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Questions From Students about Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology

Also see  ANDP — Student Information from the Society for Neuroscience

1. What neuroscience programs are there?

See the Society for Neuroscience book of Neurocience Programs in the USA or ANDP — Neuroscience Training Programs in North America. Also see Graduate Study in Psychology, the APA book that lists all psychology programs in the USA. For undergraduate programs, the FUN — Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience website features a directory of programs plus other valuable resources, such as listings of summer internship programs around the country.

Students interested in graduate study in comparative psychology will find programs listed in the APA book "Graduate Study in Psychology" and by searching online. However, you will miss many excellent opportunities for studying psychology with nonhuman animals if you just search for programs called "comparative psychology." Instead, look in journals, at conferences and online for scholars doing the kinds of research that interest you, with the animal species that interest you, and contact those faculty members for information about their doctoral programs. 

2. What courses do I need to be admitted?

A premed-type set of courses is recommended for neuroscience programs but not required by most programs. Comparative psychology programs often look for courses in animal behavior. A strong record is usually more important than the specific courses you have taken.

3. Is it necessary to have done research in college?

Students come from liberal arts colleges that have little or no research; however, with or without research you need a good letter of recommendation from a faculty member who knows your capabilities well. Thus, doing research with a faculty member can help greatly. Research experience is always a good idea.

4. Is the GRE necessary?

Most universities look at GRE scores and some require them; some even use a formula that factors in GRE scores; some places put more emphasis on letters of recommendation. Grades are the third main factor.

5. Is it a good idea to express interest in working with a particular professor?

Sometimes that helps, but it can backfire if that professor has no room for a new student. If you are sincerely interested in a particular type of research or a particular research laboratory, say so in your application. It is often a good idea to call or email the professor to see if he or she is  interested in your candidacy. Do not be discouraged if the professor does not reply to your inquiry. Professors often find it difficult to respond to such queries and cannot usually judge the quality of the student or the student's interest level until an application has been submitted.

6. What career opportunities are available in the field of behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology?

The most common type of career is college teaching and research. There are sometimes opportunities in the laboratories run by drug companies or by the federal government. Teaching jobs generally require a PhD. Occasionally other opportunities arise at zoos, aquarias, oceanariums and so forth. Conservation groups sometimes hire people with backgrounds in comparative psychology. Students are often very creative in applying what they learn in graduate school to novel careers.

Have more questions? Let us know what they are and we will add them to the page.

Date created: 2011
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