Animal Behavior PhD Programs

May 24, 2019

Ph.D. programs in animal behavior are often interdisciplinary, incorporating subjects from natural science, psychology, and related fields. Read on for courses and admission requirements common to these programs.

Doctoral programs in animal behavior combine perspectives from disciplines including neuroscience, biology, anthropology, and psychology. Students who earn a PhD in this field will be prepared for research and teaching careers focused on aspects of animal behavior including conservation, physiology, and evolution.

Animal Behavior PhD Program Information

Students in these programs typically take courses in theory and methods along with electives designed around their research interests, and classes often involve significant laboratory and field research. In addition to classes like those outlined below, students in animal behavior PhD programs can expect to gain teaching experience and to complete a dissertation before graduating.

Introduction to Animal Behavior

Doctoral students in animal behavior often take preliminary classes covering key theories and concepts in the field. These courses examine prior research into animal behavior and investigate what areas need additional exploration. Students learn how academic research efforts contribute to a practical understanding of aspects of behavior. Introductory classes also usually demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of the field by integrating subjects including biology, ecology, psychology, and animal science.

Research Methods in Animal Behavior

To prepare graduate students for careers involving research, animal behavior programs include at least one methods-focused class. Methods courses cover techniques for gathering data on animal behavior and analyzing that data. In addition to studying statistical measures, students may learn about the research process including authoring research papers, completing peer reviews, and addressing ethical concerns. These classes may incorporate lectures, discussions, and research in a laboratory or field setting.

Evolution and Animal Behavior

Classes focused on evolution examine how and why species' behavior changes over time. These courses often incorporate a historical approach to examine behavioral strategies including mating and communication within animal populations. Specific topics may include endocrinology, genetics, and social cognition. In addition, classes in this area may examine the impact of ecology on evolutionary changes.

Behavioral Ecology

Animal behavior programs offer students the opportunity to take electives on topics of particular interest, including ecology and how ecological factors shape behavior. These classes typically examine recent research efforts in the field and how they contribute to our understanding of behavioral ecology. Particular groups of animals may be studied, like predatory species. These classes may also integrate perspectives like sociobiology and evolutionary studies.

Animal Behavior Seminar

Doctoral programs in animal behavior typically offer one or more seminar classes. These seminars focus on an issue of current interest in the field, and the topics may vary from semester to semester. Students typically review and discuss current academic literature on the seminar's topic. These classes may highlight the interdisciplinary nature of the field by examining specific research on animal behavior from psychology, neurology, or biology. Alternatively, they may focus on career preparation by including discussions of funding, research, and publication processes.

Animal Behavior PhD Admissions Information

Applicants to PhD programs in animal behavior should hold at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, and some programs require a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Additional requirements often include letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a resume. Animal behavior programs may prefer candidates with prior research experience and GRE scores in the 50th percentile or higher. Programs may also require that applicants identify a potential mentor within the faculty during the admissions process.

Through classes in ecology, evolution, research methods, and related fields, PhD programs in animal behavior typically prepare graduate students for academic careers. In addition to coursework, admitted students can expect to conduct research in their particular area of interest, complete a dissertation, and gain teaching experience.

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