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Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology

Mission Statement/Training Philosophy


Students and faculty in the Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology training area study the functions and mechanisms of cognition and behavior in animals, including humans. Researchers across the CUNY campuses work both in the laboratory and/or in nearby and distant field sites and use the vast theoretical, computational, and experimental methods of the many subdisciplines of comparative ethological studies in behavioral disciplines, including:

  • cognition
  • communication
  • conservation
  • conservation psychology
  • cultural evolution
  • development
  • ecology
  • economics
  • endocrinology
  • evolution
  • genetics
  • human-animal interactions
  • neuroscience
  • physiology
  • recognition systems
  • translational and applied animal behavior

Our aim is to provide doctoral students with knowledge of core concepts, research skills (including quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods designs; computational modeling; computer-assisted experiments), laboratory and/or field experience, teaching, presentation, and publication experience, and other areas of professional development training to succeed in the challenging and rewarding academic fields of General and Comparative Psychology and Animal Behavior.

Students begin in the program through immersion in research. Upon entering the program, students select 3 faculty members for their mentorship committee and enroll in research every semester thereafter.

To expose students to the diversity of research fields, methods, and topics covered by animal behavior and comparative psychology faculty at CUNY, students conduct two semester-long rotation projects, one of which can be based at the eventual thesis advisor’s research group. A research methods seminar, lead by different faculty each week, will also introduce the students to others in their cohort and to current research across CUNY. Required courses in Animal Behavior, Statistics, Teaching, Ethics, and elective courses, as approved by the students’ thesis committee, complete the formal requirements of lecture and seminar classes in the program.

Students with MA/MS degrees will be able to transfer up to 30 course credits towards their CUNY requirements, and students with first authored published papers or completed MA/MS degrees in a relevant topic will be able to place out of one of the rotation course requirements. The program of study thus combines formal courses with intensive and productive original research experience. In the model course of study, students will have finished their course requirements by the end of their second year, leaving the next three years for full time dissertation work and completion of the PhD by the end of the fifth year.

The structure, format, and content of the thesis will be prescribed and approved by each student’s thesis committee and will follow the guidelines of the Graduate Center (GC CUNY) as determined for doctoral theses. To follow current trends in the life sciences, a thesis may be composed of a series of manuscripts prepared for submission or already published with the student’s GC CUNY affiliation in the peer-reviewed literature. Students are expected to be first authors on at least 3 of the manuscripts included in the thesis and should have a section explaining their role and the connection between each chapter/manuscript in the final thesis.