Alternatives to academia for cognitive neuroscientists: Where are they?
As a grad student with his ear close to the ground about job opportunities after graduate school, I'm always hearing stuff like people should train current grads for industry jobs and cog neuros need to be more prepared for work and less for grant writing. Both statements make sense, right? The odds are against millennial grads for landing coveted TT positions. Adjunct-ing is somewhat of a way to still be in academia without much of any of the institutional resources or benefits. Even if you land yourself in a TT position, start up funds and internal grants last only so long before you have to keep your lab going on grant funding (which you probably won't land, since it's practically impossible to land NIH money and NSF is rumored to make another funding cut in the very soon future). The land of academia sounds pretty horrible, currently.
So, what are the alternatives people talk about? Industry cognitive neuroscience? Company-driven brain and behavior research? Where? Who? And at what rate?
I interviewed (or tried to interview) a handful of different companies ranging from industry research companies to tech companies. This is what I've been told.
Cognitive neuroscience does have a role to play in human neuroscience for larger companies, like Pfizer and Merck. A lot of the jobs require a heavy dose of experimental biology training and there aren't many strictly human neuroscience jobs available for either company (many of the industrial neuroscience jobs I've found are more on the cellular/pharmacological level). However, the requirements are similar to the requirements for those looks for TT positions: Ph.D in neuroscience or related field, 1-2 year post-doc training preferred. And some of these open positions are 2 months old since the original posting date. If you've ever been on the receiving end of TT application intake (and this is just guess-work from things I've heard from faculty around my campus), they practically fill the amount of interview invites within a week -- two at most.
However, many cognitive neuroscientists won't have heavy cellular/pharmacological training. The more computational cognitive neuroscientists will have decent shots at tech jobs as either data analysts, project leads or consultants. Intel is a company who regularly hires and/or collaborates with neuroscientists. Most open job posting for research scientists require heavy knowledge in different programming languages, but generally have a twist towards one of Intel Lab's many different interests.
Some tech companies were a lot less open or understanding as to what cognitive neuroscientists bring to the table. Microsoft, for example, sent me three different responses when I asked about neuroscientists in their workforce. One was Call corporate during business hours (real helpful, homie). Another was I'll forward you off to someone and the subsequent email was I don't know. The third email was There are no specific programs for neuroscientists at Microsoft. However, we do promotions and programs for youth who are interested in technology. Clearly, no one has an idea at Microsoft. At least, no one who talked at me.
Apple was a little more blunt. After a handful of emails trying to reach someone, a representative asked me what cognitive neuroscientists would bring to Apple? I responded by saying they have a large range of skills and Apple surely has some sort of integration of cognitive science or psychology or even human neuroscience at Apple. Someone told me If we have neuroscientists, they are now engineers. Emails ended there.
I reached out to Google to see if they have incorporated anyone into their workforce. No one emailed me back.
I also reached out to Electronic Arts. No reply.
Tesla Motors, a fairly cutting-edge company, was also emailed. Their site says they will get back to you within 2 days. At this point in time, it's been three weeks. I didn't imagine Tesla to really have neuroscientists on their team, but I don't think I would be too surprised if they did.
For cognitive neuroscientists, going into industrial/organizational psychology is definitely a path that can be related to the psychology aspect of a cognitive neuroscience degree. I am not too familiar with the specifics of what I/O psych is all about, but I know cognitive neuroscience is being incorporated into workforces. However, it was hard to really connect with any companies.
I contacted American Institutes for Research, one of the most popular I/O psychology firms, and they were unable to connect me with anyone in their workforce who has cognitive neuroscience background or even uses cognitive neuroscience.
I also contacted Development Dimensions International, another popular I/O psychology firm. No one responded to my inquiry about cognitive neuroscientists.
Do either of these companies employ cognitive neuroscientists? Hard to say. I know there wasn't a response confirming they use cognitive neuroscience methods in their practice, leading me to believe that if a cog neuro would be working there... they wouldn't be using their skill set they acquired at a PhD. Nonetheless, there were no clear signs pointing to anyone with a cognitive neuroscience background in general. Maybe I/O psych doesn't want cognitive neuroscientists?
I ended up blending the mix of cognitive psychology, industry, and technology and emailed Lumosity about how they attract cognitive neuroscientists to work for their company. No reply. But they are definitely hiring for a handful of different projects.
What does it all mean? Simply put: it's really hard to find information about how cognitive neuroscientists can integrate into somewhat related industrial fields. Not many companies wanted to even deal with me (as their non-replies showed). A handful entertained me until they couldn't find my answers or stopped answering my emails. Needless to say: I received ZERO emails about interviewing cognitive neuroscientists at ANY of the companies I emailed.
So, unfortunately... based on my investigation, there aren't many open opportunities for cognitive neuroscientists in industry. There aren't even open opportunities to ask about opportunities. To smaller companies who do employ cognitive neuroscientists, I would love to speak to you. But to the companies I reached out to... you answered the thought I had from the onset of this project: job opportunities outside of academia are as meek as job opportunities in academia.
My investigation wasn't very comprehensive by any means. I selected large, big-named companies because I assumed a cognitive neuroscientist would have worked for them at some point in time. Please comment about this below if you have any other experiences or information on cognitive neuroscientists outside of academia!