Major Decisions | Psychobiology at UCLA (2022)

By Damola Thomas, Gabriel Salazar, Neha Divi, and Kevin Chen

Major Decisions | Psychobiology at UCLA (1)

Damola Thomas: Second-year Psychobiology major, Applied Developmental Psychology minor
Gabriel Salazar: Fourth-year Psychobiology major
Neha Divi: Fourth-year Psychobiology Major
Kevin Chen: Fourth-year Psychobiology major

Damola: I chose Psychobiology because when I was a senior in high school, I really wanted to get into UCLA, but all of the biology majors seemed super impacted, so I originally applied undeclared. During orientation, someone told me Biology was mostly about plants and stuff. I was like, yeah, no, that’s not for me. I’ve always been interested in psychology, so I thought Psychobiology sounded like a good mashup to me.

Neha: I had kind of a similar story. Senior year, I took AP Psychology, and I really liked the class. I knew I was also kind of interested in neuroscience, because I think psychology can be very theoretical. So when I applied to UCLA as an incoming freshman, I applied as a Neuroscience major. I switched during sophomore year because I thought Psychobio was unique and I’d never heard of it — I think it’s something really unique to UCLA. I’m from the east coast, and that’s not a common major at all. So I just never even knew about it. I thought it was really interesting that you could combine biology with the theoretical side of psychology.

Kevin: I had a very similar story. I took AP Psych and was super interested in the psychology aspect, but also the neuroscience aspect of it. I originally wanted to do Neuroscience, because I love the biology of the brain. But then, I went to orientation, and I heard everyone was suffering in the major. So I was asked myself: do I really want to take this and also do math-based computational things? I’m not a math person; I can’t do math for the life of me. And so now I’m here.

Gabe: Yeah, I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I’m also kind of in the same boat. I thought AP Psych was super interesting in high school. I also didn’t really think that Psychobiology was a super common major. I didn’t know if I wanted to do Biology for all of my four years. And I was like, “Well, I had a good time in AP Psychology, so why don’t I try to explore this major?” I also knew I had to get a lot of my pre-med requirements out of the way.

Neha: I personally think our major has some of the best upper division courses if you can get into them, which can be both a pro and a con. I’m taking one about the integration of the face and the brain (Psych 119), and we’re learning about different things like facial features and deception and all these cool studies, and I think it’s really interesting and something that other majors might not get to explore. I would say a con is that it can be difficult to get into classes you might want. But even looking back, I think some of the weeder classes like Psych 100B taught me really useful skills. I think most of us are pre-med, but if you’re interested in the field of science, I think it’s important to read research well, and then write your own papers. So even though it was kind of a difficult course, I think it was really useful.

Gabe: Psych 162 was one of the upper division electives that I took, and I thought that class was super interesting. It’s about the psychology of addiction. It’s not just learning about how different substances might affect a person, but also understanding some of the factors in both psychology and sociology that may affect addiction, and we brought up a lot of really current events. In one of my extracurriculars, we work with a lot of patients who deal with substance abuse, so being able to learn about the underlying framework of all that was really interesting. I like having the freedom of the Psychobio major. You have four upper division electives you have to take, and the course list that you can select those from is pretty diverse. I took maybe two Psych classes for my upper division electives, and then the other two classes are more traditional science classes.

Damola: I’m barely getting into upper divisions, but I did take one in spring 2020 — Psych 130. It was about child development, and it was with Professor Bonnie Goff. She’s really, really good. I recommend taking the class with her. That’s the most interesting upper div I’ve taken so far.

Kevin: Yeah, I really agree with 130 and 162. I’ve taken both with the same professors. They’re great. They really give you insight into a lot of different things that you really didn’t know about in terms of addiction and also development. Okay, I feel like people are gonna hate me for this, but… 115 is kind of lit. (*all three others start shaking heads*) Okay, I’m sorry, but let me explain! It’s very science-based. That’s the thing. This leads me into the next question.

Kevin: I feel like Psychobio is a very behavioral-based major; a lot of classes are about behavior and things like that. I’m more of, you know, a molecular science sort of guy. I really like diving into neuroscience and the mechanisms behind neurons rather than behavioral studies, which could get in kind of a gray area with all the confounds and it’s super subjective. And the TAs are usually looking for one specific thing according to only one line of logic.

Damola: Just a side note, I’m taking Psych 115 next quarter. I’m really nervous because everyone on Bruinwalk and all the reviews say, “Do not take this class unless you need to.”

Kevin: I’m taking it with Kennedy right now. She’s super nice and really sweet. Take it with Kennedy if you can; I don’t know about the other professors. I can’t really say for them.

Neha: I took 115 with Shine and he’s fine as a person, but, he’s just not the best professor. He likes to go on rants and then doesn’t get through the content and you’re left to study it all on your own. There’s no leeway, and it’s just super frustrating because I feel like I would spend three hours a week in lecture, and I wouldn’t gain anything from it. But you had to be there because there were clicker questions and it wasn’t the best experience for me. And also, I didn’t know it was supposed to be such a hard class. I don’t know why I didn’t look at Bruinwalk beforehand. So I took it with Biochem (153A), and it was the worst quarter of my entire life. I did fine in Biochem, but my Psych 115 grade really suffered from that. So make sure you don’t take it along with hard classes like I did. I stopped taking Psych 110, and I don’t know who’s the professor, but it was the same thing that you were saying, Damola. “Don’t take this class unless you have to.” And I kind of have to before I graduate.

Gabe: I’m in 110 right now. Yeah, bad class. A lot of the research, unfortunately for psychology, is based on a lot of studies being done maybe in the 80s or 70s. These kinds of statistical or theoretical frameworks haven’t really changed throughout the years, but I think that’s just something inherent to psychology itself. Fortunately, a lot of the professors that I’ve taken are some of the top researchers in their fields. There’s a lot of research being done at UCLA, and a lot of professors are here for research, but a good amount of them are good professors. But unfortunately, some of them might not be the best teachers. I think that’s a case that’s not only limited to the Psychobio major, but a lot of upper division classes. I think that just comes and goes with the fact that UCLA is a research university first and foremost.

But I’m going to have to disagree with Kevin for 115. It’s pretty tough, honestly, because it was very neuroscience-heavy. And again, if you are coming in expecting a neuroscience-heavy major, you’re going to be very excited about Psychobiology. I was a bit surprised a lot of the classes were very near to brain physiology and stuff like that. And the Psychobiology major is different from the Psychology major because even though we do have Psych upper division electives, there are a lot of other classes that we have to take that regular Psychology majors don’t. And unfortunately, there are also some Psych classes that I would have loved to take, like the Psych class about intimate relationships. But unfortunately, it doesn’t qualify as an elective for the Psychobio major. So just be aware that not every Psychology upper division course is going to qualify for Psychobiology.

Neha: I’m taking Psych 116 right now and I’m taking it online, which is interesting because it’s a lab class. But it’s honestly one of my favorite of the requirements that we have because I have three different professors. We have Dr. Grisham, who’s overseeing everything. I really like the class because I get to meet these different professors and learn about their different fields of research and their influences on the class. I think it’s really interesting because it’s one class where you’re doing three different projects. The first half was examining the brain and playing around with the brain with online atlases. The second half was this rat lab where we just played around with a rat’s brain. I’m really enjoying it so far.

I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but for me, Psychobio is a relatively short major compared to the other science majors. As a senior now, I have some room to take extra electives, and it can be anything. Right now, I’m taking a film class just because I just wanted to take it. But also, like what Gabe was saying, with some classes not being eligible for Psychobio, you could use that elective to take the intimate relationships class, for example, because it counts for your upper division course credit that’s not Psychobio-related.

Damola: I think I’m fortunate this quarter to be taking Psych 100B online. Also, I have a really good professor and my group mates are super encouraging and outgoing. I was really nervous to take Psych 100B because I heard this is the one class that makes people drop the major and I was really, really nervous. But I don’t want to be another major — I looked and I tried and I researched other majors and talked to other people who are different majors, but I felt like Psychobio was really what I wanted to do. So I just told myself, “If it’s hard, it’s going to be hard.” You just have to put in the work. Don’t let the weeder classes scare you! I feel like UCLA is hard in general. So, you might as well do something you love because it’s going to be hard regardless of whether you’re a Psychobio major or something else.

Neha: I have something really big I’d like to share. First thing, go through all the requirements and make sure you check them on Bruinwalk. I was coming from the east coast and didn’t really know anyone at UCLA. I didn’t know that you had to check Bruinwalk, pay attention to what classes are difficult compared to others, and make sure you don’t take Biochem with those or other difficult classes. Plan out your schedule beforehand, because it’ll make your life easier and more enjoyable. For me, I thought Psych 115 was a really cool class and I also really liked Biochem but I couldn’t dedicate the time necessary for both of them. That’s my biggest regret. Please plan it out and check Bruinwalk. I could have done a better job with that, but also, it’s difficult sometimes because it’s hard to get the classes you want. But that comes with any major. Also, stay on top of it. Don’t slack off. It’s a quarter system, so time is not forgiving.

Gabe: Yeah, I’m just echoing what Neha said: planning out your schedule is super important. Take into account that you’re probably not going to get all the classes you want unless you have priority enrollment. For me, I always thought, “I’m going to take Chem 14C, and then I’m going to be taking 14CL afterwards,” or something like that. A lot of the time, my plans didn’t really work out because unfortunately, the enrollment process is kind of brutal. Make sure you’re flexible with the classes that you’re taking.

Psych 100B is the infamous weeder class for the Psychobio major. My biggest tip for 100B is just to go to office hours for the professor and especially for your TA, because honestly, most of your grade is going to be coming from your TA. But also don’t forget there are exams. When I took it my quarter, they were worth between 40% and 60% of my grade. I think that’s what hurt a lot of people because they didn’t realize that the exams are worth a large portion of our final grade, even though most of the time is spent on the final lab report. Just study for the actual lecture material, and try to read the book, if you can. It is a tough class, but it’s pretty different from the major itself. I honestly think the only thing that can be applied directly to our major is reading research papers. Now, when I read a research paper, I kind of know what everything means.

Also, if you’re going to be taking Physics, I highly recommend studying abroad for Physics. That is 100% my biggest recommendation; taking it abroad at a program is not only an experience of lifetime, but also there’s comprehensive financial aid. There are a lot of programs to support you financially for the program itself. It is tough because you are taking a year’s worth of physics in 10 weeks, but being able to study in a foreign country is a really nice experience. Considering the current circumstances, if you’re able to, I highly encourage you to do so.

Neha: Yeah, I studied physics abroad in Glasgow, Scotland, and it was literally the best experience of my entire life. My parents are annoyed by how much I talk about it. It’s just so cool! You really immerse yourself into this new world and it’s really eye-opening for someone who, especially like me, grew up and lived in a small town my whole life on the east coast, went to California, and hasn’t really seen much of the world. It was the hardest eight weeks of my life. It’s brutal, but it’s also the best because you learn so much about yourself. I think it’s definitely worth it if you can do it. I love Glasgow. Best place. I could talk about it for hours.

Kevin: Literally all of my advice for Psychobio just centers around one singular class because it has been so traumatizing for me. It has been the worst experience of my entire life at UCLA. If you are coming into Psych 100B, and you get a TA who says that she used to be head TA, RUN, switch immediately. Leave the class, drop out of it if you have to, because she’s not going to be nice, okay? The amount of time that you spend on your lab reports and the grade that you get for them is complete trash! What ends up happening is that they tell you during the first week on the syllabus — but then you don’t remember it because you spent too much time on your lab reports — that the exams are worth 60% of your grade. So you don’t have time to study for those exams, because your TA is nagging you about how you were one centimeter off for the spacing on your paper.

I get that in some weeder classes, you want to separate the people who want to be Psychobio, but the amount of effort for that lab portion?! The discrepancy for the lecture portion of the class is insane. It’s a six unit class that cuts people down. I was among the people that essentially, you know, pre-med-failed Psych 100B. Also, I don’t think working with or asking for advice from friends is a really good idea for Psych 100B because the TAs are very different. They all have different grading styles, and your grade essentially depends upon your TA and your exam grade. That’s my advice for the entire major. It’s just for Psych 100B.

Damola: I was actually enrolled in physics abroad. I was trying to convince my parents this is going to be good for me. And then coronavirus happened and I got really discouraged. And I think there was a rollover option where if we couldn’t go this summer, we could probably go this upcoming summer. But I was just so discouraged by everything, so I didn’t take the rollover option. So now I’m taking Physics 5C next quarter and I took Physics for two summer sessions. Do not do that. I took Physics 5A during Session A and then 5B Session C. It was just a lot of physics going on. It was way too much. I feel like I should have taken the rollover opportunity.

Neha: I’m kind of a weird person to ask this question because I don’t think that you should regret anything in your life because that’s what makes you who you are. Just live in the moment and not take things for granted. If you want to do something, do it—you don’t know if there’s tomorrow. But with that, I think I already emphasized my regret, and that’s planning everything out and checking Bruinwalk. And don’t take Psych 115 with Biochem. Don’t ever do that. And I think it’s funny that Kevin and I are such opposites because 100B was totally fine for me. Also, it could have been because I took it online. My TA was great and my team was great. So I got really lucky. It wasn’t wonderful. But 115 was brutal for me. But yeah, just plan it out.

Gabe: One thing is, if you are pre-med, you’re probably going to be looking at all the pre-med majors like Psychobiology, MIMG, MCDB, and you’re probably going to come across a list that ranks them by difficulty. Psychobiology, compared to a major like Neuroscience, for example, can look really easy. But if you’re not interested in psychology itself, it’s probably going to be one of the hardest majors you’re taking. If you’re a pre-med trying to decide which major to pursue in college, be aware that you don’t have to take one of the generic biology majors. You don’t have to get a B.S., you don’t have to have a biology degree, or even a psychobiology degree. You can do something like history or political science! What matters is just fulfilling your pre-reqs for med school and being sure that you’re able to complete them. What matters is if in an interview, they asked you why you chose your major, you can articulate why you chose it. It doesn’t matter if you have a B.S. or B.A.; as long as you’re studying what you think is interesting to you, that’s what really matters.

Kevin: I really have to echo that because everyone seems to choose Psychobio because it’s been deemed an easy, stereotypical pre-med major, when in reality, no, it’s not. It is absolutely not the easiest major at UCLA. There are a few, I guess, pre-requisites for a person to be successful in Psychobio. They need to have a passion for psychology, and more than anything, they need to have a good understanding of how behavior works, and how the science of behavior works, because that’s a big part of what the classes are. I feel like that’s the majority of all the upper division classes I’ve taken.

And my one regret is not switching lab sections for a different TA for Psych 100B; I cannot emphasize that enough. I have an absolute grudge against that class. I can’t even count the number of mental breakdowns I’ve had during that one class by itself. I also kind of regret not taking physics abroad. I was hearing horror stories about how people were suffering during the abroad program. I don’t know why I trusted them, but I kind of did. I got stuck with a new professor in Physics 5C who didn’t know what he was doing. That was fun. I also have to echo the Biochem statement. Biochem 153A is a hard class. But if you have the right professor, you can do it. I absolutely loved the class. And again, I think that comes back to the idea that Gabe stated about how you have to be passionate about something in order to actually follow through with it. That’s how you become successful in this major.

The videos and articles in the Major Decisions series are produced by Therese Arevalo, Kevin Chen, and Callista Wu.

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