Program Requirements, Social Psychology

We want our graduates to be creative, productive scientists, scholars, and teachers. This requires a strong background in psychology, a broad knowledge of social psychology, a detailed acquaintance with some special area in social psychology, skill in teaching, a sound understanding of methods of collecting and analyzing data (both field and laboratory methods), a concern for application of theory and methods to real social problems, and a continuing involvement in research and publication on important theoretical and practical matters.

About the Program

We believe that if creative and competent scientists are to evolve, the specific form in which these very general requirements are fulfilled should be maximally responsive to the interests and talents of each student. We have therefore developed a highly individualized structure for the Ph.D. program in Social Psychology at the University of Kansas. Program-wide, the only requirements that have been retained are (1) continuous involvement in research, and (2) the University Graduate School requirements. All additional requirements are tailored to the goals and needs of the individual student. Each student works together with a three-member faculty committee to develop a plan of study (or "contract") for their years in the Social Psychology Program.

This contract states the general objectives of the student's graduate work, including the kind of career the student envisions and the types of training sought in order to be prepared to pursue that career. It also specifies the kinds of courses that will be taken (in related fields, as well as in psychology), the kinds of research experiences planned, the teaching assignments the student would prefer, and the sequence of benchmarks (examinations, publications, papers, courses designed and taught, etc.) by which the student, the committee, and the program faculty may evaluate the student's progress. The contract is likely to be more specific for the immediate future than for the long run, and it is subject to revision and elaboration by the student and the committee, as specified below.


Before establishment of a contract, the courses taken by entering students will be worked out with the Program Director. Courses will be selected that will (a) strengthen a student's background in social psychology, (b) develop his or her research and data analysis skills, and (c) lay the groundwork for the individualized plan of study. A typical program for the first year enrollment of a new student might be as follows:

Fall semester: Advanced Social Psychology I (PSYC 774), Experimental Research Methods in Social Psychology (PSYC 818), and a course in statistics (e.g., PSYC 790)

Spring semester: Advanced Social Psychology II (PSYC 775); Field Research Methods in Social Psychology (PSYC 819), another course in statistics.

Although none of the courses mentioned above is formally required, it is expected that a student will typically need and want to take the Advanced Social Psychology I and II series, the Research Methods series, and a number of statistics courses--unless the student has already taken equivalent courses. Exceptions to these expectations may, however, arise. Each student's needs and desires will be considered on an individual basis.

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.

During the academic year, the Social Psychology program meets once weekly (typically, Fridays at noon) for a Proseminar series. This is a series of talks that include graduate student presentations, KU Psychology faculty presentations, presentations from KU faculty outside of the department, and outside guest speakers. Students may enroll for credit in PSYC 903, but whether or not enrolled, graduate students are expected to attend this series and to present their own research when appropriate. We suggest that students plan to present at Social Prosem at least once a year.

Students must complete their degrees (M.A & Ph.D) within a certain time determined by the Office of Graduate Studies. Please review these time limits on the COGA website, and contact the Graduate Program Coordinator if you have any questions.

Two semesters, which may include one summer session, must be spent in resident study at the University of Kansas. During this period of residence, the student must be involved full time in academic or professional pursuits, which may include an appointment for teaching or research if the teaching/research is directed specifically toward the student's degree objectives. The student must be enrolled in a minimum of six (6) credit hours per semester, and the increased research involvement must be fully supported and documented by the dissertation supervisor as contributing to the student's dissertation or program objectives. Research work must be performed under the direct supervision of the major advisor if on campus, or with adequate liaison if off campus.

A student  may petition the Graduate Division through the department for a leave of absence during either the pre- or post-comprehensive period to pursue full-time professional activities related to the student's doctoral program and longrange professional goals. Leaves of absence may also be granted because of illness or other emergency. Ordinarily a leave of absence is granted for one year, with the possibility of extension upon request. For full details on taking a Leave of Absence, review the Graduate Policy and contact the Graduate Program Coordinator.

The Contract System

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.


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 Psychology program (the student’s primary advisor), and one other member must also be a faculty member in the Social Psychology program. The third faculty 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. 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.

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 Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship Requirement (RSRS) is a Graduate School requirement. 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 successfully completing Psychology 790, Psychology 791, Psychology 818, plus three more advanced courses in statistics or methods. Additionally, all students are expected to complete the HSC-L ethics tutorial and the RCR (Responsible Conduct of Research) tutorial (both available at, and to attend ethics discussions held periodically as part of the Proseminar series.

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. Statement regarding diversity and inclusion: We ask students to reflect on how they will add to the diversity of the Social Psychology Program, and how their efforts (e.g., in research, teaching, and service) will contribute to equity and inclusion with the program and department.

10. 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 and the Graduate Program Coordinator 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.

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.

Students entering without an empirical Masters degree will write an M.A. thesis, comprehensives paper, and Ph.D. dissertation. Each must be followed by an oral examination. Students entering with an approved empirical Masters degree will fulfill the latter two requirement.

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 February 28 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.

The progress of all first year students will be evaluated by the Program faculty near the end of the Spring semester, and each 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 during the Spring semester. 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 April/May. 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.

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. Comments and suggestions arising from such on-going discussion should 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, we recommend that students:

a) 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.

b) Meeting with course instructors and research supervisor(s) at the end of each semester. These meetings may be used to rovide useful feedback on progress, indicating areas needing emphasis or opportunities for further development.

c) 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.

Masters of Arts Degree Requirements

Requirements for the M.A. degree include (a) 30 hours of graduate course credit (no more than 6 of which may be in courses offered by other departments), (b) a thesis based on empirical research, and (c) an oral examination. Ideally this should be completed within a period of two years. The M.A. thesis committee is three faculty members, at least two of whom must be in the Psychology Department. There are no limits on program membership. The M.A. committee could be, but need not be, the same as the contract committee.


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).

Ph.D. Requirements

Most students who complete the Master's of Arts degree will progress to the Ph.D program. Once students enter the Ph.D program they will complete requirements for the Oral Comprehensive Paper & Exam and the Final Dissertation and Oral Defense.


All coursework laid out in the contract—particularly coursework related to the RSRS requirement—must be completed before the oral defense of the comprehensives paper is scheduled. There are four possible formats for the Comprehensive Exam in the Social Program:

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, Psychological Review, or Personality and Social Psychology Review articles. 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. 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 their 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. Students should consult with the Graduate Program Coordinator to ensure proper makeup of the Comprehensives committee, and to schedule a defense data with enough time to check that program requirements have been met.

See the Oral Comprehensive Exam Committee Composition Requirements for full details OR Contact the Graduate Program Coordinator.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences requirements for the Ph.D. degree include: (a) completion of the residence requirement, (b) an M.A. degree or equivalent, (c) satisfactory completion of a research skills requirement, (d) satisfactory completion of a comprehensive oral examination, (e) a dissertation based on empirical research, (f) an oral examination at which the dissertation is successfully defended, and (g) continuous enrollment following completion of the comprehensive oral examination until all requirements for the degree are completed.

The dissertation committee is a 5-person faculty committee with the same constraints/requirements as the Oral Comprehensive Exam committee.