Neuropharmacology Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a neuropharmacology degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and Ph.D. as well as potential careers.
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Studying Neuropharmacology: Degrees at a Glance

Neuropharmacology is the study of how different drugs and chemicals affect brain functions. Some neuropharmacologists research how drugs affect human thinking patterns, food cravings and other behaviors. Several neuropharmacologists also conduct studies to see if certain medications are able to safely improve brain functions in the hopes of curing diseases that cause brain deterioration.

Most careers in neuropharmacology involve significant amounts of research, and most research and development careers usually require that applicants have a Ph.D. With a master's degree in neuropharmacology, you can work as a research team member, postsecondary school instructor or a food scientist who studies how consumed food chemicals affect brain function.

Master's Ph.D.
Who is this program for? People interested in careers that involve pharmaceutical drug development and testing Neurological scientists and medical professionals interested in designing and running drug research projects
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Food scientist ($58,000)*
- Biological sciences instructor ($43,000)**
- Mid-level researcher ($68,000)**
- Medical research manager ($86,000)*
- Medical scientist ($76,000)*
- Biological sciences professor ($74,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time 5-6 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - 20-25 units of core pharmacology courses
- 7-15 units of neuroscience or neuropharmacology courses
- Exit exams
- Final project
- 1-2 years of coursework
- Clinical research rotations
- Teaching assistantship
- Final written and oral exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in related field - Prerequisite science courses
- Bachelor's or master's degree
Online Availability Few, if any None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com.

Master's Degree in Neuropharmacology

Neuropharmacology is actually a sub-field of pharmacology. In fact, some master's degree programs focus on pharmacology and offer concentrations or elective classes in neuroscience or neuropharmacology. This means that it might be difficult to find a degree program that offers specific coursework in pharmacology.

The majority of these pharmacology programs provide students with a broad understanding of how chemicals affect different human body systems. In these programs, you participate in independent or guided research projects, attend traditional lectures, complete hands-on laboratory hours and write research papers. In most programs, you design research projects and conduct experiments.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Degree leads to a career in a growing field; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts job opportunities for medical scientist careers to grow 36% during 2010-2020*
  • According to the BLS, some of the best career opportunities in the medical science field include those related to pharmaceutical drug development*
  • Curriculum includes training in both pharmacology and neuropharmacology, which may make you eligible for more career opportunities

Cons

  • Most pharmaceutical research and development firms prefer candidates with Ph.D.s*
  • Related careers in non-medical science fields are only expected to increase 4-10% during the 2010-2020 decade, which may limit your career choices after graduation*
  • Since most programs focus predominantly on pharmacology classes, coursework specifically in neuropharmacology might be limited

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Pharmacology degree program courses cover several disciplines, including chemistry, biomedicine, molecular biology, toxicology and human physiology. In these programs you learn about how medicinal drugs are created and transported within the body as well as how various chemicals target different biological receptors. Many programs also discuss the ethics of testing drugs on patients and how to conduct research-based drug trials. You may also need to write a thesis.

Courses in neuropharmacology may cover topics like:

  • Neuroscience
  • Drugs and behavior
  • Brain function
  • Psychoactive drug treatment
  • Brain diseases and disorders

Online Degree Options

For the most part, you will not find many online pharmacology master's degree programs. Most of the online programs focus on closely related fields, such as integrative pharmacology. There might be a few online courses related to pharmacology and neuropharmacology, but these individual courses may not lead to a degree or be part of post-baccalaureate continuing education programs.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you intend to continue your education in a neuropharmacology Ph.D. program, consider taking classes that would stand out to a graduate admissions board. Completing courses in neuropharmacology or participating in neuropharmacological research projects demonstrates your dedication to the field, which might make your admission to a Ph.D. program more likely.

To stand out to potential employers, consider completing extensive lab classroom work. In these labs, you learn how to conduct tests, the results of which you later use in research papers. This type of experience may make you more attractive to employers.

Ph.D. in Neuropharmacology

Most Ph.D.-level neuropharmacology programs focus solely on the subject alone or are offered as joint neuroscience and neuropharmacology programs. The majority of the former type of program require you to spend your first years of study completing lecture classes and your later years in a clinical research rotation and writing a dissertation. During this rotation, you usually participate in several different neuropharmacology research projects. Most programs also train you in giving oral presentations, including presenting your theories to colleagues, discussing research results and making recommendations for future experiments. Unfortunately, these programs take a long time to complete, and many do not permit you to study on a part-time basis.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Many employers prefer to hire researchers with Ph.D.s
  • Clinical rotation courses allow you to acquire the research experience employers want
  • The high demand for new pharmaceuticals may create more career opportunities for professionals working in the drug research and development industry who have Ph.D.s in neuropharmacology*

Cons

  • Requires a lengthy time of study; it may take 9-10 years to complete both undergraduate and graduate studies in neuropharmacology
  • Some Ph.D. programs do not allow part-time studies, thereby prohibiting working while earning your degree
  • Ph.D. programs in neuropharmacology do not lead to doctorate in medicine (M.D.) degrees unless you take several additional years of coursework and meet all other M.D. requirements; some employers may prefer to hire individuals with M.D.s

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

Most neuropharmacology Ph.D. programs require students to take several classes in neuroscience. These classes explain how electrical pulses send signals throughout the nervous system and how neurotransmitters work with the nervous system. Other neuroscience course topics include identifying different parts of the brain, the cellular makeup of the brain and tissue regeneration rates.

Doctoral neuropharmacology classes may discuss:

  • Neurochemical reactions
  • Neurological causes of addiction
  • Treating neurological disorders
  • Synaptic mechanisms

Online Program Info

Online Ph.D. programs in neuropharmacology are extremely rare. Attending an on-campus program allows you to complete the lab and other hands-on curriculum components that are related to the job tasks you may perform in your future career.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

To outshine your competition, consider completing a teaching assistantship. Since many neuropharmacology Ph.D. holders assume positions in academia, this experience can help your resume stand out against other job applicants.

Additionally, consider completing courses and any lab work on drug development. Since many neuropharmacologists focus on developing drugs, having extensive experience in this area may make you more attractive to employers.

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