Enhancing graduate and post-doctoral training: Insights from the Neural Systems & Behavior course at MBL in Woods Hole
The Neural Systems & Behavior (NS&B) course has provided intensive training in the concepts and methodology of behavioral neurobiology and systems neuroscience to outstanding pre- and postdoctoral students and junior faculty since 1978. During this eight-week summer course, within a discovery-driven curriculum, 20 trainees receive intensive lectures and discussion, one-on-one interaction with internationally renowned scientists, and extensive hands-on laboratory training with a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate preparations using state-of-the-art techniques and equipment. More than 30 dedicated faculty members arrive from all over the world to teach in NS&B and at least another 7 visit for 1-2 days. They present many different approaches to investigating the neural basis of behavior. NS&B trainees learn to think creatively about the brain, behavior, representation of information and plasticity. Each year, the trainees are exposed to at least 7 different preparations. These “modules” include rodent somatosensory cortex, rabbit cerebellum, mouse hippocampus, the brains of songbirds, weakly electric fish, the spinal cord of zebra fish, the crab stomatogastric ganglion, and the nervous systems of the fruitfly, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, and the medicinal leech. Methodologies incorporate intracellular and extracellular electrophysiology, imaging, biomechanics, computational modeling, and molecular biology. Trainees attend all lectures but focus on four modules, each for a 2-week cycle. One week of each cycle is devoted to trainee-developed discovery research, which has resulted in peer-reviewed publications. There is an explicit effort to teach and conduct research across multiple levels of biological organization. This diversity of approaches provides students with a global perspective on the problems underlying the relationship between brain and behavior. NS&B provides a novel scientific perspective with its blending of methodologies, intellectual traditions, and experimental preparations, and thus adds exceptional value to graduate and post-doctoral training in neurobiology and systems neuroscience. Most (>97%) PIs of the last 5 years of NS&B trainees strongly agree/agree that the trainees’ participation in the course was valuable and has a positive impact on the PI’s research program. The training and professional social networks that NS&B provides has the capacity to catapult the scientific careers of trainees and has established NS&B as the premier short course for training the next generation of neuroscientists.