Don't Ignore These 4 Ways to Have a Successful Career

It’s not enough to know what you want out of a career in neuroscience. You also need to know how to get there. Follow this advice to set yourself up for a gratifying, challenging, and productive career:


A positive, strong perspective will help you navigate your career opportunities, accomplishments, and challenges. Aspire to have:

  • Confidence
  • Optimism
  • Persistence
  • Resilience
  • Coherent narratives to vocalize your accomplishments
  • Open-mindedness and flexibility about your plan and the chances you're willing to take

Environment and Support

More hinges on the type of work climate you’re part of than you may realize. You’re more likely to thrive in inclusive, diverse work environments that recognize and utilize individual talent, foster collaboration, and offer flexibility. Look out for workplaces that prize:

  • Cooperation
  • Collaboration, including strong communication and teamwork skills
  • Promotion and recognition
  • Openness to feedback
  • Diversity, for the different perspectives it brings
  • Support for women, including flexible and explicit maternity leave policies
  • Work-life balance


Everyone needs a mentor. Whether you’re dealing with lab politics, trying to figure out your next career move, or looking to expand your network, mentors provide invaluable guidance. Their unique perspectives and knowledge of important resources will help bring out the best professional in you.  Remember:

  • Choose a good mentor who is stable and open to a reciprocal relationship inside and outside of the scientific sphere.
  • Have more than one mentor.
  • Network at every stage of your professional life, and with as many people as possible in different settings, including social and non-scientific environments.

Career Paths

Explore, explore, explore. Don’t confine yourself to one neuroscience career path when many exist. No matter which route you take, be passionate about your choice. It’ll make work a whole lot more fun. Consider the following non-traditional/non-academic paths in addition to academic research:

  • Public outreach and education
  • Physical therapy
  • Biotech
  • Nonprofits
  • Startups
  • Clinical medical or PhD degree
  • Teaching
  • Science policy
  • Lobbying
  • Law
  • Expert witness (court cases)
  • Publishing
  • Consulting
  • Administration
  • Marketing/advertising for science

How are you building a successful career in neuroscience? What advice do you have for others? Leave a comment below.

Adapted from the Celebration of Women in Neuroscience discussion, “What options do I have for a successful career in science?”

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Phyllis Wise
Phyllis M. Wise, PhD, is chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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