Master's programs tend to have more research requirements than bachelor's programs, and admission to a master's program often requires a psychology bachelor's degree or sufficient psychology undergraduate coursework. Ph.D. programs in biopsychology are similarly research-intensive; students who want to become licensed clinical psychologists may want to look into Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) programs instead.
Program levels in biopsychology studies include bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. Prerequisites include a high school diploma or the equivalent for a bachelor's and a bachelor's degree for a master's program. Applicants typically must have completed a minimum number of hours in psychology classes. Doctoral candidates may have a master's degree in psychology or a closely related area. Master's level programs may require a thesis and might also be required to complete a practicum in the field of biopsychology.
Bachelor of Science in Biopsychology
These programs introduce students to the relationship between the brain's biological make-up and the psychological profile of the individual. Incorporating classroom learning with lab work, students examine the brain from a psychological, chemical, and biological perspective through the lens of neuroscience, physiology, psychology, microbiology, and chemistry. Students complete certain required courses in the humanities, arts, social sciences, and natural sciences, as well as introductory and advanced courses in chemistry, biology, and psychology. Lab classes are common. Typical course topics include the following:
- Basic genetics
- Research methods in psychology
- The brain's reaction to physical senses
- Evolution from a psychological perspective
Master of Arts in Psychology
Master's degrees in biopsychology aren't typically available; however, students can earn a Master of Arts in Psychology with a concentration in biopsychology. In addition to advanced coursework in general psychology, students learn about physical changes in the brain due to mental illness, how the brain responds to drugs, the role of the brain in learning and behavior, and how damage to the brain impacts the same.
Students may have access to fully equipped labs for experimentation and original research. Studies may include histochemistry, trace metal analysis, tissue sectioning, genotyping, and lab work in fear conditioning, mazes, and Skinner boxes. Students divide time between attending lectures, coursework, academic research, and practical experience in a laboratory setting.
Accelerated programs may be available, allowing students to complete a program in less time than generally expected for a master's degree. Some course lecture topics include the following:
- Brain chemicals and behavior
- Behavior and the cognitive process
- Theories of personality
- Biology and human behavior
- The aging process and psychology
Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology
Students pursuing a biopsychology concentration within a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology program engage in active experimental laboratory research assessing the biological and chemical variables underlying personality, behavior, and personality disorders. Programs incorporate neuroscience, biology, pharmacology, genetics, and ecology. Studies include evaluating behavior and behavioral disorders within the context of the brain and its physical and functional workings.
Along with laboratory studies, students hone academic research skills during the dissertation-writing process. Most programs require a certain number of required courses in research methods, statistics, and broad related topics. Courses in the concentration are typically offered in the following topics:
- Advanced topics in neuroscience
- Psychology of learning
- Advanced research methods
- Advanced topics in cognition
- Topics in animal behavior
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
In addition to research-oriented careers in industry or academia, doctoral degrees in psychology with a concentration in biopsychology, can lead to careers in psychiatry, psychology, or education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), among physicians and surgeons, psychiatrists were a group expected to experience 14% growth in employment from 2014-2024, while psychologists could expect 19% employment growth and postsecondary teachers could expect 13% job growth in the same period; however, many of these jobs in academia are part-time or non-tenured positions.
In May 2014, the mean annual salary of psychiatrists was $187,200. During that time, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned an average of $74,030 per year, and postsecondary biological sciences teachers made average salaries of $86,200, stated the BLS.
Continuing Education and Certification Information
While a Ph.D. is the terminal degree for practicing psychologists, those who intend to pursue careers as psychiatrists or educators typically hold additional degrees and may be required to pursue certification and licensing.
Psychiatrists must complete four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school, and a residency program (requiring two to six years to complete), followed by state licensing. In addition to a doctoral degree in psychology, working psychologists providing clinical care usually need to hold professional certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology and a state license. Postsecondary teachers aren't typically required to hold additional certification or continue their formal education after earning a doctoral degree, although they do usually continue with their own research activities.
Biopsychology lends itself to multiple job opportunities including psychiatry, psychology, and postsecondary teaching, all of which have an expanding job outlook over the next 10 years.