Do you love science? Are you fascinated by the human nervous system? Do you feel there is immense potential when it comes to brain sciences? Do you understand how the complex structures in the nervous system work? So, do the questions like how the human brain works? How does it develop? How it ruptures and how can it be altered? Do you feel that a lot can be examined in the field of neurosciences? If yes then you should also be a good researcher with a passion to study in this field of science. If you feel inclined towards neuroscience then make sure you love studying for long hours. Read on to know more about a career in Neurosciences.
Neuroscientists study how the nervous system works, what is its structure, how it impacts other parts of the body, and what causes behavioral and emotional changes, etc. As a Neuroscientist, you would study several aspects of neurosciences in terms of behavior, cognition, cells, molecules, anatomy, linguistics, and psychology among many others.
Why become a Neuroscientist?
A Neuroscientist is a researcher who studies biochemical aspects of the brain and its impact on behavior and other cognitive functions like learning, memory, thought, perception, language understanding, problem-solving, etc. Neuroscientists study how the nervous system works and conduct research to learn about the structure, function, genetics, and physiology of the nervous system. They also study what causes (physiological, genetic, biochemical, trauma, external situations, etc.) neurological and psychiatric disorders as well as neurodevelopmental disorders in some people.
Before we further read on to what Neuroscientists do, let us get a brief understanding of a few terms and concepts associated with the Nervous system
Cognition is the process of knowing and recognizing the information that is sent to the brain with the help of experiences, thoughts, and the senses. It is the mental activity that allows the brain to assess and perceive the information of an individual and involves various aspects of functioning and processes such as the formation of knowledge, memory, and judgment, reasoning, planning, problem-solving, etc.
Neurology/ neurological disorder: Neurology is the branch of medicine that deals with disorders of the nervous system i.e. it deals with the diagnosis and treatment of conditions and diseases involving the central and peripheral nervous system. Some neurological disorders can be categorized according to the primary location affected, the primary type of dysfunction involved, or the primary type of cause.
Neurodevelopmental disorders: Neurodevelopmental disorders are due to the disturbance caused in the central nervous system. These disorders are due to abnormal brain development or damage at an early age or due to other factors such as genetic inheritance, aging, and other diseases affecting mental processes (other diseases such as cardiovascular diseases leading to a cerebral attack) which affect emotion, learning ability, self-control, and memory. Some of these are categorized as:
A neurodevelopmental disorder like Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, intellectual developmental disability, etc. Some of the specific disorders are Learning disorders like Dyslexia or Dyscalculia, Autism spectrum disorders such as Autistic Disorder, Movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, Tourette’s syndrome, multiple sclerosis, etc., Communication or speech-language disorder like Dysgraphia, Aphasia, etc.; Genetic disorder like cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, Down syndrome, etc.
But most importantly what do the Structure, function, and physiology of the Nervous system mean?
In simple terms just like other systems in the body, the nervous system is a complex network of cells and nerves that carries messages to and from the brain and spinal cord to various other parts of the body and helps in the coordination of actions and sensory information. Any change in the environment which impacts the body is detected by the nervous system.
At the cellular level, the nervous system is defined by the presence of a special type of cells called:
- Neuron also called the nerve cell, and,
These neurons or nerve cells are structured in such a way that it allows them to send signals to other cells. These signals are sent in the form of electrochemical waves which travel along the thin fiber-like structures called the axons. The axons then release chemicals called neurotransmitters at the junctions called synapses. (Synapses are structures that allow the neurons to pass an electrical signal to another neuron).
The glial cells are non-neuronal cells that provide support to neurons and hold them in place and supply nutrients to them. These glial cells also generate layers of a fatty substance called myelin that wraps around axons and provides electrical insulation which allows them to transmit action potentials much more rapidly and efficiently.
So, when a cell receives a signal, the neurons get excited or moderated and these connections between the neurons form the neural pathways, neural circuits, and other larger networks that produce/generate an organism’s perception (understanding) of the world and control/determine its behavior.
The nervous system is divided into the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system consists of two parts: the brain & the spinal cord. The brain is protected by the skull (the cranial cavity- space within the skull) and the spinal cord runs from the back of the brain. The function of the central nervous system is to send signals from one cell to others or from one part of the body to others and receive feedback and integrates the received information and coordinate and influences the activity of all parts of the body. And the peripheral nervous system (PNS) connects the CNS to the limbs and organs and serves as a relay between the brain and spinal cord and the rest of the body.
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So why do we need to know about the basics of the nervous system at all?
Understand that the nervous system is the most important part of the body and all physical and mental activities are directly linked to the proper functioning of the nervous system. A neuroscientist’s job is to study, research, and investigate how and why humans/animals behave in a certain manner, what causes them to react in a definite way, what are the reasons some develop neurological disorders (explained above), and how these can be diagnosed. That is why it is important that you have a basic understanding of the nervous system and how it functions.
After understanding in brief the Nervous system; its functions and the disorders associated with it let us dig deeper into what exactly a neuroscientist does and what are some of the specialized areas they research.
As a Neuroscientist, you would explore all the elements of the nervous system to understand how it is structured, how it functions, how it forms, how it breaks down, and how it can be improved or changed. You will be concerned about all the facets of the nervous system including molecular, cellular, functional, and structural elements as well as evolutionary, medical, and computational aspects.
As a Neuroscientist, you would research and analyze the nervous system in various branches of biology, psychology, computing, anatomy, and physiology among many others. For example, as a Behavioural Neuroscientist, you would study the biological explanation for human behavior. You would deal with questions like what causes normal and abnormal behavior, what causes reflexes and actions, and what triggers emotions, etc.
As a Computational Neuroscientist, you would be studying and investigating how the human brain might perceive the information say while reading and why you need to read it or what can you learn from it, etc. You would be involved in processing, evaluating, and understanding how the electrical and chemical signals produced by the neurons are used in the brain to interpret and process information.
Neurolinguistics research and study how the human brain can process language and how the processing of spoken language is affected when a specific portion of the brain is damaged or non-functional. As a Neurolinguist, you would be dealing with questions like how the human brain combines words into structured sentences and these sentences derive meaning. How the brain is able to learn and store foreign languages and how does the human brain reacts to sound and what impact does it have on cognitive functions?
Popular Specializations in Neuroscientist Career
- Neuroscientist (Affective Neuroscience): Affective Neuroscientists are involved in the research and study of the neural mechanisms of emotion. The study examines how the brain creates emotional responses. These emotional responses are a psychological phenomenon that involves changes to the body in form of facial expressions, feeling states (subjective responsive), and the urge to act in a certain way. The study thus aims to understand how the structures and chemicals of the brain create emotions.
- Neuroscientist (Behavioural Neuroscience): Behavioural neuroscientists are involved in the research and study of the neural mechanisms of behavior. The study examines behavior genetics, decision-making, impulsivity, cognition, motivated behavior (such as anger, thirst, hunger, etc.), learning, and memory. Behavioral neuroscientists are also contributing in the areas of psychology, philosophy, linguistics, etc. as the field of behavioral sciences is vast and includes almost all the important components of the branch of neurosciences.
- Neuroscientist (Cellular Neuroscience): Cellular neuroscientists are involved in the research and study of neural mechanisms at the cellular level. The study focuses on how the brain develops and changes over time and responds to everyday experiences. Scientists specializing in cellular neuroscience study the basic mechanisms of neuronal development and function as well as how disorders arise including depression, schizophrenia, and intellectual disability.
- Neuroscientist (Clinical Neuroscience): Clinical Neuroscientists are involved in the research and study of fundamental mechanisms that underlie diseases and disorders of the brain and central nervous system. They develop diagnostic methods and ways to prevent and treat neurobiological disorders. These disorders include addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, bipolar disorder, brain tumor, depression, Down syndrome, dyslexia, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, neurological AIDS, neurological trauma, pain, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, sleep disorders, stroke, and Tourette syndrome.
- Neuroscientist (Cognitive Neuroscience): Cognitive Neuroscientists are involved in exploring the relationship between neural circuits and mental processing. They find out how our brains contribute to our cognitive function i.e. how the physical and biological parts of the brain create the less tangible parts like thoughts, emotions, perception, attention, language understanding, memory, problem-solving, and decision-making and behavior. Cognitive neuroscientists also study how neurons process and represent information, and how learning may occur through changes in the properties of neurons and their connections.
- Neuroscientist (Computational Neuroscience): Computational Neuroscientists are involved in the research and study of brain structure development and functioning through mathematical models, computer simulation, and theoretical assessment. In simpler terms, Computational neuroscientists study the development, structure, physiology, and cognitive abilities of the nervous system using computational approaches such as mathematics, statistics, computer simulations, and abstractions.
- Neuroscientist (Neuropsychology): Neuropsychologists focus on the relationships between the brain and neuropsychological functioning – typically, the changes in behavior following a neurological illness or injury. The study focuses to understand how behavior and cognition are influenced/affected by brain functioning and is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders.
- Neuroscientist (Developmental Neuroscience): Developmental Neuroscientists are involved in the research and study of the field of developmental biology. It is the study of the process by which animals and plants grow and develop. (Including regeneration, reproduction, or metamorphosis). Developmental neuroscientists study the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which complex nervous systems develop. The defect in neural development can lead to deformities or sensory and motor impairments.
- Neuroscientist (Evolutionary Neuroscience): Evolutionary neuroscientists are involved in the research and study of the evolution of the nervous system. Evolutionary neuroscientists examine the evolution and natural history of the nervous system, its structure, and functions. The study focuses on the concepts and findings from both neuroscience and evolutionary biology.
- Neuroscientist (Molecular Neuroscience): Molecular neuroscientists are involved in the research and study of the nervous system with molecular biology, molecular genetics, and protein chemistry. They focus on neurons’ molecular behavior and processes and examine the structure of the nervous system, as well as how it functions and develops. Research in Molecular and cellular neuroscience helps understand the mechanisms by which neurons express and respond to molecular signals and how axons form complex connectivity patterns.
- Neuroscientist (Neural Engineering): The study of neural systems and circuits, with a focus on intricacies like how neural circuits are formed and how they produce functions like reflexes, memory, and emotional responses. A key area of research is how networks of neurons underpin complex processes and behaviors.
- Neuroscientist (Neuroanatomy): Scientists specializing in Neuroanatomy study the structure and organization of the nervous system i.e. they study the anatomy of the nervous system. Neuroanatomy is related to developmental biology, embryology, comparative anatomy, and evolutionary biology.
- Neuroscientist (Neurochemistry): Neurochemists are involved in the research and study of how neurochemicals interact and influence the function of neurons. They examine the biochemistry and molecular biology of organic compounds in the nervous system, and their roles in such neural processes including cortical plasticity, neurogenesis, and neural differentiation.
Cortical plasticity, also called neural plasticity, is the ability of the brain to change and evolve throughout an individual’s lifetime.
Neurogenesis is the process by which nerve cells are produced by neural stem cells
Neural differentiation refers to the process that generates, shape, and reshape the nervous system.
- Neuroscientist (Neuroethology): Neuroethologists are involved in the study of animal behavior and the underlying mechanistic control by the nervous system. Neuroethology is the branch of behavioral neuroscience that explores to understand how the central nervous system translates biologically relevant stimuli into natural behavior i.e. how animals find their mates, how they navigate, how they avoid their predators, etc.
Ethology is the study of animal behavior in natural conditions
- Neuroscientist (Neurogastronomy): Neurogastronomists are involved in the research and study of flavor and how it affects sensation, cognition, and memory. The study focuses on how olfaction contributes to flavor, obesity, food addiction, or certain taste preferences.
- Neuroscientist (Neurogenetics): Neurogenetics studies the role of genetics in the development and function of the nervous system. It considers neural characteristics as phenotypes (i.e. manifestations, measurable or not, of the genetic character of an individual), and is based on the observation that the nervous systems of individuals are not entirely identical.
- Neuroscientist (Neuroimaging): Neuroimagists are involved in the imaging of the structure, function, or pharmacology of the nervous system. Neuroimaging is divided into two parts Structural imaging, which deals with the structure of the nervous system, and the diagnosis of intracranial disease (such as a Tumour) and injury.
Functional Imagining, which deals with the diagnosis of metabolic diseases and lesions (such as Alzheimer’s disease) and also for neurological and cognitive psychology research and building brain-computer interfaces.
- Neuroscientist (Neuroimmunology): Neuroimmunologists are involved in the research and study of the interactions between the nervous system and the immune system. The study focuses to understand the physiological functioning of the two systems in health and disease, the malfunction of either and or both systems that lead to disorders, and the physical, chemical, and environmental stressors that affect the two systems on a daily basis.
- Neuroscientist (Neuroinformatics): Neuroinformaticians are involved in the study of the organization of neuroscience data and the application of computational models and analytical tools. Neuroinformaticians facilitate the understanding of the brain to deeper levels by providing computational tools, and mathematical models, and creating interoperable databases for clinicians and research scientists.
- Neuroscientist (Neurolinguistics): Neurolinguists are involved in the research and study of the neural mechanisms in the human brain that control the comprehension, production, and acquisition of language. They study physiological mechanisms by which the brain processes information related to language, and evaluate linguistic and psycholinguistic theories, using aphasiology, brain imaging, electrophysiology, and computer modeling.
- Neuroscientist (Neurophysics): Neurophysicists deal with the development of physical experimental tools to explore more about the nervous system. Some of the techniques used by neurophysicists are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), patch clamp, tomography, and two-photon excitation microscopy.
- Neuroscientist (Neurophysiology): Neurophysiologists are involved in the study and research of the functioning of the nervous system. They use primary tools for research such as electrophysiological recordings, such as patch clamp, voltage clamp, extracellular single-unit recording, and recording of local field potentials, as well as some of the methods of calcium imaging, optogenetics, and molecular biology.
- Neuroscientist (Paleoneurobiology): Paleoneurobiologists are involved in the study of brain evolution, especially that of the human brain. Paleoneurobiologists analyze endocasts that reproduce details of the external morphology of brains that have been imprinted on the internal surfaces of skulls.
Endocast is the internal cast of a hollow object, often referring to the cranial vault in the study of brain development in humans and other organisms. Paleoneurobiologists use artificial endocast to examine the hollow, inaccessible space.
- Neuroscientist (Social Neuroscience): Social Neuroscientists are involved in understanding how biological systems implement social processes and behavior, and in using biological concepts and methods to inform and refine theories of social processes and behavior.
- Neuroscientist (Systems Neuroscience): Systems Neuroscientists are involved in the research and study of the function of neural circuits and systems. They are concerned with how nerve cells behave when connected together to form neural pathways, neural circuits, and larger brain networks. Systems neuroscientists adopt various techniques for understanding networks of neurons as they are seen to function, by way of electrophysiology using either single-unit recording or multi-electrode recording, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and PET scans.
What does a Neuroscientist do?
As a Neuroscientist, you would be involved in the following key roles and responsibilities:
- You would study and examine the developmental, computational, structural, medical, molecular, cellular, evolutionary, and functional aspects of the human nervous system.
- You would be involved in preparing tissue and cell samples and making use of dyes, antibodies, and gene probes to identify the components of the nervous system.
- You would examine the test results of the patients to obtain information about the functional status of areas, such as vision, physical strength, coordination, reflexes, sensations, language skills, cognitive abilities, and mental status.
- You would be using tools and equipment to monitor brain and nerve activity
- You would identify and research major neurological system diseases and disorders, such as central nervous system infection, crania spinal trauma, dementia, and stroke
- You would be studying the simplified nervous systems of insects to isolate certain behaviors.
- You would be diagnosing mental or psychiatric disorders and prescribing medical or non-medical treatments and therapies for patients in clinical settings.
How to become a Neuroscientist – Eligibility Criteria
After completing graduation and post-graduation in your areas of specialization, you would need to pursue post-doctoral study or research in the area you want to specialize in. You can find the following subjects/specializations in which you can take up your master’s or Ph.D.:
- Molecular and cellular neuroscience
- Neural circuits and systems
- Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience
- Computational Neuroscience
- Clinical Neuroscience
- Evolutionary &Developmental Neuroscience
- Social Neuroscience
- Systems neuroscience
The cost of studying Neurosciences in India can vary depending on several factors such as the type of degree, institution, and location. Generally, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience can cost anywhere between INR 50,000 to INR 2,00,000 per year.
A Master’s degree in Neuroscience can cost between INR 1,00,000 to INR 4,00,000 per year, while a Doctorate degree can cost around INR 1,00,000 to INR 3,00,000 per year.
As a Neuroscientist, you may find work in:
- University departments that are involved in neuroscience/ neurobiology research such as the National Brain Research Centre, Indian Institute of Science, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), National Centre for Biological Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University, etc.
- Research institutions such as Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS), Central Drug Research Institute (CSIR), National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science &Technology (AIST), National Centre for Cell Science, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research,
- Medical colleges and medical research institutions such as All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute, etc.
- Pharmaceutical companies and research institutions which are involved in drug development research such as Dr. Reddy, Sun Pharmaceutical, Lupin Ltd, Cipla, Cadila Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Vertex, etc. Research institutions such as Central Drug Research Institute, Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), Hindustan Antibiotics Ltd, Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd., etc.
- Universities, companies, and private/public sector labs or research institutions involved in high-end computer science research, artificial intelligence research, and robotics such as the Indian Institute of Science (IISC), International Institute of Information Technology (Robotics Research Lab), International Business Machines (IBM), Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Indian Institute of Robotics, etc.
As a Neuroscientist, you may find the job opportunities as follows:
- After a Master’s degree, as a (i) Doctoral Fellow (while doing a Ph.D.) or as a (ii) Research Associate
- After a Ph.D. as a – (i) Post-Doctoral Fellow or as a (ii) Research Scientist/ Scientist
- In research organizations/companies – Mostly after a Ph.D. as a Scientist or after a Post-Doctoral Fellowship as a Scientist. Some opportunities do exist as a Research Associate after a Master’s degree.
- In university departments and medical colleges, as an Assistant Professor after my Ph.D.
Salary of a Neuroscientist
If you begin your career after a Master’s degree as a Research Associate, you will earn about Rs.15,000-35,000 a month. However, if you enroll for a Ph.D. and join as a Doctoral Fellow, you will receive about Rs.35,000-38,000 a month.
If you begin your career as a Post-Doctoral Fellow after your Ph.D., you will earn about Rs.40,000-45,000 a month.
If you begin your career as a Scientist after your Ph.D., you will earn about Rs.70,000-1,50,000 a month or even more.
If you begin your career as an Assistant Professor, you will earn about Rs.70,000-80,000 a month in the beginning.
Through whichever way, you will be in the career progression path of a Scientist or that of a Professor.
As a Scientist with about 2-4 years of experience, you will make about Rs.70,000 – 1,80,000 or more a month.
As a Senior Scientist with about 5-12 years of experience, you can earn about Rs.1,20,000 – 4,00,000 or more per month.
As a Principal Scientist or in an equivalent position, with about 15-20 years or more experience, you will earn about Rs.2,00,000 – 7,00,000 or even more a month.
In a senior level position such as a Director – Research/ Chief Scientific Officer or similar, you may get about Rs.2,60,000 – 15,00,000 or even more a month.
If you are in teaching and research, you will earn about Rs.1,20,000 – 2,10,000 as an Associate Professor with about 8-15 years of experience and about Rs.2,20,000-3,00,000 a month as a Professor with about 20-25 years of more experience. As a Dean/ Director, you will earn about Rs.2,50,000-3,00,000 per month.
Career Progression in Neuroscientist Profession
If you start as a Research fellow in any university or institute, you would progress as:
After your M.Sc. you can work as a Research Associate. And then you can become a Senior Research Associate. If you have joined as a Doctoral Fellow, then you will first get a position of a Junior Research Fellow and then a Senior Research Fellow. After your Ph.D. you can join as a Post-Doctoral Fellow.
If you are engaged in teaching at university/institutions, you may grow as:
Assistant Professor – Associate Professor – Professor – Dean/ Director
If you are engaged in scientific private research institutes or universities, you may grow as:
Scientist – Senior Scientist – Principal or Lead Scientist – Vice President – President / Chief Scientific Officer / Executive Director
If you are engaged in scientific government research institutes like CSIR, you may grow as:
Project Assistant I – Project Assistant II – Project Assistant III – Research Associate I – Research Associate II – Research Associate III – Project Scientist
What do industry trends say – Future Prospects
The future of this pathway seems bright as the industry statistics are encouraging. The Indian healthcare market can increase threefold to Rs8.6 trillion (US$ 133.44 billion) by 2022. There is significant scope for enhancing healthcare services considering that healthcare spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is rising. The government’s spending on the health sector has grown to 1.4 % from 1.2 %. The Government of India is planning to increase public health spending to 2.5 % of the country’s GDP by 2025.
In the last decade, the growth of neurosciences in India in terms of trained professionals, research scientists, specialized departments with state-of-the-art infrastructure, and institutes with research facilities has been surprising. A number of educational institutions and universities have been teaching and carrying out research in neurosciences, at undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels for a number of years. There are about 500-1000 researchers in neuroscience in India and the number of principal investigators in neurosciences is around 100-200. Therefore, a career in Neurosciences would prove to be highly rewarding as the demand for more research scientists is growing significantly.
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