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MEDSCI317

INTEGRATIVE NEUROSCIENCE: FROM FETUS TO ADULT

Course Breakdown

 

Mid-Semester Test: 10%
Mini-Review: 10%
Laboratory Component: 20%
Exam: 60%

Course Information

 

Official UoA Website: link.

Basic Information

This course has a very complicated name which doesn't really do justice in explaining what on earth this course covers! Consider this course more as a conglomeration of many small topics with many different lecturers coming together to deliver this course. Overall, this is a fantastic course for neuroscience/biomedical research due to its introduction to many research fields and research techniques currently being utilised.

This course has 3 hours of lectures per week with a total of 34 delivered lectures. The two missing lecture slots were due to 1x Mid-Semester Test and 1x No Lecture slot. Meanwhile, there were 3 'labs' and 2 workshops. throughout the entire course. 

​Overall, in difficulty, I think most would agree that 317 is the harder of its neuroscience counterpart from semester 1 (316). It felt perhaps more difficult due to the concepts which were presented being complex along with the sheer amount of content presented. For the exam there was slightly less content to memorise but more complex ideas to understand for the MCQs/Essays.

 

Mini-Review

There were 10 topics marked by 10 lecturers to choose from and in each topic, only around 10 people were allowed in it. The topic list was provided and a week later, you were supposed to email the course coordinator with your top 3 selections of topics. It was strictly on a first-come first-serve basis by which the topics filled up. So, the 'hotter' topics quite literally filled up within 10 seconds past the time in which you were supposed to email the course coordinator. Find a topic that you feel you can do well in and has already been covered in the lectures. Also, if you do topics that are similar to that of an essay question in the final exam, that will be a huge bonus! If you didn't email the course coordinator, then you would be randomly assigned a topic. 

After we were allocated to a particular topic, we were required to attend a one hour tutorial (usually during the lab slot) in which the lecturer gave out their expectations for each topic; what content was expected to be covered and what material to be discussed. The rules for formatting and limits were laid out in the course guide and for past years, has been a page limit of 5 pages rather than a word limit amidst other requirements such as double spacing etc. The due date was 4 academic weeks after the tutorial (excluding the mid-semester break thus often was actually 6 weeks after the tutorial date). The essay was to be handed both on turnitin and as a physical copy.

​Overall, this assessment wasn't considered to be too difficult with most people achieving decent grades (8/10) in 2016. They were released a week after lectures ended (i.e. when exams had started). 

 

Laboratory Component

There were 3 labs and thus 3 lab reports required to be handed in each worth 6.66%. Two of the labs were computer-simulated and one of the labs was a classic physiology-style experiment on your colleague type. Lab reports were due in one week which was extremely time pressuring given that someone students had 2 other MEDSCI lab reports going on.

Lab 1: Imaging of Neural Structures (MRI and confocal microscopy)
This lab was literally creative writing. You were taught and presented the confocal microscopy methods and within this lab also included a visit to the Biomedical Imaging Research Unit (BIRU) hidden away somewhere in the Grafton campus. The visit was quite monotonous in that you were simply taught how the confocal microscopy machine worked and really had little or no contribution to your lab report. This was quite similar to the BIOSCI 353 lab visit (if you do that paper). You were then told the assessment expectations of something along the lines of make up an experiment and use confocal microscopy as the main discovery tool. This section was confusing for most students and just a mess in general as the guidelines were so bad. Just make sure you remember what is actually being assessed which should be something along the lines of your knowledge about confocal microscopy, how it works, why its works, and the advantages/disadvantages of it in your imaginary experiment! 

Lab 2: Human electrophysiology (The "H-Reflex")
This lab was conducted in the Physiology labs where you attached electrodes and the such like to your human subject. This was probably not only the easiest lab but also the most straightforward lab. It is best to go through the concepts in the lab prior to actually attending it because the majority of the students in our stream was clueless because around that time was also a truckload of assignments/submissions going on! This lab required extensive use of good old LabChart to record data and analyse data.

Lab 3: Seizure laboratory (preterm sheep experiments)
This lab was probably the worst for everyone, rushed, marked harshly and was near exam period. There was no actual experiment. Instead, we were given data from an experiment conducted at the University of Auckland where we were then required to analyse said data by making graphs and physiologically explaining what each meant. There was no right or wrong but your statements had to be backed up by legit evidence and not random articles that you found online about the topic. I remember doing this lab having not gone to the lectures because I had so many things due and make do with the time you have. 

 

MST

The MST in the past has been fully MCQs where there were 3 MCQs on average per lecture. This MST was considered generally okay as reflected by the relatively high class average of mid 70s. Test feedback was given in 2016 six weeks after the test and poorly done and without much effort.

 

Final Exam

The Final Exam examined the entire semester's worth of content. The exam consisted of five sections all equally weighted: 
Section A: Fully Randomised 25 MCQs (in 2016 this section was extremely difficult, and is all a luck of draw)
Section B- 4 Essays: Write one essay from a choice of two per section, with four sections

​Note: If a lecturer gave an essay question, they would not give a MCQ section. So if a lecturer drops hints that they'd only have MCQs, you can expect their section not to have an essay. In general, you can expect the 1-lecture topics to not have an essay topic. Additionally, the 4 essays you were required to write and the 8 choices you could pick from were randomly assigned and not assigned by Module. This made it rather impossible to predict the pairings of essays. Some years you might get a pairing of two 'hard' essay topics and that would just be unfortunate! 

 

Lecture Content

Module 1: Cutting-edge methodologies in neuroscience research impacting our understanding of physiology and pathophysiology of the brain

Anatomical and Functional Imaging of the Brain & Practical applications of brain imaging for neuroscience
This section of 3 lectures was taken by Professor Alistair Young and was about the multiple ways in which you could image the brain using various techniques. There was a large emphasis placed on MRI and its applications. This section was not overly difficult and didn't require too much memorisation but required more conceptual understanding. Do not focus too much on this section for the test or essay, the detail you find online can be extremely difficult and it is not worth it to over study it. Keep to the information in the lecture slides/course guide and you will be fine.
Novel Approaches in studying synaptic function with optogenetics
This section of 1 lecture was taken by Dr Peter Freestone. As this was just one lecture, it is unlikely to be in the exam. Additionally, within this lecture was a lot of names to memorise. The concepts aren't difficult to understand especially if you've done genetic papers in the past.
Brain-Machine Interfaces
This section of 2 lectures was taken by Dr Angus McMorland. This was considered one of the hardest and interesting topics within 317. The style in which the lectures were conducted was going through either research papers and/or explaining the slides which were often just diagrams. The course guide for this section simply consisted of research papers and their abstracts and as such were not particularly useful apart from giving you lots of extra readings. A lot of people skipped this section during exam revision due to its difficulty.
Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation
This section of 2 lectures was taken by Associate Professor Cathy Stinear. This was a fascinating section with an enthusiastic lecturer. She even brought performed experiments with the equipment she brought in to demonstrate the effects of non-invasive brain stimulation! This section had a fair bit of content to learn whereas it wasn't conceptually too difficult, but was marked harshly in the exams. 

 

​Module 2: Organisational principles and development of the brain, motor control, and sleeping-dependent functions

Motor Control and Movement Disorders
This section of 3 lectures was taken by Professor Janusz Lipski. This section was very well taught and easily understood. Professor Lipski, once again, charms his way through this section with his very well laid out course guide notes and his affable personality. Although quite a bit to learn, I thought this section was quite 'easy' due to its great organisation of lecture content.
Rhythm and Pattern generating networks
This section of 2 lectures was taken by Dr Raj Selvaratnam. This was considered one of the difficult sections of 317. Absolutely no lecture recordings were allowed and the lecture slides were just poorly done, just like in the pain topic of MEDSCI 316. Most of our notes came from what the lecturer said himself and research papers and such it wasn't too easy to revise this section. 
Structural and Functional Development of the Brain
This section of 3 lectures was taken by Dr Justin Dean. The content here was back to good ol' Justin Dean where he covers his lecture slides through his lectures. The content isn't too difficult to understand (and is actually slightly repeated from 206) but there is a fair bit to learn. Focus more on his second half of lectures as it will very well be likely tested in the exam.
Sleep and EEG
This section of 1 lecture was taken by Dr Tony Fernando. It was hilarious, easy and a good way to end the lecture series in our year. Go to this lecture. Do not miss it!!!!

 

Module 3: Foetal and postnatal brain function in health and disease: Neurons and glia

Foetal Ischemia
This section of 5 lectures was taken by Professor Alistair Gunn and Joanne Davidson. This section had a lot of content and was stressful indeed. Joanne Davidson likes a lot of detail in her lecture slides while Alistair Gunn hammers out difficult conceptual fetal physiology that was poorly understood by everyone. These sections didn’t even tie in well with the lab we were doing and came after it for the early stream people. Poorly organised in 2016. 
Brain Injury
This section of 4 lectures was taken by Dr Justin Dean. This section had a lot of content to learn but was conceptually quite easy. Again, Justin goes through his comprehensive lecture slides through the lecture and he also uploads his lecture notes prior to the lecture to let you annotate them. He was probably the nicest lecturer of them all and would suggest that you do his studentship if you are into his topic. 

 

Module 4: synaptic and integrative functions of the brain

Modulation of Synaptic Transmission by Cannabinoids
This section of 1 lectures was taken by Dr Peter Freestone. Similar to his previous lecture, his slides were quite extensive but contained a lot of information to memorise. This section, being only 1 lecture long, is usually contained within the MCQ section and thus knowing various names and facts from the slides were required. A lot about cannabis was discussed as well. .
Synaptic Function and Plasticity
This section of 3 lectures was taken by Associate Professor Johanna Montgomery in 2016. This was a relatively easy section with little of content to learn. Johanna likes to use the projector to hand write out her notes which was nice!
Neurological Channelopathies & Brain and Immunity
This section of 3 lectures was taken by Associate Professor Srdjan Vlajkovic. This was very content heavy part of the course with all the information all on the slides.
Sexual Dimorphism of the Brain 
This section was a quite an interesting lecture with lots of clinical videos of patients during the lecture and an overkill of lecture notes provided both in the lecture slides. This lecture did not even end up being test in the exam.