What does a neuroscientist do?

Would you make a good neuroscientist? Take our career test and find your match with over 800 careers.

Take the free career test Learn more about the career test

What is a Neuroscientist?

Neuroscience is the science of the brain and the nervous system. Research is the foundation of all neuroscience. Neuroscientists are the medical scientists who research the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system. Their research spans molecules, cells, and neural pathways, which send signals from one part of the brain to another.

Neuroscientists seek to understand how the human brain evolved and how it regulates the body, cognitive functions, and behavior. They investigate what happens to the nervous system when people have neurological, psychiatric, and neurodevelopmental disorders, and look for ways to prevent or cure them. Their work bridges the disciplines of mathematics, linguistics, engineering, computer science, chemistry, biology, philosophy, psychology, and medicine.

What does a Neuroscientist do?

There are multiple major branches of modern neuroscience. Therefore, the answer to the question What does a Neuroscientist do? depends on each scientist’s research focus and subjects of study. Typically, the individual neuroscientist covers several branches at the same time.

Man wearing a brainwave scanning headset, sitting in a chair in the brain study research laboratory.

Here is a look at the scope of the work of neuroscientists, which has implications for every aspect of how people move, think, and behave:

Affective Neuroscience
Generally, research is carried out on laboratory animals and looks at how neurons behave in relation to emotions. Neurons are information messengers. They use electrical impulses and chemical signals to transmit information between different areas of the brain, and between the brain and the rest of the nervous system.

Behavioral Neuroscience
This is the study of the biological bases of behavior, of how the brain affects behavior.

Cellular Neuroscience
This is the study of neurons, from their form to their physiological properties at the cellular level.

Clinical Neuroscience
This branch of neuroscience is concerned with the cause and treatment of diseases and disorders of the brain and nervous system.

Cognitive Neuroscience
This is the study of higher cognitive functions in humans and their neural bases. In other words, cognitive neuroscientists look at how the brain forms and controls thoughts, and the neurons that underlie those processes. They measure brain activity while people carry out specific tasks in an effort to understand the nature of cognition from a neural point of view. This field combines neuroscience with the cognitive sciences of linguistics, psychology, and psychiatry.

Computational Neuroscience
Computational neuroscientists attempt to understand how brains compute. They use computers to simulate and model brain functions, and apply techniques from mathematics, physics, and other computational fields to study brain function.

Cultural Neuroscience
This field observes how beliefs, practices, and cultural values are shaped by and shape the brain, mind, and genes over different periods.

Developmental Neuroscience
Scientists in this field study how the nervous system develops, how it grows and changes, on a cellular basis from conception through adulthood. Their findings allow them to describe and understand a range of developmental disorders and offer clues about how and when neurological tissues generate.

Molecular Neuroscience
This is the study of individual molecules in the nervous system.

Neuroengineering
Researchers in this field use engineering techniques to better understand, replace, repair, or improve neural systems.

Neurogenetics
This is the study of how inherited changes to neurons affect the brain and body.

Neuroimaging
This is a branch of medical imaging that concentrates on the brain. Neuroimaging is used to diagnose disease and assess the health of the brain. It can also be useful in the study of the brain, how it works, and how different activities affect the brain.

Neuroinformatics
Neuroscientists who work in neuroinformatics collaborate with computer scientists to collect, analyze, share, and publish data to better understand the brain and treat related diseases.

Neurolinguistics
Specialists in this area of neuroscience study how the brain enables us to acquire, store, understand, and express language. Speech therapists use neurolinguistics to develop strategies to help children with speech difficulties or people who have suffered an injury or a stroke that has affected their speech.

Neurophysiology
Neurophysiology looks at how the brain and its functions relate to different parts of the body, as well as the role of the nervous system, from the subcellular level to whole organs. Research in this field helps scientists understand how human thought works and provides insight into disorders relating to the nervous system.

Paleoneurology
This is the study of the evolution of the brain using fossil evidence.

Social Neuroscience
This field is dedicated to examining and understanding how the brain mediates social processes and behavior. Research topics include social interactions, agency, empathy, morality, social prejudice, and affiliations.

Systems Neuroscience
Systems neuroscience follows the pathway of data flow within the central nervous system and tries to define the kinds of processing going on there. It uses that information to explain behavioral functions.

Regardless of their specific focus, neuroscientists try to discover new facets of the brain every day. They test their theories using scientific methods and try to answer questions by conducting experiments. They publish their research findings and seek to contribute to a better understanding of a wide range of conditions, from Down’s syndrome, autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), addiction, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease to brain tumors, epilepsy, the effects of stroke, and immune system disorders.

Neuroscientists may also study the impacts of meditation, prayer, acupuncture, or hypnosis. Their job, it could be said, is to be endlessly curious and, in essence, to ponder – and reveal – what makes humans human.

Neuroscientists have distinct personalities. Think you might match up? Take the free career test to find out if neuroscientist is one of your top career matches. Take the free test now Learn more about the career test

What is the workplace of a Neuroscientist like?

Neuroscientists often work in laboratory-based environments as part of a multi-function research team. Typical workplaces include universities, hospitals, government agencies, and private industry settings such as pharmaceutical firms.

Because neuroscience research programs frequently run for a defined duration, typically one to three years, the contracts given to neuroscientists by research organizations are usually for a fixed term to complete an assigned project.

The cyclical nature of contract research means that the scientists working in the field move, relatively often, from one sector to another, applying their transferable skills and experience. Permanent fulltime roles are more common within industry, such as the pharmaceutical sector, or in areas like medical or scientific publishing and science journalism.

Clinical or medical neuroscientists may work in hospitals or clinics, evaluating, diagnosing, and treating patients.

Working hours for neuroscientists vary depending on their position. Some may work standard office hours, while others may need to be flexible to accommodate the availability of participants in research projects.

Neuroscientists are also known as:
Neural Scientist Neurobiologist