Day in the life of a Neuroscience Student | Insight into Health Careers

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What’s it like to study neuroscience?

This behind the scenes insight gives you a peek into the life of a second-year neuroscience student who is studying at the University of Oxford.

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I get up and get ready for a busy day ahead. I make myself breakfast and get dressed, packing my bag with everything I’m going to need for the day. I have 9AM lectures most mornings and so also like to bring a snack if I won’t have time to come back to college before lunch.


I arrive at the Medical Sciences Teaching Centre (MSTC) and settle down for my first lecture which is on personality disorder psychology. As part of most neuroscience degrees, you also have to take some psychology modules so behavioural neuroscience is an example of one I have opted for. The lecture is focusing on conditions such as schizophrenia and there is a lot of experimental evidence being referenced. I either like to make hand written notes on a print out of the lecture slides or type up what the lecturer is saying on my laptop.

Incase you’re confused, this is was I mean:

Personality Disorder Psychology: studies personality disorders (PD), a class of mental disorders characterized by enduring maladaptive patterns of behaviour, cognition, and inner experience, exhibited across many contexts and deviating from those accepted by the individual’s culture.

Behavioural Neuroscience: also known as biological psychology, biopsychology, or psychobiology is the application of the principles of biology to the study of physiological, genetic, and developmental mechanisms of behaviour in humans and other animals.

Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behaviour and failure to understand reality.

Experimental Evidence: based on or derived from experience; empirical.


My next lecture is on auditory neuroscience which is a comparatively small module which only a dozen people have opted for. Although slightly daunting, the small atmosphere makes the lecture seem more like a seminar and makes it more interactive. We are specifically learning about speech perception and hearing aids and so the lecture also involves listening to audio clips. One of the clips played speech as someone with a cochlear implant would hear it; it’s fascinating that the brain can learn to decode something which sounds so incomprehensible!

Auditory Neuroscience: studies a group of processes by which the brain makes sense of the sound world.

Speech Perception: the process by which the sounds of language are heard, interpreted and understood.

Hearing Aids: a small amplifying device which fits on the ear, worn by a partially deaf person.

Audio Clips: digital audio, representation of sound in a form processed and/or stored by computers or other digital electronics.

Cochlear Implant: a device that can be surgically implanted into a person’s cochlea to stimulate it to cause hearing.


I now have an hour long break before my next lecture and so am heading over to the Biochemistry Café which is conveniently located near the MSTC. My friends and I get coffee and find a spot to chat and do a little bit of work. Most of my work is essay based and so I spend a lot of time reading scientific papers and making notes. I normally have one or two tutorials a week so I have to prepare either an essay or a presentation for each. This enables me to explore my research with a tutor and a couple of other students and allows me to ask any questions I have.


My last lecture of the day is on neuropharmacology, in particular drug development for the treatment of depression. Neuropharmacology is different to my other modules because it’s a lot more chemically based so I have to draw on both the biology and chemistry I studied at A-Level. I really enjoy learning about the molecular basis of what’s going on in the brain and the treatment of psychiatric disorders is so far-reaching and important.

Neuropharmacology: the branch of pharmacology that deals with the action of drugs on the nervous system.

Drug Development: the process of bringing a new pharmaceutical drug to the market once a lead compound has been identified through the process of drug discovery.

Depression: a mood disorder characterized by low mood, a feeling of sadness, and a general loss of interest in things.

Psychiatric Disorders: mental illnesses diagnosed by a mental health professional that greatly disturb your thinking, moods, and/or behaviour and seriously increase your risk of disability, pain, death, or loss of freedom.


Finally time for lunch! After a busy morning, I head into town to get some lunch, taking the opportunity to just switch off and let my brain relax. I try and go for a walk and maybe meet a friend from another course if they are also free before heading back to science.


Neuroanatomy in the demonstration room is one of the most interesting parts of my day. We all suit up in lab coats, gloves and goggles and a couple of trained demonstrators show a group of us preserved brains and spinal cords. The different tissues are preserved in formaldehyde but you soon become accustomed to the smell! It’s a very weird experience getting to hold a brain that’s just been plucked from a bucket but it’s also really helpful to be able to see some of the structures I have been learning about in lectures.

Neuroanatomy: the study of the anatomy and organisation of the nervous system.

Demonstration Room: a room where an explanation, display, illustration, or experiment is shown of how something works in anatomy and cadavers are used to teach.

Cadavers: a human body used by medical students to be dissected for study.


I’m done for the day! I make sure to wash my hands thoroughly after the lab and then head back to college. Once I’m back I’ll normally take some time to relax and make a cup of tea while seeing who else is around. Then I have a charity meeting about homelessness once a week where we discuss the committee’s progress and what our goals are for the coming week.


My friend and I cook ourselves dinner and then head back to our rooms to do some work. I like to finish off any reading I’ve started that day or make some further notes on the lectures I’ve been to just to stay on top of things. Once I’ve finished all of that, I normally head down to our college bar and have a drink with friends or watch some TV to wind down before bed after a busy but interesting day.

That’s just about if for my day as a neuroscience student. It is an incredibly interesting course and highlights just how complicated the human brain is. 

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