Behavioral Neuroscience PhD

Interested in Studying Behavioral Neuroscience?

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: David Jentsch, 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

  • Christopher Bishop - Studying Side Effects of Parkinson's Disease Treatments


    With the assistance of a $1.33 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Christopher Bishop hopes to help individuals suffering from Parkinson's disease.

    Dr. Bishop has received $1.33 million from the NIH to support Parkinson's research that will focus not only on the treatment of the disease but also the side effects of treatment.

    Parkinson's is an increasingly urgent medical concern, says Bishop. Roughly 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson's and 50,000 more Americans are diagnosed each year. "That's only going to increase as our population ages," Bishop says. "This is not something that's going away."

    Bishop and his colleagues at Wayne State University's Medical School and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Chicago hope to find a way to reduce dyskinesia – abnormal, involuntary movements that may be caused by the drugs used to treat Parkinson's. There are very few treatments available, in part because how dyskinesia develops is still a mystery. "We are beginning to believe that dyskinesia is actually the inability to suppress motor memories as a result of the drug's stimulation," Bishop says.

    Learn more about Christopher Bishop.

  • Patricia Di Lorenzo - Learning About Taste to Make Us Healthier


    Obesity is one of the biggest health problems facing this nation. Since taste is a major determinant of whether we eat something or not, the study of taste is crucial to understanding what people choose to eat and why. What Professor Patricia Di Lorenzo is learning from taste studies can lead to a change in people's eating habits.

    In a Binghamton University laboratory, Behavioral Neuroscience professor Patricia Di Lorenzo has taken a first step toward understanding how we make decisions about food by studying how the brain encodes information about taste. Specifically, her research focuses on how nerve cells in the brainstem convey information about what tastes are present on the tongue. These cells receive information directly from the nerves that stimulate taste buds and represent the earliest stage of central processing of taste information.

    To understand these cells, Di Lorenzo pursues two related research strategies. The first records and analyzes neuronal responses to taste stimuli bathed over the tongue. The second plays these recorded responses back to the brainstem. From her experiments, she has found that individual neurons in the brainstem can discriminate among different taste qualities (sweet, sour, salty and bitter) by using spike timing, known as temporal coding. Much like how Morse code communicates the alphabet, temporal coding works when taste nerves send a certain number of electrical spikes in a certain pattern to the brainstem, where neurons interpret taste qualities based on that pattern.

    Interestingly, when two taste stimuli evoke the same taste quality, such as two sugars or two salts, neurons use temporal coding to differentiate between them. And when mixtures of two taste qualities are presented, the resulting temporal code is a combination of the temporal codes for each of the components.

    Di Lorenzo's most intriguing finding is that when playing a recorded temporal spike pattern back to the brainstem, the brain will interpret the pattern of electrical pulses as having a taste. So, even though a subject might be licking water, the brain will perceive the taste of sugar, salt, sour or bitter.
    This ability to influence the central processing of taste has major implications for how we treat common diseases like obesity, diabetes, bulimia and anorexia.

    Learn more about Patricia Di Lorenzo.

  • Linda Spear - Underage Drinkers Less Sensitive to Hangovers


    Adolescents are less sensitive to the physical effects of intoxication and hangovers, so may be less likely to moderate their alcohol consumption, according to Binghamton University researcher Linda Spear.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is using research conducted by Linda Spear, distinguished professor of psychology, to give middle-school children a science-based understanding of what can happen to them if they use alcohol. Spear has found that adolescents are less sensitive to the physical effects that emerge during intoxication and the hangover that follows. As a result, they may be less likely to moderate the amount of alcohol they consume.

    With a particular emphasis on discerning factors that contribute to the onset of alcohol and drug use during adolescence, Spear explores whether adolescents differ from adults in terms of "liking" and "wanting" by studying reactions to various stimuli. Do adolescents more avidly seek such stimuli because they find natural rewards and drugs particularly rewarding, or because they are attempting to compensate for an age-related insensitivity to rewarding stimuli?

    Spear continues to delve into the impact of drugs on brain development and the role of brain development in influencing drug responsiveness.

    Learn more about Linda Spear. 

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.