Coursera Motivation

Over the past year, I have signed up for over 10 Coursera classes.   My research involves working with Neuroimaging data and I want to take Coursera classes in order to learn some of the basics of Neuroscience.   I’m tired of being in meetings with collaborators and referring to parts of the brain by frantically gesturing to that point on my head.  And please do not tell anyone that I imagine the blood brain barrier as a trash bag covering the brain, because I have no better biological intuition to go on.

I love the idea of Coursera, but more specifically I really love the idea when I sign up for the courses months in advance.  Whenever the courses start I always come up with a slew of excuses.  But this time, something is different.  A few months ago, I emailed my dad about a course I though we would both enjoy: Drugs and the Brain by Henry A. Lester at the California Institute of Technology.   My dad is a retired chemist from a pharmaceutical company, so this is where our interests overlap.  And when the course started, I did what I always do and made up excuses. Until I go this email:

To: Elizabeth Sweeney
From: Daniel Sweeney

Subject: Graduate School at CalTech


I passed my quiz with a 17.5/22 for the first week at Caltech and I am now off to a bar with some of my brighter classmates to celebrate until Saturday.  I hope you and some of the other students manage to pass your quiz.

Best of luck,


Oh snap. Ever confident, I started watching the lectures and replied:

To: Daniel Sweeney
From: Elizabeth Sweeney
Subject: Re: Graduate School at CalTech


I’m done with 3 of the 11 mini lectures.  Myself and the other more studious members of our class are taking our time with the material and intend to score a bit higher on this weeks quiz. Have fun at the bar with the rest of the C students!


And today I am proud to say that I have finished my first week of Coursera lectures.   But I need to be a little more careful when I trash talk the C students in this course.  This week’s lectures and quiz proved difficult for me, as they required a background in Chemistry.  On my first quiz attempt I scored an 11.75/22.  After reviewing my mistakes and going over some of the material again, I took the quiz a second time and scored  a 20.50/22.  Not so bad (although all the questions were exactly the same…).  I am happy that I am picking up many of the broader topics from the course, which I think will be useful.  For example I now know that the blood brain barrier is made up of tight junctions between endothelial cells (not a trash bag).  Polar molecules and proteins cannot diffuse across the blood brain barrier. But non polar molecules can, such as nicotine. I ‘m planning to continue with the course, as I am sure to receive more motivating emails from my dad along the way!