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KendraGood

Deciding Area of Study

Question

So I'm only a Junior UG but I'm starting my research on grad schools and I realize that finding a program with faculty in your area of research is important. (Oh I want to apply to a neuroscience program) My question is how do you settle on an area of research? I know I'm interested in the cognitive/systems side of neuroscience but too many of the areas (vision, learning, attention) interest me. How did you narrow your focus while still in UG?

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I didn't narrow it down in my undergrad. I narrowed it down during my master's. But, in general, to narrow down your interests, READ, read, read, read, and then read some more. The more you read about the field, the more you'll realize what you're interested in and could read about for hours and what you're not as interested in. If possible, find recorded research presentations given by the leaders in the field or your POIs so you can get a sense of what research most excites you.

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I completely agree with @rising_star. On top of that, you want to find out what you would be doing in each of those areas day-to-day.

My first area of interest was actually neuroscience, and I had a volunteer lab position for a month where I helped out with a psychopharmacology lab that worked with mouse models of autism and anxiety. That stuff was really interesting, but I found the constant repetition of biological methods not very interesting. From then on I moved to cognitive psychology and perception (which is basically the stuff you're talking about, like vision, attention, working memory, etc) and I did research there. I found this more interesting because I could actually create the experiments, program them, and work on something without having to kill any animals (this was important to me).

More recently, I found myself interested in the kind of applied psychology that people do in IO Psych progams and Organizational Behaviour departments in business schools. So I've been speaking to people, asking them what a typical day is like in their field, how they do their research, and how they come up with their questions. This has helped me determine if I want to be in that field or not.

So basically, reading is extremely important and you will need to do that. But nothing is better for figuring out what you like than to actually do it - by taking a lab course, volunteering in a research lab, taking on a project with a professor, or other opportunities of that nature.

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