Ph.D. in Psychology: Behavioral and cognitive neuroscience curriculum

In addition to the basic departmental core, all students take a BCN core sequence of courses that provides solid fundamentals about the brain and behavior. Core courses include Functional Neuroanatomy, Neurophysiology and Neural Plasticity, Cognitive Neuroscience, Psychopharmacology, and Theories of Learning.

These courses form a strong foundation for all other courses that follow in each student's area of concentration, as well as for their individual research, which begins in their first year. Student training will be complemented by concentration coursework selected in consultation with each student's advisor. Concentration courses provide flexibility in individual training by offering educational opportunities in areas most relevant to a student's interests and research.

Concentrations include, but are not limited to lifespan and cognitive neuroscience, pharmacology and substance abuse, motivated behaviors, developmental psychobiology and teratology, behavioral and cellular mechanisms of learning, health psychology, and evolutionary psychobiology.

Structure of curriculum

The behavioral and cognitive neuroscience area (BCN) is an interdisciplinary research and training area within the Department of Psychology. Students are admitted into the area with an understanding that at least during their first year of study they are committed to a specific lab and advisor. In addition to the departmental core courses, all students are required to take an area core sequence of courses in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. This requirement is aimed at providing solid foundational knowledge about the brain and its role in cognition and behavior. These courses are prerequisites for more advanced study to follow in the student's concentration, as well as for their individual research that begins in the first year. Student training will be complemented by concentration coursework that is selected in consultation with the advisor.

The concentration will provide in-depth training tailored to individual research interests across multiple disciplines. Detailed departmental requirements for completing the doctoral degree can be found in the Graduate Bulletin.

  • Required course credits
    Course Credits
    Departmental core (two stats courses plus one dept. core/breadth course) 11
    BCN core courses (four core courses) 13
    BCN Brown Bag 7991 Up to 8
    Concentration courses 6
    Total required credits 38

    Note: Students are required to register for PSY 7991 each semester unless this would bring them above the allowed 10 credits (11.5 if dissertation blocks are taken) per term. A student taking two three-credit and one four-credit class in a term together does not have to enroll in PSY7991, though he or she is still expected to attend. The 'missing' credits can be filled with electives.

    Thesis credits

    Course Title Credits
    PSY 8999 Master Thesis Credit 8

    Research credits

    Course Credits
    Candidate status (four consecutive; semesters of 7.5 credits each: PSY9991, PSY9992, PSY9993, PSY9994) 30

    Elective credits

    Course Credits

    PSY 7990 Directed Study (nine credits max./one to nine per term) and/or PSY 7997 Research Problems (32 credits max. /one to eight per term) and/or other coursework (e.g., more classes) approved by advisor/area/graduate director.

    14 to 22

    A minimum of 90 graduate credits is required to complete the Ph.D. program.

  • Departmental course requirements

    Departmental core

    Students must successfully complete these core courses by the end of their first year:

    Course Title Credits
    PSY 7150 Quantitative Methods I (fall) 4
    PSY 8150 Multivariate Analysis (winter)
    (Note: 7150 needs to be passed before one can enroll in 8150)

    Note that students may take an additional quantitative course as an elective:

    Course Title Credits
    PSY 8140 Meta-analysis (usually every two years in the spring/summer) 2
    PSY 7160 Psychometrics and Factor Analysis (usually in the fall) 3
    PSY 8170 Structural Equation Modelling (usually in the winter) 3
    PSY 8740 Seminar in Psychological Measurement and Statistics 3

    Students must successfully complete one of the following core "breadth" courses:

    Course Title Credits
    PSY 7090 Theories of Learning 3
    PSY 7010 History & Systems 3
    PSY 7080 Human Cognition 3
    PSY 7250 Personality 3
    PSY 7400 Lifespan Development 3
    PSY 7590 I/O Psychology 3
    PSY 7620 Social Psychology 3

    Although PSY 7120 (Biological Basis of Behavior) does not count towards the core/breadth requirement for BCN students, those lacking a sufficient background in neuroscience are encouraged to take it as an elective or as a course towards their BCN concentration.

  • BCN core courses

    Students must complete all of the following major BCN core required courses:

    Course Title Credits
    PSY 8060 Functional Neuroanatomy (usually fall, odd years) 4
    PSY 8065 Neurophysiology and Neural Plasticity 3
    PSY 8050 Cognitive Neuroscience (usually fall) 3
    PSY xxxx Methods or Course Relevant to Research Program1 3
    PSY 7991 Current Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience (8*1)2 Up to 8
      Total required major BCN core credits 13 to 21

    Check the bulletin and class schedules to see which courses are offered and when.


    1. Courses that may be counted towards this option include (but are not limited to): PSY 7340  Neuropathology & Behavior; PSY 7470  Research Methods: Social/Cognitive/Developmental; and PSY 8070  Psychopharmacology.
    2. All students in the BCN program are required to participate actively in PSY 7991 Current Topics in Behavioral Neuroscience. PSY 7991 is the BCN area's "Journal Club" and is the focal point of interaction between students and faculty in the BCN area. Students must officially enroll in the class each semester for a total of up to eight credits to satisfy the requirements of the BCN major core. This requirement can be waived if enrolling for credit would bring them above the allowed 10 credits (11.5 if dissertation blocks are taken) per term (e.g. if taking two three-credit and one four-credit class in a term together, a student does not have to enroll in PSY 7991, though he or she is still expected to attend).
  • Concentration courses

    Students must complete a minimum of two courses (or six credits) in concentration coursework in the BCN area. The student's concentration is determined by the student with their advisor and mentoring committee for a student's specific training needs and interests. You could think of this as your minor within the BCN area.

    The concentration is intended to provide in-depth training tailored to individual research interests across multiple disciplines. For example, you may be interested in psychopharmacology and take courses related to that specific topic. Courses provide flexibility in individual training and can be PSY courses or courses offered by other departments and areas.

    Note: Make sure to get a syllabus of the course first and verify with your advisor that the course fits your needs and schedule.

Plan of work

View guidelines for adequate student progress.

Master's thesis, qualifying exam (MAP) and Ph.D. requirements

View BNC requirements