Doing a PhD in Neuroscience

What Does a PhD in Neuroscience Focus On?

Neuroscience is the study of the structure and function of the nervous system. Neuroscientists investigate how the nervous system works and also study factors which can influence the behaviour of the nervous system. Such factors include neurological, psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.

A PhD in neuroscience provides a wide range of advantages for people that are already studying in the field. It allows you to focus your postgraduate study, work with cutting edge technology, operate within leading research departments, and pursue specialist neuroscience jobs upon completion of your research project.

It should be noted that there are many research projects which are focused on a specialist area of neuroscience. Subsequently, other relevant doctoral degrees include (but are not limited to):

  • PhD in cognitive neuroscience – A PhD in cognitive neuroscience offers a unique opportunity. It teaches you how the brain functions chemically and neurologically. A PhD allows you to investigate the role of neurotransmitters, chemical compounds that send messages across the synapses of the brain. These compounds control the behaviour of the neurons and influence all the other functions of the brain. When they are working the way they’re supposed to, the brain is behaving normally.
  • PhD in behavioural neuroscience – Also known as biological psychology, biopsychology, or psychobiology. Behavioural neuroscience includes the study of psychological and neural mechanisms which affect behaviour (e.g. genetic or psychiatric) and neurological disease.
  • PhD in computational neuroscience – Computational neuroscience is a growing field and uses computers to simulate the brain. Computational neuroscience candidates should be well versed in the emerging technologies of this field to contribute to the field’s progress, and may have a background in mathematics, physics, artificial intelligence, or computer science rather than biology. A PhD in computational neuroscience may see a PhD student develop personalized treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders.
  • PhD in clinical neuroscience – A postgraduate degree in clinical neuroscience focuses on the nervous system in relation to health and disease. A research project in this field may involve the development of novel techniques to diagnose and treat disorders of the human brain or central nervous system.

Other popular neuroscience research areas in include molecular neuroscience, neuroengineering, neuroimaging, neurolinguistics, neuroinformatics, and neurobiological study.

Entry Requirements for A PhD in Neuroscience

The typical neuroscience PhD research project requires applicants to have, or expect to obtain, an upper second class (2:1) bachelor’s degree in a related subject area. In some cases, a lower second class (2:2) bachelor’s degree is sufficient if the graduate has a master’s degree or other relevant experience. For international students, overseas equivalent qualifications are almost always accepted. Since the focus of a research project can vary greatly, relevant subjects can be decided on an individual basis.

Of course, PhD in neuroscience requirements vary across different institutions, and some projects may have subject specific entry requirements, e.g. a PhD in computational neuroscience may require the graduate student to have basic programming knowledge.

Universities typically expect international graduate students to provide evidence of their English Language ability in addition to their application. English language requirements are usually provided in the form of a IELTS, TOEFL (iBT) or CAE and CPE score. The exact score requirements may differ from university to university. Any English language qualifications will be clearly stated as part of the application process.

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How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Neuroscience?

In the United Kingdom, a standard PhD research project in neuroscience requires 3 to 4 years of full-time study. A part-time neuroscience programme typically takes 6 to 7 years to complete. A neuroscience MPhil typically takes 1 to 2 years of full time study.

Students pursuing careers in this field may undertake additional training courses, aimed to develop independent research, communication and project management skills. Courses in these areas will give students an excellent foundation in which to begin their careers.

There are also laboratory rotations and specialised training modules for doctoral students within some PhD programmes, which may include developmental psychology, developmental biology, brain sciences, clinical neuroscience, cell biology, medicine, biomedical sciences, genetics, pharmacology, neurophysiology, cognitive science and neurology.

Costs and Funding

Annual tuition fees for PhDs in neuroscience are typically around £5,000 – £6,000 for UK students. Tuition fees for overseas students are typically around £25,000 – £35,000 per academic year. Tuition fees for part time programmes are typically scaled down according to the programme length (for both home and international tuition fees).

Some neuroscience PhD programmes also have additional costs to cover laboratory resources, travel, fieldwork, department administration and computational costs.

Many Universities offer postgraduate studentships or doctoral loan schemes which cover the tuition fees and in some cases the living costs for neuroscience PhD programmes.

PhD in Neuroscience Career Paths and Jobs

If you are wondering what to do with a PhD in neuroscience, there are many options you can explore. PhD in neuroscience jobs require specialist knowledge, and the typical neuroscientist salary in the UK reflects this. However, the average salary of a neuroscientist varies greatly due to the broad range of industries they can operate in. Generally a senior neuroscientist salary in the UK is around £50,000 per annum, however salaries can exceed £100,000 depending on the specific role. For example a cognitive neuroscientist salary in the UK may be greater than that of a cellular neuroscience researcher. It is also possible to use your PhD to find work internationally as some countries may provide employment opportunities which improve upon neuroscience salaries in the UK.

Many PhD in neuroscience careers are within the academic world, as often postgraduate students choose to become lecturers, professors and researchers. Here they can continue to lead research into their field of interest and can help shape future postgraduate study. Neuroscience professors and lecturers can expect a generous salary. Higher education institutions are not the only destination available for postdoctoral researchers. Government lead research councils such as the BBRSC are one of many employers which contribute to academia.

Other PhD students look for neuroscience jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, where they can use their specialist knowledge and skills in the lab to understand how developmental drugs affect the nervous system.

Another popular career destination is within public engagement. As a scientific communicator, you are responsible for educating the general public on neurological matters and often take governmental or advisory roles. There are many NHS jobs that facilitate these responsibilities.

Typically, a PhD in neuroscience salary is higher than that of a counterpart with an undergraduate degree only. This is because the specialist knowledge a PhD graduate student has allows them to innovate and lead. A PhD programme also usually involves some manner of project management which lends itself to management roles.

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