Like many students, Preeyah Purang picked her university degree based on what she enjoyed most at school. It’s a reasonable decision, pick what you’re good at and you can’t go wrong, right? In Preeyah’s case, that course was Biology, however she soon realised that perhaps Biology provided too much variety and not enough specialist knowledge. This is where Neuroscience came in and the rest, as they say, is history…
As the self-proclaimed “Most Indecisive Person in the World”, choosing what university degree to apply for was a tricky decision for me! Initially, I picked Biology because I had enjoyed it throughout school and it was always one of my strongest subjects. I also thought that it would give me plenty of variety because I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed to one area too soon.
I was drawn to studying Biology specifically at Manchester because I had heard that there was a great deal of flexibility between all of the Life Sciences courses and the extra things you could add onto your degree e.g. the year in industry or integrated masters year. In the end, i applied for the latter!
After my first semester at Manchester, I realised how useful this flexibility would be, as I began to question whether a course as broad as Biology now had too much variety for me! At this point I started to consider some of the more specialised degree programmes, with my attention being drawn to Neuroscience.
Neuroscience had always been an area that I thought would be interesting, but I did not know a lot about it to before applying to university. Talking to my academic tutor/personal advisor helped me to decide that this could be a good pathway to go down. She advised me to consider looking at not only the second-year modules, but also, the final year modules for Neuroscience to decide whether they covered areas I would like to end up learning more about.
Once she was convinced that this was the right decision for me, she was happy to sign off my degree change form (you need permission from your personal adviser and programme director). It also helped to talk to my family and friends about switching programmes as they all told me I should go with my gut and encouraged me to go for it.
This included a panicked phone call to my mum in the middle of my January exams, as I thought I had left it too late to switch to the right second semester labs unit (this was a mandatory unit for Neuroscience students, which I wasn’t signed up for at the time). Typically, she calmed me down and told me to just email the academic in charge of the labs.
It turned out they were more than happy for me to switch my unit, even slightly after the deadline – no stress required! This put me on the right track to switch programmes and in retrospect, I now know the best thing to do when you aren’t sure about something is JUST ASK. Staff here are very understanding and willing to help where they can.
There is a lot of helpful information online about all of the modules you can take within the different degree programmes. I would definitely recommend looking at what you can take in all three years of your undergraduate course from the start so you can get a feel for what path you want to take at university.
In my second semester, I took the Excitable Cells module (optional for biologists but mandatory for neuroscientists), which was our first proper taste of Neuroscience. This was one of my favourite modules of first year, with the lectures on the senses and memory being particularly fascinating. This gave me the confidence to finish filling in my degree programme change form and officially switch my degree to Neuroscience just before Easter of first year.
Now that I have nearly completed my second year, I have never been happier to have switched degrees. With my modules being tailored more specifically to Neuroscience, I have had the chance to learn about the development of the nervous system, how we smell, hear, feel and see, and how the brain malfunctions. The Neuroscience practical units gave us the chance to handle real human brains and study the effects of ethanol and laughing gas on cognitive performance – all really exciting stuff!
What I found out is that I could just as easily have started studying a more specialised degree, such as Neuroscience, and switched back onto a broader programme. So, regardless of what you apply for, you should not worry about that being your final decision! Working as a student ambassador for the Faculty, I really enjoy talking to applicants about my switch from Biology to Neuroscience and getting them excited about the course.
Now, all my friends think it sounds much cooler when I say I study Neuroscience! After all, the brain is vital to nearly everything we do and who we are as individuals!