What does a neuroscientist do? With definition and skills

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 8 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Neuroscientists study the anatomy, function and development of the central and peripheral nervous system. They use a variety of techniques to study brain structure and chemistry, and how the brain forms ideas and makes decisions. Neuroscientists may also study sleep disorders, amnesia and Alzheimer's disease. In this article, we discuss what a neuroscientist does, the role, skills, qualifications, work environment, salary and how neuroscientists connect with neuroengineers.

What does a neuroscientist do?

A neuroscientist principally studies the human brain and how it works. They analyse how the brain functions, what happens during various activities like learning or creativity, and how it changes physically and in its processes as people age. Neuroscientists study how the brain produces thoughts and actions, what happens when something goes wrong with that process and what can help treat neurological diseases. They investigate how drugs affect the brain and the role of genetics on behaviour, cognition and emotion. Here are some other facets of their role:

Imaging

Neuroscientists use different techniques to study the brain, how it functions, its development and the diseases that affect it. One technique, functional magnetic resonance imaging, uses high-powered magnets to take pictures of the brain and identify which parts become active when a person thinks certain thoughts or performs tasks. Another technique, known as transcranial magnetic stimulation, uses magnetic fields to stimulate areas of the brain to correct the malfunction. Professionals may also meet with patients to help them interpret results and develop treatment plans.

Nervous system

Along with studying the brain, neuroscientists also study the entirety of the nervous system, including the spine and nerves that branch off of the spine. Neuroscientists are integral in addressing spinal cord injuries that result in paralysis among other injuries. They may collaborate with other health care specialists, such as physical therapists, to create treatment plans and help patients resolve neck and spinal issues. For example, a neurologist might recognise an optical nerve issue and refer a patient to an optometrist to help with those symptoms.

Research

Neuroscientists are an integral part of the research field. It's important to recognise that these scientists come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Neuroscientists may have degrees in psychology, surgery or biology and have taken additional training in neuroscience. Professionals in these fields often conduct studies and publish their findings to help others understand different conditions and treatments. This may help specialists in other fields better understand how the brain affects different conditions.

Related: What do scientists do? Different types and how to be one

Different types of neuroscientists

There are many types of neuroscientists who have a variety of backgrounds and use different methods to explore the brain and its functions. Some explore the brain at the cellular level, and others work to better understand the brain's structure and function. Other areas include developing new treatments for neurological diseases, or studying how human behaviour relates to changes in the brain. Here are a few different types of neuroscientists:

  • Developmental neuroscientist: This scientist typically focuses on studying how the brain changes throughout life. You might study how the brain develops in children or how the ageing brain changes.

  • Cognitive neuroscientist: A neuroscientist in this area of focus studies how the brain processes information. For example, you might study reactions to trauma, how the brain forms memories and how it handles speech.

  • Biomedical neuroscientist: This scientist focuses on understanding how the brain responds to disease and medical treatments. They may help develop medications for neurological disorders.

  • Computational neuroscientist: This neuroscientist uses mathematical models to better understand the brain's anatomy and function. A professional in this field may use a variety of software to study data.

  • Neuropsychologists: A form of neuroscientist, this psychologist studies how behaviour, emotions, memory, language and cognitive processes affect those with various mental disorders. They may work directly with patients or conduct studies.

  • Behavioural neuroscientist: This scientist researches behaviour and how it impacts the brain. A behavioural neuroscientist may help develop therapeutic approaches for different kinds of conditions.

  • Neuroanatomist: A neuroanatomist studies the different types of neurons and other structures inside of the brain. They may publish their findings to help other neuroscience professionals understand the physical factors of the brain's functions.

  • Electrophysiologist: This professional studies electricity and how it can measure what happens inside of the brain. Their findings may help with memory and addiction issues.

Related: 12 Careers in neuroscience (with salaries and duties)

The responsibilities of a neuroscientist

Since the field of neuroscience is vast and encompasses different professions, it can be challenging to point out their exact responsibilities. A neuroscientist can be a clinician, scientist or teacher who specialises in the study of the brain. Neuroscientists can also work with patients to improve their quality of life or study the brain to understand how it functions. A neuroscientist may even teach at a university and work with students on research projects. Below are some common responsibilities:

  • conduct research to determine the relationship between brain function and behaviour

  • develop techniques to analyse brain activity

  • develop new treatments for neurologic disorders

  • generate knowledge about the function of the brain

  • conduct experiments and collect data to analyse brain function

  • publish findings and contribute to the field of neuroscience

  • design experiments that measure brain function

Average salary of a neuroscientist

As a neuroscientist salary varies, the general classification of a scientist's average salary is £33,872 yearly. Depending on where you work, your salary may vary. Your salary may also depend on the type of institution or organisation where you work, its size and your experience level.

Related: 7 Jobs in life sciences (examples and average salary)

Qualifications to become a neuroscientist

Neuroscientists come from various backgrounds, meaning that there is no single way to become one. The most popular route is earning a bachelor's in neuroscience or medical neuroscience. With integrated master's courses, neuroscience combines with the following postgraduate specialities to increase their knowledge:

  • psychology

  • cognitive neuroscience

  • biomedical science

  • neural engineering

  • computer science

  • chemistry

  • biochemistry

  • data science

The skills of a neuroscientist

It's important for neuroscientists to understand how the brain works if they seek to change its functioning. Neuroscientists can research and understand neurological illnesses. Areas of neuroscience research include encoding and retrieval of memory, addiction and recovery and sleep cycle disorders such as narcolepsy or insomnia. Here are some common skills that neuroscientists might use in their field:

  • research skills

  • mathematical skills

  • data analysis

  • writing skills

  • medical knowledge

  • adaptability

  • empathy

  • deductive reasoning

  • inductive reasoning

  • communication

  • understanding genetics

  • critical thinking

  • decision-making skills

  • ability to recognise patterns

Related: 13 Biomedical science jobs (with salaries and duties)

The work environment of a neuroscientist

Hospitals, laboratories, research labs, universities, pharmaceutical companies and government bodies all hire neuroscientists. There are many potential jobs for neuroscientists in fields such as medicine, health care, law enforcement and education. Some neuroscientists work as teachers or professors. Others find employment with private medical laboratories. Neuroscientists typically spend most of their time in their laboratory, conducting experiments and research tasks. The environment also changes depending on the type of research you are currently doing, which is determined by the laboratory or institute in which you work.

You perform experiments, analyse data and perform other tasks that may require you to use specialised equipment. Neuroscientists often use imaging tools, such as magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography, to understand how the brain works and identify abnormalities. The work environment varies depending on what type of career you choose to pursue. Neuroscientists' work environment usually consists of lab space, research centres, clinical settings or other places where there is access to large amounts of data.

The job outlook of a neuroscientist as a neuroengineer

The field of neuroscience is still relatively new and scientists try to extract the most information from new brain studies. Neuroengineering is a field of research that focuses on the interfacing of robotics and neuroscience to create systems controlled by the human mind. The ultimate goal is to create a brain-machine interface. Neuroengineer uses this information from brain studies conducted by neuroscientists to develop robots that can behave similarly to humans. These robots can make it easier for scientists to study the human brain and determine new ways for humans and robots to interact and communicate with one another.
From interactive TVs to smartphones, robotic equipment has become an important factor in today's world. Neuroengineering is an emerging field that applies neuroscience to the engineering of devices. The way that neurons in the brain communicate with one another is inspiring new innovations in robotics. One such innovation is the use of neuromorphic technology to mimic the way that neurons work and put them on a silicon chip. By using this technology, robots are more efficient and more human-like.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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