The National Association of Animal Behaviorists (NAAB) acknowledges and welcomes members from a variety of disciplines within the field of animal behavior. For those who are interested in learning more about how to receive academic training to become involved in the field of animal behavior, the following are recommendations based on current practices in the field, and various approaches to animal behavior.
The field of animal behavior spans various fields including (but not limited to) biology, zoology, ethology, psychology, chemistry, anthropology, neuroscience, behavior analysis, and comparative cognition. These fields may address questions of animal behavior in terms of proximate and/or ultimate causes (i.e. Tinbergen’s four questions will help you understand these approaches if they are unfamiliar to you).
Each of these areas provides valuable insights into why an animal may behave the way it does in its current environment. While having a complete and thorough understanding of behavior from each of these areas may not be feasible, developing an appreciation for each will enhance your overall understanding of the complexity of behavior.
Finding an Undergraduate Program
Given the diversity within the field, NAAB recommends that individuals early in their career gain exposure to as many of these areas as possible. This would suggest that a typical undergraduate student may have taken courses in the following areas:
- Animal Behavior/Ethology
- Research Methods and Statistics
- Learning Theory
- Biological Psychology
- Comparative Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Neurobiology/Behavioral Neuroscience
- Ethics/Animal Welfare
- Behavior Analysis
- Counseling/Family Systems
- Genetics/Evolutionary Biology
- Research Experience/Internships/Field Work
Though an undergraduate student may take courses in each of these areas, it is typical for each school/department to emphasize one particular area. Viewing the school’s curriculum, the faculty, their research interests, and the types of opportunities provided by each program, will help you gain the knowledge needed to become an active member of the animal behavior field.
Finding a Graduate Program
Most graduate programs are going to specialize in a certain area. Hopefully in your undergraduate career/research/field experiences, you have identified what approach to animal behavior interests you the most.
The number of graduate programs and individuals working in the field in an academic capacity is too large to even begin to list here, but there are a variety of ways that you can begin to find schools/advisors who may be able to support you and your graduate career.
- Look at the university/affiliations of authors of books/articles/etc. that you are interested in.
- Talk to your undergraduate advisor/mentor about recommended programs.
- Look at the CV/resume of individuals who do work that you are interested in. Where did they go to school? Where are they currently?
- Attend a conference or look up the abstracts of the talks you would be interested in hearing more about. Where are the speakers from? What is their background?
- Reach out to people in the field and ask them for advice! Most faculty members will have their emails on their webpages….write them a short email asking specific questions about their work/program/admissions etc.
The following schools are some examples of graduate programs in Animal Behavior:
- Bucknell University, MS in Animal Behavior
- Indiana University, PhD in Animal Behavior
- University of North Texas, MS in Behavior Analysis
- University of California, Davis, MS and PhD in Animal Behavior
Continuing Your Education
As an evolving science, the field of animal behavior is always growing, and new discoveries are being made. It is important as members of this dynamic community that we stay abridge on new research, findings, best practices, methods, etc. This requires one to continue to educate themselves throughout their career. This continuing education can come in the form of participating in local/national/international conferences, reading scientific articles, completing continuing education credits, and/or publishing new findings in peer reviewed journals or edited books. We encourage our members to broaden their knowledge and we welcome collaboration with other organizations in the field of animal behavior.
Here are some organizations that share an interest in the field of animal behavior:
- Animal Behavior Society
- Interdisciplinary Forum for Applied Animal Behavior
- The Art and Science of Animal Training
- Association for Applied Behavior Analysis (see the Applied Animal Behavior Special Interest Group specifically)
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
Journals of Interest
Below is a list of some journals of interest to the field of Animal Behavior:
- Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis
- Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
- Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior
- Animal Behavior
- Behavioral Processes
- Applied Animal Behavior Science
- Zoo Biology