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General Description

Behavioral genetics is an area of specialization devoted to the study of genetic and environmental bases of individual differences in behavior. In behavioral genetics, principles and techniques from biochemical genetics, developmental genetics, evolutionary genetics, molecular genetics, pharmacogenetics, and quantitative genetics are applied to the analysis of behavior. Students in the graduate training program are expected to achieve competence in genetics relevant to their special research interests. Departmental faculty are currently applying the concepts and tools of behavioral genetics to such diverse areas as aging, alcohol abuse and addiction, cognitive development, drug abuse and addiction, learning disabilities, neurological diseases, nicotine tolerance and withdrawal, personality/temperament, and psychopathology.

Within the Behavioral Genetics (BG) graduate training program, students can arrange a course of studies that incorporates elements of the other training programs in the Department of Psychology and other academic units within the University (e.g., the Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology or the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology). A graduate Interdisciplinary Certificate in Behavioral Genetics is available in the C.U. Boulder Graduate School and is administered through the Institute for Behavioral Genetics.

I. Course Requirements

Graduate students in behavioral genetics typically enroll in the following core courses during their tenure in the program. In special circumstances, specific course requirements may be waived by the BG Area Training Committee.

  • Psychology 5102 Behavioral Genetics
  • Psychology 5112 Concepts in Behavioral Genetics
    (examples include: Genetics of Psychopathology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Analytical Methods for Quantitative Trait Loci)
  • Psychology 5122 Quantitative Genetics
  • Psychology 5232 Molecular Genetics and Behavior
  • Psychology 5242 Biometrical Methods in Behavioral Genetics
  • Psychology 7012 Research in Behavioral Genetics (must enroll for TWO semesters)
  • Psychology 7102 Seminar in Behavioral Genetics (must enroll for TWO semesters)
    (examples include: Mouse Models for Behavioral Genetics, Genetics and Substance and Abuse, and Genetics of Aging)

II. Other Ph.D. Requirements

In addition to this sequence of core courses within the BG training program, the following requirements also must be met prior to admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree unless a specific exception has been obtained in writing from both the Director of the BG program and the departmental Director of Graduate Studies.

Competency in General Genetics This requirement can be met by passing a special examination or by completing a CU course in general genetics with a grade of A or B.
First-Year Review Near the end of the first year of graduate study, the progress of each BG student is reviewed by an advisory committee. This review and evaluation may include an examination which samples course and research work.
General Statistics Requirement This requirement can be met in a number of ways-e.g., Psychology 5741/5751.
Minor Requirement The minor ordinarily requires four graduate level courses outside of the BG program. At least one of these should be taught in the Department of Psychology. The specific courses are determined through consultation between the student and the student's advisor.

Master of Arts Degree Receipt of M.A. degree based on research relevant to behavioral genetics. The M.A. must be completed in four years.


Teaching and Research Experience

The student is required to obtain at least one semester of teaching experience. This requirement usually can be met by successful performance as a teaching assistant. For the IBG certificate of competency in behavioral genetics, successful performance as a teaching assistant in Psychology 3102 with a regular tenure-track faculty member is required.

Students will be required to engage in research under the supervision of a faculty member of their choosing each semester of their graduate career. It is expected that the first year of this research will be in the form of a research apprenticeship.

A file of each student's achievements will be kept in the BG Area Office in the Department of Psychology (and at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics). It is the student's responsibility to keep this file up to date by submitting every spring a brief description of the research and teaching experience gained during the previous year. This file also should include copies of all papers, published and unpublished, for which the student desires credit during evaluation procedures.


On being admitted, the student will be assigned a BG Area major advisor to supervise the training program leading to advanced degrees. If a change of interests or circumstances necessitates a change of advisor, students should obtain written consent from the faculty member with whom they wish to work and the approval of the Director of the Behavioral Genetics training program. During the first semester of residence, the student and advisor will select a three-person committee to advise and guide the student. This committee will usually be the same as that which administers the examination designated below and will constitute the thesis committee for the student's Master's degree.

III. Graduate School Rules

The rules of the Graduate School can be found on the web at URL: Students are responsible for compliance with these rules.

IV. Program Leading to the Master's Degree

The Master's degree is a prerequisite for the Ph.D. The Graduate School offers two plans: Plan I is satisfied by presenting 30 semester hours of graduate work including 4-6 thesis hours and a Master's thesis. At least 12 hours of the graduate work must be at the level of 5000 or above. Plan II is satisfied by presenting 30 hours of graduate work and two research papers as described below. At least 24 semester hours must be 5000 level courses or above. A student who wishes to satisfy the Master's requirement under Plan II must (1) obtain advisory committee approval, (2) obtain the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, and (3) submit two senior-authored research papers on some aspect of behavioral genetics of a quality suitable for publication, as judged by the student's advisory committee.

Examinations and Evaluations. At the end of the first year of residency, students must meet with the advisory committee for evaluations of their academic record and research program. This evaluation may include a written examination. The advisory committee will then recommend to the BG area and the Department one of the following courses of action: continuation, continuation with conditions, or termination. Prior to the end of the third semester in residence, students who wish to satisfy the Master's requirement under Plan I must submit a written proposal for the Master's thesis research. This should include (a) a review of the relevant literature, (b) a statement of the research question, (c) a description of the methodology to be used, (d) suggestions as to possible outcomes and interpretations. If the proposal is prepared in time, its merits may be judged at the second semester evaluation meeting. At the end of the fourth semester, the student will be scheduled for a comprehensive final examination. The examination, which may be either oral or written or both, must cover the thesis as well as other work done in the university in formal courses and seminars in the major field. It is the student's responsibility to ensure that all Graduate School requirements for the Master's degree have been met prior to this time. The comprehensive examination for the Master's degree may be combined with the Ph.D. comprehensive examination at the request of the student and the approval of the student's advisory committee. If so, the examination shall be written and oral and shall be administered by a five-person committee (see next section). Students must be registered for credits the semester (including summer sessions) in which the masters defense or comprehensives are taken to be recognized by the graduate school.

V. Program Leading to the Doctor of Philosophy Degree

Advisory Committee. Before taking the comprehensive examination, students should request the faculty member with whom they wish to undertake Ph.D. research to act as chairperson of the advisory committee. The chairperson will select four additional faculty members to serve on the committee so that the several fields in which the student is interested are represented. Members of this committee must be graduate faculty members, as specified by the CU Graduate School. This committee must be approved by the Director of the Behavioral Genetics training program and the Director of Graduate Studies of the Department of Psychology. The student should obtain the signatures of the members of the committee indicating their willingness to serve. Copies of this form are to be given to the chairperson of the advisory committee and to the Director of Graduate Studies, and one copy is to be placed on file in the BG Area office. Any change in the advisory committee is to be similarly reported. It is the students' responsibility to keep the advisory committee informed of progress in their research and training and of any significant change in the direction or status of this training program.

Comprehensive Examination.
Before admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree, the student must pass a comprehensive examination in the field of concentration and related fields. This written examination will test the student's mastery of a broad field of knowledge, not merely the formal course work completed. In the BG training program, this examination is ordinarily part of the Master's final examination. Students entering the program with a Master's degree in some aspect of behavioral genetics should arrange to take the comprehensive examination during their first year. Before attempting the examination, the student must (1) have earned at least four semesters of residence; and (2) have made formal application for admission to candidacy on forms supplied by the Graduate School at least 2 weeks before the comprehensive examination is attempted.

Dissertation Proposal. Following completion of the comprehensive examination, the student must submit a written doctoral research proposal, including a review of the pertinent literature, to all members of the doctoral committee. Approximately 2 weeks later, the committee will meet with the student and evaluate the proposal.

Residence Requirements. At least 30 semester hours of courses at the 5000 level or above are required; at least 20 of the required hours must be in graduate courses taken at this University. To receive credit for the doctoral thesis, the student must complete 30 semester hours of Psychology 8991--Doctoral Thesis Research; 5 of these hours must be completed in the semester(s) after admission to candidacy.

Final Examination. This examination is the dissertation defense. The dissertation must be available to the members of the examining board at least 2 weeks prior to the date set for the examination. The final examination cannot be attempted until the student has been in residence for at least two semesters as a doctoral candidate (i.e., after passing the comprehensive examination).

Student's Responsibility.
None of the stipulations of the BG training program is to be seen as in conflict with normal Graduate School requirements. It is the student's responsibility to see that these requirements, including total credit hours, advanced registration for examinations, etc., are met. Students should arrange for the scheduling of examinations with their major advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. The student should pay careful attention to the rules governing the various examinations, thesis preparation, residence requirements, etc., as they are set forth in the Graduate School Bulletin. The Graduate School mandates completion of the Ph.D. in six years. Students failing to meet this deadline must receive an approved extension from the Graduate School in order to continue in the program. A written request for extension should specify the extenuating circumstances necessitating the extension.


VI. Summary of Examination Schedule

A typical schedule of examinations for students undertaking study for the doctorate in psychology with a specialization in behavioral genetics is as follows:

Year 1

First semester: Examination in general genetics administered by a three-person committee from the BG area. If this examination is not passed satisfactorily, the committee may require specific remedial work (e.g., completion of a one-semester course in genetics with a grade of A or B).

Second semester: First-year evaluation of all course work and ongoing research projects. This evaluation usually is conducted by the student's three-person M.A. committee.

Year 2/3

Comprehensive final examination for the M.A. degree. This examination may be combined with the comprehensive examination for the Ph.D. degree. When the M.A. comprehensive and Ph.D. comprehensive examinations are combined, the examination will be conducted by the doctoral committee (five people or more) which will include at least two graduate faculty members from the BG Area.

Year 3/4

Ph.D. dissertation proposal should be submitted within 2 semesters of receiving Ph.D. candidacy. This requirement can be fulfilled by either writing an NIH-type grant proposal on the dissertation topic or a more traditional dissertation proposal which includes: an introduction and literature review, statement of the research hypothesis, outline of the proposed methods and experiments, and a time table for execution of the research. The type of proposal should be agreed upon in consultation with the student's advisor and committee.

Year 4/5

Final examination by the doctoral committee. This is the traditional dissertation defense, and it is open to members of the academic community. The committee must consist of 5 members: at least two from the BG area, one from Psychology outside the BG area, one from outside the Psychology Department and the final member coming from any area.


VII. The BG Psychology Faculty

Gregory Carey, Associate Professor, Ph.D. 1978, University of Minnesota. Professor Carey's research interests lie in the genetic epidemiology of psychopathology; genetic and environmental influences on antisocial behavior, personality and temperament; and the development of quantitative models in behavioral genetics.

Allan C. Collins, Professor, Ph.D. 1969, University of Wisconsin. Professor Collins is a psychopharmacologist whose primary research specialization is neurochemistry. His current research interests include (1) neurochemical correlates of nicotine use, tolerance development, and withdrawal; (2) neurochemical bases of alcohol preference and tolerance; (3) biochemical bases of behavior; and (4) utilization of genetics as a tool to determine the mechanisms of action of drugs.

John C. DeFries, Professor, Ph.D. 1961, University of Illinois. Professor DeFries' primary field of specialization is quantitative behavioral genetics. His current research interests include twin and adoption studies of human cognitive abilities; the genetics of learning disabilities; and the use of DNA markers to detect quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that influence behavioral characters.

John K. Hewitt, Professor, Ph.D. 1978, University of London, England. Professor Hewitt's current research interests include: genetic influences on human behavioral development, with a special emphasis on developmental psychopathology; smoking and alcohol use and abuse in relation to personality; genetics and behavioral medicine.

Matthew McQueen
- Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology. Dr. McQueen's research is focused on a multi-faceted approach to the investigation of genetic determinants underlying complex disease, with a particular interest in psychiatric, behavioral and neurologic disorders. Recent areas of research include the development and application of statistical and epidemiological methods geared towards genome-wide association in both family-based and population-based samples.

Richard K, Olson,
Professor, Ph.D. 1970, University of Oregon. Professor Olson's research focuses on reading disability and the use of computer-speech feedback to improve the reading and language skills of disabled readers.

Soo Rhee - Assistant Professor, PhD, Emory University, 1999. Dr. Rhee's primary research interests are the etiology and development of childhood disruptive disorders, the etiology and development of substance use disorders, the causes of comorbidity between psychiatric disorders and substance use disorders, and the development of methods discriminating correct models for causes of comorbidity.

Michael C. Stallings, Associate Professor, Ph.D. 1993, University of Southern California. Professor Stallings' research focuses on understanding the genetic and environmental influences on the development of substance use disorders and related psychopathology in humans. Biometrical modeling and quantitative trait loci (QTL) methods are applied to these problems.

Jeanne M. Wehner, Professor, Ph.D. 1976, University of Minnesota. Professor Wehner's research focuses on the genetic and biochemical regulation of learning and memory as well as the initial sensitivity and tolerance development to alcohol. She uses a variety of mouse models in her research including inbred mouse strains, transgenic mice, and "knock-out" mice. Behavioral, biochemical, and molecular analyses as well as quantitative trait loci methods are applied to these problems.

Erik Willcutt
- Assistant Professor, PhD, University of Denver, 1998. Professor Willcutt's current research focuses on the causes and consequences of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and their comorbidity. He uses genetic linkage and association techniques in studies of families and twins to identify genes that increase susceptibility to these difficulties.


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