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Study Neuroscience at Otago

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

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

Neuroscientists apply a wide range of scientific disciplines, including Anatomy, Biochemistry, Computer Science, Pharmacology, Physiology, Psychology, and Zoology. As an interdisciplinary programme, Neuroscience is taught by staff from varied departments across the University. Each teaches a separate “neuro” component, resulting in a coherent and integrated subject.

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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

Career opportunities

To become a neuroscientist, you would need to complete postgraduate study following your Bachelor of Science (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, combined 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, such as law, medicine, pharmacy, physiotherapy, audiology or 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 global shortage of skilled workers. You can read what some of our graduates have been up to on our website.

Neuroscience at Otago

What papers will I take?

First year

Essential first-year papers provide introductions to cellular biology (CELS 191); human biology, particularly of the nervous system (HUBS 191); and biological psychology (PSYC 111).

Additional papers are required – most students choose chemistry (CHEM 191) but other options are available.

Please see our website for more details.

Note that most of these papers are included in the Health Sciences First Year (HSFY) course, with the exception of PSYC 111. Students who start their degree in HSFY and then change to Neuroscience can take PSYC 111 in their second year.

Second year

Here you can begin to “custom design” your Neuroscience degree. Neuroscience students take core papers in psychology, anatomy and physiology; as well as choosing optional papers from zoology, pharmacology, biochemistry and genetics.

Third year

Following their interests, third-year students choose from a variety of papers covering advanced topics in neuroscience, with an emphasis on the latest findings in research.

How will I study?

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of Neuroscience at Otago, 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 include group projects and discussions. Assessments are varied and include written examinations and laboratory reports.

Neuroscience research at Otago

Neuroscientists at the University of Otago are involved in a range of exciting research. Neuroscience students learn about cutting-edge research being conducted at Otago, as well as research from around the world, and can work in the lab with Otago's neuroscientists as postgraduates.

Some examples of research being conducted at Otago:

  • Professor Cliff Abraham is interested in the neural mechanisms of memory. His lab is also investigating biomarkers and therapeutic agents for Alzheimer's disease.
  • Dr Olivia Harrison's research is focused on mental health and its relationship to interoception (how we perceive our body), with a particular focus on breathing.
  • Associate Professor Yusuf Cakmak's research focuses on non-invasive peripheral neuromodulation, wearable sensors and mobile health applications.
  • Professor Beulah Leitch is interested in the changes that occur at synapses (the contacts between brain cells that allow them to communicate with each other) during ageing and various brain disorders including epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease.
  • Professor Colin Brown investigates how the brain controls reproduction and cardiovascular function.
  • Dr Rosie Brown investigates the neural circuitry underlying parenting behaviour, and how hormones alter mood and behaviour in mothers.
  • Associate Professor Stephanie Hughes studies how lysosomes (the waste disposal system in cells) contribute to neurodegenerative diseases, including childhood Batten disease, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.
  • 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).

Background required

Taking chemistry and biology until Year 13 is recommended. Students without good marks in chemistry are strongly advised to enrol in the Chemistry Bridging paper (BP607) during Summer School, prior to their first year of study.


“I really liked studying Neuroscience at Otago – it taught me how to  look at research critically, to think about information being presented, and to apply a lens of curiosity over it.”

Deanna Barwick


Neuroscience as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BCom, BEntr, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degree

Available as a minor subject for a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Bachelor of Theology (BTheol), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Entrepreneurship (BEntr), Bachelor of Health Science (BHealSc), Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom), Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) or Bachelor of Commerce and Science (BComSc) degree

100-levelNote: Prerequisite papers for the 200-level papers required for the Neuroscience minor are CELS 191; either HUBS 191 or PTWY 131*; PSYC 111; either CHEM 191 or PHSI 191; and one further paper from BIOC 192, BIOL 112, HUBS 192, CHEM 191, PHSI 191. All of these papers, except PSYC 111, should be taken in the first year of study if students intend to complete the 200-level papers in their second year of study. PSYC 111 may be taken in the second year. 

* PTWY 131 is only available to students enrolled in the Diploma in Science.

200-levelNote: For students with a major or minor in Neuroscience, the prerequisite for PSYC 211 is PSYC 111. It is common for Neuroscience students to enrol in PSYC 111 in semester one of their second year.54

Two of ANAT 332, ANAT 335, ANAT 336, ANAT 337, NEUR 302, NEUR 303, PHAL 303, PHSL 341, PHSL 342, PSYC 313, PSYC 317, PSYC 319, PSYC 323, PSYC 330, ZOOL 314

Note: No more than one 300-level paper with the same subject code (other than NEUR) may count towards the minor subject requirements.
 Note: Prerequisites for other 200- and 300-level papers are recorded on the paper information pages, and in the Prescriptions section of the Guide to Enrolment.
Total 90

NEUR papers

Paper Code Year Title Points Teaching period
NEUR301 2024 Current Topics in Neuroscience 18 Semester 1
NEUR303 2024 Neuroendocrinology 18 Not offered in 2024
NEUR452 2024 Neurodegenerative Disorders 20 Full Year
NEUR453 2024 Applied Human Neuroscience 20 Semester 1
NEUR455 2024 Sleep 20 Not offered in 2024
NEUR456 2024 Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Neuroscience 20 Semester 1
NEUR459 2024 Neuroendocrinology 20 1st Non standard period
NEUR471 2024 Special Topic 20 Not offered in 2024
NEUR472 2024 Special Topic 20 Not offered in 2024
NEUR473 2024 Special Topic: Sensory Neuroscience 20 Not offered in 2024
NEUR480 2024 Research Project 40 Full Year
NEUR490 2024 Dissertation 60 Full Year, 1st Non standard period
NEUR495 2024 Master's Thesis Preparation 40 Full Year

More information

Contact us

Neuroscience Programme
School of Biomedical Sciences
Tel +64 3 479 4205

Studying at Otago

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Regulations on this page are taken from the 2024 Calendar and supplementary material.

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