In recent decades neuroscience has emerged as a star among the biological disciplines. But its enormous popularity as an academic career choice has been accompanied by a drop in the percentage of trained neuroscientists who actually work in academic research positions—largely because of a lack of funding.

In 2014 the National Academies organized a workshop to ponder the question of whether this trend bodes well for the scientists-to-be who are now getting their Ph.D.s. The findings were published this summer in Neuron.

 
SOURCES: NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH (top graph); NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION (bottom graph); Graphic by Amanda Montañez

Steven Hyman of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, who helped to plan the workshop and was recently president of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), welcomes the flood of doctoral students choosing the field but warns: “Insofar as talented young people are discouraged from academic careers by funding levels so low that they produce debilitating levels of competition or simply foreclose opportunities, the U.S. and the world are losing an incredibly precious resource.”

Because there are not enough academic positions to go around, it is now the responsibility of professors to prepare students for alternative careers, says Huda Akil of the University of Michigan Medical School, lead author of the paper. “It's not just academia and industry” where trained neuroscientists can make contributions to society, says Akil, also a former SfN president: “It's nonprofits. It's social policy. It's science writing. It's man-machine interfaces. It's Big Data, or education, or any area where knowledge of the brain is relevant.”

To read a complete Q&A with Huda Akil, visit the Talking Back blog at ScientificAmerican.com