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Program Title
Psychology (PhD)
Degree Type
PHD - Doctor of Philosophy
Program Overview
External Credit Policies

Degree Requirements


Professional Seminar Requirement

During the first quarter of graduate study, students are required to take PSYCH 207 Professional Seminar for First-Year Ph.D. Graduate Students.

Core Course Requirement

Students are required to take four core courses, each course from a different area of the Psychology department: Affective Science, Cognitive Science, Developmental Psychology, Neuroscience, and Social Psychology, as listed below. All core courses must be taken for a letter grade, for 3 units, and passed with a grade of 'B-' or better. Students are expected to complete four core courses by the end of the third year.

Consistent with the program’s goal of fostering breadth and engagement across all areas of the department, students are encouraged to take all five core courses spanning the five areas of the department. If a student takes five core courses, the units and grade of the fifth course are counted towards the student’s advanced units.

Course List



Cognitive Neuroscience



Foundations of Cognition



Developmental Psychology



Classic and contemporary social psychology research


or PSYCH 215

Mind, Culture, and Society


Affective Science


Students may be required by their advisors to take up to two additional graduate courses in their area of specialization. In these cases, the additional courses are counted towards the advanced units requirement as described below. Students should consult with their advisor about any additional requirements in their area of specialization. 

Quantitative Methods Course Requirement

Students are required to take two of the following Quantitative Methods courses:

Course List



Experimental Methods



Statistical Methods for Behavioral and Social Sciences



Advanced Statistical Modeling


At least one of these courses must be taken in the first year, and both should be completed by the end of the second year. Quantitative methods courses must be taken for a letter grade and passed with a grade of 'B-' or better.

In the case that a student has already taken similar graduate-level coursework, with the consent of the advisor, the student may petition to substitute an alternative course for one of the two required courses; for example, to take 252 and 253 but not 251, or to take 251 and another upper-division statistics course. Petitions must be submitted to the department's student services office and approved by the department’s Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).

Students who did not take an undergraduate course in statistics should take PSYCH 10 (STATS 60) in the earliest possible quarter within the first year; this is a prerequisite to any graduate statistics course.

Advanced Units or Ph.D. Minor Requirement

Students must complete 12 units of advanced graduate course work, referred to as advanced units (AU). Students earn AU by taking: (a) non-core graduate psychology courses; and/or, (b) graduate-level courses in other departments comparable in quality to graduate courses offered by the Psychology Department. If there is any question about comparability of courses, the student should consult the advisor, student services, and, in some cases, the graduate program committee chair before taking the course.

Courses taken for a letter grade must receive a grade of 'B-' or better to count towards the advanced units requirement. Students may request to count up to 3 units of undergraduate-level coursework towards the AU requirement. The advisor should support the request and the undergraduate course must be substantive and relevant to the student's graduate research. Requests to count undergraduate-level coursework must be submitted to the student services manager and may be adjudicated by the Director of Graduate Studies and/or the Graduate Program Committee.

A student may choose to complete a Ph.D. minor in another department in lieu of the advanced units requirement. Students who choose to pursue a minor should register this decision with the student services manager.

Advanced units and/or Ph.D. minors must be completed by the end of fourth year. It is the department’s expectation that all decisions related to the AUs or the Ph.D. minor are made in close consultation with the student’s advisor.



The goals of the graduate program in the Stanford Psychology Department are twofold. First, it aims to develop researchers who are expert scholars in the area of their dissertation. The program expect graduates to be fluent in theoretical foundations and debates, empirical findings, and methods of their respective fields. Second, it aims to guide and foster students’ development of an original research program that significantly advances knowledge in their field of specialization. Therefore, the research requirements, implemented in a series of milestones, are intended to help students obtain the necessary research experience, receive expert and constructive feedback from their primary advisor(s) and their committee, and ensure successful completion of their dissertation research at the end of the program.


Students are expected to spend at least half of their time engaged in research from the beginning of the first year of graduate study to the completion of the Ph.D., taking no more than 10 units of course work each quarter.

First Year Project (FYP)

At the end of their first year of graduate study, students must submit a written report of their first-year research activities, called the First Year Project (FYP). This report should resemble a journal article in their area. It is written in consultation with their advisor. The FYP proposal is due at the end of Autumn Quarter. The final FYP is due on June 1 of the first year. First-year students must also work with their advisor to identify a second FYP reader (another Psychology faculty member) by the end of October in Autumn Quarter of the first year. Both the advisor and the second FYP reader are expected to read the FYP and provide the student with constructive feedback. It is recommended that students meet with their FYP readers in the summer of the first year to receive feedback.

Dissertation Reading Committee

Students are expected to form a research committee, which must include the dissertation reading committee, before initiating their dissertation research. The research committee includes the dissertation advisor and at least two additional faculty members, for a total of three members, at least two of whom should have primary appointments in the Psychology Department. For University guidelines for the composition of the dissertation reading committee, see the "Graduate Degrees" section of this bulletin.

Students are required to form the committee and submit the Dissertation Reading Committee form to the student services manager by February 1 of third year.

Third Year Committee Meeting and Research Plan

Students are required to meet with their committee annually beginning in their third year. For the annual committee meetings, if a member of the student’s regular committee is unavailable (e.g., on sabbatical), the student should recruit another member of the department faculty to attend instead.

In the third year, students are required to meet with their committee in Winter or Spring Quarter, no later than June 1. At least two weeks prior to this meeting, students must submit a 1-2 page research plan to the committee.

Research Plan

The third-year research plan, which is submitted to the committee, is a short (1-2 page) document containing a brief overview of the experiments that have been completed and the planned experiments. The research plan is due in Winter or Spring Quarter of the third year and no later than two weeks before the committee meeting.

Third-Year Committee Meeting

The goal of the third-year committee meeting is for students to present their planned research and preliminary data, as well as for the faculty to give students feedback on their research plan, feasibility, and progress. During the third-year committee meeting, students present and discuss with the committee:

  • Background and hypothesis being tested

  • Experiments and methods

  • Preliminary results

  • Potential outcomes as well as pitfalls

After the committee meeting, students should submit the research plan to the student services manager and report the date that the committee meeting took place.

Fourth-Year Committee Meeting and Research Plan

In the fourth year, students are required to meet with their committee in the Autumn or Winter Quarter. At least two weeks before the meeting, they must submit their Area Review and Research Roadmap (ARRR) to their committee.

Area Review and Research Roadmap (ARRR):

This document has two parts:

  1. Area Review: A manuscript written in a format of a review paper that summarizes current theories, debates, and empirical work in the area of the dissertation, which ultimately leads to the open questions that will be answered in the dissertation. The goal of writing this document is to enable the students to organize and develop scholarly knowledge relevant to their dissertation research. This document could serve as the basis for the introduction to the dissertation and/or a basis for a review paper. The department expects that this section will be the bulk of the ARRR. It expects students to consult with their advisor on the scope of this document, and to receive feedback from their committee during the fourth-year meeting.

  2. Research Roadmap: This section is short (1-2 pages) and contains a brief overview of the experiments that will be part of the dissertation. Given that this document is written during the fourth year, it is expected that some of the experiments have been completed, while others are planned/ongoing.

Fourth-Year Committee Meeting

The goal of the fourth-year committee meeting is for students to present their research progress and receive feedback from the committee members on the ARRR. The department expects the presentation to start with a review of the relevant work, but focus on the research progress. During the meeting, students present and discuss with the committee:

  • Background and hypothesis being tests

  • Experiments and methods

  • Current Results

  • Planned experiments towards dissertation completion

After the committee meeting, students should submit the ARRR to the student services manager and report the date that the committee meeting took place.

Note: students who were admitted prior to 2018-19 may choose to use the prior milestone documents (the Dissertation Proposal and Conceptual Analysis of Dissertation Area) instead of the ARRR. This decision should be registered with the student services manager. Refer to the Stanford Bulletin from your entering year for details about these prior requirements.

Fifth-Year Committee Meeting and Beyond

The department expects that students complete their Oral Exam by the end of the fifth year. Thus, typically the Oral Exam replaces the fifth-year committee meeting. However, if a student defers the Oral Exam, the student is expected to meet with his/her committee before June 1 of the fifth year to give an update on ongoing research progress and receive feedback. The same applies for sixth year, and so on. After each committee meeting, students should report to the student services manager the date on which the committee meeting took place.

Oral Examination

In the Department of Psychology, the Oral Examination takes the form of a dissertation defense. A 5-member committee is formed to review the oral examination. This committee includes the dissertation reading committee, an additional faculty member, and one oral examination committee chair from outside the Psychology department.

The oral examination consists of a 45-minute public presentation to the department of the completed dissertation research, followed by a 10-15 minute period of open questions and answers. Parents and friends are welcome to attend. Following the presentation, the student and the committee convene for a closed part of the oral exam in which each of the committee members asks the Ph.D. candidate questions regarding his/her Ph.D. research. After the closed session, the candidate leaves the room and the committee discusses the outcome of the exam and members anonymously vote whether the candidate passed the oral exam. The total duration of both parts of the oral examination should be less than 3 hours, per University policy.


Per University policy, the candidate must complete a dissertation satisfactory to the dissertation reading committee. Typically, the candidate will submit the dissertation to the reading committee 2 weeks prior to the oral examination. Minor revisions to formatting may be made after the oral examination. It is allowable by University policy to have a single additional writing quarter after the defense to finalize the dissertation. The dissertation must be approved and signed by each member of the dissertation reading committee.

Students must complete their oral examination and submit their dissertation before their candidate status expires at the end of the 7th year (per University policy, candidacy status is granted at the end of year 2, and students have 5 years of candidacy in which to complete all requirements). See the "Graduate Degrees" section of this bulletin for more information. The Department will review petitions for a longer candidacy period on a case-by-case basis.

Teaching Requirement

The department views experience in supervised teaching as an integral part of its graduate program. Regardless of the source of their financial support, all students spend are required to participate in at least 5 quarters of teaching experience during their graduate study.

Of these 5 teaching quarters, students are required to apply for 2 of the quarters providing teaching support to a service course, either 2 quarters of PSYCH 1 Introduction to Psychology or 2 quarters of a core statistics course: PSYCH 10 Introduction to Statistical Methods: Precalculus, PSYCH 251 Experimental Methods, PSYCH 252 Statistical Methods for Behavioral and Social Sciences, and/or PSYCH 253 Advanced Statistical Modeling. Students report if they prefer the PSYCH 1 path or the stats path (or neutral) in their first year. 

Course List



Introduction to Psychology



Introduction to Statistical Methods: Precalculus


or PSYCH 251

Experimental Methods

or PSYCH 252

Statistical Methods for Behavioral and Social Sciences

or PSYCH 253

Advanced Statistical Modeling

Students are prohibited from teaching during the first year of graduate study. Students typically progress from closely supervised teaching to more independent teaching. Some students may be invited to offer a supervised, but essentially independent, seminar during their final year of graduate study.