How do I get a Neuroscience PhD?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2019
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Experts in the field of neuroscience conduct detailed laboratory experiments and clinical trials to learn about the structure and function of the brain. Scientists identify how certain cognitive processes work and how different areas of the brain develop and change throughout a lifetime. In order to become part of a neuroscience research team, an individual is usually required to obtain a PhD in the specialty and gain several years of experience to understand the incredibly complex nature of cognition. Getting a neuroscience PhD typically involves about eight years of college and the completion of a detailed dissertation based on independent research.

A person can prepare for a neuroscience PhD program as early as high school. In order to prepare for college classes, he or she can take advanced courses in biology, physics, anatomy, and psychology. Counselors can help high school students identify accredited undergraduate schools that will help them eventually get into doctoral programs. When choosing a four-year university, a student should consider the reputation of each schools' science program and the opportunities for internships or research assistant positions.


Most college freshmen who want to earn a neuroscience PhD major in psychology, biology, or premedical studies. Such degree programs provide students with a foundation for eventual research work. Students often take courses in cognitive psychology, brain and behavior studies, anatomy, and statistics. Through classroom and laboratory studies, students have the chance to become familiar with current trends in research and decide on areas in which they want to focus their personal research. Many students pursue internship positions at university laboratories to improve their chances of being accepted into graduate programs.

Near the end of a bachelor's degree program, a hopeful neuroscientist can begin applying to graduate schools. Most accredited universities select a very limited number of applicants each year, based on educational success, admissions test scores, research experience, and personal essays. A prospective student with clear research goals and strong recommendations from undergraduate professors is likely to be accepted for admission. New students typically meet with advisers to set up custom degree plans, including the types of courses they will take and the professors with whom they are best suited to conduct research.

Neuroscience PhD students attend classroom lectures and participate in laboratory research. They often work in teams with other students and professors on meaningful experiments. Depending on an individual's area of interest and specialty, he or she might help to identify cognitive processes, explore the genetic basis of a mental disorder, or investigate the potential benefits or side effects of medications.

In order to receive a neuroscience PhD, a student is usually required to conduct a great deal of independent research. Results are collected and organized in the form of a dissertation, which is presented to a panel of professors, university administrators, and practicing neuroscience experts. After successfully presenting a dissertation and graduating from a neuroscience program, an individual can begin seeking postdoctoral fellowships in private laboratories, universities, and pharmaceutical companies.


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