Behavioral Neuroscience PhD

Interested in Studying Behavioral Neuroscience?

You can find detailed information on our graduate program recruitment site, available here.

The graduate program in Behavioral Neuroscience offers a combined Master of Arts and Ph.D in Behavioral Neuroscience, and is supported by 10 faculty who are highly active in path-breaking neuroscience research. Because our program is situated largely within the Psychology Department, most research labs include a strong emphasis on delineating neural substrates of behavior. The program of study includes a classic blend of intensive coursework, program-oriented activities to support career and professional development, and individualized research training within the mentor’s laboratory, culminating in a highly-individualized experience tailored to meet the needs and aspirations of the student. Moreover, the highly collaborative culture of our program provides ample opportunity to cross-train in adjacent labs with common scientific interests. Together, these elements provide strong critical thinking and analytical skills that can be applied in a wide variety of career options either directly or indirectly related to neuroscience research.

Most students complete their Ph.D. within 5-6 years (national average is ~5.5 years). Below are the major milestones we expect our students to achieve:

  • Year 1: Propose Master's project
  • Year 2: Defend Master's project
  • Year 3: Complete Preliminary Examinations
  • Year 4: Propose Ph.D. dissertation and collect data
  • Year 5: Defend dissertation

Of course, all students are expected to conduct extensive research during their entire graduate training period. Students are funded through a combination of Teaching Assistantships, Research Assistantships, training grants and individual fellowships. Most students prepare NRSA predoctoral fellowship applications either through enrollment in a grant-writing course, or as part of their Preliminary Examinations, with many of these applications being submitted to NIH for funding consideration. More specific information on program requirements is provided below.

Behavioral Neuroscience Degree Requirements

The Department-wide graduate degree requirements and courses for the psychology program are listed in the University Bulletin. Specific requirements for the Behavioral Neuroscience program are linked below.

For more information on our graduate training program, please contact the Director of the BNS area: Terrence Deak, PhD

Behavioral Neuroscience Admission Information

As of the 2019 application cycle, GRE General test scores are no longer required for application to the Behavioral Neuroscience PhD Program.

To formally apply to our graduate program at Binghamton University, you must complete an application by Dec. 1. Please follow the directions on how to apply described on the Graduate School website.

Admission to the graduate program is highly selective, which allows faculty to devote a great deal of individual attention to each of our students. Admission is based on:

  • Academic performance as an undergraduate
  • Work history and/or research experience
  • Letters of recommendation (extremely important)
  • GRE scores are not required

Admissions decisions are also based on the fit between the research interests of a particular faculty member and those of the applicant. Preference is given to students with a clear research interest that matches that of a faculty member in the area. However, students are permitted to change laboratories, and collaboration across labs within and beyond the department is both permitted and encouraged.

Research in Behavioral Neuroscience

A strong emphasis on research and the quality of our research programs has made the Psychology Department one of the most robust and successful departments at Binghamton University and beyond. Students are expected to develop the ability to initiate, execute and interpret their own research projects.

Lecture courses provide a broad foundation in scientific principles as well as detailed knowledge of a student's major area of study. Advanced seminars and hands-on research experiences bring students to the current frontiers of their specialties.

Graduate students benefit from this highly productive research atmosphere and are exposed to a wide variety of research programs by direct participation, research seminars and colloquia in which both faculty and students participate.

  • Philosophy of Graduate Training in Behavioral Neuroscience

    The faculty in Behavioral Neuroscience take a vested interest in the success of our students and strive to provide them with the critical ingredients for a successful career in this rapidly changing and highly competitive field. To do this, our program emphasizes three principal areas of scientific training:

    • Breadth of knowledge is provided by intensive coursework, the theoretical framework provided by each student's mentor and regular interaction with visiting scholars in our colloquium series.
    • Analytical and methodological skills include the ability to critically design, evaluate and execute high-quality scientific experiments.
    • Scientific communication skills are addressed because the success of our students will ultimately depend on their ability to communicate ideas and discoveries through effective writing (e.g., grant applications and manuscripts) and speaking (e.g., colloquia and poster-style presentations).
  • Research Themes in Behavioral Neuroscience

    The research interests of our faculty encompass a diverse range of topics. In addition, the highly collaborative atmosphere has fostered multidisciplinary and integrative studies in a number of areas:

    • Alcohol, drugs of abuse and addictive processes
    • Developmental neurobiology and brain aging
    • Learning and memory processes
    • Biological rhythms, neuroendocrinology and stress
    • Neurochemistry and neuropharmacology
    • Neural coding and computational neuroscience
  • Techniques in Behavioral Neuroscience

    We strive to provide our students with the methodological tools to answer virtually any scientific question that is relevant to their research agenda. These techniques include:

    Assays of neuronal function

    • In vivo voltammetry
    • Calcium imaging
    • Radioimmunoassay and other ligand-binding assays
    • High-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC)
    • Western blotting, ELISAs and EIAs
    • real time RT-PCR and in situ hybridization
    • State-of-the-art electrophysiological recordings (single cell and multi-unit recordings)

    Functional neuroanatomy studies

    • Optogenetics, DREADDs and viral tract tracing
    • Site-specific drug delivery via cannulations, including neurotoxic lesions
    • Light and electron microscopy
    • Immunohistochemistry and stereology
    • Ultrastructural changes in neural morphology

    A wide range of behavioral assessment models

    • Affect perturbation studies (fear, anxiety and depression)
    • Motivational assessments (addiction, appetite and social interaction)
    • Cognitive studies (learning, memory and decision making)

Featured Behavioral Neuroscience Faculty

  • Florence Varodayan - Unraveling the connection between brain activity and addiction
    Image: Florence Varodayan
    Florence Varodayan

    Just a few months after joining the Binghamton University faculty in 2020, Assistant Professor Florence Varodayan achieve a milestone: She was named the first Chancellor’s Early Career Scholar in the State University of New York system.

    Varodayan’s research, conducted in affiliation with the Developmental Exposure Alcohol Research Center, focuses on understanding how neural communication between addiction-related brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, is shaped by alcohol dependence and stress. Her goal is to find innovative therapeutic strategies to provide better treatment for patients suffering from alcohol-, anxiety- and stress-related psychiatric diseases.

    “One of the main techniques that we use is electrophysiology, which is this cool opportunity to monitor brain activity,” Varodayan says. “You can actually see individual brain cells communicate in real time.”

    Varodayan is the recipient of prestigious grants, including the multi-year Pathway to Independence grant from the National Institutes of Health and the Chancellor’s Early-Career Scholar award. 

    Learn more about her research interests, techniques, and her mentoring and teaching philosophy here.  

  • Marvin Diaz - How does prenatal exposure to alcohol rewire the brain?
    Image: Marvin Diaz
    Marvin Diaz

    How much alcohol can a pregnant woman safely drink? None, according to research by Associate Professor of Psychology Marvin Diaz.

    Using animal models, a team of researchers led by Diaz determined that even a small to moderate amount of alcohol exposure produces significant amounts of anxiety in offspring, lasting through adolescence and into adulthood. This research differed in its use of only low levels of alcohol exposure, whereas prior studies used high levels of exposure to reach the same conclusion. 

    Their findings, “Moderate Maternal Alcohol Exposure on Gestational Day 12 Impacts Anxiety-Like Behavior in Offspring,” were published in 2017 in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

     “The most important takeaway from this study is that the effects we studied on the rats only took one day of exposure to produce — just six hours,” Diaz says. 

    He is interested in taking this research further, to determine exactly what changes in the brain to cause such increased levels of anxiety after alcohol exposure, and to see why the effects may differ in males and females. 

    Learn more about Marvin Diaz, his research and his lab

  • David Jentsch - Finding the genes and brain systems behind impulsivity
    Image: J. David Jentsch
    J. David Jentsch

    Not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol goes on to develop an addiction. In fact, most don’t.

    For more than 20 years, Psychology Professor J. David Jentch has been exploring what makes someone more vulnerable to addiction. The answer may lie in the brain’s impulse-control circuit.

    Drugs of abuse can cause chemical changes in the frontal lobe and basal ganglia — specifically a loss of dopamine D2-type receptors — that result in erosion of impulse control, his research shows. 

    Even before drug abuse begins, individual differences — most likely genetic — set people on different trajectories. People whose dopamine D2-type receptors and impulse control are low at baseline find drugs more rewarding than do people whose dopamine D2-type receptors and impulse control abilities are high. 

    Jentsch is now looking for specific genes and brain systems that trigger impulsivity and resulting susceptibility to addictions. 

    “If we can get a handle on what it means to be genetically, environmentally and developmentally vulnerable, and identify the brain pathways that represent vulnerability, then we can develop scientifically sound evidence on how to medically intervene,” he says. 

    Learn more about David Jentsch, his research and his lab.

Research Centers available to support Behavioral Neuroscience

The Center for Development and Behavioral Neuroscience brings together many faculty and graduate students with common interests from multiple research backgrounds within the behavioral neuroscience field. Both the center and the department frequently sponsor guest scientists as colloquium speakers or as visiting researchers. The CDBN also provides Travel Fellowships and assistantships for graduate students.

The Developmental Exposure Alcohol Research Center (DEARC) is a NIAAA-funded P50 Center which provides research funding to many of the labs in Behavioral Neuroscience. The DEARC focuses on two early developmental periods during which alcohol exposure is most prevalent, including prenatal alcohol exposure through maternal consumption, and adolescence, a time when binge drinking is common.

The program also is home to the Developmental Neuroadaptations in Alcohol and Addiction (DNA2) Institutional Training Grant funded through the T32 mechanism by NIAAA. This training grant expands the program of career and professional development and funds 4 predoctoral plus 2 post-doctoral trainees annually.

After Graduation

The psychology graduate programs at Binghamton University are ranked within the top 25 doctoral programs at "Public Ivies." Our ultimate measure of success is the outstanding placement of our graduate students in the job market following their PhD. Our students have a 96 percent employment rate immediately following completion of their degree, with 61 percent of graduates seeking post-doctoral training (consistent with current national trends). Of our graduates who have secured long-term employment immediately after completion of our programs, 41 percent attain visiting assistant or tenure-track assistant professorships, 41 percent secure full-time applied/clinical research positions and 18 percent report industry-related research positions.

Like most programs, our graduates often first transition into post-doctoral positions at major universities, colleges and research centers such as the University of British Columbia, the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill, Tufts University's School of Medicine, Cornell University, Montefiore Medical Center, Brown University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Medical University of South Carolina, University of Lausanne (Switzerland), University of British Columbia (Canada), the National Institutes of Health, the United States Air Force and many others. Taken together, this suggests that our programs produce top-tier students who are able to successfully compete at world-class institutions.

A growing number of our doctoral graduates have elected into positions in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industries, working for companies and research facilities such as Lilly Pharmaceutical, Purdue Pharma, Merck Research Laboratories and Lineberry Research Associates. Other students are now working in medical writing and communications, science administration, or other government policy agencies where they use their sharp critical thinking and outstanding communication skills in richly rewarding careers.