Behavioral Neuroscience PhD Programs

Behavioral neuroscience PhD programs are limited in number and have competitive admissions. Take an explorational look at some of the common classes found in these programs and their admittance requirements.

Degree Information for Behavioral Neuroscience PhD Programs

Students seeking a PhD specifically in behavioral neuroscience may find that there are few programs to choose from. They may find that a more common option is to pursue a psychology PhD with an emphasis on behavioral neuroscience or a neuroscience PhD. The pursuit of the PhD typically requires four to five years to complete and is suitable for students looking for careers in medicine, medical and psychological research, and academia.


This class will typically give students in a behavioral neuroscience PhD program a foundational overview of the human nervous system's structures and functions. Information is often presented in a lecture format with presentations of clinical material for illustration, plus laboratories to provide students with up-close experience. Some topics that might be emphasized include the brain's cellular and molecular structure; how sensory, motor, and cognitive systems are organized; and how disorders of the central nervous system are created by anatomical abnormalities.


Neuropharmacology classes present a look at how drugs affect the central nervous system. In some instances, students might be given a broad view of the human central nervous system's physiology and then shown the details of neurotransmitter involvement in neural communication and modulation. Other topics looked at might include pharmacology principles, the biochemical basis of psychiatric disorders, and how pharmacology is used to treat them.

Neurobiology/Biopsychology of Stress

Ph.D. programs in Behavioral Neuroscience will often feature a course that examines the ways in which stress impacts the physiological systems of the human body, including the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and metabolic systems, among others. Students might also be given a look at coping mechanisms and how the stress/physiology relationship can vary from person to person. Classes on this topic may be offered as advanced seminars students can use to fulfill a program's elective requirements.

Cognitive Neuroscience

A typical class in cognitive neuroscience will present students with a survey of various factors that make up cognitive functions. Some of these functions include perception and memory as well as attention, motor control, and emotion. Other information presented may include fact-based analysis of patients with brain injuries, findings from animal research, and examinations of what a normally functioning brain looks like when it is studied with magnetic resonance imaging and other diagnostic techniques, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation. Depending on the program, cognitive neuroscience classes may focus on how memory and perception can change with age.

Research Methods

These classes can have various titles, depending on the program, but typically provide students with a thorough view of how research is undertaken in the field of behavioral neuroscience. Some of the topics touched upon might include how research approaches are assessed, the analysis of study outcomes, and the types of equipment used to measure certain biological processes. Courses in research methods may also include a look at the professional skills needed for a career in the field along with the day-to-day aspects of the job, like publishing manuscripts, writing grants, and making presentations.

Design of Experiments

PhD students will typically take a statistics class that provides an overview of the ways in which balanced experiments are designed and analyzed. They will also further investigate, through hands-on experience and lectures, various standard designs such as factorial designs and repeated measure designs. Some other topics covered might include analysis of variance, the relationship that exists between multiple explanatory variables and one or more variables of response, and the use of computers for conducting experiments.

Common Admittance Requirements for a Behavioral Neuroscience PhD Program

Gaining admittance to a behavioral neuroscience PhD program is typically competitive. A bachelor's degree and a background in the sciences are the typical minimum requirements. However, there are prospective students who have already begun pursuing MDs, and some programs prefer applicants who've completed prior coursework in psychology and have some related work or research experience. Some common requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited university, academic transcripts from every institution attended by the applicant, GRE scores, and an updated resume or curriculum vitae. Programs will also typically want three letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose that expresses the applicant's academic and professional goals.

A behavioral neuroscience PhD program usually entails classes such as neuroanatomy and neuropharmacology, which instruct students in the foundational elements of the subject, as well as research methods and experimental design, which provide insight into the work required for a career in the field. Admittance is usually competitive and typically requires at least a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 GPA or better.