Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated November 2010
Studying in the field
Neuroscience is in the same category as rocket science, nuclear physics, and biomolecular chemistry: That is, neuroscience is one of those fields whose name is both awe-inspiring and vaguely terrifying, and which conjures up images of mad-scientist-types hunched over beakers and flasks plotting the ultimate destruction of the world. In truth, however, neuroscience is both far more benign and infinitely more interesting than that. Indeed, there is a real romance to this field, not least because it is so little understood by so many. At its most basic, neuroscience "is a field of study that deals with the structure, function, development, genetics, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology of the nervous system, consisting of the myriad nerve pathways running throughout the body. The study of behavior and learning is also a division of neuroscience" (Wikipedia). In other words, neuroscientists aim to further our understanding of the nervous system itself as well as the bodily processes it affects. Simple, right?
As you might expect, earning a graduate degree in neuroscience is far from easy. But like so much else in academia, only those who are most prepared for its rigors even consider it in the first place. A strong background in science is a must, as is a genuine interest in the rigors of both research and detail-intensive learning. Basic coursework includes classes in such areas as biology, organic chemistry, psychology, and statistics. More advanced studies include such menacing classes as "mammalian neuroanatomy electrophysiology of humoral transmission... developmental neurobiology... computational neuroscience... [and] advanced molecular neuroendocrinology," among many others (University of Connecticut Health Center). Of course, though these courses may indeed sound incomprehensible to the uninitiated, they are wholly par for the academic course--as well as easily comprehensible--to those who are familiar with the field of study.
There are nearly as many directions for graduates of neuroscience programs to go as there are neural connection in the human brain. (Nothing beats a little neuroscience humor!) Because of the complex nature of the field, and the fact that developments are happening every day that further neuroscientists' understanding of the nervous system and its functioning, the possibilities for specializing in the field are limited only by the imagination of the student. Those with interests that lie in the area of medicine can choose to focus on the bases of various neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's or multiple sclerosis. Graduates who are fascinated by technology can choose to focus on computer mapping of various aspects of the nervous system or on the statistical analyses of the data that help facilitate that greater understanding. Cross-curricular studies may also be engaged in, including those with students in departments as diverse as behavioral psychology and pharmacology, among many others.
Job opportunities in the field
As medical technology continues to improve, the number of job opportunities for graduates with degrees in neuroscience will, as a result, increase. This coupled with the unavoidable fact that populations in the Western world are getting older (indeed, even this is partly a result of the work of neuroscientists, as people are living longer now than they ever have before) means that the need for neuroscientists will continue to grow. Graduates may find work with pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and private clinics, government research institutions, and in private practice, among many other areas. Essentially, this is a field whose importance and relevance are increasing faster than they ever have before. And as a result, it is one of the most exciting, cutting-edge areas in all of the sciences.