Ask Drugmonkey: Call to the Hivemind on Behavioral Neuroscience coursework

September 23, 2015

A longtime Reader asks:

My colleagues and I are trying to finalize our revisions/updates to the courses we will require as part of a PhD in behavioral neuroscience. It would be helpful to get input on what others’ experience is: how many credit hours of classwork are required, and what are seen as the essential items? [We’re at 47 class credits currently, trying to reduce to either 41 or 38 but facing resistance to eliminating non-neuro psychology classes from requirements.]

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

I myself think that “eliminating non-neuro psychology classes” is a huge mistake and I join their local resistance. The field of so-called behavioral neuroscience already has far too many people who are insufficiently grounded in good old Behavioral Psychology.

If you take the current replication hoopla seriously, it is a bad idea to cut behavior out of the curriculum.

31 Responses to “Ask Drugmonkey: Call to the Hivemind on Behavioral Neuroscience coursework”

  1. Evil Monkey Says:

    Agreed. There is so much information and methodology out there, overlooked or forgotten, in basic behavioral psychology.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    Evil! You still exist! Where ya been dude?


  3. AScientist Says:

    47 class credits, are you freaking kidding me? (assuming typical class is 3 credits – that’s >15 classes). When do they get in the lab? for the record, my PhD program had zero course requirements…


  4. Adam Says:

    FWIW, my cognitive neuroscience PhD program required 60 credit-hours of coursework. That was in the US… I’m given to understand doctoral programs in other countries tend to run lighter on classroom instruction.


  5. Adam Says:

    Oh, and I finished in four years with three first-author primary research articles (human EEG studies), more than 12 papers total. Typical was 5-7 years.


  6. physioprof Says:

    What the fucke even is Behavioral Psychology?


  7. DJMH Says:

    Corollary question: should a PhD in behavioral neuroscience even exist?

    I think the nature of “neuroscience” is that it encompasses many realms of inquiry, and most interesting neuroscience research does not seek to confine itself to just behavior.


  8. drugmonkey Says:

    Behaviorism, PP.


  9. drugmonkey Says:

    DJMH- should a PhD in neuroscience exist or is it so meaninglessly broad it might as well be called “biology”? By what virtue should we be interested even the slightest in an alleged neuroscience that does not tie directly to behavior?


  10. scitrigrrl Says:

    Someone aught to tell the editors that their journal is doing Behavioral Neuroscience wrong:


  11. Sam N Says:

    Yeah, definite mistake to skimp on the study of what can be inferred from behavior, alone.

    As difficult as slice physiology, imaging, and in vivo recording can be, I’ve found training reliable behaviors, and adequate task designs, that directly address the question to be the most difficult aspect of neuroscience.


  12. drugmonkey Says:

    Which is why the lazy and small minded scientist gives the behavior short shrift.


  13. physioprof Says:

    Dumfuke, my lab is renowned for its careful behavioral assays and analysis. But I still don’t have any idea what the fucke behavioral psychology is.


  14. drugmonkey Says:

    If you are doing it right then you are using the principles established by psychologists. Whether you are ignorant of this or not is of little material value save for my amusement.


  15. We are definitely doing our behavioral experiments correctly.


  16. Neurograd Says:

    I’m of the opinion that 1.5-2years of coursework is adequate. If I need to learn something, I’m going to do it through reading the literature and talking to experts, not by sitting in a classroom. If those students are wanting to go the academic research route, they aren’t going to be sitting in classes to learn new techniques. Better to learn how to teach yourself early.


  17. Jessica Tollkuhn Says:

    also, make sure they all know basic molecular biology.


  18. drugmonkey Says:

    We are definitely doing our behavioral experiments correctly.

    sure thing PP


  19. drugmonkey Says:

    also, make sure they all know basic molecular biology.

    meh. every time I have a postdoc slot open I get a million CVs all testifying to their molecular bio chops. if it is this easy to come by, why waste too much time on that?


  20. physioprof Says:

    As if you woyld know, fuckeface.

    Regardless, molecular biology is so fucken trivial compared to animal behavior, it’s not even funny.


  21. Jessica Tollkuhn Says:

    Sure, you can teach, for example, Cre/loxP and CRISPR/Cas9 in an afternoon. So it shouldn’t be that hard to add to a PhD requirement.

    this has nothing to do with animal behavior being complex, so why even make a direct comparison?


  22. Ola Says:

    Sorry to thread-jack DM, but is anyone else disturbed by frickin’ American Psychological Association ads on NPR? What the hell is their game? Is this a PR job in response to the replication crisis? Ted, do you plan on addressing this assault on my breakfast radio nirvana?


  23. drugmonkey Says:

    You should see the crankery on my NPR station, blatant attempt at authenticity by association if you ask me.


  24. drugmonkey Says:

    Your typo makes me question the quality of your lab’s behavioral studies, PP.


  25. Dr Becca Says:

    I cannot wrap my head around requiring PhD students to take 12-15 classes. Were they all Art majors in college?

    I highly doubt that Behavioral Psych is on the chopping block for Behavioral Neuro students, but would you object to un-requiring Personality Theory? Social Constructs? To me these are truly non-neuro* but are fundamental to many Psych cores and I’d rather my students be in the lab than in classes like this.

    *Not that these topics can’t be studied from a neuro approach or have no neurological basis, but that is not what one learns in courses on these topics.


  26. Grumble Says:

    Sam N: “As difficult as slice physiology, imaging, and in vivo recording can be, I’ve found training reliable behaviors, and adequate task designs, that directly address the question to be the most difficult aspect of neuroscience.”

    DM: “Which is why the lazy and small minded scientist gives the behavior short shrift.”

    Amazing how many lazy and small minded scientists get their lazy and small minded science published in lazy and small minded journals like CNS.

    It’s enough to drive those with a real interest in behavior bonkers. Maybe even drive them out of science entirely.


  27. Anon Y Mous Says:

    Ours is just a Neuro program, not specifically behavioral, and we have 37 credits of coursework including electives, required seminars, and grant writing (but not lab rotations). As a student I feel like this is a lot – I would much rather be putting that time and energy into lab. Of course, the program admins would probably argue it’s for my own good.


  28. physioprof Says:

    “Your typo makes me question the quality of your lab’s behavioral studies, PP.”

    Woyld’s not a typo, fukeface. It’s Ye Olde Englishe!


  29. L Kiswa Says:

    our phd program (physical science) requires 13 courses for the phd degree. there are four “core” classes, every student has to take at least two of those four. in some fields (theory/computation), i can see the courses being helpful — techniques picked up in some of the classes can be directly applied to their research. however, for the students interested in a career as experimentalists, there is little benefit to additional coursework beyond ~7-8 classes. many find themselves scrounging to find classes that will help them meet the criteria.


  30. Noncoding Arenay Says:

    “I’m of the opinion that 1.5-2years of coursework is adequate.”

    In the U.S., two semesters of programmatic coursework is all there shoyld (that was a genuine typo but let’s just leave it as “Ye Olde Englishe”) be. The remaining course credits should be allowed in the form of participation in CSHL courses or the like that provide theoretical as well as actual hands-on training in the methodologies that one is interested in and are most applicable to their research projects.


  31. Adam Says:

    I’m currently taking a course on evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning in STEM education, which I am finding immensely enjoyable and interesting. It strikes me that there is very little evidence about how much coursework is actually beneficial for the long-term success of PhD students, despite that this is nominally an empirical question. Accordingly, I’m hesitant to stake out a position that 1-2 years is sufficient without evidence. Perhaps I can take this on as a research project for the course…


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