5 Key Takeaways From Our Neuroscience Career Panel
29 APRIL 2023
The ADSA Career Development Network recently hosted a discussion with four neuroscientists who shared career tips for students and folks in the job market. The panel included Dr. Michael Beyeler – Assistant Professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences and Associate Director of the UCSB Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior, Dr. Ariel Rokem – Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington Department of Psychology and Data Science Fellow at the eScience Institute, Dr. John Van Horn (who goes by Jack) – Professor of Psychology and Data Science at UVA, and Dr. Susan N. Wright – Program Director for Big Data and Computation Science at NIDA. Below are 5 takeaways from the conversation.
Don’t forget to check out our previous panels to learn more about career paths for data scientists.
1. Neuroscience is Highly Interdisciplinary
Neuroscience brings together multiple different disciplines, such as clinical psychology, linguistics, medicine, engineering, and genetics. Computational neuroscientists possess both domain knowledge and technical data skills such as image processing, data management, and cloud computing. The ability to bridge multiple domains and technical skills can set you apart in the field.
However, it’s okay – and expected – to lack knowledge in certain areas. Instead of trying to learn everything, focus on your core areas of interest and learn how to effectively work in teams. Exploring research and courses outside of your primary domain can help you communicate with researchers outside of your discipline and broaden your perspective of the field.
2. There Are Many Pathways To Neuroscience
Because the field is highly interdisciplinary, there are many pathways to a neuroscience career and there are several areas where one can specialize. For example, Dr. Beyeler’s undergraduate and graduate training was in electrical engineering and biomedical engineering, respectively. Although he did not earn a degree in neuroscience, his background enabled him to understand the methods that are critical to neuroimaging and neuroengineering research.
For those who are looking to break into the field, Dr. Beyeler recommended auditing neuroscience courses, joining a journal club at your school, meeting with different lab directors, and searching for research assistantships and internships. Dr. Wright mentioned that NIH offers several internship opportunities (e.g., SIP; BESIP; GDSSP; NLM DSI; CBIIT) and highly encouraged students to apply.
3. Conferences Are A Key Part of Keeping Up With The Field
Neuroscience is a dynamic field with constant advancements in methods and technology. One of the best ways to stay up-to-date (and find collaborators and jobs) is to attend annual conferences such as SciPy, the Organization of Human Brain Mapping, and the Society for Neuroscience.
4. Find Communities Of Practice To Learn New Skills
Dr. Rokem said that communities of practice such as US-RSE and The Carpentries helped him learn technical skills that are central to his research. He also mentioned that communities of practice are a great way to learn about jobs.
Dr. Wright added that the NIH offers several resources for learning best practices for data management and research. For those who are conducting research that is funded by the NIH, Dr. Wright also recommended reaching out to their Program Office about opportunities.
5. Stand Out From Other Candidates With These Three Tips
There are several actionable steps that you can take right now to improve your chances of landing a job. One tip was to ask for feedback on your CV, especially from people with hiring experience. Dr. Rokem said that your CV should tell a coherent story that connects your training and experiences and how they relate to the job that you are applying for. In other words, your CV should look different for an industry job versus an academic one. The story that you tell the hiring manager about your background and interests should be tailored accordingly as well.
Another tip was to seek advice from mentors and sponsors (learn about the difference here). Dr. Van Horn said that mentors and sponsors may spot opportunities that you may not have previously considered, so it’s important to look to them when you’re ready to apply for jobs.
Lastly, all four panelists agreed that enthusiastic candidates always stand out from the rest. During interviews, demonstrate a passion for your research and excitement about joining the team.
The neuroscience panel offered several practical tips for folks who are at the beginning stages of their career, such as continuously polishing CVs, leveraging communities of practice to learn new skills, and attending conferences to keep up with the fast-moving field. While there’s a lot to learn within the field, keep in mind that you’re not expected to be an expert in everything. Neuroscience is highly collaborative and interdisciplinary, which means you will always have the opportunity to lean on others’ expertise.