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 it develops, how it ruptures, and how can it be altered excites you? 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 human 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 Neuroscience/Neurobiology?
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, and 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 of 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 by 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 tremors, 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,
- Glial cells
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.
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 in.
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 do 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 react to sound and what impact does it have on cognitive functions?
Popular Specialization in Neuroscience/Neurobiology Profession
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.
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What Does a Neuroscience/Neurobiology 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 Neuroscience/Neurobiology – Eligibility
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/specialization 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
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 in 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 Neuroscience/Neurobiology
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 Neuroscience/Neurobiology 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 does 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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