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The brain is the most complex and least understood human organ. The study of the brain goes by many names, but is most generally known as neuroscience. The study of the brain can also be called neurology, neurophysiology, neuropsychology or cognitive science, depending on on how what you are studying about the brain. Most researchers who study the brain are medical doctors, but many come from other academic and professional backgrounds, ranging from cognitive scientists to neurolinguists to hypnotherapists.
Neurologists and Neurosurgeons
The medical professionals who diagnose and treat physical conditions associated with the brain and nervous system are neurologists and neurosurgeons. Neurologists treat disorders of the nervous system, brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles. Common neurological conditions include strokes, Alzheimer's disease, headache, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, sleep disorders, multiple sclerosis, pain, tremors, brain and spinal cord injuries, brain tumors and peripheral nervous disorders. Neurosurgeons help patients with conditions such as head and spine trauma, cerebrovascular disorders such as aneurysms or strokes, chronic low back pain, birth defects, brain and spinal tumors and peripheral nerve conditions. Some of these conditions are treated by medicines or physical therapy rather than surgery.
Psychiatrists and Psychologists
Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists treat people with emotional and psychological issues ranging from mild anxiety to acute schizophrenia. Both can practice psychotherapy, and both can undertake research. Psychiatrists are medical doctors; clinical psychologists typically have a doctorate in psychology. However, by virtue of having completed medical school, psychiatrists can prescribe medications. In terms of patient interaction, psychologists tend to spend most of their time involved with psychotherapy, whereas psychotherapy takes a back seat to medical management in most psychiatric practices. Nonclinical psychologists study animal and human behaviors to figure out the how mind works and how memory functions.
Neurolinguistics is the study of language processing in the brain. Neurolinguists already have some answers to questions such as where brains store linguistic knowledge, what happens in the brains as we acquire linguistic knowledge, and what happens in the brain when people use language. Research topics include understanding why human communication is so much more elaborate than that of other animals; determining if language basically is the same kind of neural processing as other cognitive systems, or is it unique, and where are words or semantic ideas stored in the brain; and explaining why children learn languages more readily than most adults. Most neurolinguists work in an academic or hospital setting, working with aphasia or language-deficit patients or conducting research.
Biomedical engineers apply the principles of engineering to medicine. They study all major organ systems, including the brain and nervous system, to try and develop useful therapies. Pacemakers, kidney dialysis machines and many different prostheses have been developed by biomedical engineers. Biomedical engineers have also developed a number of therapies for neurological conditions, including implanting tiny, low-voltage electrodes in the brain to control the seizures or tremors suffered by those with severe epilepsy or Parkinson's disease.
Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.