Graduate Programs in Animal Behavior: Degree Information

Animal behavior is a broad field that examines the causes, functions and evolutionary significance of animal behavior. Graduate degree programs are available in biology, zoology, psychology and animal science.

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Essential Information

Many master's programs in biology and psychology offer interdisciplinary concentrations in animal behavior. Courses cover topics such as endocrinology, cognitive neuroscience and behavioral ecology. These programs take two years to complete.

Doctoral programs in animal behavior prepare students for positions as teachers and researchers as well as other professions in animal science. These research-focused programs typically last five to seven years.

To apply to a master's degree program, prospective students must have a bachelor's degree, while those applying to Ph.D. programs must have a master's degree. Applicants to either of these programs may be required to submit GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. Acceptance into a doctoral program may be contingent upon finding a faculty member willing to act as a supervisor.


Master of Science in Biology with Concentration in Animal Behavior

Master's programs in biology with a concentration in animal behavior examine areas like neurobiology, ecology and molecular evolution. Coursework includes graduate seminars, research and classroom courses. The thesis incorporates graduate research with focused study in a particular area of biological animal behavior, such as neurobiology. Topics of study include:

  • Animal social behavior
  • Endocrinology
  • Animal cognitive neuroscience
  • Neuroethology
  • Behavioral ecology

Ph.D. in Animal Behavior

Ph.D. programs in animal behavior offer students opportunities to conduct advanced research within various specializations, which may include ethology, applied animal behavior and neurobiology. Students take courses as well as conducting lab and field research. Coursework involves advanced study of animal behavior, including migration, communication, mating and parental behavior. Students take several advanced interdisciplinary animal behavior courses with psychological, biological and zoological focuses. Advanced topics may include:

  • Animal behavior research
  • Microevolution
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Animal cognition
  • Behavioral genetics

Popular Careers

Graduates with an educational background in animal behavior may work in multiple scientific fields, such as ethology, behavioral ecology, sociobiology and comparative psychology. Animal behaviorists with a Ph.D. typically teach at the university level while conducting independent research. Graduates with a master's degree may work for zoos, aquariums and animal conservation groups. They may also take positions as assistant researchers.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that during the 2014-2024 decade, employment was expected to grow 4% for zoologists and wildlife biologists and 13% for postsecondary teachers in general (www.bls.gov). BLS statistics also showed that in May 2015, zoologists and wildlife biologists earned an average annual salary of $64,230, while postsecondary biological science teachers made an average of $86,830 per year.

Depending on their previous educational background, animal lovers who want to pursue graduate-level study of animal behavior can enroll in either a master's degree program with a concentration in the field or a Ph.D. program that focuses specifically on the subject.

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