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What are the Different Neuroscience Careers?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The field of neuroscience is tremendously diverse, which means that a wide array of neuroscience careers are open to people who are interested in studying the science of the brain. Neuroscientists also do not necessarily need to study the human brain: some careers in neuroscience involve the study of animal populations. People who are interested in careers in neuroscience should plan on spending a lot of time in school. Many practicing neuroscientists have a medical degree or a PhD, and sometimes both, along with postgraduate work.

Broadly, careers in neuroscience can be found in the government sector, the private sector, hospitals, and universities. Some examples of neuroscience careers in the government include positions with government agencies performing scientific research and jobs with health departments, providing neurological services to members of the public. Neuroscience careers in the private sector tend to be found at pharmaceutical companies, where people research new drugs which could benefit the field, although researchers can also work for private companies not involved in pharmaceuticals, and the study of neuroscience can be applied to fields such as advertising, where understanding how the brain responds to sensory input can be very important.

Hospitals need neuroscientists to provide patient care; neurologists are doctors who focus on treating nervous system conditions, while neurological surgeons or neurosurgeons perform surgery on the brain. Careers in neuroscience are also open to people who are interested in working in mental health facilities, including positions as neurological nurses and neurotechnicians who assist with patient care and diagnosis. In the university setting, neuroscience careers can include teaching the next generation of neuroscientists, as well as conducting research.

Some examples of specific job titles in the neuroscience field include: neuropathologist, neurophysiologist, neuropsychologist, neuropharmacologist, neuroanatomist, neurobiologist, neurosurgeon, neurologist, psychophysicist, psychiatrist, developmental psychologist, and educational psychologist. These jobs include work in the lab, studying the structure of the brain and nervous system, along with work directly with patients, in outreach programs intended to educate the public, and in experimental settings where neuroscientists have a chance to work with people who have agreed to be test subjects to further scientific knowledge.

Most neuroscience careers require substantial math and science skills. It also helps to be a strong communicator, whether one is conducting research which will need to be written up or working with frightened patients who want someone to explain what is going on. Neuroscience is also a constantly evolving field, which means that people must be willing to commit to continuing education if they want to succeed in this field.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Rhubarb1 — On Mar 13, 2014

Sorry anon937362, I missed how the comments run in reverse chronological order, from the top. *doh*

By Rhubarb1 — On Mar 13, 2014

anon290042: A neurologist is someone who has a standard medical degree, and has then specialized in neurology. A first (undergraduate) degree in neurobiology therefore cannot make you a medical neurologist. Instead, you would be a neurobiologist, probably focused on research rather than clinic-based patient care.

Please note I am from the UK, therefore it is possible we have a different system.

By anon937362 — On Mar 05, 2014

@anon290042, Post 4: A neurologist (MD) is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats disorders of the nervous system. A neurobiologist (PhD) is a scientist who studies the biology of the nervous system. There are pretty vast differences between these occupations, while still being in the same field.

To become a neurologist, you'll need to complete an undergraduate program (four years) of your choosing, does not even have to be in a science. You'll need lots of volunteer work and community service, and research helps too. Then complete an MD/DO program (four years). Then just three to four years of residency. I believe the process is something like that (with many board exams to be passed).

For a PhD, you can apply with any neuroscience degree or a related field, computer science (with bio classes), biology, chemistry, psychology (with sciences too). You'll need research experience in your undergrad, not necessarily in neuro but rather in a biological science. Programs are five to seven years, typically.

By anon937360 — On Mar 05, 2014

@anon352442, Post 5: The interesting thing about your question is that you don't need an employer to have your education paid for! most PhD programs pay their students. You will be doing research for the university, working for professors, and likely teaching or assisting in a class.

Getting a PhD allows you to, when hired by a university or private industry job (pharmaceutical company), be in charge. You can serve as a PI, leading your research team, increased salary, etc. This is opposed to a masters, which you pay for and then have to be under a PhD at work.

By anon352442 — On Oct 22, 2013

I understand that this field requires a lot of schooling and post graduate work. My question is if there are neuroscience careers that pay for their employees to further their education?

By anon290042 — On Sep 07, 2012

Thanks for an interesting article. I am also applying for a neurobiology undergraduate program, but they say they don't have a job title like a neurologist! Please help me with it. I want to be a neurologist, so what's the difference between a neurologist and neurobiology?

By mutsy — On Aug 21, 2010

Icecream17- You know I heard that many people in the physical therapy field are in such high demand that many work multiple part time jobs, in order to have higher incomes and flexible careers in cognitive neuroscience.

A part time position often pays more than full time positions do, in this field. Both physical therapists and occupational therapists have an excellent career outlooks and should not have a problem finding a job.

By icecream17 — On Aug 21, 2010

Subway11- I think cognitive neuroscience careers are fascinating. They range from a biochemist, a neurologist, a speech language pathologist, a community mental health worker, a physical therapist and an occupational therapist.

I know that these careers are very much in demand. For example, to get a speech evaluation for a child at Miami Children’s hospital, it is almost a six month wait. They can't hire enough therapists to meet the ongoing demand.

Speech language pathologists can work for a hospital like they do at Miami Children’s, or in private practice, or even at a school setting for the public schools.

Those in private practice earn the highest salaries. Many charge from $35 to $75 per half hour and earn an average annual salary from $75,000 and up for those in private practice.

Those working in a hospital earn an average starting salary of $48,000, while those that work for the school system earn about $40,000 to start.

By subway11 — On Aug 21, 2010

Thanks for the interesting article. I didn’t know that neuroscience career options were so vast. I think that a psychologist career would be the most interesting aspect of neuroscience.

Psychologists work in a variety of settings. Some practice in an office, while others work in a clinical practice and do research. Some even work in an educational setting and work as an educational psychologist.

Educational psychologists treat behavioral problems and learning disabilities that the children in schools may have. They also identify gifted students with IQ testing.

Usually a WISC test is performed to determine superior intelligence. These tests measure cognitive reasoning and spatial reasoning.

The battery of tests are given to the child and are graded for accuracy and timing. Children use puzzles as part of the test, so the test engages the child.

After the test, the parents are given the test results. A rating of 130 is considered gifted intelligence, which are usually two standard deviations above the norm. This is one of the best careers in behavioral neuroscience.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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