Graduate Group in Psychology
- Laboratory rotations (Psychology 698) 3 course units (3 c.u.), or supervised research (Psychology 699)
- Three course units (3 c.u.) of Proseminars (Psychology 600)
- Statistics (Psychology 611) 1 c.u.
First-Year Research (Psychology 698 or Psychology 699)
Each first-year student registers for either three c.u. of Psychology 698, Laboratory Rotations, or three c.u. of Psychology 699, Independent Research. Finalizing between these two options must take place no later than six weeks from the first day of classes in the fall semester. Both options are designed to introduce students to independent research, either by focusing on a single project in one lab (699) or by having three shorter research projects, each in a different lab (698). Advisors for the 699 project and the first two laboratory rotations must be members of Psychology Graduate Group. With approval of the graduate chair, the third rotation may be conducted in the laboratory of an appropriate researcher outside of the graduate group. Please note that only Graduate Group members may supervise doctoral dissertations.
For both options, students are evaluated on their research at the end of the spring semester. Evaluation consists of both written and oral components. In the case of Psychology 699, the student is required to write a paper based on the first-year activities, and to be examined on it orally by a committee consisting of the advisor and at least two other faculty members. The Graduate Group Chair (also referred to as the Director of Graduate Studies) chooses the additional faculty members for the committee based on suggestions from the advisor, who first consults with the student. Although the student writes the paper, the advisor should offer at least general recommendations regarding its form and content. The 699 papers are typically 5000 to 7500 words, excluding references, tables, and figures. This is a rough guideline, however, and students should discuss with their advisor the appropriate length, taking into consideration sub-disciplinary norms or requirements for the journals where they intend to submit the paper. At the oral, the student should be prepared to discuss the relevance of the chosen problem to the general area of research, and the reasons for attaching the problem in this particular manner. The student must submit one copy of the 699 paper to each committee member and an additional copy for the Department’s files. The Graduate Group Chair will establish the deadline for submission at the beginning of the fall semester and this deadline will be published in the Graduate Calendar. Individual faculty members may not grant extensions to this deadline. Students who do not submit the 699 paper by the deadline will not be in good standing (see Chapter 2). At the end of the exam, the committee members should make every effort to reach agreement on a grade, but an average grade may be reported if necessary. Grades should be based primarily on the written paper and secondarily on the oral examination.
For Psychology 698, the student is to submit two rotation reports of 3,000 to 4,000 words each, at the same time that the 699 report is due. Students who do not submit the 698 reports by the deadline listed in the Graduate Calendar will not be in good standing and individual faculty members may not grant extensions to the deadline. Like the 699, there will also be an oral examination by a committee consisting of at least three faculty members, including the first two rotation advisors, a graduate group member who is not the student’s rotation advisor(s) and optionally, the third rotation advisor. The graduate group chair chooses the committee member who is not one of the rotation advisors. The oral component will focus on one of the two rotation projects. Only a written component is required for the third rotation and will be due no later than the third week after the start of the student's third semester. The third rotation advisor will evaluate the written component. The student must submit one copy of each rotation report to each committee member and an additional copy for the Department’s files. Students who choose the 698 option would determine, by mutual consent, the faculty with whom they would carry out their rotations. It is advisable to approach faculty about serving in this capacity as soon as possible. If a student cannot find three rotation supervisors by the end of this six-week period, they must do a 699.
Proseminars (Psychology 600)
A one-credit unit (1 c.u.) proseminar is a course that meets four hours each week during the entire semester. A one-half credit unit (0.5 c.u.) proseminar is a course that meets two hours each week during the entire semester, or four hours each week for one-half of the semester. No specific undergraduate courses or other proseminars are prerequisites for any of the proseminars. Proseminars have a significant evaluative component, culminating in a grade. This evaluation can take the form of an open or closed book examination, an oral examination, papers, or combination of these. A student who wishes to be reexamined must submit a written request to the Graduate Group Chair within one week of the distribution of grades for the proseminar. Students must take three c.u.'s of proseminars, ideally to be completed in the first year. However, the prosem requirement must be completed by the end of the student’s second year. Students must take one c.u. in each of the following broad areas: the Brain, the Individual and the Group, and the Mind.
|Cognitive Neuroscience||0.5 CU||Brain|
|Biological Basis of Behavior||0.5 CU||Brain|
|Behavioral Neuroscience||0.5 CU||Brain|
|Memory and Learning||0.5 CU||Brain|
|Social Behavior and Biology||0.5 CU||Brain/Individual & Group|
|Social Psychology||0.5 CU||Individual & Group|
|Psychopathology||1 CU||Individual & Group|
|Social, Emotional Development||0.5 CU||Individual & Group|
|Judgment and Decision||0.5 CU||Individual & Group/Mind|
|Human Memory||0.5 CU||Mind|
|Animal Behavior||0.5 CU||Mind|
|Cognitive Development||0.5 CU||Mind|
Quantitative Methods Requirement
Students will ordinarily take statistics (Psychology 611) in the fall semester of their first year, but the course must be passed by the end of the second year (B- or better). This is a basic course focusing on regression methods; students with a strong prior background in statistics may petition the graduate chair to substitute a more advanced course (e.g., econometrics). A second course in quantitative methods must be taken by the end of the second year. The second course should be chosen from a list of approved courses maintained by the Graduate Group Chair.
Deviations from the normal first-year program require the prior approval of the Graduate Group Chair. Students wishing to deviate from the normal program must write a letter stating their reasons in detail.
The standard letter grading system employed by the Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences will be used to evaluate performance in all graduate courses in psychology. The summary at the end of this section lists the verbal equivalents of these grades as they apply to our graduate program.
As noted in the next section, a student must be in good academic standing to remain in the graduate program. For a student to be in good standing at the end of the first year, the student must have a grade of A- or better for at least one proseminar (or proseminar equivalent) or on the student’s Independent Research (698 or 699) and have submitted the 698/699 report by the deadline listed in the Graduate Calendar. In addition, the student may have no more than one c.u. at a grade of B- or worse. However, at its spring meeting, the Graduate Group may vote to allow a student who is not in good standing to remain in the program on a provisional basis, subject to significant improvement in grades. The expectations for remaining in the program on this basis must be approved by the graduate group chair. In subsequent years, good academic standing means having: no more than 1/8 of all c.u. with grades of B- or worse, and no less than 1/8 of all c.u. with grades of A- or better. (Note: Our students generally take eight c.u.'s in their first year and six c.u.'s in both their second and third years. To remain in full-time standing, a student must take at least three c.u.'s in each semester that they are not on dissertation status.)
Although the Graduate Group does not have a Master's program, a student who has successfully completed the first year program, and 8 c.u.'s, may apply for an M.A. Degree. The paper associated with a 699 is viewed by the Graduate Group as being similar to a Master’s Thesis. Students taking the 698 (Rotation) would be expected to write a research paper based on one of the rotation projects to be considered for a M.A. This paper is expected to be written as if it were being submitted to a journal (e.g., APA style) and must be evaluated Pass/Fail by the rotation advisor. This additional paper is not required for a 698 unless the student wishes to apply for an M.A. Degree. If the Graduate Group asks a student to leave the graduate program, it also decides whether the student's performance to date merits the award of a terminal M.A. degree.
Summary of Grades and Grade Requirements
A- Very Good
B Minimally Acceptable
To be in good academic standing in our program, at least 1/8th of student's grades must be A- or better, and no more than 1/8th of student's grades may be B- or below.
Proseminars and Quantitative Requirement
By the end of the second year, students are expected to have satisfactorily completed (grade of B- or better) the required proseminars (3 c.u.’s), statistics, and a second quantitative methods course (see Chapter 2 for specifics). For the proseminars, one c.u. must be in each of the three areas: the Brain, the Individual and Group, and the Mind. Once these requirements are met (and not before), a student may proceed to take their Qualifying Examination, as described below. A student who has not fulfilled these requirements by the end of the second year may be asked to leave the graduate program by the Graduate Group.
Total Number of Credit Units (C.U.'s) for the Ph.D.
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences does not have a minimum number of credits necessary for graduation. However, the Psychology Graduate Group typically specifies a minimum of 20 c.u.'s before a student enters "dissertation" status. Of these 20 c.u.'s, a total of 9 c.u.'s must come from coursework. Coursework c.u.'s include: the 3 c.u.'s of proseminars, 2 c.u.'s of quantitative analysis/statistics, and 3 c.u.'s of the first year research projects (psychology 698 or psychology 699), for a total of 8 c.u.'s. Thus, at least one additional c.u. of coursework is required, which can come from graduate seminars, additional proseminars or additional quantitative coursework. Psych 999 Independent Research does not count as coursework but does count toward the total of 20 c.u.'s expected as part of reaching dissertation status. It is possible for a student to complete their coursework and research in fewer than 20 c.u.'s. In this case, permission must be obtained from the student's advisory committee and the Graduate Group Chair. Credit may be transferred toward the Ph.D. from a master's degree or other work completed in a post-baccalaureate degree program, upon recommendation by the graduate chair and approval of the graduate dean. To remain in full-time status, a student must sign up for a minimum of three c.u.'s each semester. The University of Pennsylvania limits the amount of time a student may take to receive the Ph.D. to 10 years.
Students are expected to continue their research throughout their graduate careers. When a student takes research courses (Psychology 999), grades on these courses will be assigned by the advisor, with the advice of the student's committee, based on written or oral reports of the student's research.
Students supported by the School of Arts and Sciences are required to assist in the teaching of one undergraduate course per semester of support. This rule does not apply to students in their first year. Therefore, the maximum number of semesters any student is required to teach is eight. Students who are supported by external funds generally do not have to serve as a teaching assistant.* However, all students, including those with external support for their entire academic career, must assist for at least two semesters. Students who are supported by external funds may choose which year they will serve as TAs. That is, a student may serve as a TA in a year he or she is supported with external funds in order to be excused from serving as a TA in another year (for instance, a student may not want to serve as a TA in the year of his or her major area exams). The Psychology Graduate Group may, from time to time, adjust these requirements. Students should refer to their offer letters to determine the TA policies in force when they matriculated. The two-semester minimum is intended to ensure that all graduate students acquire teaching experience. This typically includes examination construction and grading, consultation with individual undergraduates, and classroom teaching. Each teaching assistant is expected to work an average of 10 hours per week during the term, including class attendance, and to do no more than 40 hours grading any single exam. A doctoral student is expected to be able to learn (and assist in teaching) material covered in any of our undergraduate courses.
*Not all external funds fully cover the cost of tuition and stipend and, thus, may not fully release the student from TA'ing obligations. In particular, NRSAs do not fully cover those costs. Students will still be expected to TA if there is a shortfall that the advisor cannot cover. Students should speak with their advisors and the DGS about the TA'ing implications of any particular award before applying.
Whereas the proseminar requirement is designed to provide students with broad exposure to the field of psychology, graduate seminars are designed to provide deep specialized knowledge in specific areas. Graduate seminars will be offered regularly on a variety of topics, and students are expected to participate in some of these seminars (See section above on total number of courses required for the Ph.D.).
The Qualifying Examination in Areas of High Competence
The purpose of the qualifying exam is to demonstrate competence as a specialist in an area of psychology. The qualifying exam should demonstrate both breadth and depth of understanding. A student who passes the exam in a field should be qualified to teach courses in that field at all levels. Although students may have more than one field, the fields are usually related. There is both a written and oral component to the exam. For the written component, students usually submit two qualifying exam papers, one to satisfy the depth requirement and another to satisfy the breadth requirement. The depth component should demonstrate depth of understanding of the student's core area of research. Among other things, this might be the Specific Aims and Research Strategy from a grant or fellowship application or a review or theory paper. The typical length of a grant application is 5-6 pages, single-spaced. The breadth paper should reflect knowledge of adjacent literatures. Among other things, this might be a review or theory paper about an area related to the student's core research literature. The typical length of a review paper is 5000-7500 words, excluding references, tables, and figures. Other types of written documents may be acceptable for both the depth and breadth components (e.g., book chapters), if approved by the committee (see below). Students can also demonstrate breadth or depth with a written exam (for additional information, see here). A student can set two oral defense dates (one for each document; an hour each) or one oral defense date for both documents (two hours). The written documents can be submitted and the oral defense(s) can be scheduled at any time before the end of the third year, but must occur no later than the deadlines specified in the Graduate Calendar. Written documents should be submitted to committee members at least two weeks in advance of the defense date (or by the date specified in the Graduate Calendar).
No later than six months before the oral component of the examination is to be completed, the student must submit an initial examination proposal to his or her Advisory Committee, with a copy to the Graduate Chair. (See Chapter 4, on administrative details for a discussion of the general function and composition of the Advisory Committee.) The qualifying exam proposal should briefly describe (a) the gap in knowledge the qualifying exam will fill, (b) the research question(s) that will be answered with the qualifying exam, (c) the methods the student will use to answer the question(s), and (d) a reading list. If students fulfill the breadth and depth requirements in two separate papers, they must submit two separate proposals. In rare cases, students fulfill the breadth and depth requirements in a single exam, in which case only one proposal is necessary. Each proposal should be no longer than 2-4 pages, double-spaced. After a period of consultation (with input from the Graduate Chair, if needed) which should not exceed four weeks, the student and committee will submit a final proposal to the Graduate Chair. The Advisory Committee and the Graduate Chair must approve the final plan, taking into account the student's preferences. All final proposals will be available (from the graduate chair) for reading by any faculty member or graduate student. The examination should be planned so that, over the course of the academic year, the student should be able to spend roughly as much time on research as on preparing for the examination.
The Advisory Committee chair must notify the Graduate Group Chair in writing whether the student has passed or failed this examination. A student has at most two opportunities to pass the Qualifying Examination. If a second examination is necessary, the student must submit a new proposal within two weeks of the failure of the first exam. A student who fails the qualifying exam for the second time will be asked to leave the graduate program. Passing requires unanimity of three committee members, or if the committee has more than three members, a majority (not a tie).
While preparing for the written exam or writing the papers, the student should consult frequently with his or her advisor and with other committee members. Advisors and committee members may provide general comments on drafts, expecially about literature that should be included in a review, but not close editing. Their involvement should not be so great as to warrant the status of co-author or co-principal-investigator. Because this is an examination, it must reflect the student's knowledge, some of which may be acquired from input while working on the exam. If the student wants to submit a portion of the qualifying exam for publication or to meet a fellowship application deadline prior to the defense, the student must submit a version of the document that reflects his or her work (with general comments from advisors or committee members) to the DGS. The student and advisor may then work more closely to prepare the work for submission to a journal or funding body.
For a sample timeline for the qualifying exam, please click the following link:
Once students have successfully completed qualifying exams, they must submit a dissertation proposal to their committee. The dissertation proposal should briefly describe (a) the gap in knowledge the thesis research will fill, (b) the research question(s) that will be answered in the thesis work, (c) the study design(s) or research methods, and (d) the hypotheses the student plans to test (if appropriate to the study design). The proposal should also include an outline of the chapters that will be included in the dissertation. The proposal should be no longer than 2-4 pages, double-spaced. The dissertation proposal is not formally defended, but it should be discussed with the committee, and the committee's approval of the proposal should be communicated by the committee chair to the DGS. This discussion can occur in person or by email. The timeline for submission of the proposal is flexible. In some cases, the student might find it helpful to draft and discuss the proposal shortly after qualifying exams are completed to ensure that the committee is in agreement about the work the student will undertake. In other cases, the student might submit a proposal early in the 5th year once she or he has a better sense of some of the results. In this case, the proposal is meant to ensure that the student and committee members are in agreement that the work the student has completed and will include in each chapter is sufficient to constitute a dissertation. Regardless of when the student chooses to submit the proposal (i.e., before vs. after some or all of the data have been collected or studies have been completed), it is important that the student communicate in person or online with the committee about (1) what the thesis work will be and (2) how the thesis itself is shaping up and whether committee members still agree that the completed work will be adequate to earn a PhD from our graduate group. The first of these discussions would ideally happen early in the 4th year whereas the second of these discussions would ideally happen early in the 5th year.
The Ph.D. thesis is the single most important component of the graduate program. It is in most respects like a set of high quality publishable papers reporting the results of the student's research. The purpose of the Ph.D. thesis is to communicate the results of the student's doctoral research. The thesis is the place where the student demonstrates his or her competence in the conduct and communication of scientific research. It is not the place where the student proves that he or she has worked long and diligently on research by recounting all those activities that he or she thought at the time might be relevant. It is, in short, not a special literary form, unique in that it is written expressly not to be read.
A student's Advisory Committee will function as the dissertation committee. It will evaluate and approve the dissertation proposal. The student should present the completed thesis to the advisory committee no less than two weeks before the dissertation defense.
University rules limit the time for completing a dissertation. If the dissertation is not completed in time, the student must re-take the qualifying examination.
A dissertation seminar must be given by each student sometime prior to the final approval of the thesis, but after a substantial part of the research has been completed. This presentation will be open to all members of the Graduate Group; the student's Advisory Committee is expected to attend, as well as other interested faculty and students. The seminar will be scheduled wherever possible in the Wednesday or Friday afternoon "open slots" to maximize attendance. The student must supply the Graduate Group Chair no later than 10 days before the seminar is to take place with an abstract of the seminar (100-150 words).
Either a member of the advisory committee or the Graduate Group Chair will preside at the seminar. The student will be given a more or less uninterrupted hour to present the research, following which there will be substantive questions and discussion. There is no necessary connection between what transpires at the dissertation seminar and approval of the dissertation, which is still entirely in the hands of the Advisory Committee. However, before finally approving the dissertation, the Advisory Committee will be expected to give due consideration to points raised by the audience at the dissertation seminar.
The Graduate Division of Arts and Sciences will be notified that a student's dissertation has been approved only when the following sequence of events has been completed: first, the Graduate Group Chair confirms the occurrence of the dissertation seminar; and second, the student's committee meets as a whole with the student to conduct a Dissertation Defense. At the conclusion of the Defense, the committee must decide to:
- Accept the dissertation as submitted
- Accept the dissertation with minor changes to be supervised by the advisor (possibly in consultation with other committee members)
- Reject the dissertation
Acceptance, or acceptance with revision, requires unanimity of three committee members, or, if the committee has more than three members, a majority (not a tie). Committee chairs should send the Graduate Group Chair a note specifying when the committee met, who attended, and what decision the committee reached. If the committee rejects the Dissertation, then it must meet again after a new version has been submitted to the committee. Students are required to submit a final copy of the dissertation to the Psychology Library. This is in addition to the copies required by the University's Graduate Division Office. Students are also required to pay all bills owed to the Department.
The University now provides guidance on the circumstances under which graduates may amend their dissertation after it has been deposited. For details, see here: https://catalog.upenn.edu/pennbook/amending-dissertations/
The Chair of the Graduate Group is responsible for the administration of the Graduate Program. In practice, the Graduate Group Chair works closely with the Department Chair.
Advisors, who must be members of the Graduate Group in Psychology, take primary responsibility for the research activities of their students, and advise them on other matters pertinent to their graduate careers. A student without a regular advisor becomes automatically the advisee of the Graduate Group Chair. In the course of a graduate career, there are two occasions when a student might be without a regular advisor:
- At the beginning of the first year, a period of six weeks may elapse before the selection of the research supervisor for the 699 project or 698 rotations.
- A period of less than one month during a change in field or switch from one advisor to another within the same field. Such short advisorless periods are of no significance.
The student or advisor may unilaterally terminate the advising relationship at any time, except during the second semester of the first year. When this occurs, the Graduate Group Chair should be immediately informed of this fact, with appropriate explanations. Following termination of an advising relationship, it is expected that the student will be able to make satisfactory arrangements for a new advisor within one month. During this one month period, the student and the Graduate Group Chair should work together to find a new advisor. If the student continues to be advisorless after this one-month period, the Graduate Group Chair may convene a meeting of the Graduate Group for the purpose of deciding if the student is to be allowed to continue in the graduate program. Such a meeting must be called within six months of the termination of the advising relationship.
Beginning with the second year in residence, every graduate student will have an Advisory Committee. The general function of the Advisory Committee is to oversee all aspects of the student's education after the first year. To that end, the committee as a group will meet with the student at least once each academic year in order to review progress, discuss problems, and approve plans for the coming year. It is the responsibility of the student and the Advisory Committee chair to see that such a meeting is scheduled. At the discretion of the committee chair, Advisory Committee meetings may take place more frequently.
After each meeting, the Advisory Committee chair will write a brief report summarizing the conclusions of the committee; a copy of this report will be sent to the Graduate Group Chair. It will be appropriate in such a report to comment on unusual achievements, or to discuss current deficiencies and potential problems.
In the student's third year, the Advisory Committee will set and evaluate the Qualifying Examination. After completion of this examination, the committee will evaluate the student's dissertation proposal and, eventually, the completed dissertation.
Each Advisory Committee will consist of at least three members of the Graduate Group. (Co-advisors count as one, not two.) Additional members of the committee need not be members of the Graduate Group or even of the standing faculty. The committee must have an advisor and a chair. The chair cannot be the advisor. The advisor and the chair must be faculty members in the Graduate Group. Except for the student's advisor, the Graduate Group Chair, who will be guided primarily by the recommendations of the student and the advisor, appoints all members of the Advisory Committee. In appointing Advisory Committees, the Graduate Group Chair will also make an effort to see to it that a number of different but relevant points of view are represented on the committee, and that committee assignments are distributed as evenly as possible across the faculty.
Duration of Financial Support
Beginning with students admitted in fall, 2009, the Department commits itself to support each graduate student for five years of work (the level of support for students admitted in prior years is as indicated in their offer letter). The Department expects full time effort in return for its support during the five years of the program. Thus, students may not engage in outside employment while on departmental support. In exceptional circumstances, such outside employment may be in the educational interest of the student. If the student believes this to be so, the student should apply in writing to the Graduate Group Chair for permission to take such outside employment. The student should explain why the employment is in his or her educational interest. The Graduate Group Chair will consult with the student, his or her advisor, and committee before deciding on the merits of the case. Note that employment within the department and the university (including teaching) is considered “outside employment.”
The Psychology Graduate Group may, from time to time, adjust these requirements. Students should refer to their offer letters to determine the TA policies in force when they matriculated.
Leaves of Absence
Students will be granted a leave of absence for military duty, family leave, or medical reasons. Other kinds of leave may be granted under exceptional circumstances. Details about how to apply for a leave of absence can be found here: https://catalog.upenn.edu/pennbook/phdstudentleaveofabsence/
Students who have a disability and are in need of reasonable accommodations should contact the Office of Student Disability Services.
The University of Pennsylvania values diversity and seeks talented students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds. The University of Pennsylvania does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, creed, national or ethnic origin, citizenship status, age, disability, veteran status or any other legally protected class status in the administration of its admissions, financial aid, educational or athletic programs, or other University-administered programs or in its employment practices. Questions or complaints regarding this policy should be directed to the Executive Director of the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs, Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Suite 228, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106; or (215) 898-6993 (Voice) or (215) 898-7803 (TDD).
Office of the Ombuds
Students who are having interpersonal issues with advisors, faculty members, or other graduate students that they would like to discuss informally and confidentially are encouraged to contact the office of the Ombuds. The Office of the Ombuds is available to listen and inquire into issues or complaints; to explore options for informal resolution of conflicts; to mediate specific disputes; to clarify and examine university policies and procedures; and to connect you with appropriate resources within the University. They also advise and make recommendations to the administration about procedures or policies that need to be revisited, modified or clarified.
The ombudsman operates independently of the University hierarchy, reporting only to an executive officer in the President’s Center in order to avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest.
The Office of the Ombuds conducts its business in accordance with principles of confidentiality, neutrality, and informality. “Confidentiality” means that staff of the Office will not disclose any information you share with them, unless you have given them permission to do so. The exception to this confidentiality is if you disclose information that gives reasonable cause to believe that there is an imminent risk of serious harm to you or someone else. The Office of the Ombuds neither takes a side in a dispute, nor advocates for an individual, a particular point of view, office, school, center, department or any other party. They do not keep the names of individuals who visit the office, or any documents or materials. The Ombuds will keep no formal record of your visit.
More information about the Office of Ombuds can be found at http://www.upenn.edu/ombuds/
For detailed information about admission to the clinical program, clinical program requirements, outcomes and all other matters specific to clinical training, see the Clinical Training Program.