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Career in Neuroscience Research & Salary

by Robin Elizabeth Margolis

Neuroscientists study the nervous systems of people and animals -- the brain, the spinal cord and the network of nerves extending into the rest of the body. Neuroscientists' research goals include better understanding of human behavior and the discovery of medications for many neurological illnesses, such as Alzheimer's disease. Neuroscience research jobs can be exciting and well-paid, but as of 2013, the field is crowded. People planning to become neuroscience researchers should prepare to work in alternative neuroscience-related careers if they cannot find a research job.

Neuroscience Education and Training

Future neuroscientists may enroll in a four-year neuroscience bachelor's degree program, taking classes in biology, chemistry, math, physics, psychology and neuroscience. Where a neuroscience bachelor's degree program is not available, students should consider majoring in biology, biochemistry, or other science majors. After completing a bachelor's degree, students may then apply for admission to a four-year neuroscience doctoral program. Doctoral students take advanced lecture and laboratory classes in various specialties within neuroscience, such as molecular neurobiology and cognitive neuroscience, carry out research and write a doctoral thesis.

Postdoctorate Jobs and Salaries

After receiving a Ph.D., neuroscientists typically take a postdoctoral fellowship or "postdoc," where they do research under the supervision of a neuroscientist at a university or a research institute. Postdocs usually last one to three years. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) online job bank for postdoctoral neuroscientists estimated that these jobs paid an average yearly salary of $30,000 to $49,999 in 2013. After completing one or more postdocs, neuroscientists interested in research may apply for assistant professor positions. Most permanent, full-time neuroscience research jobs are in academia and science institutes, with a smaller number in biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

Research and Teaching Jobs

If neuroscientists obtain an assistant professorship, they may be promoted to associate professor and then full professor. Neuroscience professors teach, do research in laboratories, and oversee the research and writing of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows. The AAAS online job bank indicated that salaries for assistant, associate and full neuroscience professors ranged from $50,000 to $99,999 per year. Some highly paid associate or full neuroscience professors earned as much as $100,000 to $199,999 per year.

Job Outlook

While the exact number of U.S. neuroscientists is not known, the international Neuroscience 2013 conference attracted more than 30,000 neuroscientists from all over the world, according to the Society for Neuroscience. U.S. neuroscience research jobs have followed a boom-and-bust cycle since the early 1990s. In 1992, neuroscience academic jobs were scarce and there were few openings in industry. Neuroscience research job openings were plentiful in the first decade of this century. After the economic downturn in 2008, the neuroscience research job market contracted again. Only 20 percent of all recently graduated neuroscience Ph.D.s found jobs in academia in 2012, according to a Society for Neuroscience conference presentation. The Society recommends that neuroscience graduate students also consider careers in academic administration, pharmaceutical research, managing programs for the federal government, science writing and publishing, teaching science in high schools and lobbying for science trade associations in Washington, D.C.

About the Author

Robin Elizabeth Margolis is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. She has been writing about health care, science, nutrition, fitness and law since 1988, and served as the editor of a health law newsletter. Margolis holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology, a master's degree in counseling and a paralegal certificate.

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