Breakthroughs in our understanding of how the brain generates simple and complex behavior and how it malfunctions in neurological disease and pyschopathology require researchers who have a strong foundation in neuroscience and a deep understanding of the evolutionary contingencies of human neurobiology and behavior. The MBL Neural Systems and Behavior (NS&B) course has been, and continues to be, the premier course for this kind of interdisciplinary training in multi-level analysis of brain-behavior relationships. NS&B is an intensive, eight-week summer course that combines lectures, laboratory exercises, and student-directed research in a unique learning environment. The 20 course students typically come from diverse disciplines including neuroscience, animal behavior, psychology, mathematics, computer science, physics, and engineering. They range in their prior training from first year Ph.D. students to the occasional faculty member who is changing fields. The rigorous lectures by some of the best teachers and researchers in the field provide a solid foundation for understanding a wide range of subjects, from the basics of molecular genetics and neurogenomics to electrophysiology and signal processing, and even cognition. Internationally recognized visiting scholars provide further exposure to the most recent breakthroughs in the study of the neural basis of behavior and cognition. During the next funding period, NS&B will place particular emphasis on recruiting excellent basic and translational scientist scholars whose research is informing advances in understanding the neurobiology of mental illness as well as increasing the integration of molecular and imaging approaches into the course exercises and research tools. Evening discussions about science, ethics, and career development constitute integral parts of the course. The laboratory exercises (modules) constitute the core of the course and occupy the majority of the students'time, providing the students with hands-on experience using state of the art equipment addressing cutting-edge problems. The course is divided into four two-week cycles with different laboratory modules and sets of faculty, each building upon the prior experiences of the course. The modules exemplify, highlight and encourage investigations at multiple levels of biological organization. To maximize learning of research concepts and techniques, the course uses a wide array of organisms and preparations to teach techniques and address questions relevant to behavior, the functioning of neural systems, and neural disease. By the end of each two-week cycle, the students have not only mastered complex techniques, they also have collected and analyzed data from a research project that they conceived and designed. The creativity and diversity of these projects are a singular feature of the NS&B course and have never been replicated in any other educational setting. Students find NS&B to be a life-changing event, not only because it is intellectually challenging and provides hands on training in a wide range of experimental systems, but also because of the uniquely supportive environment and the extensive networking opportunities.

Public Health Relevance

The Neural Systems and Behavior Course (NS&B) provides an exceptional and singular training opportunity that enables the next generation of researchers to tackle the problems central to issues of mental illness. This 8-week course is characterized by a rigorous and innovative curriculum that is focused on discovery research and integrates across diverse levels of biological organization. Since its inception in 1978, NS&B has prepared students to understand how the brain generates behavior by using unique and complementary inquiry-based laboratory exercises to teach experimental techniques, concepts and experimental design at the cutting edge of systems neuroscience thus leading the alumni and faculty to a better understanding of the human brain and the truly complex causes of mental illness.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Education Projects (R25)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1)
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Desmond, Nancy L
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Marine Biological Laboratory
Woods Hole
United States
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