Neuroscience

Neuroscience focuses on understanding the central and peripheral nervous systems that control human senses, behavior and thought. Read on to learn about job duties, academic requirements, employment outlook and earnings for this field.

Is Neuroscience for Me?

Career Overview

As a biomedical science discipline, neuroscience aims to understand the workings of the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord and nerves. Neuroscientists study everything from proteins and nerve cells to memory and cognition. If you pursue this career, you may focus on emotional behavior, brain development, aging, stress or other neurological functions to better understand the human condition. You can use your knowledge to improve and find new treatments for a range of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, stroke and schizophrenia. A strong scientific background, coupled with a fascination of human psychology, is necessary for success in the neuroscience field.

Employment Options

As a neuroscientist, you could work as a professor within medical schools or research universities, teaching neuroscience and conducting investigations. Or, you could work as a research scientist for private research institutions or government agencies, like the National Institutes of Health. If you focus on medical or clinical neuroscience, you may work in hospitals and industrial settings, focusing on patients and treatment methods.

Alternatively, you may qualify for administrative positions within the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Entry-level job opportunities may be found within industry and related allied health fields, including such positions as biomedical lab technician or pharmaceutical sales representative, for example.

Job Outlook and Salary Statistics

If you're interested in becoming a neuroscientist, employment and earnings potential appear promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for medical scientists, including neuroscientists, are projected to grow by 13% between 2012 and 2022, which is as fast as the national average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). Biochemists and biophysicists should experience employment growth of 19% during that same period. The BLS reports that the median annual salary for biochemists and biophysicists was $81,480 in 2012. Medical scientists earned $76,980.

How Can I Become a Neuroscientist?

Education Programs

You can study neuroscience at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. A bachelor's degree in neuroscience can prepare you for many entry-level careers; however, a doctoral degree is generally required in order to work as a neuroscientist. Entry into a neuroscience doctoral degree program requires a bachelor's degree in a biological, physical or behavioral science discipline. Though not generally required for admission, a master's degree in the field is designed to provide additional advanced-level training in preparation for doctoral studies or professional employment.

Topics of Study

Your core courses within a bachelor's degree program emphasize physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics, while upper-level neuroscience courses generally include neurophysiology, cognition, neurobiology, clinical neurophysiology and neuroanatomy. Bachelor's degree programs typically require you to gain research experience within university laboratories, and some schools offer work-related experience through internships.

Graduate-level courses can include cellular neurobiology, ethics, neuropharmacology, molecular neurobiology, research statistics and grant writing. To earn the doctoral degree, you need to pass oral and written examinations and complete a researched dissertation project. The typical duration of a neuroscience doctoral degree program averages 5-6 years.

Specializations

Many schools offer further concentration options at the graduate level, such as in molecular biology, systems neuroscience, pharmacology and clinical neuroscience. Dual degree programs are also available at the undergraduate and graduate levels of study. For instance, you may consider earning a 5-year combined bachelor's and master's degree in neuroscience. Such programs generally require seminar courses and research projects, in addition to standard undergraduate coursework. At the graduate level, you may pursue a dual Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Medicine (Ph.D./M.D.) degree, which involves medical training and dissertation research to prepare you for a career in academic medicine or clinical research.

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