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Area Chair: Jill Becker, Patricia Y. Gurin Collegiate Professor of Psychology

2018-19 Biopsychology Area


The Biopsychology Area at the University of Michigan is a subdivision within the Department of Psychology that is committed to the belief that studies of behavior and biology complement each other, and that both are enhanced when they are combined in a common effort. The underlying philosophy of the Biopsychology Area is that there is a strong need for research at the interface of behavior, biology, and evolutionary theory. Students typically pursue graduate studies involving the investigation of ‘Brain and Behavior Relationships’ (e.g., Physiological Psychology or Behavioral Neuroscience), or the ‘Evolution of Behavior’ (e.g., Sociobiology or Comparative Animal Behavior), although students are encouraged to sample both of these approaches during their graduate career. In practice, research activities of the staff range from field observations of animal social behavior to recording the activity of single brain cells, and the use of molecular cellular and genetic manipulations to address questions related to understanding a variety of brain-behavior relations. The main research interests of the faculty are in one or more of the following sub-areas: learning and memory, attention, evolutionary basis and the adaptive significance of behavior, motivation and emotion, hormones and behavior, cognitive neuroscience, stress neurobiology, neuropsychopharmacology, brain rhythms and epilepsy, and social cognition and communication.

Each graduate student has a pre-candidacy advisory committee made-up of three Biopsychology faculty members to help them select courses and training appropriate to their goals. A synopsis of program requirements and courses is given below, and more detailed information on available courses and training opportunities may be obtained by contacting the Chair of the Biopsychology Area.  The Ph.D. Program in Biopsychology is strongly research-oriented, and students are required to initiate a research project (Psychology 619) in collaboration with a faculty member early in their first year of graduate study. They are also required to write a report and to give an oral presentation based on this project, typically by the Fall Term of their second year. Students continue research during their second year, along with course work, and take their Preliminary Examination at the end of the second year, when they advance to Candidacy.


Synopsis of Biopsychology Program Requirements

  1. First year research project and oral presentation (Psychology 619). Students are expected to become involved in a research project early in their first semester in the program. Before the end of the fall semester of their second year they must give an oral presentation on their research project, and present a written report on their 619 project no later than the summer of their second year. This is evaluated by their mentor and one other Biopsychology faculty member, and is required to advance to Candidacy beginning in the third year.
  2. Required introductory course: All students are required to take the Proseminar in Biopsychology (Psy 631) in their first year (or second year if it is not offered in the first year). Psy 631 cannot be used to replace one of the required, three advanced lecture and seminar courses (as detailed in 3).
  3. A total of three advanced lecture or seminar courses relevant to biopsychology must be taken. These courses can include courses that are offered both within Biopsychology and from a number of other Departments. (See a separate document of a list of potential courses). In meeting this requirement students are strongly encouraged to take at least one course in Neuroscience and one in Evolutionary Biology. The faculty advisors will assume the responsibility for assuring that the student’s course selection is adequate preparation for their professional career. All 3 of these courses are not required prior to advancing to candidacy.
    [Note: Courses cannot be double-counted between the categories; e.g., a Neuroscience course taken to meet the advanced Biopsychology relevant course requirement cannot also be counted as a Rackham cognate or Psychology breadth course.]
  4. Biopsychology Colloquium: All students are required to attend the weekly Area colloquium series throughout their time in the Program.
  5. Departmental Breadth Requirement: All students must take one Psychology course in an area besides Biopsychology (i.e., a course not taught primarily by Biopsychology staff) sometime during their first two years, prior to candidacy. Students should seek the advice of their mentor and advisory committee in fulfilling this Psychology “breadth” requirement.
  6. A one-year sequence of statistics (e.g., Psychology 613-614) or approved substitute must be taken. [Note: if a student has had a considerable background in Statistics as an undergraduate they can apply to have one or both of these requirements waived].
  7. Rackham requires a minimum of 4 credits of cognate courses outside of psychology (see some options in course list below). These courses should be related to the professional goals of the student and approved by the faculty mentor (e.g., neuroanatomy, neuroscience, biochemistry, “evolution courses” in biology or anthropology, etc.).
  8. Psych. 609 (Teaching Academy, 1 credit). Usually taken in the first term
  9. Psych. 506 or PIBS 503 (Professional Issues/Ethics, 1 credit)

Summary of Course Requirements

  • 619 research (each term prior to candidacy)
  • Proseminar (Psych. 631)
  • Three advanced courses (in Biopsy or other Department)
  • Department breadth requirement (one course in Psych. but outside Biopsy)
  • Statistics (2 course sequence)
  • Rackham cognate (outside Psych)
  • Psych. 609 (Teaching Academy, 1 credit)
  • Psych. 506 or PIBS 503 (Professional Issues/Ethics, 1 credit)
    Total of 10 courses plus 619

Note: After taking a subset of the above courses students can apply for a Master’s degree. See the Psychology Department website for information and a checklist of the requirements for a Master’s degree. This is not automatic and to receive a Master’s students must submit an application for it.

Preliminary Examination: Normally, graduate students will take their Prelim Exam in May at the end of the second year. However, dates can be adjusted to accommodate research (especially field work) and class schedules.

The exam format consists of students selecting one question from a list of questions prepared by the faculty. The purpose of the exam is to assess the ability of a student to think logically about a problem area and to formulate research questions, rather than assessing the amount of information they possess. Students have 2.5 weeks to write a response in the format of a grant application in which they provide some background to the research area, generate experimental hypotheses, propose experiment(s) to test hypotheses, and discuss how results would be interpreted. The document is about 12 pages of double- spaced text. After three faculty have read the paper, an oral exam is held. Students normally achieve Ph.D. candidate status by September of the third year in the program. After candidacy status is achieved, a Dissertation Committee is formed to advise on dissertation research and to evaluate the thesis when submitted.

To maintain full-time status, Pre-Candidates must register for a minimum of 9 credits and a maximum of 18 credits per term. If they have been recommended for Candidacy, they should register for 8 credits of Psych 990. Once advancement to Candidacy has been approved by Rackham, the Registrar's Office will change the 990 enrollment to 995. For each Fall and Winter semester, Candidates will register for 8 credits of Psych 995; they also have the option of enrolling in one additional course per term. Students must enroll in each Fall and Winter term up to and including the semester in which they defend their dissertation.

Dissertation Committee
Students should form a dissertation committee in their third year. The initial section of names is done in consultation with the faculty mentor and the list of suggested committee members needs to be approved by the Area Chair, the Department and by Rackham. The committee must have at least 4 members, and at least two of these must be core Biopsychology faculty. Rackham requires that one member be from a Department other than Psychology (see the Rackham and/or Psychology website for detailed information regarding the composition and responsibility of dissertation committees).

Prospectus. Sometime in the third year students should write and submit a dissertation prospectus containing: (1) an abstract of the specific aims of the investigation; (2) the background and significance of the proposed research, including the conceptual framework; (3) the research design and methods of procedure, including measurement techniques to be used, if applicable; (4) analysis strategies to be followed; (5) a tentative timetable.

The dissertation committee then meets as a group with the student to discuss the proposal. A draft document should be given to committee members two weeks before the meeting date. At the meeting, the student provides an approximately 30 minute talk on the planned research, and the faculty asks questions and discusses the plans. The student then leaves the room, and the committee discusses whether the prospectus will be approved.

Once approval of a dissertation prospectus is indicated on the Approval of Dissertation Prospectus form, signed by the dissertation committee at the prospectus meeting, and countersigned by the Area Chair, it should be forwarded to the Psychology Student Academic Affairs Office. At that time, the Psychology Student Academic Affairs Office will prepare the Dissertation Committee Form and submit it to Rackham. The Dissertation Committee form should be submitted to Rackham at least six months before the defense.

The Dissertation Committee should monitor the student’s progress, and arrange for at least yearly meetings to do so, prior to the final defense.

The dissertation defense of students in the Biopsychology Area is a public talk given as part of the Biopsychology Colloquia Series followed by an oral exam.

Application Procedures

All applicants must take the Graduate Record Examination. GRE registration forms may be obtained online at http:/  This test should be taken early in the senior year.

The Rackham Graduate School application deadline is December 1. For information about the application process visit the Prospective Graduate Student page.

This also contains a link to the Rackham Graduate School Online Application, which must be submitted.

For further information about application procedures or any aspect of the graduate program in Biopsychology contact the Chair of Biopsychology:

Dr. Jill Becker
Chair, Biopsychology Program
Department of Psychology
The University of Michigan
530 Church Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Telephone:  (734) 764-6392
E-mail address:

All applicants will be notified of admission decisions by April 15, and usually before March 1.

Financial Support

Information about financial information can be found on the Graduates section of this website. In brief, the comprehensive financial support package consists of five years of support consisting of a combination of fellowships and Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) appointments, all with health care and tuition covered. A minimum of two (2) terms of teaching are required to fulfill the department’s doctoral degree requirements.

Fellowships from External Agencies

While support is guaranteed as described for 5 years, all eligible students are to apply for funding from NSF during their first year of graduate school or other sources of funding throughout their graduate career. If a student receives funding from an external foundation or institute (NSF, NIH, etc.; many of these are listed at the website above) the department can combine funds in a way that will enhance the overall support package.

An undergraduate who considers applying to Ph.D. programs is well-advised to explore the many sources of individual fellowship support available to outstanding students, such as NSF fellowships (described below). Graduate students may also apply for NIH fellowships (NRSAs) or for slots on one of several NIH training grants held by the University. Other graduate students have sometimes served as Research Assistants, receiving support from research grants held by their mentors. Many of these fellowships provide several years of support.

Exceptional students are strongly encouraged to apply for a National Science Foundation predoctoral fellowship during their senior undergraduate year. These fellowships give three years of support. Information and application forms may be obtained either directly from the National Science Foundation web page or from the Department of Psychology Student Academic Affairs Office.

We would like to encourage all prospective graduate students to become familiar with the Biopsychology staff and their research interests. Following is a list of the members of the faculty with a short description of their research interests and representative publications. Many Biopsychology faculty have web pages for their lab, which list current research projects and may have reprints of recent publications. If you would like to know more about the work of a particular staff member, feel free to email directly to that person (email addresses can be found on the Psychology Department website under the Biopsycholgy Area.