Fascinated by the brain and the way it impacts our behaviour? Want to know more about the nervous system? Keen to understand the effect of neurological disorders on the body?
Maybe you’d like to look into becoming a neuroscientist!
If you’re not 100% sure about what it takes to work as a neuroscientist then don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Strap in and start scrolling!
We got the chance to chat with neuroscientist, Kaushik Ram, whose experience as a Neuroleadership Program Facilitator, Researcher and Neuroscience Team Leader at USYD means he can give us his insight, wisdom and advice on everything we want to know about neuroscience!
How did you end up in this role?
Kaushik told us that his route to neuroscience was rather unconventional. Yet he admits that such unconventional paths are becoming more and more common.
“I started off with medicine, decided I didn’t like it and then did what I loved, which was animal behaviour and zoology,” he said.
Studies and Experience
After graduating from a Bachelor of Science in Animal Behaviour and Ethology, Kaushik studied a Masters of Science in Neuroethology where he performed brain surgery on sharks and set out to decipher and analyse the primitive structures of a shark’s brain.
Finally, Kaushik completed a PhD in Computational Neuroscience. But we’ll dive deeper into Kaushik’s education a little later!
What made you want to work in this industry?
Kaushik said that he was initially drawn to neuroscience out of curiosity.
“Since I started in animal behaviour working with sharks, the idea of putting an animal down after you’ve finished the research was hard and it took an emotional toll on me so I decided not to work with animals,” Kaushik noted.
“I was still interested in the brain, I had become very fascinated, so the next logical step was to investigate the human brain,” he added.
What is a Neuroscientist?
A neuroscientist specialises in studying the ways in which the brain impacts human behaviour and how the nervous system functions. It’s important to note that neuroscience covers a huge array of disciplines so the profession is very nuanced depending on which branch of study you’re focussing on!
Kaushik gave us a truncated and simplified example of what a neuroscientist might do.
“If someone has any pain in their brain, they’ll go to a GP and if the GP requests an MRI, the radiologist (who reads the MRIs) is usually able to diagnose what the problem is. But if there are any complications or complexities, then it will go to a neurologist,” Kaushik explained.
Roles and Responsibilities
Up until this month, Kaushik had been working at USYD for the last 3 and a half years on a project that combined neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Kaushik told us of the relatively newfound significance and possibilities of AI in the neuroscience field.
He said that in the past, the process of reading MRIs would take “anywhere between 3 days to 2 weeks. AI takes about 3 months of training and once trained, it’s able to perform the tasks in 3 seconds rather than 3 weeks”. So, we’re looking at some pretty impressive time saved for a patient to receive their results — this is the project that Kaushik had been leading at USYD over the last 3 years.
“We’ve finished the development of Phase 1 which was deploying it across all the major hospitals in Australia and Phase 2 was deploying it across 35 countries but I didn’t sign the contract to do that part.”
Kaushik is now running his own business but we thought we’d still ask about some of the daily tasks he’d be completing at USYD.
So, pretty much, he does a lot.
Which industries can this career be found in?
While the work that neuroscientists do can be performed and used in almost any industry, they’ll typically be positioned in academia, healthcare and within the pharmaceutical sector. So, if you’re keen on becoming a neuroscientist, you’ll probably be working in one of these industries but the research that you undertake will be valued in almost any profession!
What skills do you develop as a neuroscientist?
#1: Critical Thinking
Kaushik told us that there were 3 skills that he’d look for in a neuroscientist. Firstly, he talked through the importance of critical thinking — a skill that he believes should be a major priority of up and coming neuroscientists.
“In order to submit any body of work, whether it’s the thesis, research publication or journal article, you have to produce something new. You have to be able to think critically otherwise you’re going to copy other people’s stuff,” he said.
#2: Software Skills
With experience in AI and its growing importance, Kaushik believes that proficiency in computational and software skills are becoming more and more important.
“You’ll need some form of software skills beyond knowing how to use a computer, it’s more about how to code. It’s really important because the industry is changing so much and without hands-on coding skills, it’ll be very difficult to manoeuvre within the industry,” Kaushik advised.
With this being said, these aren’t skills that you’re expected to be naturally preordained with. These are all things you’ll learn as you progress through your studies and when you gain work experience. No one is born with these skills.
#3: Leadership and Character Development
“A third one would be character development. Not many people will tell you this, but there’s a lot of politics and you have to be very diplomatic with how you manage people. So, in order to get further, you really need to have all of your people skills, all of your soft skills, learn how to manage emotion, learn how to manage stress and how to lead a team. Leadership and character development go hand in hand,” Kaushik told us.
“If I were to employ someone, I’d be looking at those 3 skills and it’s very rare that you find all 3 in one person,” he added.
Characteristics and Qualities
Alongside the skills that Kaushik has mentioned, some other skills that make a great neuroscientist include:
- Analytical skills
- Numerical, mathematical and statistical knowledge
- Computer literacy
- Management and leadership
Steps to Becoming a Neuroscientist
For this, we’re going to give you a deeper rundown of the path that Kaushik took to become a successful neuroscientist and then we’ll give you examples of some other routes.
After transferring from medicine, Kaushik began his undergraduate studies in a Bachelor of Science majoring in Animal Behaviour and Ethology — the scientific study of animal behaviour. He told us that he preferred his cohort in his animal behaviour course as opposed to the competitive atmosphere of medicine.
“Animal behaviour and zoology was really useful because that was the area where I developed my critical thinking. In the medical industry, it was very streamlined and they don’t really give you much room for critical thinking,” Kaushik said.
Because Kaushik was able to develop these essential critical thinking skills so early, “it provided many unique positions”. Kaushik hasn’t become a traditional researcher or post-doc. Instead, he’s been able to work with and manage teams across an array of industries.
Studying for His Masters
After graduating from his undergraduate degree, Kaushik went on to study a Masters of Science in Neuroethology. This is where he performed the brain surgery on sharks.
“That’s where I developed my programming skills, I was using MATLAB and was performing micro-electric recordings of the brain cells. Then we take that data and convert it into algorithms so I had to learn programming from scratch. I didn’t do any programming or computer sciences courses, I just learned on the job and so during my Masters I developed both brain surgery and programming skills at the same time which were two very different skill sets,” Kaushik said.
Kaushik also told us about the changes that the neuroscience field has undergone. Its growth has been synonymous with the rapid development of technology in the last few years.
“We were trying to figure out what the primitive structures of the brain did so we could design that into an algorithm but back then, back in 2007, we didn’t have the storage capacity nor the upload speed to be able to do what we’re doing 15 years on. Back then we were only able to decipher the algorithms and now those algorithms are being turned into AI,” Kaushik said.
Working Towards His PhD
After graduating from his Masters program, Kaushik went on to complete a PhD in Neuroimaging Genetics at USYD. Here, he was able to use the programming skills he had developed during his Masters degree to research more technical and computational neuroscience.
“I got into computational neuroscience which was very specific. There are so many different areas of neuroscience and this eventually led me to the field that I am currently in which is using AI,” Kaushik said.
Kaushik says that he largely studied the use of AI for diagnostics and personalised medicine which is where the industry is currently at. Kaushik’s studies have positioned him in an area that works with neurological disorders like stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.
What should you study?
If you’re out of high school and considering becoming a neuroscientist, you could check out these undergraduate options for aspiring neuroscientists.
- Bachelor of Medical Sciences with a Major in Neuroscience at Macquarie University
- Bachelor of Neuroscience at the University of Wollongong
- Bachelor of Biomedicine with a Major in Neuroscience at the University of Melbourne
How long does it take to become a Neuroscientist?
We can confidently say that it’ll take a long time to become a qualified neuroscientist. But don’t let that deter you! If you’re committed, passionate and in it for the long haul, we have every faith that you’ll be able to do it.
Becoming a neuroscientist involves a great deal of study and there’s not really a way to fast track a Masters or PhD program so you’re looking at a minimum of 8 years before you’re going to be looking to get some professional experience.
Kaushik told us that the industry knowledge that’s required is totally dependent on the branch of neuroscience that you’re in. He told us that, for coding, you’re going to want to be proficient in:
“Off the shelf softwares like Excel and things like that don’t really work because of the enormity of the data,” Kaushik told us.
What will this career look like in the future?
How in-demand is this career?
As we’ve mentioned, Kaushik has been directly involved in the technological advancements of neuroscience. Namely, he has focused on the development of Artificial Intelligence being used to diagnose and medicate patients.
So, it sounds like we’re expecting the industry to significantly advance with the introduction of more proficient robotic technology!
Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?
As we mentioned before, the neuroscience sector covers an extremely broad range of disciplines. It’s a nuanced profession and therefore you’re encouraged to specialise in a distinct area.
Kausik told us that being able to specialise and selecting an area that you’re interested in and can specialise in, is the best way to go.
Kaushik has mainly specialised in computational neuroscience but you may be interested in:
- Behavioural or cognitive neuroscience
- Clinical neuroscience
- Molecular or cellular neuroscience
- Sensory neuroscience
You’ve got quite a few options. As long as you’re interested in one in particular, you’re good to go!
|Annual Salary||Future Growth||Skill Level Rating|
|$82,000+||Moderate over the next 5 years||Very high skill|
Best Thing & Worst Thing
What do you enjoy most about this job?
While Kaushik very much enjoyed almost every aspect of his career. He told us that the team that he managed at USYD really made it worth it!
“The thing that I enjoyed most was my team. They were extremely intelligent individuals and managing them was a breeze because they were so on top of their work,” Kaushik said.
According to Kaushik, being able to comprehend how the brain works is equally as fascinating as it is rewarding.
“Everyone’s interested in their own behaviour, the behaviour of their friends and the behaviour of their families. Once you get a theory or a basic grasp of why the brain operations the way it does, it leads to seamless possibilities,” He told us.
“I think this should be primary knowledge. Everyone should have some form of understanding of how the brain works. It’ll lead to less stress, less frustrations, better relations and better connections. That’s my view on it,” Kaushik added.
What do you feel is the worst part of this job?
Kaushik told us that there are a number of flaws throughout the neuroscience industry and the way its system works. Specifically, he spoke to us about the industry’s focus on the symptoms as opposed to the cause of neurological deficiencies.
“We’ll treat depression with a pill but we won’t look into why depression has occurred in the first place and we won’t fix those circumstances so people become dependent on pills and the same circumstances will repeat so that was really frustrating,” He said.
“So much of the healthcare industry is invested in just treating symptoms and because of that a lot of revenue and expenditure is basically locked up in things that just aren’t going anywhere. That’s a major flaw in the industry,” Kaushik added.
Advice for Aspiring Neuroscientists
“Start with something very specific. It might be a small project, it could be an internship, it could be a contract project. Just get your foot in the door and learn something very specific and you can build from there. Neuroscience is a very vast field and if you are looking at it from the outside, there are so many moving parts that don’t make sense. So I would really suggest to just pick something and go for it!” Kaushik said.
You heard it here first. Just get started! If you’re studying to become a neuroscientist then something that’s going to give you a head start in the industry is specialising in a specific area that you’re most interested in.
Is there anything you wish you had known before starting this career?
Kaushik gave this one a firm no. He told us that not having any expectations for the discipline was what allowed him to do exactly what he did. And he has no regrets.
“I didn’t know where I would end up and because of that, it began this inquisitive investigation. If I did know what I wanted, I probably would not be so diverse in my role and skill set. So, the fact that I didn’t know was probably a blessing in disguise.” Kaushik decided.
Since Kaushik is currently working in his own business, job flexibility is exactly how he wants it to be. As long as he is able to get in contact with his teams across the world, he’s good to go. Luckily, Kaushik has been able to work from home without any trouble over the last few months.
“Probably since April, I’ve been working from home and I haven’t had the need to go into the office. Mostly because my team is across 4 countries. So we have multiple teams across Australia and then also Singapore, Hong Kong and the US. So, we were working remotely anyway,” Kaushik concluded.
What is the workplace culture like?
After our chat with Kaushik, it was clear that he really enjoys his job and the research that led up to his current position.
Our most significant takeaway was the fact that neuroscience involves a heavy amount of teamwork, collaboration and communication. Since Kaushik spent his time at USYD leading and managing different neuroscience teams, he was in a great position to view and understand the process from an outside perspective.
Kaushik told us that his favourite part of his position at USYD was getting to know and working with the teams that he managed. This gives us a pretty clear idea of the importance of teamwork as a neuroscientist.
You’ll be meeting lots of new people, understanding the way they work and fostering networks that will be essential in your future!
Gemma Billington is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an undergraduate student at the University of Technology Sydney. While studying Journalism and Social and Political Sciences, Gemma enjoys spending her time at the gym or reading about Britain’s medieval monarchy – ideally not at the same time. She currently creates and administers social media posts for Central News and writes for the student publication, The Comma. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to study a Masters of Medieval History and is very excited about the prospect!