Exploring Neuroscience Beyond the Classroom
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Great books, podcasts and YouTube channels to spice up your neuroscience learning!
We all love neuroscience, but let’s face it: lectures and textbooks can be dull and overwhelming at times! Fortunately, we live in an age of amazing podcasts, YouTube channels and popular science books which can make complex neuroscientific concepts interesting and understandable, even if you have never done any formal study in the field.
So here are my five favourite resources for taking your neuroscience studies outside the classroom! They’re listed in order of complexity (introductory to advanced), however, even the last item on the list is accessible to anyone with an interest in neuroscience.
1. The Happiness Lab (podcast)
This fantastic podcast is based on the most popular undergraduate course ever taught at Yale University: "The Science of Well-Being" by cognitive scientist and Professor of Psychology Dr. Laurie Santos. It's all about how we can apply findings from scientific research to boost our happiness and that of the people around us.
Why you'd love it: Short episodes of 30-40 minutes are full of applicable, evidence-based insights to make you happier, lots of interesting anecdotes and great story-telling, and the science is always presented in a very accessible way.
Why it might not be for you: The research is not always neuroscience-specific (more often, the findings are from psychology), and the podcast doesn't really get into the nitty-gritty of the functional aspects of the brain. If you're looking for a more rigorous approach to the science of wellbeing, The Huberman Lab explored below might be a better choice.
My tips: Start with the earlier seasons if you're in it for the science. The later episodes are based more on philosophy, rather than scientific research.
2. Neuroscientifically Challenged (YouTube Channel)
Looking for bite-sized introductions to the basics of neuroscience? Look no further than this YouTube channel, which has been the perfect primer to my undergraduate courses. Each 2-minute video by neuroscientist Dr. Marc Dingman will give you a topic overview, with specific playlists for neurotransmitters and hormones, neuropharmacology, neuroanatomy, pathologies and disorders.
Why you'd love it: These short videos are packed full of information, but always presented in an easy-to-understand way. The illustrations really help, and transcripts are always available, which facilitates easy note-taking.
Why it might not be for you: The information doesn't go beyond what you might find in an "Introduction to Neuroscience" text, so if you are further along in your studies, you might find it too simple.
My tips: Use the transcripts to make notes - you'll want to keep this information for easy reference!
3. Your Brain, Explained (book)
Pleasure, sadness, language, memory... If you want a highlights tour of how the brain enables our everyday experiences, this is the perfect book for you. Dr. Marc Dingman, yep it’s him again, takes you through fascinating anecdotes, classic and recent studies to provide an accurate, up-to-date, and perfectly accessible overview of the many facets of neuroscience.
Why you'd love it: The book often reads like a detective story, chasing clues to piece together answers to some of the biggest questions about how our brains work, such as the mechanisms underlying emotions, memory and language.
Why it might not be for you: This is a popular science book covering many aspects of neuroscience, so if you're already well-versed in the field, or want to do a deep-dive into one particular area, you might want to look elsewhere. Also, the book doesn't really explain how we can use neuroscience to improve our daily lives. If that's what you're after, try the podcasts recommended here.
My tips: Take notes as you're reading! All the information would be great reference material if you ever need a refresher on neuroscience basics.
4. How Emotions are Made (book)
Curious about the neuroscience behind emotions? Then you must add this book to your list. Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a world-renowned researcher in this field, will make you see your everyday emotional experiences in a whole new light, as she overturns long-held beliefs in the science of emotions
Why you'd love it: The writing is accessible and entertaining, without diluting the academic rigour of research that draws on diverse fields such as neuroscience, psychology, linguistics and anthropology.
Why it might not be for you: Obviously you need to be interested in the physiology of emotions to enjoy this book, but even if you aren't that curious about your feelings in your everyday life, I think this book might change that!
My tips: Read on an internet-connected device if possible. Check the references provided as you're reading, and follow the hyperlinks to the book's fantastic Wiki which provides more detailed academic explanations of the ideas outlined.
5. Huberman Lab (podcast)
Rounding out the recommendations list is my new favourite podcast! The Huberman Lab is all about gaining a detailed understanding of neuroscience to improve your health and performance. Dr. Andrew Huberman, Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University, takes the audience on deep dives into monthly themes such as sleep, diet and neuroplasticity by combining neuroscience fundamentals, the latest research findings and actionable tips to apply to your daily life.
Why you'd love it: If you want to pick up some new evidence-based strategies for improving your life, while gaining a detailed understanding of the underlying neuroscience, this is the perfect podcast. It’s also great for neuroscience students wishing to anchor the theory they learn to something more pragmatic and memorable.
Why this might not be for you: The episodes are long (averaging 90 minutes), and can get technical with lots of references to neuroanatomy and neurochemistry - although Dr. Huberman does an excellent job of specifying which concepts are key to understanding neuroscience and which are more for interest.
My tips: You'll find yourself wanting to write lots of things down while listening. Use the timestamps provided to help organise your notes. Also, you can watch video recordings of all episodes on YouTube, which may be more engaging.
So there you have it, my five favourite books, podcasts and YouTube channels for exploring neuroscience in a fun and accessible way. Are you a fan of any of the resources I’ve listed too? Or, do you have other recommendations to share?
Leave a comment for us on Facebook or Instagram, and we can include them in a future blog post! Enjoy and keep learning :)