How to Make a Career in Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology

Do you feel constantly bewildered by the majestic feats our brain can perform? From birthing vivid dreams while we’re asleep to solving the most vexing challenges facing the world, its capabilities are complexly numerous. But if our brain is so adept at solving problems, why do human beings make errors and mistakes in the course of their lives? If these questions keep you up at night urging you to investigate them using a scientific apparatus, you could seriously consider pursuing a major (and eventually a career) in neuroscience and cognitive psychology.

Introduction to Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology

Neuroscience studies the brain’s structure and what areas get activated when an individual does certain tasks. Cognitive psychology looks at behavior. Changes in the brain may or may not impact behavior. Neuroscience at best is helping to confirm what cognitive psychology has produced in behavior.

In discussing cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology, we’re talking about the brain (i.e., neuroscience) versus the mind (i.e., cognitive psychology) and they are two different things. However without that separation, what you end up with are some very blurry lines.

Remember that human psychology is a huge domain that encapsulates myriad subfields which explain the roots of behavior from diverse perspectives. For example, while some researchers investigate how environmental influences from schools, families, and friends impact our decisions, others explore how more granular (cellular and genetic) phenomena embedded in our biology give rise to unique sets of behaviors. No matter the prism you choose to study human behavior, the end goal is to scientifically understand why we think, feel and act the way we do. 

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Neuroscience or Cognitive Psychology: Where does the Science of Learning come from?

How to Prepare for a Career in Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology

The desire to probe different facets of human psychology has gained momentum in India in the last few decades. If you are planning to set your foot on this path, you have ample opportunities to study this exciting field starting from senior secondary school.

High School

Various schools in India are not offering psychology as an elective subject, which serves as a solid foundation for your undergraduate degree in psychology both in India and abroad.

Even if your school does not offer psychology as an elective, you can still prepare yourself for advanced studies by referring to the following three books:

  • Introduction to Psychology by Morgan and King 
  • Psychology by Baron and Misra 
  • Psychology by Ciccarelli and Meyer

These books are not only comprehensive but also enjoy the status of being student-friendly, especially for novices. Once you understand the core concepts and fundamentals along with the rich history of psychology, you are ready to delve into the dense forest of its sub-disciplines and allied fields at the undergraduate level.

Undergraduate Level

Wondering where to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in psychology in India? Here are the top colleges: 

  • Daulat Ram College, University of Delhi 
  • Lady Shri Ram College, University of Delhi 
  • Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi 
  • Kamala Nehru College, University of Delhi 
  • Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi 
  • St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai 
  • Fergusson College, Pune 
  • Mount Carmel College, Bangalore 

The admission process varies according to the college. While most colleges in Delhi University consider your 12th-grade percentage as a criterion for admission, others include an entrance test as well. However, COVID-19 has brought significant changes in the admission ecosystem. So, it’s advisable to keep visiting their websites. 

Courses at the Undergraduate Level

Through these three years of undergraduate study, you will study various subjects like

  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Positive Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Personality Psychology
  • Biopsychology
  • Organizational Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Statistics and Research Methodologies

Read Career Opportunities with Bachelor Degree in Psychology.

Graduate Studies in Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience

After gaining an introductory knowledge of these topics, you should be able to fathom which of the aforesaid fields would be the best for specialization at the graduate level. 

Take my example. At the graduate level, I wanted to focus my education on the neural underpinnings of emotional and mental experiences we create for our growth. My knowledge in areas like neuroplasticity of the brain, epigenetic relationship between genes and environment, ‘Goodness of Fit Model’ and ‘Positive Neurobiology’ shaped my interest in Cognitive Science. I went on to pursue a Master’s degree in cognitive science at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. 

My Experience of Pursuing MSc Cognitive Science at IIT Gandhinagar

The program was an interdisciplinary hub to investigate the mind with inputs from psychology, computer science, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, philosophy, statistics, etc.

An integral component of the program was a dissertation which equipped me with a multitude of research skills like data collection, literature review and synthesis, data processing and analysis, scientific writing, and effective communication. Another exhilarating feature of the program was its emphasis on internships that made me competent and confident about approaching researchers from across the world.

The MSc program at IIT Gandhinagar shines through others because of its commitment to intellectual flexibility for its students. We were provided with a plethora of choices for elective courses that suited our interests best.

A cognitive science major could choose history as an optional paper as easily as they could choose neuroscience or cognitive psychology. This led to a vibrant mix of curious students resulting in a superb learning atmosphere for us. 

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Best Colleges for Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology

Best Institutes for Masters in Cognitive Science and/or Psychology in India

  • IIT Gandhinagar (Cognitive Science)
  • IIT Delhi (Cognitive Science)
  • CBCS Allahabad (Cognitive Science)
  • IIT Kanpur (Cognitive Science)
  • University of Hyderabad (Cognitive Science)
  • IIT Bombay (Cognitive Science, PhD) 
  • IISc Bengaluru (Neuroscience, PhD) 
  • IIIT Hyderabad (Cognitive Science, PhD) 
  • University of Delhi (Psychology) 
  • TISS Mumbai and Chennai (Psychology) 
  • BHU (Psychology) 
  • Fergusson College (Psychology) 

Top Universities for MS or PhD in Psychology or Cognitive Science Abroad

Best Universities for MS/PhD Psychology and Neuroscience in USA

  • Harvard University
  • Stanford University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Chicago
  • Yale University
  • University of Michigan

Top Universities for Psychology in UK

  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Oxford University
  • UCL
  • King’s College London

Top Universities for Graduate Studies in Psychology in Canada

  • University of Toronto
  • UBC (aka University of British Columbia)
  • University of Waterloo
  • McGill University
  • York University
  • University of Montreal


  • Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Germany)
  • Ecole Normale supérieure, Paris (France)
  • University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • University of Amsterdam (Netherlands)
  • Australian Institute of Psychology (Australia)

How to Prepare for Masters or PhD in Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology

Psychology Graduate Programs Requirements

Securing a position in top universities like above is fairly tricky. Your profile needs to be substantially strong across different parameters like letters of recommendation, grades, research aptitude, co-curricular experiences, and your statement of purpose.

A few universities might also require competitive exams like the GRE and TOEFL/IELTS.

How to Build Profile for Graduate Studies in Psychology and Neuroscience

While you may not be able to tinker with your grades from the last few years of your programs, you can still enrich other areas of your profile. For instance, you can demonstrate your passion and aptitude for research by participating in events and competitions organized by research bodies and scientific committees online as well as offline. Not only is it beneficial for your intellectual muscles, but it can also provide you with a competitive edge.

To explore such competitions, keep your eyes on the following organizations: 

  • India Bioscience 
  • All India Council for Technical Education 
  • India Science, Technology and Innovation 
  • Indian School of Psychology Association (InSPA) 

Another strategy to improve your profile would be to actively collaborate with researchers on manuscripts, projects, and publications from across the world. Not only will they act as proof of your ability to work in teams but will also help you establish relationships with supervisors from top programs that you can leverage at the time of your applications. 

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My Two Cents

Overall, psychology is an exhilarating field for someone who finds themselves invested in discovering answers to the way our mind works. The field is also fairly diverse which allows you to choose specific areas of interest that resonate with you the most. To develop acumen for research in psychology, you are encouraged to read and reflect on the research literature published in prestigious and relevant journals like Nature Neuroscience, Psychological Bulletin, Psychological Methods, Perspectives on Psychological Science, Trends in Cognitive Science, and American Psychologist.

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