Case study

Cognitive neuroscientist — Alexander Board

As a neuroscientist, Alex has continued to develop his knowledge about research methods, statistics and data analysis in order to tackle the challenging questions that neuroscience presents

How did you get your job as a neuroscientist?

I followed my degree in psychology with a Masters in psychological research methods. I used a particular scientific technique in both dissertations, and when I started looking for research assistant positions, I found one at a university using the same methodology. This really helped my application and they offered me the job. I worked there for over a year gaining experience, before I got my current job in a brain and cognition lab at the University of Oxford.

Was your psychology degree essential for the job?

It was a great broad introduction and gave me the scope to explore different areas of interest. The degree absolutely led me to neuroscience.

Although I couldn't do this job without the learning on research methods and statistical analysis from both my Masters and my degree, it's surprised me how much I've still had to learn on these topics to be able to run and analyse my own research. Although I carried out research as a student, there wasn't the same responsibility for design or the level of analysis that I have now.

What does a typical day look like?

I usually spend some of the day carrying out experiments and running analysis scripts. The rest of my day is often taken up with admin tasks such as completing ethics approval forms. I also go to lab meetings to discuss the project with my colleagues.

What do you enjoy about being a neuroscientist?

I like the diversity of research projects and the fact that there is so much to uncover. It's also great that I can follow my areas of interest, which keeps the work stimulating.

What are the most challenging parts?

I didn't realise how much I would still have to learn after I finished my Masters. I was also quite naive about how critical a strong basis in maths and statistics would be.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

I think lab-based experience is crucial when trying to get your first role. If you can, get involved in research happening at university. Tasks like helping recruit participants, carrying out participant interviews and carrying out data analysis will give you an advantage when applying. One of the interview questions is always something along the lines of 'Tell me about some research you've done recently', so try to get some experience to help you answer this.

I would also strongly recommend learning a programming language such as MATLAB or R - there are lots of resources online to help you. This will not only impress the employer, but also help you with your own experiments and understanding other research in the field.

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