Becoming a Neuroscientist: Everything you need to know
Neuroscientists focus on the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions, or how people think. They also investigate what happens to the nervous system when people have neurological, psychiatric, and neurodevelopmental disorders.
A neuroscientist can specialize in a wide range of fields, from neuroanatomy to neuropsychology. Research in this field can improve our understanding of both the brain and the body, how they work, and the health issues that affect them.
Neuroscience focuses on the nervous system, which has an effect on every part of the body and mind.
Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary science that works closely with other disciplines, such as mathematics, linguistics, engineering, computer science, chemistry, philosophy, psychology, and medicine.
Neuroscientists study the cellular, functional, behavioral, evolutionary, computational, molecular, cellular, and medical aspects of the nervous system. There are various fields that focus on different aspects, but they often overlap.
Researchers might look into brain activity in people with ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease. Tools used include MRI scans and computerized 3-D models. They may do experiments using cell and tissue samples.
The findings may lead to the development of new medications. Some neuroscientists are involved in treating patients.
Why is neuroscience important?
Neuroscience affects many, if not all, human functions, but it also contributes to a better understanding of a wide range of common conditions.
- Down syndrome
- autistic spectrum disorders (ASD)
- Parkinson’s disease
- brain tumors
- the effects of stroke, for example, language loss
- immune system disorders, such as multiple sclerosis
A greater understanding of neurological factors can help in developing medications and other strategies to treat and prevent these and many other health issues.
The ancient Greeks were among the first people to study the brain. They attempted to understand the role of the brain and how it worked and to explain neural disorders.
According to an article in Scientific American, Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, had a theory that the brain was a blood-cooling mechanism.
Pierre Paul Broca (1824-1880) was a French physician, surgeon, and anatomist. He worked with patients who had brain damage. He concluded that different regions in the brain were involved in specific functions.
The part of the brain known as Broca’s area is responsible for some speech and other functions. Damage to this area during a stroke can lead to Broca’s aphasia, when a person can no longer produce accurate or coherent speech.
In the 19th century, von Hemholtz, a German physician and physicist, measured the speed at which nerve cells produced electrical impulses.
During 1873, Gamillo Golgi, an Italian physician, pathologist, and scientist, used silver chromate salt to see what neurons looked like.
Early in the 20th century, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, a Spanish pathologist, histologist, and neuroscientist, hypothesized that the neurons are independent nerve cell units.
In 1906, Golgi and Cajal jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work and categorization of neurons in the brain.
Since the 1950s, research and practice in modern neurology have made great strides, leading to developments in the treatment of stroke, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) and other conditions.
Scientific developments have enabled neuroscientists to study the nervous system’s structure, functions, development, abnormalities, and ways it can be altered.
Affective neuroscience: Research looks at how neurons behave in relation to emotions.
Behavioral neuroscience: This is the study of how the brain affects behavior.
Clinical neuroscience: Medical specialists, such as neurologists and psychiatrists, look at the disorders of the nervous system from basic neuroscience findings to find ways to treat and prevent them. They also look for ways to rehabilitate those who have undergone neurological damage. Clinical neuroscientists consider mental illnesses as brain disorders.
Cognitive neuroscience: This looks at how the brain forms and controls thoughts, and the neural factors that underlie those processes. During research, scientists measure brain activity while people carry out tasks. This field combines neuroscience with the cognitive sciences of psychology and psychiatry.
Computational neuroscience: Scientists try to understand how brains compute. They use computers to simulate and model brain functions, and applying techniques from mathematics, physics, and other computational fields to study brain function.
Cultural neuroscience: This field looks at the interaction between cultural factors and are genomic, neural, and psychological processes. It is a new discipline that may help explain variations in health measures between different populations. Findings may also help scientists to avoid cultural bias when designing experiments.
Developmental neuroscience: This looks at how the brain and the nervous system grow and change, from conception through adulthood. Information gathered helps scientists understand more about how the neurological systems develop and evolve. It enables them to describe and understand a range of developmental disorders. It also offers clues about how and when neurological tissues regenerate.
Molecular and cellular neuroscience: Scientists look at the role of individual molecules, genes, and proteins in the functioning of nerves and the nervous system at a molecular and cellular level.
Neuroengineering: Researchers use engineering techniques to better understand, replace, repair, or improve neural systems.
Neuroimaging: This is a branch of medical imaging that concentrates on the brain. Neuroimaging is used to diagnose disease and assess the health of the brain. It can also be useful in the study of the brain, how it works, and how different activities affect the brain.
Neuroinformatics: This field involves collaboration between computer scientists and neuroscientists. Experts develop effective ways to collect, analyze, share, and publish data.
Neurolinguistics: Specialists investigate how the brain enables us to acquire, store, understand, and express language. It helps speech therapists develop strategies to help children with speech difficulties or people who wish to regain their speech after, for example, a stroke.
Neurophysiology: This looks at how the brain and its functions relate to different parts of the body, and the role of the nervous system, from the subcellular level to whole organs. It helps scientists understand how human thought works and provides insight into disorders relating to the nervous system.
Becoming a neuroscientist
Neuroscience is a new and important field with implications for every aspect of how people move, think, and behave. In 2007, it was estimated that abnormal neurological conditions were thought to affect up to 1 billion people worldwide.
People who join this profession need to have an interest in science and math. Most neuroscientists start out by completing a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience before then pursuing a PhD.
Those who wish to do clinical work and treat patients must also train first as a Medical Doctor (MD) and complete a medical residency. They must also pass the Medical Licensing Examination.
They may then take a postdoctoral fellowship, for example, in a lab, to get further training before applying for a job.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of a medical scientist, including neuroscientists, in 2016 was $80,530. Salaries ranged from a low of $57,000 to a high of $116,840.
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