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How Do I Begin a Neuroscience Career?

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  • Written By: Autumn St. John
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2014
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To begin a neuroscience career, you'll need to start with a solid educational background. For most people, that begins in college or before, where you'll want to make sure you're getting a good background education in the sciences. After getting an undergraduate degree, you'll usually need to enroll in graduate school to earn a PhD. Once you've finished your formal postgraduate education, you may decide to continue your learning by becoming a postdoctoral fellow. There are many different paths you can follow as a neuroscientist, so you'll want to carefully consider the type of research that interests you as you consider jobs in places like laboratories, biotechnology or pharmaceutical businesses, or medical institutions.

At college, take your time in deciding which science classes you want to take. These do not necessarily have to be neuroscience classes but can be in other disciplines such as physics, biology, and chemistry. Neuroscientists come from many different scientific backgrounds. If the well-known sciences don't appeal to you, consider signing up for more specialist disciplines such as psychology, physiology, or anthropology, as these can also act as ways into a neuroscience career.

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Along with attending classes, you may be able to get practical neuroscience experience by working in a lab for a neuroscientist. To fully experience the nature and processes of neuroscience research, you may even decide to volunteer to be a subject in a research project. If you do so, use the entire experiment session to ask the researcher plenty of questions about what he or she is doing and why it is being done, in order to glean as much first-hand information as possible about the particular work and the neuroscience research field in general.

When it comes to choosing the subject for your PhD, take into account what interested you as an undergraduate and keep in mind that viable areas of study in neuroscience include everything from the effect of external and internal influences on the brain, sleeping patterns, and neurological illnesses and conditions. You'll probably want to look for a university, medical school, or other educational institution that has resources about and interest in your chosen area of study. If an institution's neuroscience department cannot or will not accept your research proposal, try their psychology, physiology, or pharmacology department instead. Many neuroscience programs are designed to be interdisciplinary, and may include faculty from medicine to engineering to business.

Undertaking a postdoctoral fellowship following your PhD can boost your neuroscience career hopes by helping you to discover new techniques or explore new trends within the field. As a postdoctoral fellow, you'll have the opportunity to work in a laboratory and get exposure to areas of neuroscience you may not have encountered before. A fellowship is also useful to put on your resume as it shows how committed you are to learning everything about the field prior to launching your neuroscience career.

As you look for the first fully-paid job of your neuroscience career, remember that this type of career is not only found in hospitals. You can find neuroscience jobs at government medical research agencies, with companies that research areas of biotechnology or manufacture pharmaceutical goods, and in medical centers. If you've decided upon a research or teaching career within neuroscience, look out for positions available in universities or health profession schools. Funding for these positions is often limited, however, and jobs are usually quite competitive.

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