How do I get Started in Neuroscience Research?

D. Jeffress

Neuroscience is a broad scientific field which incorporates physiological and psychological studies of the human brain and nervous system. People from very different educational backgrounds engage in neuroscience research, in hopes of coordinating findings into a larger explanation of such a complex system. Many of today's top psychologists, biologists, chemists, and medical researchers are engaged in neuroscience studies. Regardless of a person's area of expertise, getting started in independent neuroscience research usually entails acquiring a master's or doctoral degree and completing a post-graduate fellowship at a university, hospital, or private research laboratory.

Universities offer advanced training in neuroscience.
Universities offer advanced training in neuroscience.

High school students who plan on someday conducting neuroscience research can prepare themselves by taking advanced science and math courses. Classes in biology, chemistry, and physics initiate students to the principles of scientific research and laboratory techniques. Advanced math and statistics classes teach budding researchers how to interpret data and apply different formulas. Graduating students typically apply for admissions into four-year colleges and universities with esteemed science departments.

Neuroscience incorporates both physiological and psychological sides of science when studying the human brain.
Neuroscience incorporates both physiological and psychological sides of science when studying the human brain.

Undergraduates interested in neuroscience research have several options when choosing their majors. Students intrigued by the physiological aspects of the nervous system may opt to major in a biological science, while those concerned with behaviors, emotions, and other conceptual subjects often major in psychology. Many students take internship positions at their schools' laboratories, giving them the opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the basics of neuroscience research. Upon graduation, most neuroscience students apply to accredited master's or doctoral degree programs.

Graduate and doctoral students generally receive intensive classroom and laboratory instruction, learning all of the skills they will need when they begin conducting independent research. To test the abilities of prospective scientists, many programs require students to form theses or dissertations regarding some aspect of neuroscience, and defend their findings in front of a panel of professors and experts. Upon the approval of a dissertation and the completion of a degree program, a graduate can pursue an internship or fellowship at a research institution.

Many universities, hospitals, and research laboratories offer formal post-doctoral and post-graduate training programs for new scientists and psychologists. Trainees typically observe and assist experienced professionals in their research, performing tasks such as setting up laboratory equipment, conducting evaluations and experiments, recording results, applying for grants, and writing scientific papers. After one to three years of experience, a scientist might be able to begin designing and conducting neuroscience research experiments. In addition to enriching our understanding of the human brain, practicing neuroscience researchers are essential to the creation of new medicines and therapy techniques that can be used to save countless lives.

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