Contemporary Issues in Neuroscience

Professor Joe Herbert and Dr Tristan Bekinschtein

See this course profiled on the PKP 2015 blog!

Course Outline

The brain is the last frontier of human biology. The functioning of the brain makes us what we are. The brain enables us survive as an individual and as a species, to react to the changing environment, to store and retrieve information from the past and make decisions accordingly. Such complex machinery could only work properly if it is very plastic and is able to change and repair itself. This course will cover four major issues that are currently in the forefront of brain research. We will discuss the neurobiology of key human drives, such as eating, drinking and having sex, and the ways the brain deals with stress from the environment throughout our life. Later lectures will focus on memory, attention and higher cognitive functions.

The course consists of 4 modules divided into 12 lectures (1 h 15 min each) and 8 seminars (1 h 15 min each) linked to the lectures. The themes of the four modules are below. Please refer to the course syllabus for more details and required reading.

  • Keeping you and your species alive: how the brain protects you from danger, ensures that you eat properly, drink when you need to, and reproduce (Professor Joe Herbert)
  • How does stress affect our brain? (Professor Joe Herbert)
  • The neuroscience of learning and memory (Dr Tristan Bekinschtein)
  • Attention and higher cognitive functions (Dr Tristan Bekinschtein)

This course is aimed at: Biology, psychology, neuroscience majors as well as students considering medical school or graduate programme in neuroscience.

Pre-requisite knowledge required: some background in neuroscience is required. The level of the course is roughly similar to the Cambridge Part II courses, with some appropriate introductory materials included.

Teaching Methodology: Teaching is by means of lectures plus tutorial classes (seminars) for the period of the course. The lectures aim to present the material, while the seminars aim to discuss the material presented in the lectures, to solve problems and to explore wider issues raised by the lecture and by the participants. Topics to be discussed in seminars will be distributed throughout the course. Students are required to work through these for better understanding of the topics covered.


Please note that the seminars tie in directly with the lecture course affording more time for discussion and exploring the ideas behind the science. Original scientific papers will be presented and critically discussed by the students. An extensive course reader will be provided containing about four to six articles for each seminar.

Lecture Hours: 12 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 15 hours)

Seminar Hours: 8 x 1 hour 15 minutes (total 10 hours)


Final Essay: 50%

Final Exam: 50%