How is a neuroscientist different from a brain surgeon?

This article will answer the question “How is a neuroscientist different from a brain surgeon?” The article will also address what neuroscientists study, how to become a neuroscientist and the job description of brain surgeons. In the end, the article will address some frequently asked questions.

How is a neuroscientist different from a brain surgeon?

The basic difference between a neuroscientist and a brain surgeon is the nature of their job. While both of them study the brain and its conditions, only brain surgeons can perform surgeries on the brain.

Neuroscientists are known as medical research scientists who tend to study the nervous system. The nervous system is comprised of the brain, spinal cord and nerve cells in the body. Neuroscience is considered to be a complex field of science which includes studying molecular and developmental biology, physiology, and anatomy along with other subjects.

Neuroscientists use this knowledge to study the nervous system and understand the ways to better the functioning of the brain in terms of its effectiveness. 

Since neuroscience is a diverse and large field, neuroscientists choose to focus on specialising in certain areas of study. This enables them to narrow in on the research in areas that interest them. 

For instance, if they choose to become a neurologist, they can work with patients who have conditions of epilepsy, strokes, and multiple sclerosis (MS).

On the other hand, brain surgeons or neurosurgeons are trained medical doctors who diagnose and treat various conditions affecting the nervous system. This includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. They perform surgeries on the nervous system. However, they can also provide non-surgical treatments that include medications, steroids, as well as physical therapies. Usually, these methods are tried and tested before recommending surgery. 

Neurosurgeons also diagnose as well as treat conditions that may affect the supporting structures of the nervous system, such as:

  • The skull
  • Spinal vertebrate
  • Spinal disks
  • Blood vessels
  • Soft tissues
  • Protective membranes

Neurosurgeons are also consulted by other healthcare providers because they have extensive knowledge and training in the nervous system.

Other healthcare providers often consult neurosurgeons due to their extensive training in the nervous system.

How to Get into Neuroscience?

Education is the most important path to making a career in neuroscience. The following are the steps to complete in regards to education in order to become a neuroscientist:

  1. Get a bachelor’s degree: The very first step to becoming a neuroscientist is to earn your bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject related to neuroscience. This usually includes the subjects neuroscience and biology. 

Only some schools offer the subject of neuroscience to get an undergraduate degree, this subject focuses on the functions and the anatomy of the nervous system. The degree also includes the teaching of mathematical and research skills for undertaking research in the undergraduate major.

If the school you are applying to does not have the subject of Neuroscience, you can choose biology as well. This is because neuroscience is a sub-stream of biology and the program will entail learning about the nervous system and other disciplines of biology. 

Thus, depending on your school, you can major in biology with a special concentration in neurobiology as this will also allow you to study the nervous system and the cells involved in the nervous system. 

  1. Get a Master’s degree: After earning a bachelor’s degree, the next step is to work towards a Master’s degree. Many schools offer neuroscience majors including areas such as cognitive neuroscience, developmental neuroscience, etc. This is the time you have to consider what kind of neuroscientist you want to become. The course will cover data analysis, statistical models, as well as disorders of the brain and nervous system. 

Remember that it is essential for you to decide what area you want to specialize in. This will help in determining whether it is essential for you to do your PhD or MPhil. For instance, if you wish to become a clinical neuroscientist, you will have to get a PhD after your master’s in order to practice. 

  1. Do your PhD or M.D: In order to work as a clinical neuroscientist, it is necessary to achieve a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. Along with this, it is also necessary for clinical neuroscientists to complete a medical residency and clear the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). 

This will enable them to treat and diagnose patients with disorders of the brain and the nervous system. Before clearing this exam, neuroscientists can engage in research work and gain experience with supervised clinical work.

If you wish to pursue advanced research or work only in certain specialities, you can also pursue a PhD in neuroscience. A PhD in Neuroscience takes around 5 to 6 years to complete and mostly comprises research and lab work that takes place independently. Generally, neuroscientists pursue their PhD while working as a neuroscientist simultaneously, and usually do a PhD to advance in their career.

Neuroscientists mostly choose to do a combined PhD and M.D. program in neuroscience. This helps in opening more opportunities to work with as they can diagnose and treat patients while also doing independent research. Enrolling in a joint degree is reasonable and can help you acquire a career in the medical field as well as in research.

Getting a combined PhD and M.D. in neuroscience typically takes 8 to 9 years to be completed. Students usually finish their studies by working on a thesis on a topic under neuroscience.

Job Description of Brain Surgeons

Neurosurgeons work with patients who have head injuries, brain aneurysms, herniated discs, brain tumours, spine tumours, and any problems with the peripheral nerves. Commonly, neurosurgeons perform more spine operations than brain operations, though, in emergencies, operations for head trauma are common. Neurosurgeons may also be likely to work as a part of a larger team that provides non-surgical treatment and rehabilitation in the cases of neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

A neurosurgeon assesses, diagnoses and treats conditions that affect your body’s nervous system, which includes your brain, spinal cord and spinal column, and all of your nerves that extend from your spinal cord.

Neurologists work along with neurosurgeons to help carry out and interpret tests required for brain disorders. Neurologists help family members and provide support. 

According to neurosurgeons, neurosurgery is physical as well as emotional hard work. Everyone aspiring to be a neurosurgeon must have a sense of what they are getting into. The neurosurgical procedures are complex operations that are an hour or two long. Removing invasive brain tumours can take up to 15 hours of hard work.

What Is Cognitive Neuroscience?

If you’ve ever wondered why we tend to do the things that we do and what makes us angry, happy, or sad, and why it happens, then these answers are the main focus of Cognitive Neuroscience. 

Humans are complicated animals who possess an even more complicated thought process. Humans are influenced by chemicals as well as electrical impulses. However, this is a simple explanation, and the processes that influence us are more complicated. 

Cognitive neuroscience studies human cognition and thought processes because it relates to neuroscience and the biological functions of the brain as well as the nervous system. Here, the goal of cognitive neuroscientists is to help psychologists to better understand the processes that influence the physiology and biology of the brain. They help psychologists to understand the thought processes, emotions, behaviours, and memories of humans.

Cognitive neuroscience is considered to be a new field in both neuroscience and psychology. In the 1970s, Michael Gazzaniga, who was a neuroscientist and George Miller, who was a cognitive psychologist, pioneered the way toward cognitive neuroscience. 


This article answers the question “How is a neuroscientist different from a brain surgeon?” The article also addresses what neuroscientists study, how to become a neuroscientist and the job description of brain surgeons. In the end, the article will address some frequently asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions: How is a neuroscientist different from a brain surgeon?

What Are the Educational Requirements to Become a Psychologist?

Psychologists need to earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject of Psychology as their major. After a bachelor’s degree, they have to earn a master’s degree. You can choose a specific speciality to major in. The subject includes; Clinical Psychology, Social Psychology, Counselling Psychology, Health Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Industrial Psychology, etc. After earning your Master’s degree, you can either do a PhD or PsyD in order to practice.

Do neurosurgeons have subspecialties?

Neuroscience is a vast and diverse field. The functions of the brain and the nervous system are complicated, and it will be difficult for neurosurgeons to have advanced knowledge of all the related aspects of the brain and the nervous system. Thus, it is common for neurosurgeons to have limited scope in their practice. They limit themselves to either specific populations to work with (children, geriatric, or young adults) or specific areas of the nervous system.

What testing machines are neurosurgeons skilled at operating?

Neurosurgeons are skilled at operating Computed Tomography (CT) scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, Magnetoencephalography (MEG), and Electroencephalograms (EEG).


Gazzaniga, M. S. (2009). The cognitive neurosciences. MIT press.

Miller, G. A. (1989). George A. Miller. Stanford University Press.