Doctorate in Psychology (PhD)

A psychology student teaching at the front of a class, pointing upward to a projection screen

The competitive PhD program at Brandeis aims to educate exceptional psychological scientists, thinkers and teachers who will make important contributions to the field, whether in the academy, industry, or applied settings.

Why Brandeis?

Our Brain Body Behavior program provides an overarching, unifying framework that facilitates collaboration and interdisciplinary exchange of ideas.

Unlike most PhD programs, we don’t divide students into traditional areas (cognitive, social, developmental etc.). Rather, we aim to foster truly interdisciplinary research and training that helps students develop an area of research specialization while providing opportunities to bring various theoretical and methodological perspectives to work in their chosen area of training. These include not only perspectives from the discipline of psychology, but its intersection with neuroscience, computer science, and biology.

We believe that a consideration of body, brain, social and developmental processes is essential to understanding human behavior. This approach is supported through the NIGMS funded Brain, Body and Behavior training grant, which promotes interaction between the psychological and biomedical domains.

The PhD program in psychology at Brandeis emphasizes both intense research and breadth and depth of knowledge. You will focus on a particular area of research, while also being part of a community of researchers. Your dissertation adviser will be a leader in his or her field — from cortical-hippocampal interactions in learning to lifespan development, from taste perception to cultural neuroscience, to name a few. In both coursework and interactive workshops, we emphasis rigorous and open science practices and advanced methodological training.

Our program has a favorable faculty-to-student ratio, enabling you to gain graduate training through an apprenticeship system in which you will work in close collaboration with one or more faculty members.

Research

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Faculty Research Areas

Dissertation supervisors are leaders in the field and pursue research in the areas listed below. They span from human to animal model research, and use a wide variety of methods including EEG/ERPs, neuroimaging, laboratory tasks, electrophysiology, eye tracking/pupillometry, kinematics, systems neuroscience methods, and longitudinal studies.

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The following faculty members supervise PhD students in their labs:

Before applying, please check with the faculty members you are interested in working with to determine if they will be considering prospective students for the upcoming year, as some labs may be currently full and not considering applicants.

Motor control and spatial orientation

Paul Dizio & James Lackner: Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Lab

Effects of age and culture on memory and social cognition

Angela Gutchess: Aging Culture and Cognition Lab

Social and affective neuroscience, cross-group resonance, emotion and self-control, empathy

Jennifer Gutsell: Social Interaction and Motivation (SIM) Lab

Neurophysiology of learning and decision making

Shantanu Jadhav: Jadhav Lab

Neural dynamics of gustatory perception and learning

Donald Katz: Katz Lab

Lifespan development and health

Margie Lachman: Lifespan Developmental Psychology Laboratory

Visual perception and visual cognitive processes

Robert Sekuler: Vision Lab

Executive function and developmental psychopathology in adolescence and emerging adulthood

Hannah Snyder: Cognition Psychopathology Environment (CoPE) Lab

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Rotations

Lab rotations in the second year further engage students across labs, supporting collaborative project or learning a new technique. Students select a rotation lab in consultation with their advisor that will complement their research in their home lab. Students continue to work on their research in their home lab along with completing their rotation project over the course of a semester. Rotation projects are tailored to the individual training needs and interests of students, and span from full collaborative studies to learning a new technique.

Training

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Program Requirements

The PhD program is intended to be completed in five years.

  • First-year research project: First year students will work on a first-year research project under the supervision of their primary advisor.

  • Second-year lab rotation: Students complete a rotation in another lab to gain breadth and learn new techniques, normally in the fall semester. A report demonstrating achievement of those goals must be submitted for approval to their primary advisor and their rotation advisor.

  • National Research Service Award (NRSA) Proposal: Second-year students will prepare an NRSA proposal that builds on their first-year research project and their second-year lab rotation to develop a proposed program of research and training. The proposal must be submitted for approval to their primary advisor and their lab rotation advisor.

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Dissertation and Defense

Students formally propose their dissertations in the third year. Students subsequently complete a statistics defense, followed by a dissertation defense by the end of the fifth year.

Course Requirements

All PhD students complete:

  • Two semesters of Advanced Psychological Statistics I (PSYC 210a and 201b) (Year 1)

  • Graduate Research Methods (PSYC 211a) (Year 1)

  • Proseminar in Brain, Body, and Behavior (PSYC 300a and 302a) (Year 1 and 2)

  • Ethical Practice in Health Related Sciences (CONT 300b). (Year 1)

In addition, students complete six elective graduate level seminars during their first three years, including at least one additional advanced statistics or methods class. Students have opportunities to learn advanced statistical methods including SEM and HLM, using platforms including R and Matlab.

Students attend the weekly Psychology Research Seminar to learn about other research in the department and from invited speakers who are leaders in the field.

Students may take advantage of the Boston Area Graduate Consortium and enroll in graduate courses at Boston College, Boston University or Tufts University.

Degree Requirements

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Additional training and community building opportunities

Students have opportunities to participate in journal clubs, workshops, and social activities both within the department and larger university community  to further enhance their graduate training and experience.

Brain, Body and Behavior Training Grant

Our program is supported, in part, by a training grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (T32-GM084907-09). Students who apply successfully for an appointment to the BBB training grant must follow the curriculum as described below, but all students are welcome to follow it.

The program aims to provide Psychology PhD students the biomedical perspectives and skills necessary to join interdisciplinary research teams addressing behavioral and mental health issues. Completing the BBB curriculum will require a strong background in basic science, so that students will be prepared to engage in graduate-level rather than remedial coursework and seminars in biomedical, integrative areas and graduate level biomedical research rotations. Interested students should consult with Prof. Paul DiZio. Each student will be required to follow all general Psychology PhD program requirements, and, within these constraints, must complete an augmented interdisciplinary, biomedical curriculum that encompasses coursework and research:

  1. Conduct one of the required PhD research projects with dual research mentors in a biomedical laboratory as well as in a psychological laboratory. This requirement can be fulfilled either

    1. With a single mentor whose work inherently integrates the two disciplines, or

    2. by completing a rotation (required for all PhD students) in a biomedical laboratory

  2. Complete two classes that satisfy a biomedical breadth requirement which they can choose from an annually updated list of approved courses as well as biomedical seminars, colloquia, and journal clubs.

Within these constraints, students are free to decide with their adviser the precise curriculum that best suits their needs. Visit our research page to learn more about the research areas represented in the department.

Teaching

As a doctoral candidate, you will also learn to teach by serving as a teaching fellow for a variety of courses. We believe that exposure to different professors’ styles in a variety of classroom settings with engaged and motivated undergraduates will provide invaluable preparation for future academic positions or other settings involving teaching or training. Teaching others can also play an important role in consolidating one’s own learning and becoming an expert scholar.

The University Prize Instructorships (UPI), sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, offer the opportunity for advanced graduate students to design and teach an undergraduate course in their field of research. In order to compete for the prize, applicants must submit a written statement that explains the relationship between their course and their dissertation research as well as their proposed course’s detailed syllabus and evaluations as teaching fellows. Instructorships are awarded to exceptional doctoral candidates who have made substantial progress toward their degree.

Careers and Alumni

Our PhD program prepares you for careers in academic or non-academic research and teaching. You will also be highly qualified for work in policy, healthcare, or other applied fields.

Please note that Brandeis does not offer graduate training in clinical psychology or counseling.

Below are examples of placements of our recent PhD graduates:

Funding

Funding includes a competitive fellowship, a full-tuition scholarship, and health insurance benefits. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences supports all doctoral students who maintain satisfactory academic progress with research and teaching assistantships for five years.

Students serve as teaching fellows (10 hours/week) for six semesters and are funded for conducting research in their labs the remaining semesters. Students who are interested in gaining additional teaching experience or supplementing their stipends have opportunities to take on additional course assistantships in consultation with their advisor.