Behavioral Neuroscience Training Overview
The Behavioral Neuroscience Ph.D. program has the capability to train students in three primary tracks. These tracks are Sensory/Integrative, Cellular/Molecular/Neurochemical, and Cognitive behavioral neuroscience. All students take a first-year core curriculum that includes a team-taught course providing an overview of behavioral neuroscience, courses in statistics, and psychology electives. This core curriculum is intended to both build on a student’s undergraduate training and provide initial advanced training in behavioral neuroscience. The overview of behavioral neuroscience course is also a requirement for graduate students in both the Medical Psychology and Developmental Psychology Ph.D. programs in the Department of Psychology, attesting to the significance our department attaches to the field of behavioral neuroscience. A weekly behavioral neuroscience graduate seminar also is required during every semester in residence and is taught by the director. In this seminar, students are required to make formal presentations of both published literature and their own research. The seminar is intended to develop the student’s ability to evaluate and present research, address an audience, answer challenging questions, and critically discuss issues with their peers. The seminar also has been dedicated to having UAB faculty from other departments speak in order to facilitate choice of first-year research mentors and potential Ph.D. mentors. The director of the program also has used the seminar as a full-semester course in grant writing where the basics of grant writing are taught and students participate in NIH-style reviews of grants.
Students perform 2-3 research rotations in their first year with potential Ph.D. mentors. These laboratory rotations teach valuable research skills and allow students to make an informed decision about their future research direction and mentorship. We consistently receive feedback that one of the primary reasons for selecting our psychology program over others was the ability to perform first-year laboratory rotations. A student chooses a research track and Ph.D. mentor at the start of the second year of training and takes a minimum of an additional four courses to complete their didactic training. These courses are chosen by both the student and mentor in order to achieve greater flexibility in the student’s training. Most students also continue to take additional courses and attend both seminars and journal clubs within the department of their mentor. Each student must fulfill a pre-dissertation research requirement and pass a qualifying examination. On satisfying these requirements, a student is advanced to candidacy for dissertation research. The Ph.D. is awarded upon successful defense of the dissertation. We also encourage our students to teach undergraduate courses in the Department of Psychology. The program is designed to be completed in 5 years of full-time studies. We only admit students who can commit to full-time studies through the duration of the program.
In the first year of study students perform 2-3 research rotations with potential Ph.D. mentors. The student can choose any research rotation mentor at the university as long as their research interests lie within the domain of Behavioral Neuroscience. During the research rotation students learn valuable research skills and often obtain authorship on a presentation or research paper that derives from their work. Another goal of these rotations is to explore potential areas of research interests and potential research mentors prior to making a firm commitment in their second year of study.
A critical feature in our training program is that each student has a faculty mentor, who is responsible for both funding and guiding the student through the program and teaching the student how to function as a behavioral neuroscientist. The faculty mentor-doctoral student relationship is formed by mutual consent in the second year of training. Therefore it is important that a student can identify a faculty member whose research is of significant interest to him or her at the time of applying to our program. Consult the faculty descriptions for more information about current research. The doctoral student develops a systematic line of research in collaboration with one (or more) faculty mentors, and in the process completes the research requirements for the Ph.D. Students are actively engaged in research every semester, including summers.
In addition to these major requirements, students complete a course curriculum. The first year Behavioral Neuroscience curriculum includes a course titled Overview of Behavioral Neuroscience, two courses in Statistics, and one additional course of the student’s choice in Psychology. In the second year, students select an additional four courses that are germane to their own research interests in conjunction with advice from their mentor. A research seminar course taught by the director is required in every semester in residence as are laboratory research hours. Students also engage in active seminar programs at UAB. This gives the student a solid foundation in the history, methods, theory, and current research in behavioral neuroscience. Since the program is interdisciplinary in nature additional coursework is often completed in other departments, e.g. Neurobiology and Vision Sciences.
Many students teach undergraduate courses while in the program and are paid supplementary money for this effort. Typically, students teach research labs in statistics prior to teaching more comprehensive courses.
Graduate students in the Behavioral Neuroscience Program are supported by university fellowships in their first year of training, but thereafter, students must obtain support from their research mentor. This typically occurs in the form of training grant fellowships, funds from research grants, and research assistantships.
Students may apply for travel funds available through the Psychology Department and the Graduate School to present findings at scientific meetings.