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Neuroscience has 17 concentrators in inaugural year, other sciences largely unaffected

Seventeen sophomores signed in to the new neuroscience concentration this year, according to Asif Ghazanfar, co-director of the Program in Neuroscience.

It was hard to have any expectations for enrollment because sophomores did not have the chance to plan how they were going to fulfill the concentration’s prerequisites in their freshman year, Ghazanfar said.


“[The sophomores] I met with, basically, were very, very thankful, because they were trying to figure out some other kind of route to pursue their neuroscience interest,” Ghazanfar said.

The Program in Neuroscience asked incoming sophomores which department they would have joined. Five people would have concentrated in molecular biology, four in psychology, three in an independent concentration, and the rest in engineering, mathematics, chemistry or economics, Ghazanfar said.

Nicole Katchur ’17, who is concentrating in neuroscience, said she started out majoring in chemical and biological engineering and then in molecular biology.

“None of them were really related to neuro,” Katchur said. “I always wanted to do neuro-related research, because when I was younger, my sister had a brain injury.”

Lauren Berger ’17 said she plans to attend medical school but originally intended to major in molecular biology. She said she later decided to declare neuroscienceas her major because she happened to have an academic adviser affiliated with the program.

The expected impact on molecular biology enrollment was not as large as expected, molecular biology department representative Elizabeth Gavis said. Molecular biology had 50 sophomores sign in, compared to 60 at this time last year.


“We’re very pleased that we’ve taken essentially a relatively minor hit,” Gavis said, adding that 50 sign-ins was within the typical range of students who sign in to the department.

Nine sophomores signed in to astrophysical sciences, which, combined with the program’s 10 rising seniors, makes the undergraduate program the largest it’s ever been, Neta Bahcall, director of the undergraduate astrophysics program, said.

Arianna Lanz ’17 said she knew coming into Princeton that she wanted to study astrophysics.

“The department here is ranked number one of the National Academy of Sciences, and the department very much prides itself on being very small,” Lanz said, adding she was thinking about pursuing graduate study in data science after graduation. “A lot of people online slots like myself major in astrophysics because they’re very quantitative people.”

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Jin Soo Lim ’17 said he was originally going to major in architecture but became fascinated by the endeavors of the company SpaceX and efforts to colonize Mars.

“I wanted to potentially do it, as part of the team, but then I was like, ‘I don’t know anything about space,’ so I decided to get some insight into it,” Lim said, adding he had no prior background in physics but enjoyed the introductory astrophysics class.

Geosciences had 18 sophomores sign in, departmental representative Adam Maloof said.

That number is almost identical to the 19 who signed in last year. Nonetheless, the year-to-year comparison does not tell the full story of the growth of geosciences, Maloof said.

“A couple years ago, we had a group of really excited and charismatic undergrads that majored in GEO, and ever since, they’ve been ambassadors,” Maloof said. “Most people come to Princeton, they’ve never heard of GEO.”

Mackenzie Dooner ’17 said the subject matter of geosciences appealed most strongly to her.

“I really like chemistry, and I really like physics, and the Earth to me is the most interesting and dynamic system at hand that you can apply those fields to,” Dooner said. “I like to hike. I like to swim. I like the ocean. I love engaging with the physical planet, and if I can do that in an academic setting, that’s pretty cool.”

Two years ago, 10 students declared a major in geosciences, and, Maloof said, seven years ago, there were only four concentrators total.

Shannon Osaka ’17 said she knew she wanted to do something in the sciences and that the faculty in geosciences seemed to be the most engaged with undergraduates and committed to helping them do research.

“I felt they recruited me and wanted me to be in that department, as opposed to me trying to meet with a professor and not getting very much attention that way,” Osaka said, who is also waiting to hear back about her proposed independent concentration in environmental studies but either way will be taking a number of geosciences classes.

Sign-ins from other departments in the natural sciences and mathematics included 45 in ecology and evolutionary biology, compared to 54 at this time last year; 31 in mathematics, compared to 30 last year; 37 in A. B. computer science, compared to 22 last year; 23 in physics, compared to 23 last year; and 35 in chemistry, compared to 44 last year.