Graduate School Requirements

The goals and general requirements for the Ph.D. program in Social Psychology are described in the Graduate School Catalog under Psychology and in "Requirements for the Ph.D. Program in Social Psychology at the University of Kansas." 

The following information provides more detail on the requirements of continuous involvement in research, the contract system, the research skills requirement, the oral comprehensive exam, progress reports, and the yearly evaluation.

Research Requirement
The Contract Committee
Nature of the Contract
M.A. Thesis Proposal and Defense
Research Skills Requirement and Responsible Scholarship (RSRS)
Oral Comprehensive Exam
Progress Reports
Yearly Evaluation

Research Requirement

Each graduate student in social psychology must be continuously involved in research.  Entering students should visit each faculty member in social psychology to determine areas of mutual research interest.  The student can either become a part of a faculty member’s on-going program of research, or identify a faculty member who is willing and able to supervise independent research efforts.

Students are encouraged to identify a contract committee chair and/or advisor by December 1 of their first year in the program.

The Contract Committee

Incoming Social Psychology graduate students develop a plan of study best suited to their long-term goals.  The document describing this plan is called a contract, and the supervising committee of three faculty members is called a contract committee.  The contract system is outlined in the Graduate School Catalog under Psychology.

Not described in the Catalog are the procedures for selection of the student's original contract committee, composition of the committee, and changes in the committee. During the fall semester, first-year students are expected to identify three faculty members they would prefer as members of their contract committee. The committee chair is typically a faculty member in the social program, and one other member is also typically a member of the social program. The third member must be in the psychology department but outside of the social program, and serves to represent the interests of the Department.  (In some instances, the committee can be chaired by a psychology faculty member not in the Social Program, in which case the third member should be from the Social Program faculty.)

This information about the contract committee should be submitted to the Program Director no later than January 15 of the student's first year.  If the student is unsure who might be an appropriate outside member of his or her contract committee, the student should consult with the Program Director or with any other member of the Program faculty.  Once students have submitted names of proposed committee members, the Program Director will select faculty members to serve on committees, taking into account the request of the student and equitable distribution of assignments among faculty members.  The student must then develop a plan of study (contract) and have it approved by the committee by April 15 (of the first year in the program).  Earlier preparation and approval of the initial contract is encouraged.

Nature of the Contract

All contracts should explicitly discuss the following topic areas:

1.  Professional goals: The student should describe professional goals in as much detail as possible, including areas of specialization, preferred or likely setting for work following completion of graduate training, and the nature of the professional activity in which the student intends to engage.  Reference should be made to ways in which the proposed curriculum will provide the knowledge and skills required for the pursuit of these professional goals.

2.  Completed coursework:  A list of relevant courses already completed should be included.  These courses should be categorized on the basis of the areas and activities described in the first section.

3.  Projected coursework: A similar categorized list of all projected courses that will comprise the student's individualized curriculum should be included, and the relevance of these courses to personal and professional goals should be made clear.

The areas of projected coursework should include the following: a) research skills, b) substantive content within social psychology, c) substantive content in other areas of psychology, d) substantive content in departments outside of psychology. Though students are not required to take course work in all of these domains, the program faculty recommends serious consideration of ways to develop both breadth and depth in psychology and related fields. To facilitate this consideration, an attachment to this document suggests possible cross-disciplinary “tracks” or “themes” of study (e.g., in sociology, anthropology, philosophy, business, etc.).

4.  Planned research activity: To the extent that it is possible, a description of the research activities in which the student intends to engage while in the program should be provided.  Deadlines for the completion of various research activities should be made clear.

5.  Other professional development:  The student should indicate other plans for development as a professional. These plans might include attendance at professional conferences, presentation of posters or papers at these conferences, and involvement in additional training options (e.g., the Summer Institute in Social Psychology, the ISR/ICPSR summer training at the University of Michigan). As much as possible, specific plans should be outlined in the contract.

6.  Plan for evaluation of progress: The student should detail the specific ways in which his or her progress will be evaluated. Grades in courses are not sufficient for this purpose.  The student can propose various ways his or her progress is to be evaluated.  For example, (a) preparation of a review paper appropriate for publication that will be read by a committee of faculty members, (b) successful completion of a written examination in some designated area(s), (c) published independent report of research, (d) an analytical or theoretical contribution, etc.  Approximate date for completion of each proposed evaluation procedure should be stated.

7.  Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship requirement:  The student should include a statement describing the ways in which the Graduate School requirement relating to research skills will be met, noting the anticipated date of completion.  (For more information on the Research Skills Requirement, see below.)

8.  Dates for graduate school requirements: Estimated dates for the completion of the remaining Graduate School requirements should also be provided.  These requirements include the residence requirement, the oral examination for the Master of Arts degree, the oral comprehensive examination, and the final oral examination in which the dissertation is defended.

9.  Timeline / completion dates: A summary list of projected completion dates for the major activities described in items 3 through 7 should be provided. A typical timeline includes completion of the M.A. requirements by the end of the second year in the program, completion of Comprehensives (and the research skills requirement) by the end of year four, and defense of the dissertation by the end of year 5.

The Director of the Social Program will keep on file a copy of each student's contract, signed by the student and all committee members. Each student is responsible for providing the Director with a signed copy of his or her contract, as well as signed copies of any revisions or updates.

It should be understood that the student's proposed contract committee, long-range goals, list of courses to be taken, areas of research interest, proposed methods of evaluation, plan for meeting the Graduate School research skill requirement, and suggested dates for completion of requirements can change, and, in many instances, do change.  Modifications in the contract require the approval of the student and the three committee members, and a signed copy should be submitted to the Program Director.

M.A. Thesis Proposal and Defense 

By October 15 of their second year in the graduate program, students intending to earn a Masters degree must write and defend a proposal for a Masters thesis project. The written document should include a brief literature review (about 4-5 pages), a set of hypotheses/predictions (1 page), and a Method section (up to 3 pages), along with an appendix that includes materials to be used in the project. This proposal should be distributed to all members of the thesis committee at least one week prior to a defense meeting. The proposal defense meeting is meant to be more informal than the actual thesis defense, and is designed as an opportunity for students to receive constructive feedback on their projects. At the same time, students should be prepared to defend the importance of their work and relevance to theory/hypothesis testing.

It is possible that a student may plan to include in a Masters thesis a study that has already been completed prior to the proposal defense meeting. This is acceptable. However, in these cases, the proposal must include a brief description of the already-conducted study and a proposal for new research. That is, at least one study to be reported in the thesis proposal document must be in the planning phase at the time of the proposal meeting. 

Students are expected to incorporate the feedback obtained from faculty during the defense meeting into their project designs. Students “pass” the proposal defense if 2 of 3 committee members approve the project (pending the incorporation of suggested changes).

Research Skills Requirement and Responsible Scholarship 

The Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship Requirement (RSRS) is a Graduate School requirement (described in the General Information section of the Graduate School Catalog).  The specific manner in which this requirement is to be satisfied is left to the discretion of the particular Program or Department.  The method for students in the Social Program to meet the RSRS Requirement is for the student to stipulate in his or her contract how the Requirement is to be met, have the contract approved by the contract committee, and fulfill the relevant part of the contract.  The intent of this individualized approach to the RSRS Requirement is to integrate it into the student's overall plan for professional training and to encourage both student and contract committee to give it careful consideration.

For students interested in getting some ideas about the way the RSRS Requirement might be met, some examples of the ways past students have met the Requirement include:  (1) Successfully completing Psychology 790, Psychology 791, Psychology 818, plus three more advanced courses in statistics or methods, OR (2) Completing the Quantitative minor in Psychology. Additionally, all students are expected to complete the HSC-L ethics tutorial and the RCR tutorial, and to attend ethics discussions held jointly with the Quantitative program every semester.

Oral Comprehensive Exam 

The rationale for the Oral Comprehensive Exam and its placement in the Ph.D. program is described in the Graduate School Catalog (General Introduction section).  There are four different possible formats for the Oral Comprehensive Exam in the Social Program.  In each, the Exam is understood to be broadly comprehensive, although some formats provide more structure for the Exam, others less. 

The four formats are as follows:

1.  Defense of a major area paper.  Using this format, the student presents all members of the examination committee in advance with a major area paper.  General models for the major area paper are Psychological Bulletin review articles and Psychological Review articles.  These two models provide considerable latitude for papers with different structures and goals.  In general, the paper should provide a thorough, comprehensive, and integrated review of the theoretical and empirical literature on some important social psychological problem.  Although specific research may be proposed, this is not a necessary component.  Often, but not necessarily, this paper will serve as the basis for dissertation work.  (It is not, however, simply a proposal of dissertation research.)  There is no formal limit on the length of the major area paper, but the recommended length is no more than 50 pages.  In the oral exam, the student answers questions pertinent to the major area paper, but the exam is not limited to the paper, only focused upon it.  The oral exam is broadly comprehensive, not just a defense of proposed dissertation research.  Assessment of the student's performance on the exam will be based on the committee's judgments about the quality of both the major area paper and the oral exam.  Each student opting for this format is encouraged to consult with relevant faculty to develop a paper that best fits within his or her overall program of study. 

2.  Defense of two research proposals.  Using this format, the student presents all members of the examination committee in advance with a written document that:  (1) provides a thorough, comprehensive, and integrated review of the theoretical and empirical literature pertinent to two original empirical hypotheses, and (2) proposes two complete research designs, one to test each hypothesis, including specification of predictions and discussion of intended statistical analyses.  In the oral, the student defends the hypotheses and designs, but the exam is not limited by the proposed research, only focused upon it.  Assessment of the student's performance on the exam will be based on the committee's judgments about the quality of both the written document and the student's oral defense.

3.  Defense of five propositions.  Using this format, the student presents all members of the examination committee in advance with five written assertions of some originality and significance for social psychology.  Then the student builds a case for these assertions in the oral and defends them.  The exam is not limited by the assertions but is focused upon them.

4.  Defense of written exam. Students may also opt to take a written exam, followed by an oral exam, in response to questions generated by social psychology faculty. The written exam will take place on two consecutive days, in Fraser Hall. On the first day of the exam, the student will answer 4-5 questions posed by the Social Psychology faculty. These will address general topics of broad interest to the field of social psychology (or psychology more generally), and at least one question will focus on methodology and/or statistics. On the second day, the student will answer 3-4 questions geared toward his or her particular area of expertise. Students may be provided with a reading list or suggestions by faculty several months prior to the exam. The written exam will take place in the department on a mutually agreed-upon date; students will have access to a computer without an internet connection. After review by the faculty and a majority faculty decision to “pass” on the written exam, an oral exam will be scheduled.  Any student can choose this option, but some students may be required to take this option if, by the time of their yearly progress review in year 4 of the program (typically February), they are not making progress on one of the other options. In this case, the student will be required to schedule and complete the exam by December of year 5 in the program.

At present, the first format is the one most often chosen by students, and the one most often recommended by the Program faculty.  The composition of the five member Oral Comprehensive Exam Committee is as follows:  At least two members should be Social Program faculty; a majority of the committee must be regular graduate faculty of the Department of Psychology; one member must be a regular graduate faculty member outside the Department but from the Lawrence campus; if the Chair is not a member of the regular graduate faculty of the Department, a co-chair must be named who is; remaining committee members may be either regular graduate faculty or ad hoc appointments approved by the Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Psychology.  The Graduate School must be notified at least two weeks prior to an Oral Comprehensive Exam being held.

Progress Reports 

Each student beyond the first year is expected to submit a brief progress report (1-2 pages) to the Program Director and to all members of his or her contract committee by January 15 each year.  This report should review and assess progress made during the past year toward professional goals. Progress should be discussed particularly, but not exclusively, with reference to the student's contract.  A report of any independent research or scholarship of which no faculty member may be aware would also be highly appropriate.  First year students should submit their progress reports, along with their signed contracts, by April 15.

All progress reports should address the following topics, using these headings: (a) research involvement during the past year, (b) courses completed, (c) the importance of progress made, (d) problems encountered, and (e) any revisions in long-term goals or in plans proposed to attain them.  All of these areas should be reviewed with reference to the contract. For example, if a completed course fulfills an aspect of the contract, this should be noted; if problems are being encountered in fulfilling an aspect of the contract, this should be noted as well. It is entirely appropriate to append a copy of relevant papers or reports resulting from independent or collaborative work.

Yearly Evaluation 

The progress of all first year students will be evaluated by the Program faculty near the end of the Spring semester, and each fir#Yearlyst-year student will be provided with written feedback on perceived strengths and weaknesses.  These letters will be written by the Program Director or by the Chair of the student's contract committee, as appropriate, and will be approved by the Program faculty before being sent to the student.  A copy of this letter will be placed in the student's file.

The progress of all students beyond the first year will be evaluated on a yearly basis in late January or early February.  The purpose of the yearly evaluation is to provide feedback about the student’s progress, and to assess the nature of problems, if any, encountered by a graduate student that, in the opinion of the faculty, hinder that student's professional development. Students judged to be progressing satisfactorily toward completion of the program may receive less attention than others during the yearly evaluation.  Such lack of attention does not mean lack of concern for this student's progress.  Instead, it is the responsibility of the chair of each such student's contract committee to provide that student with information concerning the positive assessment by the faculty, as well as to provide any other information on strengths and weaknesses that seems appropriate.

The evaluation procedure will consist of the following steps:

1.  Evaluation meetings.  Although the Program Director or any contract committee member can request a meeting to evaluate a student's progress at any time, yearly evaluation meetings will be held in late January or early February.  Graduate student representatives will not be present at evaluation meetings. At this meeting, the contract and latest progress report for each student will be consulted.  Discussions of students during the evaluation meetings will remain confidential except as noted in the following section.

2.  Report to student.  The chair of a student's contract committee will be responsible for taking notes on any discussion of that student. This faculty member will then prepare a letter to the student based on the comments of faculty and notes from the evaluation meeting. This letter will also specifically address progress toward fulfillment of the contract and will make recommendations regarding steps to ensure that the contract is largely met by the time of the Comprehensive Exam. This letter will not necessarily attribute specific statements to faculty members by name.  However, the letter will contain a list of faculty members to whom the student may go for additional comments or clarification.  Upon the approval of this letter by the Program faculty, one copy will go to the student and one copy will be placed in the student's permanent file.

3.  Student appeal.   Within two weeks of receiving an evaluation letter, the student may appeal any evaluations or decisions contained in the letter.  The student may express the desire to appeal to any Program faculty member, including the contract committee chair or the Program Director.  The student may appeal in writing or may ask to appear before the Program faculty.  The student can also appeal at any time to the Grievance Committee of the Graduate Council.

4.  Ongoing feedback.  Responsibility for progress within the program lies with the student.  To facilitate progress, frequent discussion with members of the faculty about both work completed and work planned is encouraged; it is hoped that comments and suggestions arising from such on-going discussion will provide constructive feedback, enabling the student not only to realize strengths but also to remedy weaknesses without the more formal feedback from the yearly evaluation.

Toward that end, the following recommendations are given…

1.  The student is urged to consult at length with contract committee members at the beginning of each fall semester in an attempt to assess the student's current strengths and weaknesses in both specific and general terms.  Functional suggestions should be formulated concerning how the student's research and academic plans for the year can further development of strengths and remedy of weaknesses.

2.  During the latter half of each semester, a meeting with the student's course instructors and research supervisor(s) may provide useful feedback on progress, indicating areas needing emphasis or opportunities for further development.

3.  Additionally, the student is encouraged to consult with members of the faculty at any time upon any matter of mutual interest:  research lines, proposed courses, professional growth, reading guidelines, funding grants, whatever.




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