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The University of Michigan approved a new Graduate Certificate in Computational Neuroscience, which will be jointly administered by the Neuroscience Graduate Program and the Michigan Institute for Computational Discovery and Engineering. According to its website, the program is “U-M’s response to the increasing prevalence and need for quantitatively trained researchers in neuroscience.”

To apply for the program, students must be enrolled in a graduate degree program at the University. Though enrollment for the certificate has not yet opened, the program is planning informational sessions for early 2019. Victoria Booth, professor of mathematics and associate professor of anesthesiology, will oversee the program.

“The broad, practical training provided in this certificate program will help prepare both quantitatively focused and lab-based students for the increasingly cross-disciplinary job market in neuroscience,” Booth said in a university press release.

LSA senior Camille Phaneuf, co-president of the Neuroscience Student Association, chose her major because much about the brain is yet to be uncovered, and is excited about the new program.

“I decided to study neuroscience because the brain is a gelatinous blob that semi-floats between our ears, yet it somehow manages to control our every thought, action and emotion,” Phaneuf said. “Despite all of humans’ powerful metacognitive abilities, we actually understand so little about the organ that makes these capacities possible.”

In order to complete the University’s new certificate, students must finish nine graduate credit hours in approved core and interdisciplinary courses, participate in a computational neuroscience journal club and complete a three credit practicum — a formal training experience in the field. Because Phaneuf intends to pursue a career in computational neuroscience, she has taken computer science classes in hopes of utilizing the skills in her graduate work.

“Michigan’s graduate program is definitely appealing to me, since there are esteemed faculty in the field,” Phaneuf said. “Michigan also has such a rich history of interdisciplinary neuroscience research, so Ann Arbor is a great place to be.”

During his sophomore year, LSA senior Eli Rachlin realized he did not want to confine his study of the brain strictly to neuroscience or psychology. He soon discovered the computation and cognition track of the cognitive science major, which he appreciates for its technical and interdisciplinary approach.

“One of the core tenets of cognitive science is to think about the brain as a computational machine that gives rise to the mind,” Rachlin said. “In the computation and cognition track, one is not only exposed to such an idea as a theoretical concept, but also through intensive study of computational processing itself via the CS coursework.”

Last April, Rachlin attended the Weinberg Symposium on the “Shared Frontiers of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Science,” where he heard Dr. Matthew Botvinick, Director of Neuroscience Research at DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company based in London, speak about neuroscience and artificial intelligence. According to Rachlin, the connections Botvinick made between the two fields are further evidence for the importance of computational neuroscience as an area of study.

“During his talk, he spoke on the cycle that exists between research in neuroscience and research in artificial intelligence, as studies describing how the brain solves complex computational problems can inform ideas for studies in AI, and success in such studies can lead to ideas for neuroscience research based in the results of the work in AI,” Rachlin said. “As I see it, computational neuroscience lies right at the heart of this fascinating positive feedback loop, and I think creating this graduate certificate is a good step for the University in supporting such an exciting intellectual pursuit with major implications for the future of intelligent technology and our understanding of our own intelligence.”

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