PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience

The mission of the Behavioral Neuroscience PhD Program is to provide students with a firm foundation in basic principles and methods of Experimental Neuropsychology in preparation for embarking on a career as an experimental neuropsychologist and behavioral neuroscientist in academia or industry.

The Behavioral Neuroscience PhD Program is unique in that the focus is on human neurobehavioral disorders in relation to brain structure and functioning. The Behavioral Neuroscience Program provides a true translational link between cutting-edge research and its emphasis on medical patient care. Our students and alumnae represent strong, talented, and highly productive professionals. The strength and uniqueness of the Behavioral Neuroscience Program is exemplified in the quality and constitution of our course offerings, faculty, and research opportunities.

The Behavioral Neuroscience PhD Program is an interdisciplinary program administered through Graduate Medical Sciences, BUSM, and consists of faculty members mainly in the Departments of NeurologyPsychiatry, and Anatomy & Neurobiology, BUSM (many holding joint appointments with the VA Boston Healthcare System).

The key features of the program are:

  • The delineation and analysis of perceptual, cognitive, linguistic, affective, and behavioral disorders observed in neurologic disease, as these disorders contribute to an understanding of normal brain function and its modification by pathology.
  • The subject matter derives primarily from clinical populations with neurological disorders affecting higher processes, particularly from the study of syndromes involving selective impairment of functional systems such as memory, language, attention, executive functioning, and/or purposeful movement.
  • Current methods of clinical assessment, neuropsychology, experimental design, and the neurosciences are integrated into a broad program focused on clinical research. There is also limited opportunity for basic science research.

Students in the program are required to participate in a research apprenticeship with a faculty member with course credits being offered as Research in Behavioral Neuroscience. This arrangement is intended as preparation for independent research careers. Students also have the opportunity to participate in grand rounds, and to attend didactic seminars and hospital lectures at Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System.

The doctoral program curriculum consists of core and elective courses and research in neuropsychology within Graduate Medical Sciences. Candidates may also enroll in a directed studies or graduate courses offered in other Boston University departments, including but not limited to, the Departments of Anatomy and NeurobiologyPsychology, and course offerings of the Graduate Program for NeuroscienceFor some students with specialized interests and backgrounds, additional courses available throughout Boston University may be credited toward the PhD degree with special permission.


Behavioral Neuroscience students who are enrolled in the MD/PhD program typically will enter the Behavioral Neuroscience PhD Program at the conclusion of the second year of Medical School. The MD/PhD student will commence required coursework, begin preparation for the Qualifying Examinations, and gain competence in research related to a future dissertation. Upon completion of all requirements for a PhD degree in Behavioral Neuroscience, including the dissertation, the MD/PhD student will return to academic and clinical activities in medicine.

Learning Outcomes

The goals of the Behavioral Neuroscience PhD program are to provide students with a firm foundation in basic principles and methods of Experimental Neuropsychology to prepare students for embarking on a career as an experimental neuropsychologist and behavioral neuroscientist in academia or industry.

At the conclusion of the program, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the relationship between neuroanatomy and neurobehavior and cognition.
  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the relationship between neuropathology and neurobehavior and cognition.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in assessing behavioral and cognitive skills and deficiencies based on neuropathology and/or neurodegenerative disorders.
  • Design and perform assessments and data acquisition, and data analyses for scientifically sound research studies.
  • Read, interpret, and present scientific findings.

Program Requirements

The Behavioral Neuroscience PhD program is a full-time program only. Most students complete the program in 5–7 years. Matriculation is in September only.

A total of 64 credits is required to fulfill the program requirements. This includes the core courses as well as elective courses and credit for performing research activities in one of the program’s research labs. If a student enters the program with a related master’s degree, they may be required to complete 32 credits rather than 64 credits.

Course Descriptions

The curriculum for the doctoral program consists mainly of existing courses within Graduate Medical Sciences.

Core Courses

Required of all PhD students in the program (MD/PhD students are exempt from taking Basic Neurosciences). A brief description of each course being offered appears below. A graduate-level course in statistics is also required.

  • Human Neuropsychology Seminar I (GMS BN 775)
  • Human Neuropsychology Seminar II (GMS BN 776)
  • Basic Neurosciences Survey (GMS BN 778)
  • Neuropsychological Assessment I (GMS BN 796)
  • Functional Neuroanatomy in Neuropsychology (GMS BN 798)

Elective Courses

  • Research in Behavioral Neuroscience (GMS 991 or 992)
  • Behavioral and Biological Aspects of Stress and Trauma (GMS BN 780)
  • Directed Studies in Behavioral Neuroscience (GMS 791, 792)
  • Brain Asymmetry: Functional and Structural Differences Between Hemispheres (GMS BN 794)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory and Perception (GMS BN 795)
  • Neuropsychological Assessment II (GMS BN 797)
  • Seminar in Neuroimaging (GMS BN 821)
  • Case Studies in Neuropsychology (Sections A, B, & C) (GMS BN 891, 892)
  • Child Clinical Neuropsychology (GMS BN 893)
  • Beginning Basic Neurosciences (GMS BN 779)

GMS BN 775 & 776, Human Neuropsychology I and II, 4 credits each

GMS BN 775

Course focuses on the relationship of the field of neuropsychology to other medical and scientific disciplines. Includes electrical activity of the brain, the study of consciousness and emotions, cerebral dominance, pathologies of language, and traumatic brain injuries.

GMS BN 776

Course focuses on the relationship of the field of neuropsychology to other medical and scientific disciplines. Includes psychiatric aspects of neurological disease and the pathologies of memory, intelligence, perception, and motor function.

GMS BN 778, Basic Neurosciences, 4 credits across two semesters (also offered as GMS BN 779 for 2 credits each semester)

GMS BN 778 & 779

Overview includes neurophysiology, neurochemistry, neuroanatomy, neurobehavior, and neuropsychopharmacology. Processes occurring at the cellular and physiological levels are related to known central nervous system dysfunction.

GMS BN 780, Behavioral and Biological Aspects of Stress and Trauma, 2 credits

This course reviews the psychobiological aspects of responses to trauma and stressful conditions, including the importance of individual differences and social factors.

GMS BN 791, 792, Directed Studies in Behavioral Neuroscience, variable credits

In a one-on-one format, students work closely with a faculty member to study a topic of special interest to both of them.

GMS BN 794, Brain Asymmetries: Functional and Structural Differences Between Hemispheres, 4 credits

The distinctive roles of the left and right hemispheres are reviewed, first by examining alterations in language and nonverbal behavior under conditions of brain damage and second by examining techniques used to investigate functional asymmetry in the normally intact brain.

GMS BN 795, Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory and Perception, 4 credits

The study of normal and abnormal memory and perception is related to brain structure and function, theoretical and clinical issues about how abilities change with increasing age.

GMS BN 796, Neuropsychological Assessment I, 4 credits

Overview of neuropsychological tests used for cognitive assessment in clinical and research settings. Focus is on determining appropriate outcome measures to quantify brain behavior relationships. This course prepares students to design neuropsychological assessment batteries for research studies.

GMS BN 798, Functional Neuroanatomy in Neuropsychology, 4 credits

This course has been designed to provide students with a foundational and comprehensive review of the structures and functions of the human nervous system, as well as an introduction to neuropathology and the sequelae associated with congenital and acquired disorders of the central nervous system. Appropriate for students enrolled in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, rehabilitation (e.g., speech pathology, PT, OT), medical sciences, and psychology masters and doctoral programs.

GMS BN 821, Neuroimaging Seminar, 2 credits

This course is intended for students with limited background in the application of neuroimaging techniques for the study of psychiatric and neurological illnesses. Techniques, including MRI, fMRI, DTI, MRS, PET, and SPECT, will be discussed with relevance to selected neurobehavioral disorders.

GMS BN 891 & 892, Case Studies (three different clinical rounds, Sections A1, B1, and C1), 2 credits per Section

Individual patients with perceptual/cognitive/affective symptomatology concomitant with brain damage are examined intensively through the use of a variety of behavioral assessment procedures. Patients’ symptoms and test results are reviewed for the differential diagnosis and etiology of neurological syndromes. Emphasis on qualitative and quantitative analyses of standardized and experimental tests. There are three distinct sections of this course each semester. These sections specialize in different neurobehavioral disorders.

GMS BN 893, Child Clinical Neuropsychology, 4 credits

Covers general theoretical issues (e.g., intrauterine and postnatal development of the brain, handedness and lateralization of function, and recovery of function and neurobehavioral plasticity); diagnostic entities (e.g., attention deficit disorder, early brain damage, developmental language disorders, dyslexia, and effects of malnutrition); and assessment and treatment.

GMS BN 991 & 992, Research in Behavioral Neuroscience, variable credits