Social-Personality Psychology Doctor of Philosophy Degree Program

Program of Study and Research

(60 credits, minimum)

The general aim of the doctoral program is preparation of students to become productive scholars in the psychological sciences through coursework and research experience leading to the doctoral dissertation. It is the aim of this graduate program to provide a course of study which provides a foundation in psychology and to meet individual objectives in an area of specialization.

Departmental Requirements

In the first year of doctoral studies, students take the two-semester sequence of statistics courses, Psy 510 and 511. A student who receives a grade lower than B in Psy 510 or 511 must repeat the course. (Students who earn less than a B in 510 cannot enroll in 511.) First-year students are expected to take at least 11 hours per semester.

Outside-of-Area Courses

Students are expected to gain knowledge of psychological research by taking courses in more than one of the department's specializations. Breadth of knowledge in these areas is accomplished with courses recommended by the student's advisor. Each student is required to take a minimum of two courses outside her or his own specialization. The two courses must be selected from two different areas of specialization within Psychology Ph.D. programs. Each area of specialization may identify particular courses for its students to take.

All graduate students must maintain a B average among the two courses outside their own specialization. If a student earns less than a C in one of these courses, and is still retained in the program, the student will repeat the course regardless of the student's overall average.

Initial Research Project

Graduate students will demonstrate basic research competency in the student’s subfield of Psychology by generating a novel hypothesis, statistically analyzing appropriate data to test the hypothesis, and submitting a manuscript to the faculty advisor to be approved prior to the beginning of the fall semester of the student’s third year.

Research Tool Requirement

Every student must present evidence of the satisfactory completion of the research tool requirement. Only one tool is required. The department defines the following as appropriate for completion of the Research Tool.

  • Pass a foreign language test. Various tests are offered each semester. In accordance with the university rules, foreign students may take the language test in their native language.
  • Take a course. In accordance with the psychology guidelines, students may take courses in computer programming, mathematics, electronics, biochemistry, histological techniques, foreign language, pharmacology, or advanced statistics. A student must earn at least a B in a course intended to satisfy the research tool requirement. Course credits taken in conjunction with completing the Tool Requirement do not count toward credit hours required for the degree. Furthermore, any course used toward the research tool requirement may not be included in the out-of-area courses.
  • Master a technique, statistical or otherwise, in the process of conducting the Initial Research Project or another research project. Structured and supervised projects or experiences are possible (e.g., specific interventions, or assessment technologies). This technique can be self-taught, taught by a faculty member, or taught in a course. However, the research project cannot be part of a course (otherwise, the course cannot be counted towards graduation – see above) but must be independent of a course. The technique should be advanced. Thus, statistical skills taught in the mandatory first year statistics sequence cannot be used to fulfill the tool requirement.

Optional Master’s Degree (M.A.)

Students who wish to formally obtain a Master’s Degree en route to a Ph.D. must solicit a committee of at least two members of the Psychology department faculty, including at least one member of the social area, to review the thesis (which is typically based on the Initial Research Project) and sign the transmittal form authorizing the university to grant the degree. Although no formal defense is required, students must give an oral presentation on their thesis research in the weekly social area seminar (Topics in Social and Personality Psychology).

Qualifying Examinations

The department qualifying examination consists of a demonstration by graduate students that they are prepared and qualified to perform independently and professionally within their area of specialization.

Before the end of the fourth year of study, a student is expected to have completed these doctoral qualifying requirements. It is the student's responsibility to consult with his or her advisor about the format of the qualifying examination, committee membership, and timeline. If a student fails the qualifying examination, he/she may take it once more. Failure on the second occasion constitutes a basis for dismissal from the program.

Students have two general options with respect to the format of the exam: They may either take a two day general exam based on a reading list provided by the area or write a comprehensive literature review.

Option #1: General Exam

The purpose of the general qualifying exam is to provide students with a general familiarity of classic and current research in the field of social-personality psychology. A passing grade is necessary for formal admission to the Ph.D. program.

Students who plan to take the general exam must notify faculty at least six months in advance, so that faculty can prepare an updated reading list. Students will receive a reading list at the end of the Spring semester in the year that they take the qualifying exam (typically at the end of the student’s second or third year). This list will be developed by the faculty of the social/personality program as a whole. Students will prepare for the qualifying exam by reading and reviewing the reading list over the summer. Studying together with other students in study groups is permitted and encouraged.

Testing will take place during two consecutive days at the start of the Fall semester of the following academic year. There will be a three hour session in the morning (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.) and a three hour session in the afternoon (1 p.m. -4 p.m.). In a given session, students will be given three questions based on the material in the reading list and they must choose to answer two of them. Test dates and test sites will be coordinated by the social/personality area, such that all students taking the exams will do so at the same time and under the same testing conditions. Those students who are interested will be given the option of writing their responses to questions on a computer.

Grading Procedure
The exam will be developed and graded by the social/ personality area. Each faculty member will submit a question to the area head and then the faculty will meet to review and select questions for the exam. To ensure a fair grading procedure for the general exam, all exams will be labeled using only a confidential ID number. Grading for a given question will be performed by a committee of three faculty from the social/personality area. Once the grades have been determined for all participants, the identity of the students will be revealed so that they can be given notice of their performance.

Students will be given one of the following grades: pass with distinction, pass, or fail. Students who pass the exam will be given a letter from the area head informing them of this. Students will be designated as failing a question when a majority of the faculty who grade the question grade the performance as below the area standards for a passing grade. A failure on one question will result in failure on the exam in general. Students who fail will be given an additional chance to pass the exam a month after receiving notification of their failure, in writing, from the area head. The re-take will focus on the number of questions failed by the student in the previous attempt (e.g., if the student failed one question, then they will be re-tested on one question). In the event that a student fails the second exam, the area faculty will convene to determine if the student should remain active in the Ph.D. program.

Option #2: Comprehensive Literature Review

Instead of the general exam, a student may instead choose to write a review paper. The purpose of the qualifying paper is to provide students with experience in preparing a formal review article. A passing grade is necessary for a student to maintain active status in the Ph.D. program.

Students will prepare a literature review that is suitable and of the quality necessary for publication in a high-impact review journal, such as Psychological Bulletin or Personality and Social Psychology Review. The initial submitted draft of the paper should not exceed 50 pages of text (references, tables, figures, and appendices are not included in this 50-page limit). The review paper will present a critical, thoughtful, complete, and original review of an existing body of literature relevant to social-personality psychology, broadly defined.

The student will prepare a proposal describing the proposed topic area and a preliminary structure for the review. The proposal must address the following issues: (1) why the topic chosen needs to be subjected to a literature review, (2) whether a meta-analysis will be performed (as well as justifying why or why not), and (3) a description of how relevant articles will be identified and the approximate number of articles that will be reviewed. The topic area reviewed cannot overlap substantively with the student’s future dissertation work. Such overlap will be determined by the dissertation committee of the student at the time of the dissertation proposal presentation.

The student will solicit a committee of three social area faculty who will assess the proposal. Upon approval of the committee, the student will undertake the review without consultation from other students or faculty. The student has six months to complete the paper from the time of proposal approval. Upon completion, the paper will be submitted to the committee and will be subjected to a review by each committee member as if the paper had been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and formal reviews will be provided to the student. Within one month following submission, the committee will meet and decide to either accept the manuscript in its current form or request a “revise and re-submit.” In the latter case, the committee will prepare a memo communicating to the student any required changes. The student will then make revisions as he or she sees fit and submit a revised manuscript along with a cover letter describing the revisions that were made and justifying why reviewers’ suggestions, if any, were not incorporated into the revision. The student will have six weeks to complete the revisions from the time the memo constituting the review is provided. The committee members will each read the revision and assign a grade of pass with distinction, pass, or fail. To pass the qualifying exam, a student must receive passing grades from a majority of committee members, whereas to pass with distinction a student must receive this grade unanimously.


Students must submit an acceptable dissertation which demonstrates that they are capable of doing independent scholarly work and are able to formulate conclusions which should modify or extend previous knowledge. Students must be formally admitted to candidacy before the dissertation proposal can be accepted and approved.

Full Time Study in Residence

Each student in a doctoral program must engage in full-time study beyond the master's degree or equivalent at the University in at least two sessions after admission to the advanced program. This requirement is designed to insure for each doctoral student a sustained period of intensive intellectual growth. For this purpose a student will enroll in full-time study (9 credits) taken in each of two sessions, or in a regular session and a summer session, not necessarily consecutive, which must be completed satisfactorily.

Admission to Candidacy

A student is admitted to candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy upon the following:

  1. Satisfactory completion of the research competency paper;
  2. Satisfactory record in course and seminar study;
  3. Satisfactory completion of the research tool requirement;
  4. Completion of university residence requirements;
  5. Satisfactory completion of the doctoral qualifying examination.

Statute of Limitations

All courses used to satisfy degree requirements (other than APSY 899 Doctoral Dissertation) must have been completed no more than eight years prior to the semester in which the degree is officially granted by the University.

Requirements Specific to Social-Personality Psychology

All students in the Social-Personality area must take APSY 605 (Social Psychology I) as well as APSY 730 (Attitudes and Social Cognition), in addition to two courses within departmental areas other than Social-Personality (see above).

Social-Personality students must also successfully complete a minimum of four specialization courses such as: APSY 613 (Multivariate Analysis), 614 (Meta-analyses), 668 (Group Processes), 620 (Personality Theory), 736 (Research Methods in Psychology), 753 (Psychometric Theory and Research), or 780 (Special Topics in Social Psychology). Note: APSY 780 is a special topics course and students can conceivably take up to 4 PSY780s if they are content courses taught by social area faculty.

A student in the social/personality area of concentration is expected to demonstrate competence in a research area that has been chosen in consultation with an advisor and a faculty member from the department. Possible projects might include major authorship on a research paper suitable for journal publication, an evaluative literature review of a research area, or preparation of a grant proposal.

Please note: This program offers an internship, field experience, study abroad component, or clinical experience in the course listing as an option to fulfill course requirements. Students who have previously been convicted of a felony are advised that their prior criminal history may impede their ability to complete the requirements of certain academic programs and/or to meet licensure requirements for certain professions. If you have concerns about this matter please contact the Dean’s Office of your intended academic program.