PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience

Program Description

The focus of the PhD Program in Behavioral Neuroscience is on the delineation and analysis of perceptual, cognitive, linguistic, affective, and behavioral disorders observed in neurological disease, as these disorders contribute to an understanding of normal brain function and its modification by pathology, both structural and metabolic. No master’s degree is offered.

The subject matter derives chiefly, but not exclusively, from clinical populations with neurological disorders affecting higher processes, particularly from the study of syndromes involving selective impairment of particular functional systems, such as memory, language, executive functioning, or purposeful movement. Current methods of clinical assessment, cognitive psychology, neuroimaging, experimental design, and the neurosciences are integrated into a broad program of clinical and basic research. Students with special interests in neuroanatomy, psychopharmacology, addictions, or neurotransmitter abnormalities, have opportunities to work with nonhuman animal models.

An important feature of the program is a research apprenticeship with a faculty member, and course credits are offered as Research in Behavioral Neuroscience. This arrangement is intended as preparation for independent research careers. Students also have the opportunity to assist resident and staff neurologists/psychiatrists in providing consultative services, 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.

With permission of the major advisor and/or Program Director, other graduate-level courses from the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences may be selected for credit in the proposed doctoral program, as well from the College of Arts & Sciences (e.g., the departments of Mathematics, Psychology, and Cognitive & Neural Systems) and the College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College. They include the following courses:

  • GMS AN 811 Cognitive Neuroscience
  • GMS AN 704 Experimental Design and Statistical Methods
  • GMS BI 751 Biochemistry and Cell Biology
  • GMS CI 670 Biostatistics with Computer
  • GMS CI 671 Intermediate Statistical Analyses and Computing for Clinical Research
  • GMS IM 651 Statistical Analysis of Neuroimaging Data
  • GMS MS 703 Neuroscience
  • GMS MS 783 Molecular Basis of Neurologic Diseases
  • GMS MS 700 Elementary Biostatistics for the Biomedical Sciences
  • GMS PM 730 Introduction to Medical Pharmacology
  • SPH BS 704 Introduction to Biostatistics
  • as well as courses in the Mathematics, Psychology, and Cognitive & Computational Neuroscience departments.

For some students with specialized interests and backgrounds, additional courses available throughout Boston University may be credited toward the PhD degree with special permission.


Additionally, Behavioral Neuroscience students who are enrolled in the MD/PhD program typically will enter the Behavioral Neuroscience Program at the conclusion of the second year of Medical School. The MD/PhD student will commence required course work, 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.

Course Descriptions

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

  • Human Neuropsychology Seminar I (GMS BN 775)
  • Human Neuropsychology Seminar II (GMS BN 776)
  • Basic Neurosciences (GMS BN 777, 778, or 779)
  • Neuropsychological Assessment I (GMS BN 796)
  • Functional Neuroanatomy in Neuropsychology (GMS BN 798)
  • Research in Behavioral Neuroscience (GMS 991 or 992)
  • Behavioral and Biological Aspects of Stress and Trauma (GMS BN 780)
  • Forensic Practice in Neuropsychology and Neuroscience (GMS BN 782)
  • Directed Studies in Behavioral Neuroscience (GMS 791, 792)
  • Adult Neurologic Communication Disorders (GMS BN 793)
  • 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)

The first six courses listed above will be required for all incoming PhD students in the program (MD/PhD students are exempt from taking Basic Neurosciences). A brief description of each course being offered appears below. Training in statistics also will be required.

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 (also offered as GMS BN 777 for 3 credits, and 779 for 2 credits)

GMS BN 777, 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, 4 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 782, Forensic Neuropsychology, 4 credits

This course is taught by neuroscientists, physicians, lawyers, and judges. Topics cover the growing role of psychology, neuropsychology, psychiatry, and behavioral neurology in the law and judicial proceedings. Examples are: malingering; competency to stand trial, testify, and be executed; sociopathy; insanity defense; criminal culpability in children; autism; and biological bases and treatment of violence.

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 793, Adult Communication Disorders, 4 credits

The phenomena of aphasia, alexia, and associated disorders of language are considered in relation to theories of the storage and processing of verbal information. Relevant models dealing with phonology, word selection, syntax, and semantics are discussed.

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 structure and function of the central nervous system. Emphasis is on quantitative and qualitative analysis of standardized and experimental tests of cognitive functions useful in differential diagnosis of neurological syndromes. Cross-cultural issues in assessment also are addressed.

GMS BN 797, Neuropsychological Assessment II, 4 credits

Continuation of GMS BN 796. Emphasis is on neurobehavioral syndromes and the use of assessment tools for delimiting neuropsychological deficits and intact skills.

GMS BN 798, Functional Neuroanatomy in Neuropsychology, 4 credits

Overview of central nervous system, structure and function; basic understanding of neurobehavioral symptoms and their relationship to neuropathology, including vascular infections, and congenital, degenerative, and toxic insults to the central nervous system. Appropriate for psychologists, speech pathologists, or other students in the behavioral sciences.

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