Animal Behavior, PhD

Our Animal Behavior PhD program — one of the few in the world — provides interdisciplinary training in both classic and cutting-edge concepts and techniques in the field.

In this degree program, you will develop research competence in animal behavior that integrates approaches from several areas, including:

  • Anthropology
  • Applied science (e.g. domestication, conservation)
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Kinesiology
  • Mathematics
  • Neuroscience
  • Physiology
  • Psychology

Your core coursework includes field- and lab-based research, as well as student-driven seminars that cover emerging themes in the literature.

This program provides an ideal academic environment for those who want to create unique intellectual and integrative research niches in their respective areas of animal behavior.

To earn a PhD in Animal Behavior, you must complete a total of 84 credit hours. Eight of those hours will come from enrolling in two Core Courses — a 4-credit-hour, field- and lab-based “research strategies” class (ANB 601) and a 1-hour seminar (ANB 602) on current issues in animal behavior to be taken over four separate semesters during your PhD tenure.

Remaining credit hours are earned through a combination of elective courses in related fields (e.g. ecology, evolutionary biology, genetics, neuroscience, physiology, psychology and statistics) and dissertation research credits. All assembled in conjunction with your Supervisory Committee, this body of coursework will serve as your Plan of Study.

To meet the degree requirements, you must construct a research proposal that you will defend as part of your oral 'admission-to-candidacy exam', and defend a final body of dissertation research by giving a public seminar followed by an oral exam administered by your Supervisory Committee.


Core Courses

ANB 601 Research Strategies in Animal Behavior

Offered each fall, this 4-credit core course is aimed at incoming students in the degree program. It will involve 6 hours of lab or field research and 2 hours of lecture each week.

Course goals:

  1. To introduce the interdisciplinary diversity of procedural, technological and conceptual strategies used to answer descriptive and causal questions about the behavior of animals, including humans. This is done through a series of 4-8 carefully crafted field or laboratory exercises (1-2 weeks/lab, 6 hrs/week). This course will culminate in a 4-week-long individual project that you will conceptualize, design and execute. 

The exercises will feature a diversity of taxa and conceptual approaches used in the study of animal behavior.  Here are examples of exercises that would cover this diversity.

      • Chemical communication in insects
      • Mating system structure in insects
      • Social foraging in ants and birds
      • Visual communication in birds
      • Learning in mammals
      • Human mating strategies

2. To provide, in the first hour of lecture, background information on procedures and strategies used in the study of behavior across a number of disciplines that there is not time to cover during lab exercises throughout the semester.  These may include physical characterization of light, chemical and sound signals, basis statistical applications, rigorous comparative analyses of behavioral diversity, tools used in the study of learning, information theory, and the techniques used in the recording and analysis of sequences of behavior.

3. To introduce the diversity of study systems and cutting-edge interdisciplinary approaches taken in the study of animal behavior at ASU and elsewhere. This is done through a series of lectures by ASU researchers. Grading will be based on the following items:

      • Lab reports on each of the lab exercises
      • Individual project reports that will include both written and oral presentations
      • 2-4 quizzes on the material covered in lecture

ANB 602 Current Issues in Animal Behavior

This course is offered every semester. Everyone in the program is required to enroll in this 1-credit-hour course in at least 4 semesters of your PhD degree program.

Course goals:

  • To build a community of graduate students engaged in disciplinary and interdisciplinary research on animal behavior
  • To build familiarity with the contemporary scientific literature on animal behavior
  • To motivate and exercise the skills needed to address questions about animal behavior using techniques and concepts from multiple disciplines, and, to integrate those results to produce a comprehensive understanding of animal behavior
  • To provide opportunities to select the focal topics for the journal club

To achieve these goals we may (have):

  • Discussions of current literature on a focused and contemporary topic in the study of behavior
  • Presentations by each participant describing the conceptual framework and results of his/her dissertation research 
  • Discuss career options and strategies in the behavioral sciences
  • Discuss responsible conduct in research
  • Discuss effective strategies in publication and grantsmanship

Grading is based on written reports on current issues and on the quality of presentations.

Elective Courses

  • BIO 411  Quantitative Methods in Conservation Biology and Ecology (3)
  • BIO 415  Biometry (4)
  • BIO 421/521  Landscape Ecology (3)
  • BIO 423  Population and Community Ecology (3)
  • BIO 436  Sociobiology and Behavioral Ecology (3)
  • BIO 461  Comparative Animal Physiology (3)
  • BIO 462  Endocrine Physiology (3)
  • BIO 465  Neurophysiology (3)
  • BIO 467  Neurobiology (3)
  • BIO 503  Bioimaging Lab (2)
  • BIO 504  Bioimaging (2)
  • BIO 522  Populations: Evolutionary Ecology (3)
  • BIO 524  Ecosystems
  • BIO 526  Quantitative Ecology
  • BIO 561  Environmental Physiology (3)
  • BIO 614  Biometry (4)
  • PSY 420  Analysis of Behavior (3)
  • PSY 424  Genetic Psychology (3)
  • PSY 426  Neuroanatomy (4)
  • PSY 434  Cognitive Psychology (3)
  • PSY 512  Advanced Learning (3)
  • PSY 515  Quantitative Research Methodology and Statistics 1 (3)
  • PSY 526  Neuroanatomy (4)
  • PSY 528  Sensation and Perception (3)
  • PSY 530  Intermediate Statistics (3)
  • PSY 531  Multiple Regression in Psychological Research (3)
  • PSY 532  Analysis of Multivariate Data (3)
  • ASM 401  Health and Human Biology (4)
  • ASM 443/543  Primatology (3)
  • ASM 525  Primate Paleobiology (3)
  • CHM 460  Biological Chemistry (3)
  • KIN 412/512  Biomechanics of the Skeletal System (3)
  • KIN 414  Electromyographic Kinesiology (3)
  • KIN 440  Exercise Biochemistry (3)
  • KIN 443/533  Exercise Endocrinology (3)
  • KIN 522  Exercise Psychology (3)
  • MAT 420  Scientific Computing
  • MAT 450 Mathematical Models in Biology (3)
  • MAT 451  Mathematical Modeling (3)
  • MAT 591  Topic: Math Biology (3)
  • PLB 419/519  Physiological Plant Ecology (3)
  • STP 530  Applied Regression (3)
  • STP 531  Applied Analysis of Variance (3)
  • STP 532 Applied Nonparametric Statistics (3)
  • STP 533 Applied Multivariate Analysis
  • STP 535 Applied Sampling Methodology

Application Deadline

Applications are accepted Oct. 1 - Dec. 15, with a preference date of Dec. 1.
The Animal Behavior PhD program admits one group of students annually to start their program the following August.

There is no guarantee that applications received after Dec. 15 will be reviewed. In January, the top applicants will be invited to a recruitment event scheduled in mid- to late-February.  

Before applying, we encourage you to read our Tips for Applying.

We will notify you of your admissions status by April 15.

Desired qualifications:

  • Research experience 
  • Undergraduate GPA minimum 3.0 (on 4.0 scale)
  • GRE scores: 50% Verbal and 70% Quantitative 
  • International students: TOEFL score of 100, or IELTS score of 6.5

Note: Your application is evaluated based on your entire application package.

To apply, follow the How and When to Apply link below.

You will be asked to:

  • Review the university standards, degree program timelines and application requirements
  • Complete the graduate admission application
  • Send official transcripts, general GRE scores and language tests (international students only) to graduate admissions services
  • Fill out the academic record form and upload it 
  • Submit a non-refundable application fee

Degree Offered

Animal Behavior, PhD
Liberal Arts & Sciences, College of


Plan of Study

The Plan of Study is the required curriculum to complete the program.

View Plan of Study

Application Deadlines

Applications for Fall 2019 accepted:  Oct. 1-Dec. 15, 2018
Priority deadline:  Dec. 1, 2018

Financial Support for Graduate Education

 More information on financial support through the School of Life Sciences.

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