Behavioral Neuroscience

Behavioral Neuroscience Image


How many students are in the program?

Each year, there are approximately 8-10 students working in the labs of the Behavioral Neuroscience faculty, with some new students admitted each year either through the Behavioral Neuroscience program, the closely related Neuroscience Program, or through other departments.

All members of the Behavioral Neuroscience interest group in the Psychology Department are members of the interdepartmental Neuroscience Program. These two PhD-granting programs are separate, and I can only apply to one at a time, which should it be?

It depends on what is best for you as an individual, and it is a good idea to discuss this issue with the person you are most interested in working with before you apply. However, the following list may help you in making your decision:

  1. In either program, you can conduct your research in any of the following labs - Breedlove, Jordan, Lonstein, A. Nuñez, J. Núñez, Sakai, Smale, Sisk, or Wade, and the project you do could be identical.
  2. The coursework in the two programs is different with respect to the numbers of courses that are elective vs. required. In the Psychology program, there is somewhat more flexibility with respect to which courses each student takes and when they are taken. All students in the Neuroscience Program take a series of required courses that provides a solid foundation in neuroscience during their first two years. In practice, however, Psychology students often elect to take many of the same courses as Neuroscience students. All of the courses are open to graduate students in both programs.
  3. The Neuroscience Program requires that students rotate in two labs during their first year; the Psychology Department does not.
  4. The format of the comprehensive exam differs. Behavioral Neuroscience students in Psychology develop an upper-level course in their discipline over the course of a couple of months, usually in their third year (this course is not taught, just planned). Neuroscience students take a sit-down exam at the end of their second year.

More details regarding requirements for graduate from the two programs are located at: (see left column for link to degree requirements) and

How many classes do students typically take?

Students typically take two 3-credit classes each semester prior to beginning their dissertation work. This allows ample time for involvement in multiple research projects. Students take required courses including statistics, as well as electives such as Sensation and Perception, History of Psychology, Advanced Neuroscience, Laboratory Techniques, Developmental Psychobiology, Advanced Behavioral Neuroscience, and Neuropsychology. Students may also elect to take courses offered in other departments, such as Vertebrate Neural Systems, Synaptic Transmission, Advanced Endocrine Physiology, Neuroendocrine Aspects of Behavior, Topics in Ethology and Behavioral Ecology.

How long does the graduate program take?

The graduate program is usually completed in five years, although some students take less or more time. Students begin working toward their master’s degree by completing a thesis sometime between their second and third years in the program. After the thesis, the student is admitted to the doctoral level of the program. Then students spend a semester, usually in the third or fourth year, preparing for and completing a set of comprehensive exams. When the student has passed these exams, work begins on the dissertation. After completion of a dissertation, the student receives the Ph.D. degree.

Will I be assigned to work with a particular professor, or will I get to choose whom to work with?

First-year students often begin working with a particular faculty member by communicating directly with the faculty member of interest when applying to the program. Our application form encourages prospective students to indicate which faculty member’s research is of particular interest to them. Students may sometimes choose to work in more than one laboratory during their first year while deciding which faculty member’s research best suits their interests. We are a highly collaborative group, and in fact, all graduate students (not only first-year students) are encouraged to work with more than one faculty member or on more than one research project in order to gain experience in different areas of Behavioral Neuroscience or to obtain new skills.

Are professors actively involved in research? How involved are the students in research?

The faculty members in MSU’s Behavioral Neuroscience program are all actively involved in research, and students are an important part of this process. The nature of the student’s involvement in a given project varies, from working with other students in the lab on a collaborative project, to working more independently with assistance from their advisor.

Where are graduates employed?

Many of the graduates that obtain their Ph.D.s in the labs of MSUs Behavioral Neuroscience faculty go on to become post-doctoral researchers at a variety of institutions, and from there onto faculty positions. Alternatively, some have opted to find employment teaching at small colleges or conducting research with pharmaceutical companies.

Do students attend or present research at professional conferences?

Most students attend the annual Society for Neuroscience conference (, as well as other conferences more focused on their particular research area. During their graduate career, students are expected to present academic research papers at conferences or contribute to a symposium presentation of their research.

Do students publish research in professional and scientific journals?

Students regularly publish research articles in top-tier scientific journals. While many publications are generated by a group working together on a research project, students are also expected to author articles based on their own thesis and dissertation work.

Do I need to have my own computer?

Behavioral Neuroscience laboratories all have computers that graduate students can use for some applications. Software typically includes Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), and statistical packages. All computers provide access to both e-mail and the Internet. However, many students do choose to purchase their own computer for use at home and/or in their offices.