After students complained that "Biological Basis of Behavior" was unrecognizable to employers, Penn officially renamed the major "neuroscience."
“The College has approved a change in the name of our major, from Biological Basis of Behavior to neuroscience, as of July 2020,” BBB Associate Director Jennifer Heerding wrote in an email to all BBB majors Tuesday afternoon.
The new name will help students when interacting with job recruiters and professionals in the field, BBB program Co-director and Psychology professor Lori Flanagan-Cato said. Current BBB students said the name change is a welcome shift that will make their major more easily explainable to the wider public.
The name change has long been supported by students, dating back to data from last semester.
In a survey distributed on April 17 to BBB majors, 50% of respondents preferred to replace the major’s name with “neuroscience," while 32% of respondents preferred "neuroscience and behavior.” Only 18% of students reported that they wanted to keep the original name.
BBB is an interdisciplinary major that lets students study neuroscience and behavior from a variety of angles, combining aspects of biology, chemistry, psychology, and statistics. While the biological aspect of the major examines topics such as brain anatomy, the behavioral aspect focuses on topics like human cognition and neurological diseases, according to the department’s website.
While seniors graduating in May 2020 will still see BBB as their official major on their transcripts, students graduating in May 2021 will be listed as neuroscience majors.
The school first offered the major as a way to study the intersection of biology and psychology in 1978.
The growth of the neuroscience field, however, has changed the scope of the major over the years, which now puts an emphasis on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of brain development, Flanagan-Cato said. As a result, she said calling the major neuroscience is now more accurate.
“The name BBB might have not been familiar to high school students that are interested in the topic,” Flanagan-Cato said.
BBB majors widely voiced approval of the decision.
“A lot of people don’t know what Biological Basis of Behavior is,” College senior Elyse Gadra said. “A lot of people know what neuroscience is.”
College junior Christina DiCindio said the new title is an all-encompassing name that includes both the neuroscience and behavioral aspects of the field.
“If you don’t go to Penn, and you are not familiar with [BBB], it’s not super clear what it means,” College senior Sophia Fraga said. “Neuroscience is more clear to people that don’t go to the school and to employers.”
Though Fraga said changing from BBB to neuroscience is a good idea, she preferred “neuroscience and behavior” to indicate that the program requires a wide range of studies, including psychology.
“The courses I have taken have definitely had a lot of overlap with neuroscience, but also a lot of [psychology],” Fraga said. "I had wished that they had kept that behavioral component in there, just so that employers or people that don’t go to Penn could know that the major also does encompass a lot of [psychology].”
The department considered changing BBB to “Neuroscience and Behavior” and looked at the names of similar programs at 20 other universities, Flanagan-Cato said. The majority, however, uses “Neuroscience” except Emory University, which calls the major "Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology" and Cornell University, which uses "Neurobiology and Behavior."
“When you say neuroscience, it includes behavior because obviously, you need your brain for behavior. You don’t have a lot of behaviors without your brain, especially for humans,” Flanagan-Cato said.
BBB’s current departmental website and all BBB courses in the undergraduate catalog will be relabeled to neuroscience after July 2020.