The PhD in Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCaN) is a multidisciplinary, interdepartmental program that applies biological and psychological principles to behavior and cognition. In this program, you will gain academic expertise through laboratory experience and core coursework while broadening your knowledge and research skills through electives and special seminars.
We apply a flexible approach to your education, providing a broad-based curriculum, specialized research training, and quality teaching opportunities. Our doctoral students concentrate on one of the traditional areas of behavior, cognition, or neuroscience or combine portions of these areas for individually tailored regimens specifically suited to their interests.
Our faculty members are active scientists with fully equipped laboratories who provide individual mentorship throughout the program. You will receive in-depth, apprenticeship-style training, working closely with faculty. Our complete program of classes, research, teaching practica, and grantsmanship training will prepare you for an academic teaching position and to perform independent and funded research in behavioral neuroscience.
This program is designated as a STEM degree program.
Rigorous, Research-Centered Education
The BCaN PhD is a rigorous and uniquely flexible 54-credit hour program. Focusing on one of the traditional areas of behavior, cognition, or neuroscience or combining elements of these areas, you will develop an individualized course of study to pursue your academic and research interests.
You will build a solid foundation in biology and psychology through required and elective coursework and take advantage of faculty expertise by engaging in special topic seminars. In the course of your in-depth laboratory research training, you will perform original experiments under the guidance of a faculty member. With this apprenticeship-style training, your master’s thesis, and your dissertation research, you will engage in research every semester. This combination of an advanced scientific education and extensive hands-on experience will prepare you for your research career.
Students who enter the program without an MA in psychology will complete one over the course of the doctoral program. Students are admitted for full-time study only. See complete Admissions & Course Requirements.
Active Scientists Dedicated to Your Success
BCaN is a multidisciplinary research program, and our faculty works in diverse areas of specialization. The faculty includes distinguished experts from our psychology, biology, chemistry, health studies, computer science, and physics departments. The small program size allows you to work closely with our dedicated faculty. Rather than rotating through different laboratories, you will work with a single mentor throughout the program. With this one-on-one mentorship, you will develop the laboratory and professional skills necessary to succeed in your field of interest.
Study and Work in the Neuroscience Research Hub
Boasting a number of private and public research institutions, the capital area is a national hub for neuroscience research. AU’s strategic position in DC and our affiliations with prestigious area institutions such as the National Institutes of Health, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and Georgetown Medical School provide countless resources and opportunities for collaboration.
The world’s largest neuroscience conference, the Society for Neuroscience meeting, is held in DC once every three years, providing AU students with the unique opportunity to attend lectures by leading experts, present their own findings, and network with researchers from around the world.
Your Path to a Successful Career
Our graduates typically take post-doctoral positions in clinics or laboratories. There, they utilize their skills and training to pioneer exciting new research in their fields of expertise. Those with a passion for teaching find plenty of opportunities to share their insights with students of every level.
Though our graduates work around the world, some choose to stay in the nation’s capital. The DC area offers career paths in research and science policy, at federal agencies, or at area institutions such as the National Science Foundation, American Association for the Advancement of Science, or the MITRE Corporation. No matter the path they take, students leave the program with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.
PhD, Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience
Since arriving at American University in 2017, Laura Rice (PhD candidate, Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience) has been hard at work in the classroom and the laboratory, investigating the role of the cerebellum in autism.
Laura is using a combination of neuroimaging and neuromodulation methods in her research, which suggest that the cerebellum supports features of autism through its role in modulating neural circuits and behaviors. She uses a transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a noninvasive form of neuromodulation, to electrically alter the cerebellum and tune neural circuits and behaviors in adults with and without autism. Her preliminary findings suggest that cerebellar tDCS alters neural circuits that underlie social behaviors in autism.
At American University, I have developed immensely as a scientist through plentiful opportunities to present my research findings, pursue collaborations, earn funding, and attend symposia, conferences, and workshops with the field's leading experts. My mentor, Dr. Catherine Stoodley, has been instrumental to my growth and development as a scientist. She strikes the perfect balance between providing guidance and fostering independence, and she has not only helped me to grow as a scientist, but as a student, teacher, mentor, and human. Her leadership and mentorship have helped me to build resilience and confidence as a woman in STEM.
- PhD candidate Chenxi Liao published with Bei Xiao the cover story in PLOS Computational Biology: "Unsupervised learning reveals interpretable latent representations for translucency perception."
- Bei Xiao was awarded $420K from the NIH/National Eye Institute to support the project "Learning diagnostic latent representations for human material perception: common mechanisms and individual variability."
- Lindsey Sparrock and Marissa Marko were among the winners of the Mathias Student Research Conference.
- Samantha White (AU '18, current BCaN PhD student) has won a grant from the Cosmos Club. Additionally, Samantha also received a Trainee Professional Development Award from the Society for Neuroscience.
- Three BCaN PhD candidates won awards for their research at the 2020 virtual Mathias Conference.
- Linda Amarante (PhD, BCaN '20) won American University's 2020 Outstanding Scholarship at the Graduate Level Award.
- Brendan Tunstall (PhD, BCaN) was awarded an National Institutes of Health K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award for his post-doctoral research.