A couple of weeks ago I posted in Ask Reddit about my dream job. I was overwhelmed by the amount of positive responses I received, so I thought it would be a good idea to share some of things that were shared with me.
Firstly, lots of people were very supportive of the career choice. Many seemed to think it admirable to pursue research rather than medicine, which is something of debate in my family -.- If you feel like you are interested in a field, but don’t seem to be able to find any like-minded people I would sugget posting on Reddit to find some. It is important not to be discouraged by the lack of response you get from family and friends. No one in my family is a scientist or has ever had any real interest in it. None of my friends either for that matter. My cousin just got accepted into medical school, so I am over the moon about our conversation prospects. Unfortunately though she was taught in Swedish and I English, so there are still some barriers. The important thing to remember is that even if your family thinks you are a little nutty for thinking the brain is beautiful, you are not alone! Eventually, you will be surrounded by colleagues who do enjoy the same subject as you. Before this turns into an inspirational talk or a journal entry I will no segway into the advice I got from actual neuroscientists.
1. Study hard
Self-evident, yes, but important nonetheless. In the UK it is expected that you finish your undergraduate with a 2:1 to be accepted into any reputable masters programmes. Some univerities do consider 2:2s; however, only under rare circumstances were the grades are balanced out by experience.
2. Be passionate
Always try to refresh and re-energize your interest in your field. Regardless of your field, it is important to not get bored of your subject. If you feel like a class is making you lose interest, pick up a book on a subject you really enjoy, watch a TED talk, talk to a classmate, anything! Just do not let yourself be discouraged by one boring subsection. You can’t love everything you learn about.
It is very important for a masters that you have plenty of life experience. As an undergraduate in the current economy it is really difficult to get lab experience. Most labs want you to have a completed degree and even still there is very limited space. Also, at this point in our studies we need work that pays, so my advice is to volunteer at places like Asperger centres, nursing homes, hospitals, etc. during the actual school year. During the summer aim for summer programmes or courses and do work that pays.
Redditors also suggested that towards the end of semesters to ask professors if any masters students or PhD students are looking for RAs (research assistants). They may be able to put you in contact with students of theirs they no are looking for help. Also, don’t limit yourself to one department! Contact the biology department, biomedical department what have you.
4. Contact PIs
The main advice I received from current neuroscientists is to contact PIs directly. I had to look this up when reddit told me; PI means principal investigator. Basically they are the person in charge of an experiment or study. Once you have finished your undergraduate, they recommend finding papers that interest you and then contacting the authors through email.
They suggest introducing yourself, talking about your interests generally but also in their field of study, talk about your education and why you are passionate about working under them. They have all said that as neuroscientists they love hearing from young, smart people who are interested in what they do. The important thing is to have the courage to get yourself out there, which I know is that hardest part.