves much more programming and is well suited for a student that wants to utilize their knowledge of the brain to help build artificial intelligence programs. Of course, there are many other courses within the BCS department that involve subjects like Psychology or Developmental Cognition. From these tracks, students have the option of going into more research-oriented roles, continuing their studies with a master/doctorate, or going straight into industry.

What’s it really like to be a BCS major at MIT?

This week we hit up Keith Skaggs, a current undergraduate in the BCS department of MIT. We ask him about what his experience has been like at MIT along with what classes/experiences he feels were most beneficial in preparing him for the major. Hopefully, some of you find inspiration in his responses and become more curious in majors like Brain & Cognitive Science (or similar fields).

Sources:

https://bcs.mit.edu/about-bcs

https://bcs.mit.edu/about-bcs/history-timeline

Interview

Keith Skaggs, Brain and Cognitive Science, MIT

What inspired you to major in Brain and Cognitive Science?

I was inspired to major in brain and cognitive science because of my love for the brain. The brain is the most complex thing in the universe, yet every person has one. It makes us who we are. I wanted to learn more about this object that contains everything about us.

What are some of the coolest projects you've worked on through your college career?

I was able to go to Mexico City in the summer of 2019 and work in a neuroscience lab at the Universidad Panamericana. I was able to build a contraption that helped measure visuomotor learning in kids. Then I went to an elementary school and tested out the contraption there.

What have been some of the challenges of being a BCS major?

One challenge is how you can get overwhelmed with all of the classes and knowledge.

What fields or jobs are you looking to go into after majoring in BCS?

I’m planning on applying to medical school and get my MD and Ph.D. in neuroscience.

What skills would you say are the most important for aspiring BCS students?

Creativity, motivation, grit, and patience.

What advice/tips would you offer to a high school student who might be interested in BCS?

Don’t be intimidated by STEM. If you’re really passionate about it, then you can do it. There will be ups and downs, but it’ll be really worth it.

Finally, tell us a little about yourself. What background, hobbies, etc.

I grew up in West Virginia and spent summers visiting my family in Venezuela. I love sports especially soccer. I wrestle at MIT. I really enjoy traveling and trying new things.

Did you enjoy this article?

About The Author

Shang Chen is on the executive team of SciTeens and is studying Data Science and Economics at UC Berkeley. His hobbies include working out, cooking, and playing video games. Feel free to reach out to him with comments, questions, and future article recommendations at Shang@SciTeens.org.

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