Speakers Rachel Bristol and Shannon Eaton come from very different backgrounds but are two of the most sought after teachers in the bachelor’s degree program in neuroscience at Arizona State University.
The neuroscience program has doubled in size since becoming a stand-alone degree option both on campus and online in fall 2021. ASU’s neuroscience degree examines the functions of the brain and system nervous in relation to behavior, emotions and consciousness.
Bristol came to ASU after earning a doctorate in cognitive science from the University of California, San Diego. She previously earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Oregon, and completed a Masters in Linguistics from the University of Delaware before discovering that her passion lay in neuroscience. She is interested in difficult questions such as “What is cognition?” “, “What is the nature of thought and how does the brain support consciousness? and “Are our brains specialized for social interaction?” She is fascinated by language and how it intertwines with our brains, minds and societies.
This fall, Bristol will be teaching Introduction to Neuroscience and Fundamentals of Cognitive Neuroscience, and is excited to help undergraduate students explore the field of neuroscience.
“I sort of slipped into neuroscience by accident, but I think it should be inspirational for students because it shows how accessible the field is,” Bristol said. “For example, even the skills someone acquires by studying art history can somehow apply to studying the brain and how we perceive art. . Personally, my passion for language is perfectly linked to cognitive sciences and neurosciences, and I think it is open to all curious people.
Both Eaton and Bristol have pointed out how broad neuroscience can be, with the combination of skills from philosophy, psychology, linguistics, engineering, artificial intelligence, biology and education, all mixed up.
While Bristol explores more of the theoretical concepts behind neuroscience, Eaton has a background in molecular biology and focuses more on brain structure and function. She received her doctorate from the University of Kentucky and specialized in psychopharmacology, or the study of the use of drugs in the treatment of mental disorders. She studied gender differences in pharmacokinetics and reward behaviors in the brain.
“For me, one of the main goals is curiosity and the inspiration of curiosity. I like to see what excites the students. Generally, in my course “Your Brain on Drugs”, the students are very enthusiastic idea of seeing research on hallucinogens and marijuana. However, I also hope that students will be excited about the big picture surrounding drug abuse,” Eaton said. “Curiosity is what drives the learning, and learning is what drives future research.”
Although Eaton’s background is more on the cellular side, she would call herself a behavioral neuroscientist. She has a personal interest in the molecular implications that can affect behavior. For instance, research led by Assistant Professor Jessica Verpeut has recently uncovered additional links between the role of the cerebellum and behavior.
Her passion for neuroscience is to understand sex differences and the role of sex hormones in the brain.
“With my background in psychopharmacology, I have always been interested in how prescription drugs and therapeutics impact men and women differently. For example, eight out of 10 drugs that are taken off the shelves are because they have more serious side effects in women than in men. Fifty percent of the population are women, and yet they are historically unresearched due to hormonal cycling and social dynamics,” Eaton said.
This fall, Eaton will be teaching the Neuroscience of Learning and Motivation course.
“First, we examine the neural mechanisms and processes behind the simplest forms of classical and operant learning and conditioning. Then we get into language acquisition and the epigenetics of learning/cognitive ability. Throughout the course, we examine questions such as “What is learning?”, “Do you need a brain to learn?”, “Can animals learn the same things humans?”, “What is motivation?”. and ‘What brain regions and neurotransmitters are involved in learning and motivation?'” Eaton said.
“These topics are explored with hands-on activities and student-led paper presentations. As a result, students have a lot of influence on what’s discussed, and every semester is a little different,” Eaton said.
Bristol and Eaton also shared that neuroscience falls into multiple categories, just like musical genres.
“When you think about it in that lens, there’s rap, but there’s also rhythm and blues and hip-hop, or there’s like 18 different types of rock and roll. The same goes for neuroscience – like cool fields like neurogastronomy or psychopharmacology,” Bristol said. “As long as you are interested in the brain, there is a place for you in neuroscience!
Video of the NEU Long conversation