Entering the field of sleep/dream research
January 23, 2008 9:48 PM   Subscribe

My friend is interested in a career in sleep/dream research, but isn't sure where to start.

I'm posting this on behalf of a friend. Right now she's an undergrad deciding whether or not to major in English or Psych (or maybe double major). Recently she's become interested in pursuing some kind of career dealing with the study of sleep and/or dreams.

This kind of thing is outside my area of academic expertise, so I'm asking: how does one get involved in this kind of work? Is it something that would require a post-graduate degree to even think about? And if so, what field? Psychology? Or some branch of medicine? She's a non-traditional student (i.e., a couple of years older than some of her classmates), and so is a little leery of remaining a student forever.

Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!
posted by historybuff to Education (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For research, she's gonna need a post-grad degree unless she just wants to be a lab-assistant. And definitely go psych, or neuroscience. She'll need the bio background.
posted by hobbes at 9:51 PM on January 23, 2008

Second the recommendation for a psychology or neuroscience degree, and if she chooses neuroscience then a Ph.D. is a must, as a neuroscience master's degree is virtually worthless. In order to get a handle on the basic scientific understanding of sleep , I very much recommend reading one of J. Allan Hobson's books - he's one of the best in the field of human sleep/dream research, and his books are quite accessible.
posted by ripple at 10:02 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am a grad student in cognitive neuroscience. My best advice would be to find a lab to work in as an undergraduate research assistant. Not only will your friend get some good experience to know if this is something she wants to pursue, but the networking and letters of recommendation will be critical when it comes time for grad school.

There is a lot of amazing research going on with regard to sleep right now. Best of luck to your friend!
posted by prefrontal at 10:13 PM on January 23, 2008

For a slightly different tack, I work with people who study the epidemiology of sleep. For that, a strong quantitative background is a must. You could also go a traditional cell-biology or human physiology route for sleep. These people would be less interested in the brain part of sleep and more interested in what happens to the rest of your body before/during sleep.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:28 AM on January 24, 2008

If she's interested in doing clinical research, she should consider getting an RN. RNs are essential to clinical studies and there are a lot of jobs (some really great ones for more experienced nurses). Another option after graduation would be to work at a clinical research organization (CRO) as a clinical research associate, which generally just requires a bachelor's. A psych or neuro bachelor's would be better than an English degree, but I've known CRAs with degrees in philosophy and other humanities. She won't get too far up the career ladder with just a BS/BA, but it's a great job for someone who's interested in research and will give her an idea of what goes on in clinical trials.
posted by acridrabbit at 6:17 AM on January 24, 2008

Check out the sleep research going on at Stanford, it is a very popular program, and I'm sure they could point you in the right direction.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:15 AM on January 24, 2008

Go to Chicago and ask this person. She's a huge contributer to the field. Huge.
posted by ewkpates at 8:20 AM on January 24, 2008

For examples of the kind of work/credentials you would need to do academic research, reference these Berkeley, Brown, and University of North Texas websites.

Sleep Medicine Associates of Texas is the only clinical research site i am aware of does pre-market trials specifically for sleep disorders. Most CRO's and investigator sites work on a variety of indications. Positions with these companies typically require a BS or an RN
posted by doppleradar at 1:43 PM on January 25, 2008

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