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Ph.D. in Psychology – Behavioral Neuroscience

The behavioral neuroscience area of emphasis is the newest and fastest growing area in the Department of Psychology. Students in behavioral neuroscience work closely with highly experienced faculty to study the biological bases of behavior. Training in behavioral neuroscience prepares students for a career in research in academics, academic medicine, government and/or industry.

We expect our graduates to succeed in research, with an emphasis on publishing and obtaining extramural funding to support their work. We also foster strong mentorship skills, so that our students are prepared to teach their skills and way of thinking to their own students upon completion of our program. Our graduates make significant contributions to solving important problems in their field.

Behavioral neuroscience students may also elect to pursue a specialization in behavior analysis. This option should be discussed with the advisor or program coordinator.

For information about behavioral neuroscience training, contact Dr. Melissa Blank at


               Core faculty

  • Dr. Blank’s Tobacco and Health Behavior Lab
  • Dr. Mariya Cherkasova's Brain Behavior And Addiction Lab
  • Dr. Kathleen Morrison’s Translational Neuroscience Lab
          Affiliate Faculty

    About the Program

    Students in behavioral neuroscience study complex interactions between the brain and other physio logical systems. You will be trained in basic brain sciences, including neuroanatomy, behavioral research techniques, statistical analyses of data and research ethics. Advanced topics may cover topics such as behavioral endocrinology, neuroinflammation, behavioral pharmacology and psychoneuroimmunology.

    As a student in behavioral neuroscience, you will work closely with your faculty mentor to develop research projects, which may also involve collaboration with other departments at WVU and beyond. Student involvement in research is central to training in behavioral neuroscience. Once you have learned essential skills, you will be expected to design and carry out your own research projects soon after entering the program.

    Program of Study

    Training in behavioral neuroscience consists of coursework and extensive research training in a laboratory setting, leading to the completion of a Ph.D. in four years. The coursework consists of set core requirements, and advanced topics are chosen by the student in consultation with their advising committee to create an individualized program of skills and knowledge toward the completion of the dissertation. 

    During the first two years of study, students work with their faculty mentor to design, carry out, and write a master’s thesis for publication. At the end of the second year, students will complete the candidacy exam. Successful completion of the candidacy exam admits students to doctoral candidacy. At this time, most formal coursework is complete, and the focus becomes completing the dissertation.

    A description of specific degree requirements can be found in the graduate catalog.

    Facilities and Financial Support

    The laboratories in the behavioral neuroscience program area are located in the Life Sciences Building. Each lab is outfitted with modern equipment within our building. For example, these labs include facilities for operant conditioning, western blotting, single and multi-unit recording, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), cell culture, surgery and automated behavioral analysis systems. In addition, all faculty members of behavioral neuroscience program area are members of the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute, a multi-disciplinary collaborative group of investigators who share resources and core facilities including histology, transgenic model generation, confocal microscopy, optogenetics and brain imaging.

    Students will gain teaching experience, which offers not only opportunities to gain experience in preparation as future faculty members and public speakers, but is also helpful while reviewing for the candidacy exam. Our students are also funded through fellowships available on a competitive basis though the Behavioral and Biomedical T32 Training Grant, and dissertation awards are also available on a competitive basis though the University. Our students are also often hired as research assistants to work on grant-funded studies.