Neuroscience Career FAQs

Below is a selection of questions we regularly get asked at the BNA. If you need further advice or feel any of this guidance is incorrect or incomplete, please contact us at office@bna.org.uk 

 

Contents

  1. What is the difference between psychology, neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience?
  2. Do I have to do a neuroscience degree to have a career in the field?
  3. What qualifications do I need to study a neuroscience degree? / Can I still do a neuroscience degree without biology and chemistry A-Levels?
  4. Can I do a master's in neuroscience without a science-related undergraduate degree?
  5. Does the BNA offer any work experience?
  6. What companies/institutions offer work placements/internships/graduate schemes to undergraduate students?
  7. What is the difference between a neuroscientist, neurologist and neurosurgeon?
  8. Do you need a medical degree to become a neuroscientist?
  9. Are there any online courses available to study neuroscience?

What is the difference between psychology, neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience?

Psychology
Psychology is the study of cognition (thinking) and behaviour in humans and other animals. A first degree (BA or BSc) in psychology qualifies you for professional courses and qualifications by the British Psychological Society, e.g. as a clinical psychologist.

Neuroscience
Neuroscience is the study of the brain-in humans and other animals. This usually includes basic neural mechanisms at the cellular, molecular, systems (physiological) levels. The techniques may include histology, neuroanatomy, single cell electrophysiology, brain imaging and neurochemical and neuroendocrine assays. It generally has a separate degree, often housed in departments of biology, physiology or anatomy. It may have some instruction on behaviour and cognition i.e. psychology and ethology; the neural basis of behaviour is called ‘behavioural neuroscience’. Both undergraduate (BA/BSc and MSc) postgraduate neuroscience courses are available (See Neuroscience Courses).

Cognitive neuroscience
Cognitive Neuroscience is a more specialised area. It is essentially the intersection of cognitive psychology and neuroscience and mainly studies the neural basis of cognition and behaviour in humans (N.B. ‘behavioural neuroscience’ is the term usually reserved for similar studies in other animals). It includes techniques of cognitive and experimental psychology as well as some physiological techniques (e.g. galvanic skin response, heart rate), EEG recording, human elector physiology, transcranial stimulation, and a range of brain imaging methods e.g. PET, fMRI etc. It may also include a computational element e.g. reinforcement learning. Cognitive neuroscience may be taught as an advanced module in first degree courses in psychology or neuroscience and some master’s courses are available. A qualification in cognitive neuroscience alone would be insufficient for professional courses or degrees e.g. in clinical psychology, organised by the British Psychological Society.

Back to top

Do I have to do a neuroscience degree to have a career in the field?

No, there are many paths into the field of neuroscience. Other health science degrees such as biomedical sciences, biochemistry and pharmacology often teach you skills required to later specialise in neuroscience. These courses may also offer neuroscience modules where a student can tailor their knowledge and skills to the field. It is best to investigate the content and practical experience offered from a degree as these can differ considerably between institutions.

Alternatively, individuals with degrees such as physics, chemistry, engineering and computer science are sought after in the neuroscience and there are many applications for skills derived from these fields.

Back to top

What qualifications do I need to study a neuroscience degree? / Can I still do a neuroscience degree without biology and chemistry A-Levels?

A-Level biology and chemistry (or equivalent qualifications, e.g. Scottish) are preferred subjects for entry onto a neuroscience BSc and be aware that, in some cases, both are a requirement e.g. Kings College London. However, some Universities will accept other ‘traditional science’ subjects such as physics and maths e.g. University of Manchester. Usually an ‘A’ grade is required in one of these traditional science subjects. If you are not taking one of these traditional science subjects, the University of Sussex also accept psychology.

Many universities also require that the student has passed practical aspects of their science A-Levels.

Grade requirements often depend on how many traditional science subjects you are taking at A-Level. For instance, if a student is taking biology, chemistry and physics, the final grade requirements may be lower than a pupil who is taking biology and two non-traditional science subjects.

Foundation Entry degree courses are designed for students who have the ability to study for a degree, but don’t have the necessary formal qualifications to enter directly onto their chosen Honours degree programme. If you are not in the position/do not wish to retake A-Levels, foundation courses are available at some universities e.g. University of Central Lancashire and Keele University. The Access to Higher Education Diploma is a qualification which also prepares people without traditional qualifications for study. They are designed, in particular, for people who have been out of education for some time, especially those who left school with too few qualifications to be able to go straight to university.

Before applying, please review entry requirements for each University course (full list at www.bna.org.uk/careers/courses). Equivalent grade and subject requirements for International Baccalaureate, Higher Education Diploma, BTEC, Scottish Qualifications and Welsh and European qualifications, can also be found on each University page.

Back to top

With difficulty - This would not be a standard route into the field for individuals without a science-related undergraduate degree such as neuroscience, biology, biomedical sciences, biochemistry and, in some cases, psychology. If you do have related experience, it is best to contact course coordinators directly.

Back to top

Does the BNA offer any work experience?

The BNA offers 2 x placements for undergraduates undertaking a sandwich course in neuroscience or a related discipline, i.e. one which incorporates a year in a placement position (usually the third year of a four-year degree course), based in the BNA offices at Bristol or Cardiff University. This placement is intended to provide the opportunity for students to gain experience and understanding of science careers and working within a professional academic science association. The BNA does not offer placements in a research environment.

The call for applications is released in the October of the previous academic year with a deadline of December e.g. For placement in academic year 2019/20, the call for applications will go out in October 2018. Full details of placements can be found here.

The BNA occasionally has opportunities for short-term volunteering opportunities e.g. via the PIPS or Charity Insights scheme.  These would also provide office-based experience, not research.

Back to top

What companies/institutions offer work placements/internships/graduate schemes to undergraduate students?

Undergraduate Summer Research Placements

There are opportunities for undergraduate students to take short research placements in laboratories over the summer holidays, in order to learn first-hand about experimental procedures and analyses employed in the host laboratory. This does not necessarily have to be at the institute where the student studies.

Students should approach the head of a laboratory directly to enquire (well in advance) whether a summer project is feasible. Student stipend grants are available, however, in many cases the supervisor should be a member of the funding organisation/society and will put forward the application.

More information and a list of funding bodies related to biomedical research can be found here.

Undergraduate Industry (Sandwich) Placements

Some undergraduate degrees offer a chance for students to work in industry during their third year of study.

The BNA offers 2 x placements for students wishing to gain experience and understanding of science careers and working within a professional academic science association (see above).

Back to top

What is the difference between a neuroscientist, neurologist and neurosurgeon?

A neuroscientist is typically a research scientist. The traditional career route would involve a science undergraduate degree followed by a PhD. No clinical practice or clinical qualifications are required.

Neurologists and neurosurgeons are both medical specialities. Therefore, both require a clinical medicine degree and individuals will go on to specialise in one of these disciplines.

A neurologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system. As practicing physicians, they can order tests such as imaging studies including CT scans, MRI scans or laboratory tests such as CSF examination.

Neurosurgeons are medical doctors who specialize in performing surgical treatments of nervous system.

Back to top

Do you need a medical degree to become a neuroscientist?

No. (see above)

However, with the integrated academic career path, there are a number of opportunities for trainee clinicians to gain experience and qualifications in academic research (e.g. BSc/PhD).

As a medical student, intercalated degrees entail an extra year of study that gives you the chance to study a particular area of medicine in depth. Other opportunities include involvement in research projects alongside your medical studies or in summer breaks, and research-based student selected modules.

Academic foundation programmes (AFP) posts offer protected academic time during foundation year 2. Academic clinical fellowships (ACF) posts run for three years or, if the post is a general practice ACF, for four years. They combine specialty specific training with academic training. During the post, 75% of your time will be dedicated to clinical work and 25% to academic work. Academic work may take the form of a nine-month block, three months a year, or up to two days a week.

Further information on the integrated academic career path can be found here:

BMJ Careers; The road to a clinical academic career. Authors: Garth Funston, Christian Cerra, Deborah Kirkham, Gary Doherty, Paul O’Neill

Back to top

Are there any online courses available to study neuroscience?

Yes, they can be found in the ‘Online courses’ section of the BNA website.

Back to top