We recognized West Virginia University for offering one of the 35 Best Behavior Analysis Graduate Programs, adding them to our list of top recommendations for students in the area.
We were excited to hear from Claire St. Peter, PhD, BCBA-D, a faculty member at West Virginia University who took the time to answer a few questions about how the school works to create a great student experience that helps prepare graduates for a career in applied behavior analysis.
West Virginia University Programs:
- PhD in Psychology with a specialization in Behavior Analysis
Of particular note is that our program is a Behavior Analysis program, not an Applied Behavior Analysis program. We equally emphasize basic and applied sciences in the program, and focus on research experiences.
Professor/Faculty Name: Claire St. Peter, PhD, BCBA-D
Tell us about the types of students you see come through your program. Are you seeing more non-traditional students and career changers coming from other fields?
Claire: Most of our students are coming from other academic institutions, or following a period in which they have worked as a professional (e.g., as a practitioner or lab manager). Competitive applicants generally already have a strong background in behavior analysis specifically or research in natural sciences more generally.
What areas of practice are you seeing graduates going into? Do they tend to find jobs in the local school districts or more often join private practices?
Claire: About 2/3 of our graduates are in research-intensive post-doctoral positions or are faculty. Only about 20% of our graduates become practitioners.
What are some of the things you love most about the ABA program at your university – the kind of things you’d like future students to know about as they consider their options?
Claire: There are two features of our program that really stand out to me. The first is the collegiality among our faculty and students. We emphasize a non-competitive environment in which allstudents receive a tuition waiver, stipend, and funding for research projects and travel (thus, students don’t have to compete for these resources). Students and faculty work together on mutually interesting research projects (students are not treated as the minions of faculty), and students are encouraged to work closely with multiple professors.
The second is the diversity of experiences available in our program. We are proud to have a program that is balanced between basic science (in which principles of behavior are discovered through highly controlled research, often with animals) and applied sciences (in which technologies are developed and tested based on those principles to solve socially significant problems). Although students may choose to emphasize basic or applied work, all students take at least one introductory and one advanced course in each of basic and applied sciences. Many students choose to work in multiple laboratories, which allows them to build a variety of technical skills spanning the continuum from basic to applied.
What do you feel are the most pressing issues in ABA today, and how does the program at your school prepare graduates to address these issues?
Claire: We must continue to link science and practice. The mission of the PhD program area in Behavior Analysis at West Virginia University is to produce an individual who can function effectively in various academic or applied settings, advance our understanding of the principles of behavior, and apply those principles to socially significant problems. Thus, we are very focused on building well-rounded behavior analysts who can move seamlessly between basic and applied domains.
The WVU behavior analysis program has a history that goes back over 40 years, before the BACB and ABAI were there to offer curriculum guidance. How do you feel uniform curriculum standards and professional certification has improved things over the years for ABA students, practitioners and their clients?
Claire: We are fortunate at WVU to have faculty who have been leaders in the field for decades, including former editors and associate editors of The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and former presidents of the Association for Behavior Analysis International. Our faculty have ensured high-quality education since the formation of the program area in 1976, and continues to this day. We were delighted to recently receive re-accreditation of our program by ABAI until 2025, making us one of only 10 doctoral accredited doctoral programs in behavior analysis. Accreditation provides assurance that independent evaluators have determined that our program is of excellent quality.
WVU offers one of the strongest ABA doctorate programs we’ve seen, complete with doctorate-prepared faculty members with impressive backgrounds and great research facilities and labs. I’m really interested in knowing about some of the research WVU PhD graduates have contributed to the field.
Claire: Our graduates have gone on to become president of the Association for Behavior Analysis International, editors of major journals (like The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior), and leaders in fields like the experimental analysis of behavior, behavioral pharmacology, and organizational behavior management. In the last 5 years alone, our current students and recent graduates have co-authored over 50 peer-reviewed publications with our faculty and over 75 professional presentations. Like our faculty, our students go on to be prolific scholars who make important contributions to the field.
Please feel free to add anything else you would like potential students to know about your program and that would be good for them to consider before choosing a program.
Our doctoral program is an on-campus only program housed in the Psychology Department (in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences). Applicants sometimes get confused because the College of Education at WVU also offers an online Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis. It’s important for students to know that the online Master’s degree and our (on-campus only) doctoral degree are distinct programs, with no overlapping coursework or experience. When evaluating our programs, students should be sure that they are looking at materials relevant to the specific program at WVU that interests them. For example, we don’t have enough students in our doctoral program taking the BACB exam for our pass rates to be published (although, to the best of our knowledge, 100% of students have passed)—the published pass rates for WVU are from the online Master’s program only.
As a general bit of advice, applicants should carefully consider the opportunities available in a program, and whether or not those opportunities match the applicant’s long-term goals. Our program is research intensive, so it’s not a good fit for students who want to have an exclusive emphasis on practice. That said, we are an excellent fit for students who want to go on to careers that involve a research focus (like faculty positions), in part because students in our program work closely and intensively with renowned scientists in behavior analysis.
As a side note, our actual median time to graduation (from Bachelor’s to PhD) is about 5 years.
Check out our full interview series here to see what other professors and faculty are saying about their ABA programs.