Neuroscientist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a neuroscientist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Neuroscientists conduct research to develop pharmaceuticals to treat neurological disorders. A Ph.D. or M.D. is required for clinical work. Depending on their focus, neuroscientists can work in offices, laboratories, clinics, and hospitals.

Essential Information

Neuroscientists research how the nervous system behaves. They can also develop pharmaceuticals for neurological disorders and treat patients. Neuroscientists are expected to complete advanced degree programs and must be licensed before performing clinical work.

Required Education Ph.D.; M.D. required for clinical work
Other Requirements Neuroscientists with an M.D. must complete medical residency and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination to treat patients
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% (medical scientists)
Median Salary (May 2015)* $82,240 annually (medical scientists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Neuroscientist

Neuroscientists study the development and function of the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerve cells throughout the body. They could specialize in one part of the nervous system, such as neurotransmitters, or focus their research on specific behaviors, such as psychiatric disorders. Illnesses based in the nervous system include Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Neuroscientists can take part in publicly funded research projects at universities, research institutes, or government facilities. Others perform applied research for private industry, where they develop new pharmaceutical treatments or other biotechnology products. Some treat patients as licensed neurosurgeons and neurologists.

Duties of a Neuroscientist

Neuroscientists typically perform research in offices or laboratories. Some work in clinics and hospitals to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients.

Neuroscientists begin experiments by preparing tissue and cell samples. They make use of antibodies, dyes, and gene probes to identify different components of the nervous system. Tools and equipment used to monitor brain and nerve activity include magnetic resonance imagers and microelectrodes. Some use computers to create nervous system models, while others study the simplified nervous system of insects to better isolate certain behaviors.

Requirements to Become a Neuroscientist

Neuroscientists are expected to complete a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree program, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The BLS further stated that those pursing clinical work must earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. Some schools offer a combined Ph.D./M.D. program, which increases a neuroscientist's career opportunities. In order to treat patients, neuroscientists with an M.D. must also participate in a medical residency and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination.

Students intent on pursuing a Ph.D. can choose to enroll in a bachelor's degree program in neuroscience or a biological science to prepare for graduate studies and research. Relevant coursework includes computer science, cognitive science, mathematics, and physics. In addition to neuroscience, graduates may choose advanced degree fields specifically in neurobiology or pharmacology. Before securing more permanent research positions, neuroscientists commonly participate in postdoctoral fellowships to gain laboratory experience.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), the median annual salary earned by medical scientists, the category under which neuroscientists fall, was $82,240 in May 2015; those working in scientific research and development services earned an average of $104,310 a year in 2015. The employment of medical scientists is expected to grow by 8% between 2014 and 2024, per the BLS.

Neuroscientists improve lives by developing medications to treat patients with neurological disorders. They must possess a Ph.D. or M.D. to engage in clinical work. As of 2015, neuroscientists fall under a category with a median salary of $82,240; those classified under the scientific research and development services industry have an average annual salary of $104,310.

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