Fall 2023 CNS Honors Seminars

Science, Storytelling, and the Past

Adam Rabinowitz

Tuesday 2-3 pm

PAI 5.42


Research in STEM disciplines tends to focus on the present and the future, attempting to solve today's problems or transform the way we will live tomorrow. The past, by contrast, is seen as the domain of humanities disciplines like history. But in recent years, quantitative scientific research has provided new insights into past climate and human history, and humanistic study of the past has started to look for lessons for the future. In both cases, the communication of the results of this research to the public has been prone to oversimplification and misinterpretation, and both pseudoscience and pseudoarchaeology have presented compelling alternative narratives with little basis in fact. Using the Planet Texas 2050 Grand Challenge as a case-study, we will explore how science and humanities come together in the study of the human past, and how climate scientists, archaeologists, and others are working to develop evidence-based stories about the past that connect more effectively with public audiences.

Health Communication

Mike Mackert

Thursday 12:30-1:30 pm

PAI 5.42


This seminar will focus on health communication and its role in individual and public health, including issues such as public health campaigns, prescription drug advertising, and depictions of health in the media.

Mapping the Human Cortex

Alex Huth

Thursday 4-5 pm

PAI 5.42


The human brain is a biological and computational marvel. It can learn, talk, see, touch, smell, taste, think, feel, and listen, while using less energy than a modern laptop. Our brains accomplish these feats through specialization, where each part of the brain focuses only on one or a few tasks. In this course we will take a tour through the human brain in an effort to learn at least a little bit about every single area in the cortex. Because the human cortex is involved nearly every aspect of human life, we will touch on a broad set of topics, including vision, language, audition, touch, decision making, and social cognition. We will also discuss methods for mapping the brain and organizing principles that may be at play.

Difficult Discussions in Healthcare

David Ring & Gretchen Fuller

Monday 3-6 pm

PAI 5.42


*Please note this is a NSC 323, 3-hr, graded course.

Training for healthcare professionals has long emphasized technical knowledge and assumed that communicating expertise would come naturally. It is increasingly clear that nontechnical skills (e.g. effective communication strategies, emotional intelligence, cultural humility, etc.) are also important to help people get and stay healthy. In this seminar, students interested in the health professions can begin to learn and practice helpful communication strategies. Guest speakers from various clinical and professional backgrounds will help introduce pre-health professionals to aspects of effective communication using group dialogues and practical exercises.

Student Voices/Voces de los Estudiantes

Shelly Rodriguez

Wednesday 11-12

PAI 5.42


The College of Natural Sciences is one of the largest colleges of science in the United States, with a community of more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students, 700 tenure and non-tenure track faculty members, and 1,200 staff. The college is also a major source of future scientists, doctors, mathematicians, technologists, STEM educators, and entrepreneurs.


As part of CNS and UT Austin, your voice matters. Students in this discussion section will serve as a sounding board and focus group for a variety of college and university initiatives. In this seminar CNS Honors students will have the opportunity to learn about and give input on issues such as: diversity initiatives, college infrastructure, hybrid learning, outreach, and more. This seminar will feature an array of guest speakers selected from college and university leaders looking for student input. This seminar will also be accompanied by optional volunteer activities that engage CNS Honors students with projects and events here at UT and in the community. Sign up and let your voice be heard.

The Literature of Science

Joshua Roebke

Monday 2-3 pm



Who writes about science and what are they trying to tell us? Poets, scientists, journalists, novelists, publicists, historians, and philosophers have all written about science, but how do they communicate it differently? Are they even describing the same branches of knowledge? We will read a variety of texts—from tweets to memoirs, essays to poems, and popular articles to humorous sketches—to discuss the many ways that writers communicate science and the ways they depict real and imagined scientists. Each week, we will read an article, essay, or short book excerpt to debate the merits of different writing styles by either scientists or non-scientists. Basically, we will discuss good writing about science and talk about why it is good and what it means. Students will have the chance to lead a discussion about the writing genre that they prefer or the area of science that they like best.

Living in Rural America

Jane Champion

Tuesday 10-11 am

WCH 1.108

What is rural? What is it like to live in rural America? Am I rural?
The term "rural" means different things to different people. It may evoke images of farmland
and pastoral countryside. What does it mean to you? How can we preserve the attributes of a
rural environment? Rural residents face disparities. Many circumstances influence health within
rural communities, including individual health behaviors, community characteristics,
environmental factors, healthcare access, and governmental agencies or private and not-for-
profit organization services. The issues faced by rural communities differ from those in urban
areas. This seminar will address these cultural or social differences, stigma, and norms.

Good Germs, Bad Germs in Daily Life

Pratibha Saxena

Wednesday 12-1 pm

GEA 403

We will discuss both popular and scientific articles, case studies that enhance our understanding of the molecular basis, genetics and impact of good germs and bad germs on daily life.Our focus will be on germs that make a healthy living feasible; those that help produce different types of our foods, and beverages; that help fix atmospheric nitrogen; as well as those that are associated with diseases, including those that are emerging microbes, re-emerging microbes and those that have been with us from beginning of life.

The Science of Mindfulness and the Art of Attention

Rosa Schnyer

Tuesday 3-4 pm

WCH 1.108


Mindfulness--often described as the process of attending to whatever is arising in the present moment, in a particular way, on purpose and without judgement—has gained great popularity in the past decade and has been increasingly integrated into contemporary society from education to private industry, to health care.  Mindfulness involves self-regulation of attention and orientation of experience, which enables the cultivation of a different relationship with ourselves and the challenges we face.  In this seminar, while developing a mindfulness practice, we will explore the neural and behavioral effects of mindfulness, its cultural, historical and philosophical foundations, and its modern application to create a more compassionate, kind and equitable world.

Wellness 101: The Honors Student Edition

Brittany O’Malley

Wednesdays 2-3:30 pm

WCH 1.110

The current generation experiences higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety than any prior generation. These issues are further exacerbated by the pressures of college-life and/or expectations of being high-achieving students. In this seminar, students will learn to practice strategies for cultivating and maintaining positive mental health and well-being in college and beyond, as well as ways to approach and help peers and colleagues struggling with related issues. Several guest speakers from various professional backgrounds—including staff from the Counseling and Mental Health Center and Longhorn Wellness Center—will help introduce students to wellness-related strategies and topics that can be carried and expanded upon through their education and career. 

Espionage in the Digital Age

J Paul Pope

Tuesday 11 –12

PAI 5.42


Millions of cameras positioned around capital cities. The ability to remotely capture and track movement data, images, and previous contacts from phones. The use of "digital dust" to poke holes in operational covers. These tools and many more are being employed aggressively not only in so called "surveillance states," but across the planet and even by non-state actors and NGOs. Dramatic instances in the use of these techniques to disrupt intelligence activity have led some experts to question the viability of traditional intelligence activity and to extol crowd-sourcing and open source intelligence in its place. This course will briefly examine some of the first, second and third order effects of these technological developments on intelligence collection and analysis. Readings will be provided. Previous knowledge of intelligence is NOT required. Curiosity, a willingness to participate in the seminar, and the ability to jump from a low flying helicopter on top of a moving train before it enters a tunnel are, however, firm prerequisites.

The College Student: “Who Are You?”

Tepera Holman

Thursday 10-11 am

PAI 5.42


Many entering college students are faced with new and real challenges for the first time in their lives that goes beyond adjusting to rigorous coursework. College students are transitioning to young adults while developing and changing in ways they do not always understand. In this seminar students will be broadly introduced to theories and research about college student transition and development. The seminar aims to increase awareness of the diversity of college student populations and the variety of student experiences and theories that explain them.

Telling Your Story

Sara Corson

Wednesday 10-11 am

PAI 5.42


“Tell me about yourself.” A simultaneously terrifying and invigorating prompt in both written and verbal formats. As you move through the world, you’ll be asked to highlight your accomplishments. Honors students are highly accomplished but often lack the confidence to articulate their success. This seminar will touch on imposter syndrome, emotional intelligence, career and professional development, and more. Together, we will discover how to Tell Your Story. This course is designed primarily for juniors and seniors.

Music and the Human Experience 

Amy Simmons  

Monday 1-2 pm 

MRH Room M3.113 

We will explore ordinary and extraordinary aspects of music and the human experience. Readings and discussions will enrich your understanding of music, going beyond the basic enjoyment associated with listening and performance to include topics related to human perception, physiological and emotional responses, neuroscience, social cohesion, complex skill development, and therapy and rehabilitation. Experiences will include music making or listening. 

Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World

Nina Palmo

Thursdays 10-11 am

Location GEA 125

This course will center around Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.