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Studies & Degrees in Neuroscience

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Neuroscience, the study of the brain and nervous system, is one of the most exciting fields in the natural sciences today. Deep questions about the fundamental nature of our human experience, questions which were once the sole purview of speculative philosophy, can now be addressed scientifically through emerging neuroscientific methods. For example, philosophers have long pondered the question of how we perceive the world through our senses; thanks to neuroscience, we can now answer such questions definitively. There is great excitement in the scientific community at the prospect that, in the near future, neuroscientists may be able to examine such complex phenomena as consciousness and morality from a scientific perspective.
Neuroscience also goes by the name of neurobiology. These 2 names are interchangeable, and refer to the same field. Neuroscience/neurobiology, however, should be distinguished from cognitive science. Cognitive science uses a combination of biology, behavioral science, and computer modeling to learn about cognitive processes within the brain. Neuroscience, on the other hand, focuses more narrowly on the biological structures of the nervous system, rather than on higher-order functions. Thus, cognitive science can be described as the bridge between neuroscience and psychology.
Personal Qualities
  • Fascination with the brains of humans or other animals
  • Logical mind, good problem-solving skills
  • Creativity (ability to devise hypotheses and experiments)
  • Organization
  • Apti tude at quantitative reasoning – mathematical expertise is extremely helpful but not strictly necessary
Study Options
Programs in neuroscience vary considerably from one institution to another. Neuroscientists address a broad range of issues, and different schools concentrate on different aspects of the field. For example, neuroanatomy, the study of the organization of different parts of the brain, might be the focus at one school, while neuropathology and the study of brain disease might be more emphasized at another.
Neuroscience is seldom offered as an undergraduate major, although bachelors level programs in this area are becoming increasingly common. The majority of neuroscience students, however, major in biology and then specialize in neurobiology once they get to graduate school. If you are certain that neuroscience is your field of interest, however, it is worthwhile to find a school that offers and neuroscience major.
Career Options
Individuals passionate about the brain have a number of career options available to them. These can roughly be separated into 2 categories: research and medicine. Academic neuroscientists spend their time researching the brain and teaching students about it. They are almost all required to obtain a PhD, which takes several years of training beyond college, but they tend to be better funded than academics in other disciplines. Governments and private institutions around the world have rightly prioritized neuroscience as one of the most important areas of research to support.
Students of neuroscience may also pursue careers in medicine, applying their knowledge of the brain in the effort to help people who suffer from neurological disorders. While neurosurgeons are perhaps the most famous of those who work in neuro-medical fields, there are numerous other jobs available within this category that requires significantly less schooling. For example, someone who majored in neuroscience as an undergraduate and chose not to go to graduate or medical school could work in advocacy. His or her understanding of the brain and its pathologies would be of enormous value to an advocacy group working to promote the rights of the mentally ill.