Well divrdon, you certainly have asked a wide-open question!
Here's the thing: The term neuroscientist can mean a whole bunch of
things and all of those things have different kinds of jobs, so their
days look very different. I get a sense from your question that
you're thinking about going into this fast-growing field, but you want
to make sure that you really understand how you'll be spending your
days if you do. (The last thing you want to be doing is spending 5
hours cleaning up after rats, am I right?)
With that in mind, what I'm going to do for you here is lay out the
types of jobs that come under the heading of neuroscientist, they
types of industries that employ those people, and then give you an
idea of the general things each of those people have to spend their
WHAT IS A NEUROSCIENTIST?
"Neuroscientist" is a general word that describes someone who studies
the nervous system. Many neuroscientists "wear several hats." For
example, a neurosurgeon may also have a Ph.D. in physiology. He or she
may work in the operating room but also have time to perform
Job titles would include: Neuroanatomist , Neurobiologist
,Neurochemist , Neurological Surgeon, Neurologist , Neuropathologist,
Neuropharmacologist , Neuropsychologist , Neurophysiologist,
Physiological Psychologist (also known as a Psychobiologist or
Biological Psychologist), Psychiatrist, Psychophysicist.
And then there are Cell Biologists, Research Veterinarians, and
Geneticists. Any or all of these people could play some role in
learning how to cure diseases through cellular manipulation.
WHERE DO NEUROSCIENTISTS WORK?
Any one of the following places would serve as a place for a
neuroscientist to study somatic cell nuclear transfer ("cloning") or
carry out stem cell research. It all depends on which aspect of the
research you wanted to be involved in: the actual manipulation of the
cells? The testing of therapies? Development of techniques for
cloning? The animal research? Teaching others? Testing techniques or
products for safety?
Government (for example, in laboratories at the National Institutes of
University (as a researcher or teacher)
Industry (for example in biotechnology, pharmaceutical or medical
Hospital or Medical Center (as a clinician and/or researcher)
WHAT ELSE DO WE NEED TO CONSIDER?
The other thing to factor in is on which level are you the
neuroscientist? In other words, are you the owner or director of the
company? Are you a recent graduate? Are you the lead researcher? Are
you a professor? A laboratory technician? All of these people will
spend time in the lab, but their days will look very different.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF
A Sort of Generic Day of a Scientific Researcher
The morning may begin by going down to the lab and checking cell
cultures and data that are in process. Most of the actual hands-on
work -- running laboratory machines, setting up of cultures, care of
any lab animals, collection of data -- is done by graduate students,
lab technicians, and other staff. But, the researcher is the
professional and directs all of this, so must have a full
understanding of it. If there are animals involved there will usually
be a research veterinarian who oversees that aspect. Trained animal
technicians feed, water, and monitor all laboratory animals. This is
not the job of the scientist. (Are you relieved?).
A researcher in a hospital setting (who would also be a doctor) would
likely spend the morning "doing rounds" with other doctors; seeing the
patients and discussing how they are progressing with the experimental
therapy being tested.
The job of any lead scientist is to develop the plan for the research
and oversee it; make sure it is being done correctly, legally, and
productively. She has to figure out what she wants to study, how she
will study it, and where she will get the money and the help in order
to do that.
After getting a sense of how things stand in the lab, our scientist
may direct staff or students to their duties for the day, then go back
to her office to review journals. There is a LOT of reading required
in any of these jobs. Researchers are expected to stay up to date with
what's going on their fields, latest developments in research, legal
issues, regulations, new technology, and anything else that affects
their research. They must also keep track of their budgets, work on
grant proposals to get more funding, keep track of the progress of
their research, and manage their staff and their students.
Part of research is publishing results. There's no point in finding a
cure for cancer if you don't tell anyone! So every researcher has to
spend time writing up the results from previous or ongoing studies and
submitting them to journals.
Later in the morning the researcher may meet with staff or students
and do a thorough review of where they stand on specific projects.
(There may be more than one going on at a time). She may also meet
with higher-ups in the company to review projects.
The afternoon may be spent giving lectures or meeting with students if
the researcher is a professor. Other types of scientists might use
this time to review data that's been collected and figure out what the
next steps are for the research, or where something went wrong. They
may go down to the lab and work with the staff on some portion of the
project or maybe they'll work on a book they're writing. Many
scientists who are expert in their field write books on their subject,
either text books for students, science books for the general public
or scientific texts for other professionals.
There is also travel involved in any scientific field, no matter what
level you are. In order to stay up to date in their subject, all
scientists must take continuing education courses and attend workshops
and professional meetings. They also have to stay up-to-date as far as
technology goes, so must attend trade shows and meet with
manufacturers of lab and computer equipment.
Finally, if the researcher is also a professor, the evening might
involve grading papers or preparing lectures. Other scientists might
review patient records or do more reading or writing during this time.
To give you an idea of what you'd need to be a neuroscientist, here
are a handful of job descriptions:
" neuroscientist who uses molecular techniques to study the
development of the mammalian CNS. The ideal candidate will also have
expertise in electron microscopy and the ability to contribute to team
taught medical school courses in histology, gross anatomy or
multiple scientific disciplines that may include (but are not
limited to) human genetics, developmental neurobiology, systems
neuroscience, affective or cognitive neuroscience, social and
behavioral sciences, epidemiology, environmental health sciences, or a
Look at what these scientists do - They run a Advanced Cell
Technology, Inc. (ACT)
developing transgenic cloned cells and
tissues for applications in cell and organ transplant therapy. Notice
their varied backgrounds and think about how different their days
Society for Neuroscience
If you are indeed a student, you might consider emailing some of the
scientists who are doing what you are interested in and ask them some
specific questions. (Keep it short, they are busy people!) My
daughter did this when she was deciding on her career and she got some
very good feedback about which schools to attend, what courses to
take, what major she should declare, where the jobs are, and so forth.
Even the most eminent people in her field took a few moments to send
her a reply. It was very useful.
I hope I've answered your question in a way that works for you. As I
said, the term is pretty generic, and obviously people's days will
vary depending on all of the factors I've mentioned above, but I think
you'll find that most scientists (in any field) divide their time
between doing and directing the research, reading and paperwork, and
teaching or writing.
Thanks for your question -
Search terms used:
"What is a neuroscientist?"
"What does a neuroscientist do?"
"Somatic cell nuclear transfer"
Also, I knew some of this as I used to work in an animal research lab.
Yup, I was the rat cleaner! (yuk) -K~
Clarification of Answer by
05 Jul 2002 17:56 PDT
Ok, I'm back! Sorry it took so long. Here's the story
I did another sweep of the internet for any kind of daily logs,
schedules, or what have you, that any doctor or research scientist
might have posted. I found a few, though again not exactly the field
you are looking for, but at least they are "real" scientists posting
their real daily schedules.
A day in the life of a scientist
A day in the laboratory of Professor Basler at the Institute for
Molecular Biology: http://www.lifescience-zurich.ch/focus/aday-en.asp
A Neurosurgeon's Day
Then I sent emails to 6 fairly prominent scientists who specialize in
the fields you mention. From that I received 1 "I'm much too busy for
this", 4 ignores, and one response as follows:
"Your client may feel free to contact me directly regarding the terms
of a paid consulting arrangement for the stated services. -
Sincerely, Arthur Lander"
Arthur Lander, M.D., Ph.D. is Chair of the Department of Developmental
and Cell Biology at the University of California, Irvine. His email
is on his site.
I found him on a list here:
Reeve-Irvine Research Center -
"Professor, Developmental & Cell Biology. Lander's laboratory studies
the molecules that control the growth of nerve cell connections during
early development and the molecules that inhibit regeneration
following injury. His research program takes advantage of transgenic
technology in mice that allows the insertion of new genes or the
deletion of existing genes."
(FYI - The Associate Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology on that list
who works with stem cells sent me the above, "too busy" response.)
Finally, I emailed everyone I know who works in scientific, medical or
University settings, and asked the other researchers if they had any
contacts and look what we got!
A day in the life of Douglas Kerr MD/PhD Attending Neurologist' and
neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in
Excerpt from the above:
"12:00 - Reviews data from previously paralysed stem cell-injected
mice, notices the improving muscle strength and coordination and
breaks into a smile
More about Dr. Kerr
Dr. Kerr also investigates neural stem cells as a potential tool
for functional recovery in patients with transverse myelitis and motor
neuron disease. He has made significant discoveries concerning the
basic molecular biology of neuronal apoptosis, especially in motor
neurons of the spinal cord
So, that should do it!
If one of the aforementioned scientists eventually gets back to me,
I'll be sure to let you know. Meanwhile, I hope these additions have
answered your request more fully, and I wish you best of luck on your