Cognitive Program Requirements

Important: This information does not contain paperwork procedures concerning, for example, admission to doctoral candidacy. The Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Graduate Dean's Office governs these procedures. Consult the Arts and Sciences Graduate Student Handbook of Policies & Procedures


  1. General Goals and Philosophy of the Program

The purpose of the program is to train students in the research and teaching of cognitive psychology. The program provides training leading to the Ph.D in psychology, preparing students for jobs in academic and nonacademic settings. Students are encouraged to complete the program in five years, though some students take longer due to additional coursework and the nature of their research projects.

As the highest academic degree conferred in recognition of scholarly and scientific expertise, a Ph.D. implies specialized expertise, broadly related knowledge, and a commitment to scholarly and scientific inquiry. The training program uses an apprenticeship model to impart this expertise, this knowledge, and these values. Students work with faculty members, under close supervision, on research programs throughout their graduate careers. Over time, students acquire increasing independence as researchers. Within this model, broad knowledge and commitment to inquiry are promoted in an integrated program that includes basic course work, seminars, colloquia, and conferences. Students are expected to participate fully in the intellectual life of the program and to take advantage of the many opportunities for learning in the broader university setting. Given that expertise, broad knowledge, and a commitment to inquiry are most valuable when they can be communicated, the program additionally places a strong emphasis on learning to communicate one's expertise and discipline knowledge. Student presentations of research promote the first of these goals and teaching promotes the second of these goals. Teaching experience occurs both informally, through mentorship of undergraduate student researchers and junior graduate students, and formally, through undergraduate instruction in classroom and instructional laboratory settings. Students receive support in developing their teaching skills through coursework, institutional resources, and faculty supervision.

The student's most important training is learning to carry out significant publishable research under the guidance of a primary advisor. The advisor will assist the student in learning the diverse skills of research, writing, presenting, etc. Although all students will work under the direct apprenticeship of a primary advisor, many students may find it useful to also collaborate with other members of the faculty. 

  1. Expectations for Graduate Students

To gain the specialized expertise, broadly related knowledge, commitment to scientific inquiry, and communicative abilities that are the goals of the program, students are expected to:

  • Expeditiously and effectively complete the course requirements.
  • Adhere to the departmental recommended schedule for completing the first year project, Master's thesis, comprehensive exam, and dissertation
  • Regularly submit papers for publications, including first-authored papers in major refereed journals.
  • Present papers at national and international meetings.
  • Be active contributing members of both the cognitive program and the psychology department, including regularly attending colloquia, volunteering for committees, assisting in new student recruitment, etc.
  • Attend program brown bags and dissertation defenses.
  • Give a local research presentation, such as a brown bag talk, every year. Although presentations should be research oriented they need not report fully completed projects.
  • Document their proficiency in teaching, by teaching (with satisfactory teaching ratings) at least one class during their graduate tenure. Most students, however, will probably engage in considerably more teaching.

Although the goal of the highly selective and careful admission process is to select students who can and will complete their degrees, some students may find that they are not suited for an academic career in cognitive psychology.

3.0 Course Requirements. Course offerings reflect the central questions and research areas in cognitive psychology and related cognitive sciences. These include traditional topics, such as learning, reasoning, attention, and language, presented in their most current formulations (but reflecting their historical development) by faculty actively conducting research within these areas.

3.1. Departmental requirements. The following course requirements must be met by all students in the department:

  1. Core statistical sequence. Two courses (6 credits) in quantitative methods that teach the general linear model and its associated procedures, i.e., analyses of variance and regression. Students are encouraged to complete the statistics requirement in their first year, though the specifics of course offerings may delay completion until the second year. Students entering with a Master's degree may be exempted from one or both of these courses. To be exempted, a student must consult with the instructors of the department’s courses regarding overlap between the student’s previous courses and the department’s courses. If an instructor approves a waiver, the student must forward an email from the instructor documenting the waiver to the Program Chair and the Psychology Graduate Office.
  1. Teaching in Psychology. All students are required to successfully complete a university-sponsored course on faculty development (some versions of a departmentally-sponsored course on teaching in psychology (PSY2970) can satisfy this requirement) In addition, a student is required to teach at least once to satisfy the departmental teaching requirement. The teaching-course requirement should be completed either before or concurrently with a student’s initial teaching experience. In order for a teaching experience to count toward the teaching requirement, the student and his/her teaching supervisor need to complete and submit a Teaching Review Form to the Psychology Graduate Office.

3.2 Cognitive program requirements. At least seven additional courses are required to complete training in the Cognitive Psychology program. These consist of a core course, cognitive electives, and open electives. The set of required courses is further subject to breadth, methods/quantitative, and coherence constraints on course selection.

3.2.1. Cognitive Core course. This is a one-semester (3 credit) core course (PSY 2410, Foundations of Cognitive Psychology) covering the basic content of cognitive psychology from the perspective/frameworks emphasized at the University of Pittsburgh. Only in very rare circumstances will students entering with a Master's degree be exempted from this course.

3.2.2 Cognitive electives. Students are required to take three seminars/advanced courses (totaling 9 credits) with a cognitive focus. Content-oriented, methods-oriented, and statistics courses can be acceptable if they have a strong cognitive focus. Direct inquiries about whether courses can count as cognitive electives to the Program Chair. Parallel Distributed Processing is the only CNBC core course that currently has a strong enough cognitive focus to count as a cognitive elective. The CNBC Cognitive Neuroscience core course can count as an open elective.

Students entering with a Master's may petition to have prior graduate coursework in cognitive psychology count towards one of the cognitive electives. Forward an email from the Program Chair to the Psychology Graduate Office documenting this waiver.

3.2.3 Open electives. Students are required to take three semesters (9 credits) of additional graduate level coursework. These courses can be taken in any department or program. Students entering with a Master's may petition to have prior graduate coursework outside of cognitive psychology count towards one of the breadth courses. Forward an email from the Program Chair to the Psychology Graduate Office documenting this waiver.

3.2.4 Breadth constraint. At least two of the seven electives must have a focus that is not cognitive. Breadth courses can be content-focused, methods-focused, or quantitative courses that go beyond the two-semester departmental statistics sequence.

3.2.5 Methods/statistics constraint. At least one of the seven electives must be a methods or advanced statistics course (e.g., Advanced Regression, HLM, Computational modeling, Advanced fMRI, PDP, ERP methods). Students who participate in a methods-intensive workshop (25+ hours) can petition to have this experience satisfy the methods/statistics constraint.

3.2.6 Coherence constraint. Students should consult their mentoring committees to help plan a coherent set of elective coursework that complements their research interests (e.g., cognitive neuroscience, higher level cognition, language and the brain, language and reading, educational neuroscience).

For some students, this coherence may come from participation in joint training programs. One such program is the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC)’s certificate in cognitive neuroscience. Students in this certificate program are responsible for completing all of the requirements of both the Cognitive Psychology degree and the CNBC program, but many of the required CNBC courses can satisfy cognitive and open electives as well as breadth and methods/statistics constraints. Depending on the specific set of cognitive psychology coursework that is chosen by a student, this can allow the CNBC certificate to be completed without an overall increase in coursework. (Please see the CNBC course requirements web page for information about courses and additional requirements of this concentration).

3.3 Satisfactory Performance. Students must obtain a B in each of the courses required by the department, in the core course in cognitive psychology, and in each of the courses taken to satisfy the cognitive electives. Students who receive a B- or below in any of these courses will have to re-take the course or demonstrate competency with the course material via an alternative mechanism decided on by the original course instructor and the Program Chair.

4.0 Research Requirements

The following are the specific research requirements necessary for earning a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. Successful graduate students will typically supplement these requirements with additional research, writing, and collaborations. Successful graduate students will also typically seek to publish the outcomes of their research.

Checklists of procedures for how to prepare for proposals and defenses are available on the cogtalks Box account. Contact the student coordinator of the Cognitive brown bag for access.

4.1 First-Year Research Project. During the first two terms, the student works on a research project under the supervision of the advisor. Typically, the first-year project will largely or entirely involve working on an ongoing project in the advisor’s laboratory. Students will present their progress on their first-year project as part of a brown bag at the end of their first year. The First-Year Research Project is intended to get the student fully engaged in a research environment early in the training program; it often forms the basis for the Master's thesis equivalency (4.2).

4.2 Master's Thesis Equivalency. By the end of their second year, students are expected to have proposed, and ideally to have completed, a Master's Thesis Equivalency in psychology. The Master's Thesis Equivalency gives the student an initial exposure to the steps that are required to design, implement, and publish a research project. Successful completion of this milestone typically indicates that the student has the skills to progress towards greater research independence. 

4.2.1 Master's Thesis Proposal. Typically, during the first year, the student obtains approval from his or her advisor to form a Master's thesis committee of at least three members. The committee is chaired by the student’s primary advisor, and must include at least one other member of the cognitive program. Committee members do not have to be part of the graduate faculty, but they must have a faculty appointment. The student should distribute a written proposal for a Master's research project to their Master's committee, and schedule a meeting to be held 1-2 weeks later. Proposals should range from five to ten pages, and should include a literature review, proposed methods, planned analyses, expected outcomes, and significance of the research. The proposed research should have original contributions, although Master's thesis projects often closely align with research projects established by the student’s advisor. Often, the proposal derives from work completed as part of the First-Year Research Project.

Ideally, the intended work is proposed as soon as a solid empirical objective and paradigm has been developed, but prior to the acquisition of data. In some cases, a student may have made substantial progress on data acquisition or even data analysis; this most often occurs when progress on the first-year project has been more rapid or productive than anticipated. Such progress does not preclude the student from proposing the work, though Master's committees are not obligated to accept the proposed project.

The purpose of the proposal meeting is to evaluate the overall merit of the Master's research project, and to make recommendations for changes in the framing, design, analysis, and interpretation of the proposed research. The meeting typically begins with a brief (10-15 minute) oral summary of the proposed project by the student, followed by questions from the Master's committee members. At the end of this meeting, the Master's committee either approves the proposed research, or provides guidance concerning what steps might be taken to gain approval.

4.2.2 Master's Thesis Document. Ideally, the Master's thesis research and write-up should be completed during the second year. The contents of a thesis should correspond to that found in a published article in an empirical journal that publishes similar work. The expectation is that this document will serve as a foundation for a manuscript that can be submitted for publication following the successful defense of the work. To facilitate this transition, the Master's thesis should be submitted in the submission format required by a target journal named in the document, following requirements for length, reference formatting, sections, appendices, keywords, etc. Short, high-impact journal submission formats (e.g., Nature, Science, Psychological Science) are acceptable if the work is a plausible submission to that journal. The Master's thesis should include the cover letter to the editor, also following any journal-specific expectations (e.g., naming of reviewers, testifying to IRB status).

4.2.3 Master's Defense. Copies of the Master's thesis must be distributed to the committee two weeks before its defense. One week prior to the defense, the student asks members of the committee for approval of the defense schedule. Approval of a defense signifies the committee's opinion, based on a preliminary reading of the Master's thesis, that the defense should take place as scheduled. During the Master's thesis defense, the student will typically present the work to the committee (the duration of this presentation should be discussed with the advisor). Following the presentation, the committee will ask the student extensive questions. Typically, some revisions of the thesis will be required before a final version is approved.

4.2.4 Alternative Mechanisms. We imagine three different pathways through the Master's equivalency, all designed to facilitate students’ completion of a project that is of journal submission quality. In the first (default) path, the student proposes a Master's to a committee by the end of the first year, defends the Master's by the end of the second year, and then submits the paper to a journal, possibly following some revision (e.g., new writing, new analyses, new data).

In the second path, the student proposes a Master's to a committee, but achieves some strong success in a second empirical project being conducted in parallel to the Master's, possibly started before the masters project, while the Master's project itself has some setbacks. If this other project is accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal with the student as first author, the student can give a brownbag to the program on the project and petition to have this project count as the Master's Thesis Equivalency. If the project is only submitted to a journal, but not yet accepted for publication, the student can also petition to have this project count as the Master's Thesis Equivalency, but there must be an oral defense of the project as in the first path.

In the third path, some students may arrive in the program with a Master's thesis written in other programs. If this document has a high likelihood of being accepted for publication in a strong peer-reviewed journal (related to the topic of cognitive psychology), such a document might serve as an equivalent for a Master's thesis. The first step in this path is to give a brownbag on the project, and then follow-up with a meeting of the mentoring committee (or another program faculty threesome if a different set of expertise is more appropriate for the given project). At this point, the project could be accepted, rejected, or require a follow-up oral defense.

4.2.5 Terminal Master's. Satisfying the Master's equivalency milestone is a demonstration that the student has the basic skills, intellectual capacity, and personal motivation that are necessary to successfully complete a Ph.D. dissertation. At the end of the Master's defense, the Master's committee will first decide whether to accept the Master's equivalency as acceptable for a Master's thesis. In rare cases, the Master's committee may judge that the student’s overall progress in the program is not acceptable, even if they have successfully completed the requirements for a Master's degree. In this case, the Cognitive Program Faculty would as a whole determine whether the Master's degree should be a terminal degree for the student, or whether the student should be allowed to continue in the program.

4.2.6 Formal Recognition of a Master's Degree. Students interested in the formal award of a Master's degree must follow University procedures to properly format and submit an approved thesis document. (Check with the Graduate Office of the Department of Psychology for details). The receipt of the Master's degree is also contingent on completion of the following subset of the course requirements outlined above: the cognitive foundations course, the statistics sequence (two courses), and 21 additional credit hours. Additional credit hours can be fulfilled by the following: graduate courses (including credits attained through cross-registration at other universities and from other schools at the University of Pittsburgh, e.g., Education), no more than 12 credits of upper level undergraduate courses (designated course number > 1000), Master’s thesis (maximum 6 credits), and directed study. Please note: independent study and undergraduate courses with designated course number < 1000 do not count towards the minimum requirement for an M.S. degree

4.3 Specialty Exam. Following completion of the Master's thesis equivalency, the student is expected to continue his or her engagement in several research projects, while also moving the Master's work towards publication if possible. This work during the second and third years helps to define the specific interests of the student and allows the student to become an increasingly independent investigator. The Specialty Exam, typically completed at the end of the third year, gives the student the opportunity to critically examine the literature in his or her area of interest in order to develop a deep conceptual understanding of the theories and open research questions that will be relevant for his or her dissertation research. In addition, the exam serves a more general training function. Students need experiences that exemplify the kind of sustained, reflective, problem-oriented scholarship that is consistent with their professional development goals. Writing a paper that might be published or submitted as a grant proposal serves this purpose.

The Specialty Exam also serves an evaluative function. It allows the faculty to assess the student's mastery of a specialized topic and to judge the student's preparedness for a dissertation. The student's comprehensive knowledge of relevant psychological topics will have been assessed in courses and seminars. In addition to this broad topical knowledge, the student needs to demonstrate mastery of a specific set of related problems. This mastery implies an in-depth knowledge of a research literature. Passing the specialty exam demonstrates that the student knows the theories and research methods that have developed around a set of related problems and can articulate the central current issues that they address.

4.3.1 Format. The Specialty Exam consists of a scholarly paper written on the student's specialty problem. The paper can be envisioned as a review paper that is of publishable quality. It should contain a critical, novel, coherent, and up-to-date review of a body of published papers in a focal area. A critical review is one that not only refers extensively to literature in some problem area, but also comments on the unsolved problems and methodological issues that have characterized the work on the problem. Such a paper should also take a distinctive focus on the issues being reviewed. For example, it should organize the research in a useful way, posing specific questions, etc., rather than merely describing studies. Finally, the paper must include a substantial reference list. Seven to 10 pages (double-spaced) of references would be typical for most papers.

4.3.2 Specialty Exam Proposal. The student chooses a specialty problem in consultation with his or her advisor. A two to four page prospectus describing the problems to be addressed in the paper is prepared along with a 3-5 page reference list. The reference list at this point is representative of the core literature to be reviewed rather than the complete list that will be part of the paper. The prospectus and the reference list together comprise the specialty exam proposal. In addition, the student is encouraged to identify and be prepared to discuss two to three published review papers that will serve as models for the style and approach that the student will take in his or her own paper.

When the advisor approves the proposal, the student forms a specialty exam committee comprised of three or more members. The committee is chaired by the student’s primary advisor, and must include at least one other member of the Cognitive Program. Committee members do not have to be part of the graduate faculty, but they must have a faculty appointment. The student sends committee members a copy of the proposal and schedules an initial meeting. During this meeting, the faculty present oral comments to the student concerning the proposal. These comments can help the student focus more clearly on the problems to be addressed and can raise areas of review that should be added to the proposal. If the proposal is accepted, the student then formally begins the specialty exam (4.3.3). If the proposal is not accepted, the committee provides guidance concerning what steps might be taken to gain approval.

4.3.3 Specialty Exam. The specialty exam typically consists of three phases: 1) a reading period, 2) an initial writing period, and 3) a revision period that culminates in a final draft of the specialty exam. The specialty exam committee typically meets at the end of each phase to provide focused feedback to further develop the manuscript, and ultimately to evaluate the final product.

The specialty exam begins with a reading period, which is usually four weeks in duration. This time is spent largely in an absorb-and-synthesize mode, during which the student spends the bulk of his or her time reading the materials, and jotting down key ideas and organizational schemas. Ultimately, the student drafts an outline for the specialty exam, and a 5-10 page summary of the key points he or she wants to make. This outline and short summary is then distributed to the specialty exam committee.

Following approval of the specialty exam outline and short summary, the student typically is given four weeks to write a draft of the specialty exam. This paper should be a best-effort paper of the quality one would be willing to send to a journal. (It is not to be considered a "rough" draft, but a polished paper.) The paper may not be publishable, but it should reflect competence in scholarship, including writing, and some mastery of the issues addressed. It is expected that this draft could be improved via revision, as usually happens when papers are submitted for publication. Following this initial writing period, the student should distribute the draft of the specialty exam paper to each committee member. The members of the specialty exam committee are expected to provide both a written and oral critique of the document.

Following approval of the initial draft, the student is typically given two weeks during which to make revisions to the specialty exam paper. The revision typically should include a letter to the committee (modeled after a letter included with a resubmission of a publication) that details what revisions were made and how the committee’s suggestions were incorporated. At the end of the revision period, the final version of the specialty exam paper should be distributed and an oral exam should be scheduled. At the exam, the student is questioned about the problems addressed in the paper. The committee can be expected to probe the student's knowledge of issues and literature that are related to the topics covered in the paper, even when they are not actually discussed in the paper.

4.3.4 Boundaries. As a practical matter, there are some boundaries both on the paper length and duration of the exam process. The length of the paper shall not exceed 70 pages (double spaced) excluding references, except as agreed by the faculty committee in response to a request by the student. A typical length would be 45-55 pages plus references. (Note: These lengths assume large font (size 11 or 12) & conventional (1-1.5 inch) margins.)

Once a specialty exam proposal has been approved, the student ideally will require only 10 weeks of effort to complete the exam – i.e., the sum of a four-week reading period, a four-week initial writing period, and a two-week revision period. This time frame excludes the time between the end of the reading, initial writing, and final revision periods that typically will be necessary for specialty exam committee members to read and evaluate the student’s written material. Ideally, all of these meetings should be scheduled at the beginning of the specialty exam, with faculty given 3-10 days to evaluate the materials at each step. With these interim periods included, the specialty exam will typically extend across a 13-16 week interval.

The specialty exam committee has the authority to extend or modify the timing of the different phases of the specialty exam. For instance, a student may petition to have a four-week reading period, a three-week writing period, and a three-week revision period. Or, a student may ask for the clock to be stopped for a short time during the specialty exam period so that they can prepare for and attend a conference, engage in a short phase of intense data collection, etc. Additionally, it is possible that the faculty may not approve the student to progress from one phase to the next without further modifications to be completed within a specified time frame. Such occurrences are expected to be rare, and the total amount of time given to the student to work on the specialty exam may not exceed 15 weeks, excluding the time required for faculty feedback.

4.3.5 Alternative Mechanisms. During the course of training it is hoped that students will be successful in getting papers published in refereed journals. In recognition of the importance of this component of graduate training, students may substitute papers submitted for publication in lieu of a completing a specialty exam. One significant first-author review article may be considered as equivalent for the specialty exam. In rarer instances, two or more first-authored empirical articles (each of which must be separate from work accepted as part of the Master's thesis) may also be considered as equivalent, if both manuscripts include substantial, critical, and mostly non-overlapping evaluations of the literature.

The pathway to the specialty exam equivalency is similar to that for the traditional route. Whichever equivalency route a student intends to take, she or he must form a specialty exam committee, formally propose his or her specialty exam equivalency to that committee, and gain approval for his or her plan. The precise format of the proposal will be at the discretion of the committee. The timing of this proposal meeting should be as follows. Students who intend to write a review paper must defend this proposal before beginning writing in earnest. Students who intend to substitute two empirical papers should do this before at least one of the empirical papers has been completed. For the empirical papers option to be approved, it is critical that the papers indicate a strong grasp of a body of research, as demonstrated by a substantial review of relevant references in the articles. Thus, short works with few references are not likely to qualify for equivalency.

When the work is completed, students must defend the proposed equivalent work before their specialty exam committee. To ensure the success of their projects, students should examine their options early with their advisors and mentoring committees.

4.3.6 Passing and Failing. It is expected that most students who have progressed through the program beyond completion of the Master's thesis milestone will be able to successfully complete the Ph.D. program. However, it is possible to fail the specialty exam. In such an event, the specialty exam committee formulates a recommendation that is forwarded to the Cognitive Program Faculty. The program faculty as a whole will determine the consequences of failing the specialty exam; potentially, a student can be given another opportunity to satisfy the requirement, or the student’s participation in the program may be discontinued.

4.3.7. Protocol. In addition to the procedures outlined above, there a few additional features of the specialty exam process to be clarified: Relation of the Paper to the Dissertation. There is no prohibition against the student drawing from the text of the specialty exam in writing the dissertation. Faculty Role when the Student is Working on the Paper. It is expected that discussions with committee members as well as other faculty and students will occur while the student is working on the paper. Such discussions, which characterize the way scholarly writing proceeds generally, are presumably a useful part of the specialty paper process. The only prohibition of help is that faculty should not be asked for comments on drafts of the paper or parts of it prior to the paper's completion and distribution. Duration of the Exam and its Relation to Other Activities. The exam is timed to take 13-16 weeks from the initial approval of the specialty exam proposal to the final oral exam. This means that the ideal starting time is the beginning of the semester; the summer of the third year is viewed as an ideal time. Note that the student must carry out substantial start-up work, e.g. writing the proposal, prior to the term in which the paper will be written. It is not necessary to follow this suggested timing, and indeed it will not always be practical to do so. However, it is expected that the student will continue to engage in other activities during the specialty exam, especially when the exam overlaps two terms. Taking a seminar, working on a research project, or teaching a course are examples of other activities that a student should perform while writing the specialty paper.

4.4 The Dissertation. The dissertation, typically proposed and completed during the fourth and fifth years, marks the end of the student’s apprenticeship. The dissertation must be an original project. Although the dissertation may, and often will, relate to the advisor's research, it must represent a clearly distinct line of inquiry.

4.4.1 Proposal. The student, typically during the fourth year, obtains approval from his or her advisor to form a dissertation committee. The University of Pittsburgh sets requirements for this committee. The dissertation committee, chosen by the student and the advisor, must consist of at least three graduate faculty from the Department of Psychology and one from either the graduate faculty of another department of the University or the faculty of another university. (Note: Not all faculty are graduate faculty. The student should contact the Psychology Graduate Office to determine the status of faculty before finalizing the committee. Also, prospective committee members from other universities must be approved by the University of Pittsburgh. Contact the Psychology Graduate Office for the necessary paperwork.)

The student should submit a written prospectus for a dissertation research project to his or her dissertation committee. The dissertation prospectus should be submitted in grant proposal format, using the format that is most relevant to the student’s area. Acceptable choices include: NIH NRSA Predoc (default for cogneuro and some language students), NSF DDIG (possible for linguistics and human-computer interaction projects), and Spencer dissertation fellowship (education related projects). The exact formatting guidelines should be used, including font choice, text spacing, and page length. Only the core proposal document is required: NIH project summary, project narrative, and bibliography; NSF project summary, project description, and cited references; Spencer background information, abstract, narrative discussion, and work plan. Stimulus materials, survey copies, and the like may be added as appendixes. Students may petition to submit in other grant agency formats if these agencies are more relevant to the student’s work and the length is consistent with what is expected in a dissertation proposal.

The prospectus should be 10-15 single-spaced pages (depending on the agency), and must include a literature review, proposed methods, planned analyses, expected outcomes, and significance of the research. The dissertation plan (prospectus) must be approved at a meeting of the committee, and a card indicating approval must be signed at the meeting. Following the meeting, the student must apply for Ph.D. candidacy to the FAS Graduate Dean's Office.

4.4.2 Pre-defense Distribution of Dissertation. Students are highly encouraged to gain their advisor’s approval to distribute their dissertation to their committee. Two weeks before the defense of the dissertation, copies of the dissertation are distributed to the committee. One week prior to the defense, the student asks members of the committee for approval of the defense schedule. Approval of a defense signifies the committee's opinion, based on a preliminary reading of the dissertation, that the defense should take place as scheduled. Note: Seeking approval of the dissertation prior to the defense is very much in the interest of the student, because it helps to increase the probability that the defense will be successful.

4.4.3 Oral Examination (Defense). The final oral examination, at which the student defends the dissertation, is open to the public. For the defense, the student shall arrange a large room, sufficient to accommodate attendance by persons not on the committee; the Martin Room in Sennott Square or the Glaser auditorium in the LRDC is strongly suggested. Announcements of the defense, which should state a title, a date, and a place, must be posted in prominent places (e.g. both LRDC elevators) in advance of the meeting. A copy of the announcement must be given to staff in the in the Psychology Graduate Office, who must post a notice in the University Times.

All students in the program are expected to attend the defense. The defense is scheduled for 3 hours and is divided into an open portion and a closed portion. The open portion is about 1.5 hours, beginning with a 40-50 minute lecture by the candidate and followed by an open question period in which all persons in attendance participate. The chairperson of the committee declares the open portion of the defense ended at his or her discretion. During the closed portion of the defense, only members of the graduate faculty are present; during this period, the student is questioned in depth about his or her research and relevant findings and how they fit with theories from the literature.

4.4.4 Approval of the Dissertation. Approval of the dissertation itself occurs at the end of the defense. If revisions are required, conditional approval can be given at the end of the defense, along with the set of steps that will be required prior to the final approval of the dissertation. Once a dissertation has been approved, the student is encouraged to publish it electronically using the procedures established by the University. If the dissertation is not approved, the Cognitive Program faculty as a whole determine the consequences of failure; potentially, a student can be given another opportunity to satisfy the requirement, or the student’s participation in the program may be discontinued.

5.0 Teaching Requirement

It is expected that many students will go on to careers in academia that will involve teaching and research. To prepare students for this career, the program requires all students to teach at least one lecture-based course or to lead a laboratory section that requires substantial independent instruction (e.g., a lab section for PSY0420: Human Cognition).

The first time a student has primary responsibility for a lecture course or a laboratory section, he or she is required to have a faculty supervisor, who meets with the student to discuss the course syllabus, exam materials, etc. A student who wishes to take primary responsibility for a lecture-based course is encouraged to consult with faculty about the possibility of “shadowing” a course, in which one section is taught during the day by a faculty member and a second section is taught in the late afternoon or evening by the student. Ideally, the student and faculty member would work together to prepare the materials for the class.

Teaching evaluations are required whenever a student has primary responsibility for a lecture course or laboratory section. Copies of these teaching evaluations should be submitted as part of a student’s annual self-report. A student’s mentoring committee will review the student’s teaching performance to ensure that the student has adequate mastery of basic teaching skills. In the event that a student does not perform well in the classroom, additional teaching experience may be required.

6.0 Evaluation of Graduate Students 

Students will be evaluated on the basis of the degree to which they successfully meet the expectations outlined above in a timely fashion.

6.1 Mentoring Committee. Each student will be assigned a mentoring committee of at least three faculty from the cognitive area. This committee advises the student concerning curriculum, provides oversight to the student regarding his or her general progress in the program, and serves as a mentoring resource for the student. This committee has the responsibility of providing the student with a realistic assessment of his or her performance, including putting the student on provisional status if appropriate. In order to facilitate communication and to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the chair of this committee cannot be the student's research advisor. Although there is likely to be overlap with committees associated with the program milestones, this committee is independent of all other committees.

6.2 Self-reports. Each spring each student must submit a self-report form to the department that indicates relevant training activities, including papers written and presented, courses taken, skills acquired, etc. Each student should also include an updated Curriculum Vita.

6.3 Evaluations. First year students will have a fall and a mid-year meeting with their mentoring committee to provide them with some early feedback on their progress, and to address any initial difficulties that may arisen before they become too serious.  Students should come to the first-year mid-year mentoring meeting prepared to explain the design and logic of their first-year research project, and before their meeting they should circulate to their committee members a bibliography of 5 articles that they have read related to their project.

Early each summer each student is expected to schedule a coaching meeting with his or her advisor to discuss his or her progress (students may want to use the advisor feedback form to help structure this meeting). In addition, each summer the Program Chair will notify all students to schedule meetings with their mentoring committees. Later in the summer, following these meetings, each student will receive a letter from the Program Chair, detailing the program’s assessment of his or her progress.

6.4 Timeline for Completing Program Milestones. Ideally students should complete the program in 5 years, although it is understood that some students may require 6 years, and occasionally take even longer. The Cognitive Program follows the Psychology Department’s milestone timeline.

6.5 Program Provisional Status. Students who are making inadequate progress in the program, as indicated by their failure to adequately meet the expectations of the program as detailed in sections 1.0-5.0 or failure to comply with the Psychology Department’s milestone timeline, will be put on provisional status within the program.

Provisional status is determined by the Program Chair in concert with the student’s mentoring committee, and in some cases the entire Cognitive Program. Students who have been put on provisional status will be re-evaluated at the end of each semester in order to determine whether provisional status might be lifted or whether discontinuation in the program is warranted. It is expected that a student on provisional status will have a meeting with his or her mentoring committee at the end of each term to discuss his or her status and plans. A student who has been put on provisional status is advised to have very explicit discussions with his or her mentoring committee in order to be very clear about what will be required for them to be taken off provisional status. A student who is on provisional status for two semesters is likely to be put on University Probation status, which eliminates the potential for support. Students under provisional status should carefully consider whether their status may stem from a lack of commitment to the program, and thus whether they might be best served by pursuing other career options. It is important to remember that graduate school is not the best course for everyone, and recognizing an ill fit as soon as possible is in the best interest of everyone, especially the student who would be better off pursuing an alternative career.

Once a student has been removed from provisional status, he or she will be expected to maintain appropriate progress towards the program training goals.

6.6 Expected Success The program recognizes that completion of the program requirements involves a great deal of time and commitment on the part of every student. The Cognitive Program faculty is dedicated to do everything we can to enable each student to succeed. All students have already undergone a highly rigorous selection process, as our goal is to complete the weeding out process prior to admission. Our faculty treats mentoring as a major responsibility and are genuinely dedicated to launching students on successful careers. We have graduated and successfully placed hundreds of students, and remain committed to ensuring that all students discover their potential in the exciting field of cognitive psychology.