How Studying Neuroscience Prepared Me For a Career in Copywriting

When I tell people what I do, the next question is usually about what I did in school.

When I tell them I studied neuroscience, their reaction is always surprise.

I’ve actually had a distant relative tell me that it’s pointless to go to school unless you know exactly what you want to do with that degree.

And although I’ve come to see her point now that I’m on the other side, hearing that while I was in the middle of my university degree was incredibly frustrating!

It’s scary enough thinking you have to decide your life’s path at 18 without people telling you your choices are stupid.

Now I know that it doesn’t really matter what you do or where you end up. What really matters is taking everything you can from every situation you find yourself in.

You can learn way more from your education than just what you’re being taught.

Whether that knowledge always equates to money well spent, well that’s a whole other debate.

But despite the weird looks I’ve gotten, my degree helps me in my job every day.

Why Good Writing Matters

My undergraduate thesis advisor was AMAZING.

And some of the best advice he gave me had to do with writing. He believes most people try to make their research papers sound important by writing convoluted sentences and stuffing $10 words.

But it doesn’t make it sound important, it’s just annoying. Your reader shouldn’t feel like they’re trying to solve the Davinci Code.

In his view, being direct and brief enhances understanding, AND it means there’s a chance readers will actually enjoy your work.

And although I adore being flowery as much as the next lover of the English language, seeing the difference between my advisor’s papers and his peer’s has stayed with me; it reminds me to edit for clarity.

Methodic Creativity

Most people probably don’t think of neuroscience a creative field, but it totally is.

At school, we were constantly asked to come up with new research ideas.

We did this in two ways:

First, by reading research papers and suggesting new areas of research based on what we concluded was missing.

Second, by conducting original research and evaluating the shortcomings of our own work. Every paper we wrote was required to explore the future of research on our subject.

I always got nervous about this. What does an undergrad know about the future of research?

But when I forced myself to sit down and focus on new ideas, one idea would always lead to another. Pretty soon, I could speak confidently about where research should go.  

Since jumping ship to copywriting, I have learned how vital this practice is to any kind of creative work. Ideas don’t usually pop out of nowhere. You have to schedule time to stoke the creative flames in your brain.

James Altucher  a prolific writer and podcaster  is a huge proponent of this. He suggests in almost every one of his blog posts that if people want to be creative, they should force themselves to write down 10 ideas a day.

I agree; creativity can be trained.

Humility

People tend think of you a certain way when you say you’re in school for neuroscience. You learn pretty quickly that you’ll get placed on a pedestal you don’t really deserve.

Strangers see you one way, but you see yourself differently.

Because you see all of the people in your classes, the ones who are smarter than you, the ones getting better grades, the ones already being eyed up by Masters programs.

And you know that there are academically better people out there. It’s extremely humbling. It can be nice to let strangers keep thinking better of you…

But you don’t.

It’s too easy to let people blow smoke up your arse when you’re doing something they think is interesting and impressive.

But the truth is, anyone with an average amount of intelligence who puts in enough time and effort could do exactly what you do, maybe even better.

I learned not to get caught in my own hype. I try to stay humble, and keep moving the goalpost forward.

Grit

Have you ever had to sit at a microscope for hours a day, counting the number of GnRH producing cells in sample tissue from 63 blackbird brains?

I have, and trust me, it’s not even as fun as it sounds.

But as horrible as it was to make hundreds of ticks in a notebook, trying to get it right, when I got to the point of picking up my finished, A+ thesis from the faculty office, I felt a pride I had never felt before.

Working hard for something just feels good.

These days, I try to keep that in my head as I work to get a contract I really want or finish a project that is harder than I thought.

My eyes may go blurry, but I keep thinking how happy my clients will be when they have copy they can be proud of.


No doubt, your experiences have taught you a lot more than you think, too. Let’s chat about it in the comments!

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