Very little is known about the human brain. And while there is a lot of research focused on understanding the brain from a clinical perspective, businesses are also applying neuroscience to gain insight into consumers’ minds and behaviours.

Shikher Chaudhary, our next pathbreaker, uses neuromarketing techniques that apply brain mapping tools to understand how people respond to advertising, marketing and products which helps businesses target their customers effectively through better communication and intuitive product design.

Shikher talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about specializing in Neuroscience due to his fascination for human behaviour, but deciding to explore a field that applies the learnings and research of the brain in the context of business, education and human betterment.

For students, you might run into several obstacles in your chosen career. But if you love your field, you will eventually find different ways to apply your interests in niche areas !

Shikher, a little bit about yourself?

I was born and raised in Mumbai and have spent the majority of my life here. While my mother is a housewife, my father has worked in the medical field in one way or another for the past 4 decades. Growing up, he worked within the orthopedic industry, manufacturing and distributing orthopedic aids across India. Considering this was his own venture, the idea of having my own business was always in front and center of my mind.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

With a very strong inclination towards science in school and college, I proceeded to do my bachelors in Biotechnology. This decision was not entirely based on interest, but rather influenced by those around me extolling the growing scope of the field. While I never really enjoyed the broad aspects of the curriculum, in hindsight it turned out to be the perfect launch pad for my next step.

With a general fascination towards all things related to human behavior, I wanted to understand the biological aspects of it. While psychology was certainly an available path, I was more interested in the scientific aspect, and was certain that a career in neuroscience was what I wanted.

Hence, I applied to a handful of universities in the UK and got into King’s College, London – one of the best neuroscience courses available. I did a master’s in Cognitive Neuroscience. It was in this stream that I chose to specialize in cognition, most closely related to human behavior and dealing with attention, memory, emotions and consciousness.

What were the influencing factors that set you on such a rare career path?

While I started out within the clinical sector of neuroscience, I soon discovered that clinical research had very strict parameters and limited scope to grow. Interviewing for lab assistant positions in various neuroscience labs back in India, I realized how degrading, monotonous and poorly paid those positions were. 

How did you make a transition to a new career?

With a desire to step outside of the clinical sector, I first explored the different avenues available within neuroscience. This was certainly not easy, as neuroscience was largely accepted as only clinical. Eventually, after researching for a few months, I discovered news articles about applied neuroscience. This specialized field utilized the learnings and research of the brain, and applied it within the context of business, education and human betterment. Simply through online videos and my background in neuroscience I was able to grasp very quickly the wide and varied possibilities.

Following my disillusionment with the clinical sector, I thoroughly searched for all practitioners of applied neuroscience in any form, all across the world and began contacting them for information. A few of them were kind enough to reply.

Eventually I struck a friendship with a neuroscientist based in Massachusetts, USA who very graciously allowed me to intern at his business over the summer. Here I learnt the first hand application of how neuroscience could be adapted to help society at large. It was also here that I was exposed to the different brain mapping tools available, particularly EEG of all different sizes. This first hand experience with the tools of research proved invaluable to me to this day.

It was in the US itself that I then proceeded to do a certification course in QEEG, which is essentially a more sophisticated version of capturing and analyzing brain data. Once certified, this allowed me to use this expertise in a lot of different fields.

How did you get your first break? 

On returning to India I began scouting online for different providers of applied neuroscience in the marketing space. This concept, commonly referred to as neuromarketing, was how I encountered Neurons Inc, a Danish firm. Luckily enough, they were looking to expand their scope to Asia as well, and my knowledge and expertise of the field felt like a perfect match for them. Soon a deal was struck and I was slated to conduct their methodology for clients in India and Asia.

What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

The initial challenges arose from being highly naïve and unaware when it comes to business in general. While I picked up the process involved in testing and analyzing participant data quite quickly, the business side of things was still pretty new to me.

Being tasked with not only heading projects but at the same time scouting clients from the Indian subcontinent, proved to be highly difficult in the beginning. With no contacts within industries, I began simply by cold calling, messaging and mailing people, hoping to get a chance to explain to them our offerings. After years of mistakes and learning on the job, eventually I was able to build a reputation for myself in the Indian market.

By conducting highly insightful studies for clients, it kept them coming back and allowed us to expand to a larger team.

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I still head the Asian division of Neurons Inc and at the same time, have started a company of my own, “Peak Neurosciences”. Essentially what we do is use neuroscience research to help provide added benefit to different fields.

In Neurons Inc, we use brain mapping tools to understand how people respond to advertising, marketing and products. What is it that engages people and what turns them off? What stresses or confuses them and what do they choose to pay attention to?

These insights allow us to dissect every ad, marketing campaign or product design into tiny elements and understand what consumer’s brains like and don’t like. Based on this we are able to improve these communications in order to ensure it is a success.

Considering the fact that no two projects are the same, keep things constantly interesting and allow me to always be learning.

How does your work benefit society? 

Additionally, my other venture, Peak Neurosciences, works to instill neuroscience learnings into health, education and performance. 

We have created several consumer based tools that allow regular people to train their brain using a slim, light fit brain wave device. This allows them to, over time, not only enhance their attention and concentration, but also reduce stress and improve sleep.

For the education space we have used brain mapping to profile students based on their skills. This allows us to provide them insight into not only what they are naturally adept at but also guidance on their ideal career paths.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

My most notable project was with Spotify India. Spotify was just about to launch in India and wanted to create a marketing campaign that was unlike anything else. For this purpose they approached me with the desire to understand what kind of music makes Indian brains respond the strongest. With this in mind we conducted a large scale experiment testing the effect of different songs on listeners’ brains. These extremely varied songs, of all different languages, genres and moods exhibited very different patterns in people’s brains. However a particular rhythm, common in a lot of songs stood out as having a key brain signature. Isolating this rhythm, Spotify used it to not only create an entire marketing campaign around it following their launch, but it is still used in their advertising to this day.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

When travelling off the beaten path, passion is extremely useful. If you do decide to do something different or unusual, you will likely struggle for quite some time and wont have such an easy time as compared to others your age. Though I can assure you that if you keep with it and put everything behind it, you will separate yourself from the pack and create a niche just for yourself in society.

Future Plans?

We plan to develop more neuroscience based tools and techniques and apply them in every potential industry. Recently we started seeing our learnings used in disparate fields such as art, architecture and law.