Neurobiology and Behavior

2014-15 Tuition

$20,800

Application deadlines

Fall, Dec. 1; no spring admission

Requirements summary

  • all Graduate School Requirements, including the TOEFL Exam for Non-Native English Applicants
  • three recommendations
  • GRE general test
  • GRE subject test in biology recommended, not required

Degrees

  • Ph.D.

Subjects

  • Behavioral Biology (Ph.D.)
  • Neurobiology (Ph.D.)

Major concentrations

  • behavioral ecology
  • cellular and molecular neurobiology
  • chemical ecology
  • ethology
  • neuroanatomy
  • neurochemistry
  • neuroethology
  • neuropharmacology
  • neurophysiology
  • sensory physiology
  • sociobiology

Requirements for the Ph.D. degree include one year of teaching experience, a survey course in neurobiology and behavior, and an orientation meeting with the Special Committee within the first three semesters at Cornell. The field has no formal language requirement, but one can be imposed by the student's Special Committee. The field also requires each student to give a publicly announced seminar as part of the dissertation defense.

Members of the faculty are especially interested in directing research in the areas they have specified in the list below. Before applying, prospective students may want to correspond with faculty members whose interests are most closely related to their own.

Application:
Applicants are required to submit scores on the GRE general test (the GRE subject test in biology is recommended but not required).

The field discourages the application of Cornell graduates and accepts such students only under special circumstances. Cornell graduates should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Elizabeth Adkins-Regan -- Concentrations: ethology; Research interests: mechanisms of behavior; hormonal and neural mechanisms of avian social behavior
Kraig Adler -- Concentrations: sensory physiology; ethology; Research interests: sensory aspects of orientation and navigation in vertebrates; behavior, ecology, and evolution of amphibians and reptiles
Andrew Bass -- Concentrations: neuroanatomy; neurophysiology; neuroethology; Research interests: animal communication, especially production and encoding of vocal signals; evolution and sexual differentiation of brain and behavior
Ronald Booker -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neuroanatomy; Research interests: control of neurodevelopment and postembryonic neurogenesis in the CNS of insects
Richard Cerione -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; Research interests: understanding the signaling cues that direct cell proliferation, differentiation and development
Christopher Clark -- Concentrations: ethology; behavioral ecology; Research interests: abundances and acoustic behaviors of birds, fish, elephants, and whales; evolution and function of acoustic signaling behavior in animals
Thomas Cleland -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neurophysiology; sensory physiology; neuropharmacology; neuroethology; Research interests: olfactory perception as a complex system; coordinating behavioral; physiological, pharmacological, and computational studies of sensory sampling; learning and memory; biological neural networks
Ruth Collins -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neuropharmacology; Research interests: examination of how the chemical reactions of biology are organized in time and space, and how this organization is harnessed by cells to generate distinct outcomes
Robin Dando -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neurophysiology; sensory physiology; Research interests: utilizes techniques from physiology, molecular biology and behavioral science to study the neuroscience of the mammalian taste system
David Deitcher -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; Research interests: mechanisms of neurotransmitter and neuropeptide release; synaptic development
Timothy Devoogd -- Concentrations: neuroanatomy; neuroethology; Research interests: neurobiology of avian song learning; neurobiology of avian caching; hormonal influences on brain structure; evolution of learning
Janis Dickinson -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; Research interests: behavioral ecology of birds and insects, with a focus on dispersal, mating behavior, and cooperative breeding; relationship between resource wealth, nepotism, and family group living
Joseph Fetcho -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; Research interests: motor control with a focus on hindbrain and spinal cord; optical and genetic approaches for studying neuronal structure and function; regeneration
Barbara Finlay -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neuroanatomy; sensory physiology; neuroethology; Research interests: development and evolution of neural systems in mammals
Cole Gilbert -- Concentrations: neurophysiology; sensory physiology; neuroethology; Research interests: invertebrate neuroethology; sensory guidance; neural evolution in arthropods
Jesse Goldberg -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neuroanatomy; neurophysiology; sensory physiology; ethology; neurochemistry; neuropharmacology; neuroethology; Research interests: how basal ganglia control motor learning and behavior
Chun Han -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neuroanatomy; Research interests: Dendrite development and degeneration regulated by intrinsic mechanisms and by the neuronal environment
Ronald Harris-Warrick -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neurophysiology; neurochemistry; neuropharmacology; Research interests: neuromodulation of neural networks in lobster and mouse spinal cord; molecular manipulation of ion channels in neurons
Carl Hopkins -- Concentrations: neurophysiology; sensory physiology; ethology; neuroethology; Research interests: neurobiology of animal communication; evolution of signaling behavior in electrogenic fishes
Ronald Hoy -- Concentrations: neurophysiology; sensory physiology; neuroethology; Research interests: animal communication; behavior genetics of invertebrates; regeneration and development in invertebrate nervous systems
Robert Johnston -- Concentrations: sensory physiology; ethology; neuroethology; chemical ecology; Research interests: animal communication, social recognition, and memory, mostly related to chemical signals; neural mechanisms of social recognition and memory; neural and hormonal mechanisms of vertebrate social behavior, especially sexual and aggressive behavior
Walter Koenig -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; Research interests: social behavior, particularly cooperative breeding; reproductive strategies of trees; spatial synchrony
Michael Kotlikoff -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; Research interests: cellular signaling; ion channels; genetic cell sensors; conditional gene targeting
David Lin -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; Research interests: axon guidance and target formation during the development of the mouse olfactory system, using genetic, in vitro, and genomic approaches
Manfred Lindau -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neurophysiology; Research interests: biophysics; exocytosis; mechanisms of vesicle fusion and transmitter release
Christiane Linster -- Concentrations: neurophysiology; Research interests: neural coding and memory in the olfactory system; emphasis on neuromodulatory influences; combined approach using behavior, electrophysiology, and computational modeling
Ellis Loew -- Concentrations: neurophysiology; sensory physiology; Research interests: sensory physiology; sensory ecology; retinal physiology and biochemistry; clinical electrophysiology; visual sciences
David McCobb -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; Research interests: ion channels, cellular excitability, and steroid hormones; integrative neuroendocrinology of adrenal and pituitary function, stress, social behavior, and emotion
Linda Nowak -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neurophysiology; neuropharmacology; Research interests: molecular and electrophysiological analysis of glutamate receptors, ion channels, and response mechanisms in synaptic transmission
Robert Oswald -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neurophysiology; neurochemistry; neuropharmacology; Research interests: molecular neurobiology and biophysics; neurotransmitter receptors and signal transduction
Ned Place -- Concentrations: ethology; Research interests: mammalian reproductive biology with a focus on the life history trade-offs associated with hormones, behavior and aging
Robert Raguso -- Concentrations: sensory physiology; ethology; behavioral ecology; chemical ecology; Research interests: chemically-mediated plant/animal interactions; biosynthesis, physiology and evolution of fragrance; insect olfaction, behavior and pollination ecology
Hudson Reeve -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; sociobiology; Research interests: theoretical sociobiology; evolution of cooperation and conflict in animals and plants; behavioral ecology; plasticity in insect social behavior
Chris Schaffer -- Concentrations: neurophysiology; Research interests: advanced optical techniques used to observe and manipulate in vivo biological systems with the goal of developing a microscopic-scale understanding of normal and disease-state physiological processes; neurodegeneration caused by occlusion of microvessels in the brain
Thomas Seeley -- Concentrations: ethology; behavioral ecology; sociobiology; Research interests: sociobiology: physiology, ecology, and evolution of animal societies, especially the societies of insects
Kerry Shaw -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; Research interests: species and speciation; behavioral genetics; sexual selection and evolution; genetic architecture of behavior (QTLs); linkage analysis and genome evolution; genetics of diverging lineages; the conceptual nature of species; molecular systematics; comparative methods; orthopteroid insects
David Smith -- Concentrations: neurophysiology; Research interests: neural systems involved in learning and memory functions; multi-site neuronal recordings and neurochemical inactivation in behaving rodents used to identify brain circuitry involved in these functions
R. Nathan Spreng -- Concentrations: neuroanatomy; neurophysiology; Research interests: Using human neuroimaging methods, I examine large-scale brain network dynamics and their role in cognition
Melissa R. Warden -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neuroanatomy; neurophysiology; sensory physiology; neurochemistry; neuropharmacology; neuroethology; Research interests: Our lab studies the neural circuitry of reward and motivation, combining optical control of genetically and topologically defined circuit elements with monitoring and decoding of neural activity.
Michael Webster -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; sociobiology; Research interests: reproductive strategies and the evolutionary causes and consequences of variation in sexual signals, primarily using birds as a model system
Gregory Weiland -- Concentrations: cellular and molecular neurobiology; neurochemistry; neuropharmacology; Research interests: molecular neurobiology and neuropharmacology; receptor and ion channel mechanisms
David Winkler -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; Research interests: causes of spatial and temporal variation in the life-histories of birds

Graduate School Professors (emeritus)

Jack Bradbury -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; sociobiology; Research interests: evolution of animal social behavior and communication, with current projects on functions of vocal learning in wild parrots, evolution of signal repertoire size, and role of sound field shape in vocal communication
Stephen Emlen -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; sociobiology; Research interests: evolution of animal social behavior, with current emphasis on behavioral ecology of cooperative nesting in birds
Bruce Halpern -- Concentrations: sensory physiology; chemical ecology; Research interests: sensory physiology; chemoreception
Howard Howland -- Concentrations: neurophysiology; sensory physiology; neuroethology; Research interests: sensory physiology, especially vision; development of focusing and refractive state in humans; animal vision, models of myopia and emmetropization; optical quality of the eye
Paul W. Sherman -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; sociobiology; Research interests: animal social behavior; Darwinian medicine
Sandra Vehrencamp -- Concentrations: behavioral ecology; Research interests: evolution of animal communication systems, especially bird song; behavioral ecology of cooperative nesting in birds
Charles Walcott -- Concentrations: sensory physiology; ethology; neuroethology; Research interests: animal orientation and navigation; animal acoustic communication

Learning Goals

In the course of studying for and completing a PhD in the field of Neurobiology and Behavior (NBB), students will work toward mastering an integrative understanding of behavior.  The expertise of faculty in NBB ranges from neuroscience to the evolution of behavior.  A major learning goal of our program is to appreciate knowledge from multiple levels of analysis, while specializing in one or more of these areas (mechanistic, developmental, adaptive and evolutionary).  We offer a broad exposure and core curricular basis that will serve as the foundation for more specialized coursework, and ultimately, for independent research in preparation for a career as a professional biologist with a range of employment options.

While each student’s course of study is tailored to his or her needs and background, students across the program will share many learning goals on the road to establishing themselves as professional biologists, including:  independent learning and mastery of the appropriate literature in the student’s subfield; integration of the current state of knowledge to formulate a cutting edge research question; acquisition of data collection skills; acquisition of appropriate analysis skills to derive conclusions for appropriately designed investigations; effective communication abilities using written, spoken and presentation skills. 

Proficiencies

A candidate for a Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior is expected to demonstrate mastery of knowledge in the field of NBB, and to contribute significant, original research to our understanding of behavior within their sub-discipline.  In so doing, the candidate shall demonstrate the ability to

  1. critically evaluate the state of their field by analyzing available scientific literature
  2. synthesize current knowledge and identify novel research questions in their chosen field
  3. master appropriate research techniques and collect original data
  4. analyze results using appropriate technological and statistical methods
  5. place and interpret results into a scholarly context and identify their biological importance
  6. master communication skills including the publication of scientific papers, the presentation of scientific talks and the delivery of pedagogically sound lectures
  7. stay abreast of the current state of their chosen field
  8. support and disseminate knowledge through collaboration, teaching and mentoring
  9. uphold standards for scientific rigor and ethical behavior.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

There are three main ways that learning is assessed as part of a PhD program in the field of Neurobiology and Behavior. 
A)    The first is through formal coursework and registration unit grading, within which assessments include exams, essays, participation and presentations (for coursework) and a semiannual assignment of registration units documenting satisfactory progress toward the degree. 
B)    The second is through the admission to candidacy exam (i.e. the “A” exam).  The A-exam typically is conducted by the fifth semester of graduate study and examines the student’s general breadth and depth of knowledge in the field and potential for independent research in their area of study.  The A-exam is an oral exam and is conducted by the student’s special committee.  To prepare the student, the A-exam is normally preceded by independent reading and/or writing assignments. 
C)    The third assessment occurs at the close of the course of study in the form of defending the dissertation.  The defense includes a public presentation of research results delivered to the field of NBB.  The public defense is followed by the B-exam, which is conducted by the special committee and examines the student’s originality of results, comprehension of research results, and written and oral communication proficiency.