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What is a Psychobiology Degree?
Psychobiology – also known as biopsychology, biological psychology, physiological psychology, and behavioral neuroscience – is the scientific study of the relationships between physiological and psychological systems. In simpler terms, it is about how our brain affects our behavior.
Drawing from biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, genetics, and psychology, degree programs in the field focus on the neural mechanisms of behavior and cognition, evolutionary development of the nervous system, and mechanisms of nervous system and psychiatric disorders.
Bachelor’s Degree in Psychobiology – Four Year Duration
The bachelor’s degree program in psychobiology prepares students for graduate school and entry-level careers such as research assistant and laboratory technician. The typical curriculum involves internships and opportunities to conduct professor-guided research. Some schools offer concentration options. Among the most common are pre-med specialization, animal behavior specialization, and graduate studies specialization.
Here is a sample psychobiology bachelor’s program:
- Investigating Biological Concepts with Laboratory – fundamental concepts in biology from molecules to cells to organisms; the process of scientific inquiry, basic biochemistry, basic cell function, and fundamentals of animal and plant physiology
- Human Anatomy and Physiology – a systematic analysis of the structure and function of the human body
- General Chemistry – a general study of the properties, structure, and bonding of elements and compounds
- Introduction to Psychology with Laboratory – the scientific study of psychology: the biological roots of behavior, learning and memory, perception, social behavior, psychopathology, and applied psychology
- Mind, Brain, and Behavior – the relationship between the brain and behavior: neural communication, perception, cognition, learning and memory, and the biological basis of consciousness
- Biopsychology – the biochemistry of neural conduction (electrical signals carried by the nerve cells) and synaptic transmission (the process by which one neuron communicates with another), neuropsychology, brain disorders, the biochemistry of learning and memory, mechanisms of action of psychoactive drugs
- Biology Research Methods – research methods used in biological sciences: finding, reading, and evaluating scientific literature, and using it in a research proposal; common tests and how to interpret them; using statistical software
- Research Project – designing and executing a research project and keeping a detailed laboratory notebook
- Psychology Research Methods with Laboratory – the scientific method applied in the social and behavioral sciences: statistics, design and analysis of experiments, drawing of logical conclusions from behavioral data
- Principles of Nutrition – an examination of the biochemical and physiological aspects of nutrition including the biochemical molecules and processes involved in nutrition; current research and controversies within nutrition
- Animal Behavior – examination of the range of animal behavior from infanticide, competition, and polygamy to cooperation, altruism, and monogamy
- Health Psychology – the psychological influences on how people stay healthy, why they become ill, and how they respond when they become ill; the links between stress and the immune system function and disease, psychological factors that mediate reactions to stress, and behaviors that endanger health
Doctoral Degree in Psychobiology – Four to Eight Year Duration
Combined Master’s / Doctoral Degree in Psychobiology – Four to Eight Year Duration
Standalone master’s programs in psychobiology are rare. However, some schools offer a dual master’s/doctoral degree in the discipline. In this case, students typically begin their thesis project at the master’s level and expand it into a dissertation for the doctorate. Both the doctoral and the combined master’s/doctoral degrees are targeted at individuals who intend to conduct independent research at universities, pharmaceutical companies, or government facilities, teach at a college or university, or begin a private practice in counseling psychology.
At the graduate level, psychobiology programs cover a broad spectrum of topics including evolutionary, neurobiological, and molecular mechanisms of behavior. Possible research topics include:
- Neurobiology of monogamy
- Psychoneuroimmunolgy – a relatively new field of study that looks at the interactions between the central nervous system and the immune system
- Evolutionary Neurobiology - the scientific study of the evolution of nervous systems
- Mathematical modeling of social behavior
- Environmental psychology – the scientific study of the transactions and interrelationships between people and their physical surrounding, including natural and built environments, the use and abuse of nature and natural resources, and sustainability-related behavior
- Mate choice
- Reproductive relationships
- Effects of stress on social behavior
- Epigenetics and social behavior – epigenetics is the study of how our behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way our genes work
- Neurobiology of learning and memory
Degrees Similar to Psychobiology
A general biology degree program may include subjects like animal biology, invertebrate biology, vertebrate biology, cellular and molecular biology, evolution, microbiology, and ecology.
Clinical psychologists focus on pathological populations. In other words, they work mostly with people who have a mental illness or a psychosis – a severe disorder or disability that can incapacitate them, not merely diminish the quality of their life. Examples are schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and substance-induced psychotic disorder.
Degree programs in molecular biology teach the composition, structure, and interactions of cellular molecules like nucleic acids and proteins that are essential to cell function.
Neuroscientists study the structure and function of the human brain and nervous system and how they affect behavior. The field of neuroscience borrows principles from biology, biochemistry, physiology, psychology, immunology, physics, mathematics, and computer science. Degree programs in neuroscience, therefore, reflect this multidisciplinary nature.
At the graduate level, programs include the study of neurological disorders, the impact that injury has on the brain, and approaches to neurological therapy and rehabilitation.
There is no distinct pre-medicine degree. ‘Pre-medicine’ or ‘pre-med’ is merely a term that students planning to go to medical school use to describe their undergraduate studies. In fact, aspiring doctors enter med school having earned many different bachelor’s degrees.
A science program such as biology or chemistry is certainly a common choice, but it is not mandatory. In other words, a pre-med student can be a psychology major, a statistics major, or a Spanish major. The key for students is to incorporate into their studies the classes needed to apply to medical school.
The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.
Degree programs in sociology are focused on studying groups, from two people and beyond. Sociology students examine human behavior patterns and relationships at both the micro-level and the macro-level. They study interactions between individuals as well as in families, peer groups, cultural groups, gender groups, racial groups, religious groups, and social classes.
Skills You’ll Learn
Graduates of psychobiology programs gain these transferrable skills through their course of study:
- Abstract reasoning
- Academic writing and presentation
- Attention to detail
- Awareness of ethical issues
- Communication and interpersonal skills
- Experiment design
- Laboratory skills
- Leadership and teamwork
- Observation, investigation, and critical thinking
- Organization and time management
- Research and data analysis and interpretation
- Summarizing vast amounts of information
- Use of statistical tests in data analysis
What Can You Do with a Psychobiology Degree?
Many careers in the field of psychobiology require education beyond a bachelor’s degree, especially those in advanced research and medicine, such as:
- Behavioral Neuroscientist – analyzes how the brain, nervous system, and other organs impact behavior
- Cognitive Neuroscientist – investigates brain activity and scans to research how people think, learn, and solve problems
- Comparative Psychologist – examines the behaviors of different species and compares them to one another and to humans
- Evolutionary Psychologist – examines the evolutionary basis of behavior
- Neurologist – treats patients with damage or disease which affects the brain and nervous system
- Clinical Psychologist
- Counseling Psychologist
A psychobiology degree also provides a strong foundation for careers in:
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic medicine
- Sports psychology
Other employment opportunities may exist in:
- Mental health clinics
- Crisis centers
- Substance abuse programs
- Social work
- Human resources
- Criminal justice
- Public health
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing
- Biotechnology industries
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