Considering a career in neuroscience? Here’s what a neuroscientist doesPosted on: November 2, 2022
by Ruth Brooks
Neuroscience is a multidisciplinary science that examines the nervous system – primarily the brain. The study of the nervous system brings together a diverse number of academic disciplines, from biology and psychology, to computer science and statistics, opening up a seemingly infinite number of areas for further exploration and research.
Neuroscientists are those who specialise in the field of neuroscience, studying the brain and the rest of the nervous system to better understand its structure, its function, how it develops, and how it works. The nervous system is a complex one, made up of cells that carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body, and has two main parts:
- The central nervous system, which includes the spinal cord and the brain.
- The peripheral nervous system, which includes the nerves and cells that are spread throughout the rest of the body, communicating back to the central nervous system via synapses.
Neuroscientists may work in industry, conducting laboratory experiments using cell and tissue samples and developing new medications to treat and manage neurological conditions. Some are directly involved in diagnosing and treating patients, and are typically called neurologists. Usually, though, neuroscientists focus primarily on neuroscience research. This can include academic and laboratory work, writing research articles, and furthering investigations into important areas of neuroscience, such as:
- Neurological disorders and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumours, epilepsy, and seizures.
- Brain injuries, including how damage or injury impacts different areas of the brain, and how best to support repair and recovery.
- How the brain learns.
- Pain perception in the brain.
- Areas of neurodivergence, such as dyslexia and ADHD.
- Down’s syndrome.
- Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
- Mental health and mental illness.
Because of neuroscience’s huge scope, neuroscientists also have the option to specialise in one of its sub-areas.
Areas of neuroscience
Neuropsychology is a blend of both neuroscience and psychology. It studies both the brain and the rest of the nervous system, as well as their connection to people’s behaviours and cognition.
Development neuroscience considers how the nervous system forms, grows, and changes. It also has ties to neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, which considers how neural networks change through growth and reorganisation.
Cognitive neuroscience studies brain functions such as thought, problem-solving, memory, and even language.
Cellular and molecular neuroscience
Cellular neuroscience and molecular neuroscience examine neurons at a cellular level, and study genes, proteins, peptides, receptors, and other molecules that guide neuron function. These areas have ties to molecular biology, cell biology, genomics, and neurobiology.
Neuroanatomy considers the anatomy of nervous tissue as well as the neural structures and neural mechanisms within the nervous system.
Neurogenetics investigates inherited neural characteristics and neurological disorders, and is crucial in better understanding genetic diseases that affect the nervous system.
Behavioural neuroscience explores the relationship between the human brain and how people behave. It also explores the same relationship in animals.
Neurophysiology considers the function of the nervous system, rather than its architecture or structure.
Sensory neuroscience examines the relationship between the nervous system and the body’s sensory systems.
Also known as neuroevolution, evolutionary neuroscience considers the evolution of the nervous system, and has ties to both neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Evolutionary neuroscientists look for changes in genes, anatomy, physiology, and behaviour over time, particularly in areas such as the amygdala, forebrain, cerebellum, and cortical areas of the brain located in the cerebral cortex.
Computational neuroscience blends mathematical modeling and computer science to better understand the complexity of neural systems and brain activity. Computational models are used to replicate these systems, and investigate their influence on functions such as communication and behaviour, as well as answer questions about how the brain processes information.
Clinical neuroscience applies neuroscience research in clinical settings. Clinical neurologists treat a number of neurological disorders, including developmental, degenerative, and psychiatric disorders, and develop new therapies and approaches for patients using research in neurology, psychiatry, pharmacology, and other relevant disciplines.
Systems neuroscience considers neural circuits and synaptic systems, and explores how nerve cells and brain cells behave within neural networks.
What are the benefits of being a neuroscientist?
Neuroscience is a rewarding field that offers a real opportunity to advance brain research and change lives. There are more than 600 recorded neurological diseases, and The Neurological Alliance has stated that in England alone, there are more than 14.7 million neurological cases, which means that neuroscientists can make a real difference.
Given the multidisciplinary and collaborative nature of neuroscience, neuroscientists also have the flexibility to blend their research with several other academic disciplines, and can make a name for themselves as they work to advance medical treatments for neurological disorders and diseases – and this is becoming increasingly important as the global population ages and demand for advances in neurological research increases.
What are some of the most common jobs for neuroscientists?
With neuroscientists focused primarily on research projects, many work in academia, including in academic research and teaching.
There are careers outside of academia as well. According to Prospects UK, there are opportunities for neuroscientists in:
- clinical sciences.
- biotechnology and contract research.
- pharmaceutical and drug development.
- neuroimaging or brain-imaging.
- regulatory affairs, as well as policy and research administration.
- science communication and public engagement.
Employers include universities and government departments, as well as large organisations such as the NHS or the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or industries such as pharmaceuticals or food.
Are neuroscientists paid well?
Prospects UK outlines three different salary ranges for neuroscientists:
- Research assistants in neuroscience can earn between £25,000 and £35,000 annually.
- Starting salaries for postdoctoral researchers are between £32,000 and £45,000 annually.
- Experienced and senior neuroscientists earn salaries of £50,000 to £60,000, or more, annually.
Other jobs available through neuroscience
Neuroscience opens up a diverse range of opportunities outside of neuroscientist roles. For example, according to LinkedIn, a background in neuroscience can lead to roles such as:
- Laboratory technician.
- Research assistant.
- Physical therapist.
- Health educator.
- Clinical psychologist.
What is the difference between neuroscience and psychology?
Psychology and neuroscience are closely connected, but one – psychology – is focused on the mind and human behaviours, while the other – neuroscience – is focused on the physical brain and the rest of the nervous system.
There are those, however, who do both: neuropsychologists explore the relationship between the physical brain and human behaviour.
Deepen your understanding of neuroscience and psychology
Turn your passion for psychology into a career advantage with the MSc Psychology from North Wales Management School, part of Wrexham University.
This flexible master’s degree is taught entirely online, and includes a key module in neuroscience, equipping you with an overview of cognitive and neurological systems, and the outcome following disruption, injury, and treatment. The content spans core neuropsychological principles and assumptions, and covers contemporary perspectives on key neurological systems and disorders that may be encountered in practice.