Job Profile – Behavioral Neuroscientist

Scientist looking at images of the brain.Behavioral Neuroscientist

Basic Job Description:

Study the biologic basis for human behavior by conducting laboratory experiments, gathering data from human research participants, performing simple surgical procedures, or conducting experiments on animal subjects.

Read more about this field here.

Are you interested in the brain and how the brain works? Do you find yourself wondering what causes normal and abnormal behavior? If you are driven to understand human psychology and the biological basis for behavior, then behavioral neuroscience could be a good field for you. Also known as biological psychology or biopsychology, behavioral neuroscience applies the principles of neurobiology to the study of cognitive processess and emotions expressed through human behavior. There are various career avenues for a behavioral neuroscientist such as researching the molecular chemistry of the brain, using highly technical equipment to record brain activity and map brain function, and working in clinical settings to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients. For medical scientists such as behavioral neuroscientists, the job outlook is promising. According  the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Employment of medical scientists is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. An increased reliance on pharmaceuticals, greater affluence that allows for more spending on medicine—along with a larger and aging population, and a greater understanding of biological processes are all factors that are expected to increase demand for medical scientists.”¹

Behavioral neuroscientists earn an above average wage (median annual salary was $76,980 in May 2012¹) and have many opportunities in both research and academic settings within the growing field of psycholgy. However, most positions require a doctoral degree and access to programs can be limited and extremely competitive. In order to enter the field of behavioral neuroscience you should strongly consider the following steps:

Step 1: Start preparing in High School

Behavioral neuroscience is a competitive field and requires a strong foundation of several skills including psychology, biology, math, computer programming, cell biology and chemistry. High school students interested in this field should take advanced placement courses in chemistry, computer programming, biology and calculus to prepare for undergraduate education.

Step 2: Focus on Research as an Undergrad

Enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in neuroscience, biological science or psychology. UC Davis offers a major in Biological Psychology as well as a major in Neurobiology, Physiology & Behavior, either of which would be an excellent foundation for a career in behavioral neuroscience. As an undergraduate, research experience gained through working with a faculty member in his or her laboratory is highly recommended to prepare for graduate studies.

Step 3: Pursue an Advanced Degree

Neuroscientists are expected to complete a Ph.D. degree program, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS further stated that those pursing clinical work must earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. Some schools offer a combined Ph.D./M.D. program, which increases a neuroscientist’s career opportunities. In order to treat patients, neuroscientists with an M.D. must also participate in a medical residency and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination.²

Step 4: Licensure

While some behavioral neuroscientists research and teach, you may also be interested in clinical work with patients. If you practice independently as a clinical or counseling psychologist, you’ll need to be licensed by the state in which you work. Though requirements vary by state, licensure typically requires a doctoral degree, some years of professional experience and a passing score on the national exam, the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Check with your state’s licensing board for specific rules and regulations.³

Want to learn more about a career in engineering or medicine? Please add your questions and comments below.

¹Source:  US Bureau of Labor Statistics



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