As a neuroscience student, I’ve come to hate “neuroscience”.  Not the field itself, I’m talking about the actual word.  When people ask me what I study, I can’t just say that word.  To say it is too abrasive. That word doesn’t belong in any casual conversation.

People automatically assume that I’m exceptionally intelligent, that I’m going to be a brain surgeon, and that I will be very wealthy in the future.  It’s ridiculous.  None of those things are true.

So what is neuroscience about then?  It’s biology with a focus on the central nervous system.  Doesn’t sound so scary now does it? As a social experiment, I’ve decided to gauge the response to different terms regarding what I do, some of which mean the same thing semantically but use different words, and a few are overlapping fields. To the question, “What’s your major?” I’ve responded with:

  • Neuroscience
  • Biology
  • Bio-psychology
  • Psychology
  • Neuro-psychology
  • Neuro-biology
  • Neuro-chemistry
  • Behavioral Science
  • Cognitive Science
  • Pharmacology
  • Biopsychopharmacology

People don’t bat an eye at psychology or biology.  Sometimes psychology invites condescension.  When I say biology people often ask if I’ll be a doctor.  Biopsychopharmacology gets the worst response.  Neuroscience gets the second worst response.  People aren’t familiar with the other terms which leads them to ask, “What do you want to do with that?” It’s amusing to me to hear the variety of responses.  And it’s been helpful to my understanding of how others view me. I wouldn’t be complaining if I had chosen my major because I wanted to be put on a pedestal. I didn’t. I picked something that I personally enjoyed learning about. This field is not as esoteric as everyone wants to believe.

My understanding (and I may be wrong) is that bio-psychology was the name of this field until sometime during the 1990s. Then a few people started throwing the word neuroscience around.  And what do you know, it’s way easier to get funding for Neuroscience research then it is for Bio-psychology research.  Neuroscience just sounds sexier.  It has become such a buzz word these days.  There’s “neuro-” everything.  There’s neuro-ethics, neuro-philosophy, neuro-lingustics, etc. A few universities still refer to the field as Bio-psychology and provide degree programs for Bio-psychology, not neuroscience.

Maybe one day I’ll take advantage of calling myself a neuroscientist so I can consequently become the supreme expert on any subject regardless of my familiarity with it.  Maybe I’ll do a TED talk or maybe I’ll persuade people to buy bullshit kitchen appliances.

Until then, I’ll retire my use of the word neuroscience.


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