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Career in Neuroscience Research & Salary

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If your childhood chemistry set was one of your favorite possessions, and you view laboratories as places of wonder and discovery, consider one of the careers in neuroscience research. The neuroscientist definition is a medical scientist who specializes in study of the nervous system, which could include the brain, spinal cord and network of nerves that connect to all parts of the body. What you research would depend on where you work and where your interests lie, whether you conduct research at a university or a private company.

Neuroscience Researcher Job Description

The neuroscientist job description with a research specialty has a variety of opportunities. A university might have a grant to fund research in cognitive neuroscience, for example, where you might research how certain types of brain tumors or other neurological diseases can affect human behavior. Or you might research how to prevent or treat specific neurological diseases.

If you work for a private company, you'll research ideas that might help their business. At a pharmaceutical company, for example, you could conduct research on new drugs under development for certain neurological conditions. Your research might find that the drug helps one type of cells more than another types, perhaps leading to a breakthrough medication.

With some careers in neuroscience research, you might lead a team of other researchers, research assistants and even students. Many researchers also teach neuroscience in college to medical students or to upcoming neuroscience researchers. Some professors continue to conduct their own research along with teaching. You could also run or be part of a neurology research team in another country or work for a government or global health organization.

Education and Training Requirements

To become a neuroscience researcher, you first need to earn a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry or another science, with a neurology concentration if possible. You will take many math classes, but English writing courses will help you, too.. The ability to write well will help you write papers, grant proposals and research reports. Eventually, you'll want to publish your research results, and editors prefer to work with writers whose work needs only minimal editing.

A Ph.D. is necessary for careers in neuroscience research. Some students get a master's degree first, while some with excellent grades and research experience go directly from their bachelor's degree to pursue a Ph.D. Getting a master's degree can be a good idea because it gives you two extra years to do neuroscience research and learn more about the field before beginning the more advanced Ph.D. work. For example, Ph.D. students are expected to work independently, particularly in their lab research. This may be easier to do after having completed a master's degree first.

Skipping the master's degree does save money and time, though. If you have the opportunity to go from your bachelor's degree to Ph.D. study, consider all the pros and cons before making your decision. Some schools, however, only offer a Ph.D. in their graduate program. Often, the program lasts five years, and sometimes awards a master's degree in the process.

At the end of your Ph.D. study, you'll present your dissertation on a neuroscience topic to a faculty panel and answer questions about it. After earning a Ph.D, most neuroscience researchers take one or more temporary research jobs before being hired for a permanent job. This gives you different research experiences and makes you a more appealing job applicant. Many scientists publish their research in science journals at this point, which is especially important if you want to work as a college professor.

Some neuroscience researchers earn a medical degree (M.D.) rather than a Ph.D. They learn about diseases and treatments in medical school but prefer to work in research instead.

Medical scientists like neuroscience researchers had a median salary of $82,090 in May 2017. A median salary is the midpoint in a list, where half earned more and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent made $45,120 or less and the highest 10 percent made $160,520 or more.

About the Industry

Neuroscience researchers spend much of their time in a lab environment conducting experiments, as well as office time analyzing their research data and writing reports, articles and grant proposals. There can be a lot of standing in the lab, and sometimes cramped quarters by sharing the lab with other researchers. Competition is keen for post-doctoral jobs, which can be stressful.

Years of Experience

Research experience is very important to getting jobs. Many times, job postings for research associates and assistants will state that though they prefer candidates with Ph.D.s, they'll consider applicants with master's and even bachelor's degrees as long as they have years of experience. Even as an undergrad, it's good to get experience working or volunteering in labs. The more experience you have researching in labs, the more independently you'll be able to work, without needing to ask questions at every step or be supervised too much.

Job Growth Trend

Jobs for medical scientists, including neuroscience researchers, are expected to grow 13 percent, from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The aging population will need more and better treatments for diseases related to aging, as well as continued research into treating diseases such as cancer, that can affect all ages.


Barbara Bean-Mellinger is a freelance writer who lives in the Washington, D.C. area who has written about careers and education for,, and more. Barbara holds a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and has won numerous awards for her writing.

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