“Can you recommend good part-time / exec courses in the broad area of behavioural science? I’d really like to be able to apply psychology, neuro and behavioural science to my work in a meaningful way. It’s such a fascinating area of study and I know it would add colour and meaning to my career.”
“Having worked on many innovation projects where customer behaviour change was involved, I'm interested in building a strong foundation of the latest theory and science that can I apply. Can you suggest training programs to help?”
As an academic working with business professionals, these are among my favourite questions. I love the enthusiasm and interest. It’s what got me into neuroscience initially and sharing this passion is wonderful.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the best training opportunities for anyone interest in using neuroscience in business.
What are you looking for?
The common thread to all these enquiries is a desire to learn the latest scientific advances in understanding human behaviour. In this, labels can be unhelpful. Terms like consumer neuroscience, behavioural economics, neuromarketing and behavioural science suggest many different fields, when in fact at their core they all focus on the same thing: understanding how human beings perceive the world, experience their environment, and make decisions. Having many terms does make searching for courses more difficult, though!
Most people I’ve spoken to are interested in short courses, workshops or executive training – that is, short, focused training sessions that serve as continuing professional development. Being based in London, the programs I am most familiar with are from UK universities including:
- Warwick’s Behavioural Science in Practice
- LBS’ Executive Education classes
- LSE’s Executive Education
- UCL’s Consumer Neuroscience masterclass (full disclosure: I run this one).
Presumably wherever you are in the world, local universities will have similar offerings. These programs are typically less than week when offered face-to-face, or slightly longer when offered using on-line, blended learning. They are highly interactive and limit group sizes accordingly. At the end, participants normally receive a certificate and many professional societies recognise the content as CPD.
The next step is a degree granting program such as executive MBA programs or Master’s degrees. These are best suited for people who enjoy the content but want to go beyond frameworks and case studies to learn about the underlying science and practice.
Programs are offered part time to allow mid-career and senior professionals to continue working and come in a variety of forms. The ones I am familiar with are:
- LBS Executive MBA
- LSE Executive masters
- Kings MSc in Applied Neuroscience
- UCL’s MSc Cognition and Decision Sciences and the MSc Social Cognition
- Goldsmith’s MSc Psychology of the Arts, Neuroaesthetics & Creativity
Master's-level programs are typically 9 months or more of instruction, course work and practice. They provide both a broader and deeper understanding of the topic. Typically, they rely on a combination of face-to-face and online learning so that you can continue to work at the same time.
An important component of the program is independent research. In my experience, business professionals often bring innovative ideas for applying their learning to real-world problems. These make excellent research projects. A Master’s degree can provide the space and support to do substantial and valuable research.
As can be seen from the diversity of course names, choosing the right program is even tricker because they are all subtly different. For instance, King’s program specifically offers the opportunity to apply neuroscience to marketing whereas UCL’s programs emphasise understanding influences on decision making more generally. Both programs encourage applying these insights in business environments. In many ways, Goldsmith’s program is the most unique with its focus on the creative industries, but again there are multiple opportunities to apply the learning to real world questions.
It’s worth noting that these programs are available to anyone, regardless of whether you have a background in psychology or neuroscience. If not, there is no need to complete a conversion course first. Indeed, the variety of backgrounds and experience that students bring adds richness to the program. In the end, you will earn a Master’s degree from a top university.
Occasionally I get asked about doing a PhD. My initial response is always the same: Why? Unless you’d like to move into academia and become a professor, a PhD rarely helps your professional development. On the other hand, if you are passionate about the topic and eager to learn more, then a doctorate could be the right choice.
Briefly, a PhD requires a substantial, innovative research contribution and in the UK, takes 3-4 years full time or roughly 7 years part-time so it’s quite a commitment. For anyone interested in pursuing it, the first step is to identify a novel research question that you are passionate about and an academic willing to supervise the work. Because it’s rare (but not unheard of!) for business professionals to do a PhD, I won’t belabour this. If you’re interested, then your supervisor will provide more information about the whole process.
I hope I have encouraged your interest in learning more about applying neuroscience to business and facilitated finding a program that is right for you. I should acknowledge that I am most familiar with UK opportunities but there are many others world-wide.
Ultimately, the program you choose depends on your interests. Short courses vary the most in content so choosing one that fits your specific interests is important. If you are primarily interested in the neuroscience of leadership, then you will certainly be able to find exactly that workshop. At the level of Master’s degrees, the specific program may be less relevant because all of them will provide a broad background and encourage you to focus on your specific interests. As a result, practical considerations such as their part-time teaching schedule may become more important in deciding between them. For those who continue on to do a PhD – you’ve got the bug bad! At that point, the choice of supervisor and lab is far more important that the department or university.
For additional information on consumer neuroscience, download our free Guide to Quality Neuromarketing.
About the Author
Prof. Joseph Devlin
Head of Neuroscience, Co-Founder
Joe's PhD is in Artificial Intelligence but he found himself much more interested in natural intelligence -- how the human mind works. After training in neuroimaging at Cambridge and Oxford, he established a reputation as a leading researcher in how the human brain processes language. He is a former Head of Experimental Psychology at UCL as well as the current Vice Dean for Innovation and Enterprise. Joe’s collaborations with corporate partners include Audible, Vue cinemas, Finecast, the rail industry, and EncoreTickets. His research has been featured in CNN, the BBC and the Times, among others.
Joe has published more than 80 scientific articles in international journals.