University Of Otago Neuroscience

The University of Otago is the only New Zealand university to offer an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience.

Neuroscience is all about understanding how the brain and wider nervous system works, and is one of the fastest growing areas of science.

Neuroscientists apply a wide range of scientific disciplines, including AnatomyBiochemistryComputer SciencePharmacologyPhysiologyPsychology, and Zoology. As an interdisciplinary programme, Neuroscience is taught by staff from many departments. Each teaches a separate “neuro” component, with the result being a coherent and integrated subject.

You must choose a qualification to enrol, but you can easily change it later.

Why study Neuroscience?

The brain is a final frontier… a last great unknown.

Neuroscientists are its explorers. They try to understand how the brain functions, how it deals with injury or damage, and how it develops and changes over time.

What they find helps neurologists, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists – and provides important models for high-level information processing and robotics.

Knowing how the brain perceives stimuli and controls movement helps those working on human performance from sports science to space medicine.

Background required

Taking chemistry and biology to Year 13 is recommended. Students without good marks in chemistry are strongly advised to enrol in the Bridging Chemistry paper during Summer School, prior to their first year of study.

How will I study?

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the Neuroscience programme, teaching styles vary between papers. Many first- and second-year papers are taught through a combination of lectures and laboratory sessions, while third-year papers will have group projects and discussions. Assessments are varied and include written examinations and laboratory reports.

Neuroscience research

Neuroscientists at the University of Otago are involved in a range of exciting research. Neuroscience students learn about this (and other) research as undergraduates, and can work in the lab with Otago’s neuroscientists as postgraduates.

For example:

  • Professor Cliff Abraham is interested in the neural mechanisms of memory. His lab is also investigating biomarkers and therapeutic agents for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Associate Professor Mike Paulin is investigating how animals use sensory information to move quickly, accurately, and efficiently.
  • Professor John Reynolds is interested in how we learn and remember skills, with a focus on Parkinson’s disease and stroke.
  • Professor Colin Brown investigates how the brain controls reproduction and cardiovascular function.
  • Associate Professor Christine Jasoni is researching how a mother’s health during pregnancy affects the formation of the foetal brain to elevate risk of mental illness.
  • Associate Professor Liana Machado is interested in cognitive functions and how they are affected by ageing, brain disease, and lifestyle choices.
  • Dr Paul Szyszka investigates olfactory search behavior in insects – what are their perceptual limits in olfaction, and what patterns of neural activities are behaviourally relevant?

Postgraduate options

Students who do particularly well can apply for entry to the Bachelor of Science with Honours (BSc(Hons)) programme after completing their Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in Neuroscience. This elite course offers ideal preparation for those interested in a career in neuroscience research.

Students can also enrol in a one-year postgraduate diploma or a two-year Master of Science (MSc).

Career opportunities

To become a neuroscientist, you would complete postgraduate studies following your BSc. With a BSc(Hons), postgraduate diploma, or master’s degree you could have an exciting research career in a university, research institute, or in the pharmaceutical industry. With a PhD, you could be a leader in new research and combine this with teaching at a university or in a research institution.

Neuroscience also provides a convenient first degree for those proceeding to postgraduate specialisation in professional or applied fields. For example, law, medicine, pharmacy, physiotherapy, audiology, and bioengineering.

Graduates with a BSc in Neuroscience possess valuable skills that are widely sought after by employers, including technical expertise in areas where there is a worldwide shortage of skilled workers.


Explore your study options further. Refer to enrolment information found on the following qualification pages.