All entering students in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience
begin their studies of Neuroscience in mid-July at the University
of Minnesota Biological Field Station at Lake Itasca in northern
Minnesota. In this beautiful northwoods setting, incoming
students receive a sophisticated, intensive introduction to
molecular, cellular, and systems neuroscience. Students work
in groups of two, performing hands-on experiments with state-of-the-art
equipment covering a wide range of Neuroscience disciplines.
These include single cell, synaptic, and network physiology,
neuropharmacology, and molecular neurobiology. Students also
receive immediate experience in public speaking with daily
presentations of experimental results to their peers.
There are multiple goals in starting all our graduate students
with this intensive hands-on experimental laboratory experience.
First, it gives our diverse student body similar laboratory
skills before they begin their laboratory rotations in the
Fall. Second, the course is designed to rotate in new faculty
members each week, therefore providing students a diverse
array of faculty interests and expertise to interact with
on both a scientific and personal level. Third, as students
live and work together throughout the course, it provides
them a unique opportunity to meet and interact in an intimate
manner with each other. At Itasca, strong bonds are formed
between students and faculty both in and out of the lab. Indeed,
sometimes the best discussions occur over the breakfast table
or during canoe excursions on the lake.
Nowhere else in the country can you walk along the shores
of a pristine lake, take in a startling view of a pileated
woodpecker and smell the fragrance of the Minnesota ladyslipper,
and then sit down at an experimental station in which you
evaluate the generation of memory traces in a hippocampal
slice, explore the synaptic organization of the leech ganglion,
or monitor single channel currents in cultured neurons.
In the evenings, the 6:00 dinner bell at the field station
signals the end of the day's experiments, although many students
choose to return to the laboratory afterwards to continue
their scientific explorations. The days often end with exploration
of the breathtaking park or relaxation and conversation at
gatherings around the bonfire.