Research Requirements

First Year

Lab research project (Psych 696). The nature of this project will vary and should be designed in consultation with the student’s primary advisor. The goal of the first-year project is to involve students in research activities during their first year of graduate school. Some examples of appropriate first-year projects include:

  • Write/submit an NSF graduate research proposal or NIH NRSA proposal.
  • Write a description of an experiment you conducted or work you plan to do for your master's project.
  • Submit a first author poster presentation to a conference based on work completed during your first year.
  • Write a literature review on a topic relevant to your future research (5 pages).

Deadline: This project should be submitted to the program director by May 1st.

Second Year

Master’s Project Proposal (See the PBS Graduate Program General Requirements for more information and applicable forms.)  

Deadline: The master’s proposal should be approved by the student’s committee by February 1st.

Third Year

Master’s Thesis Deadline: The thesis should be defended by September 1st.

Comprehensive Exam:

The comprehensive exam should demonstrate knowledge with respect to theory, extant empirical data, research methods and analyses, and a professional and creative approach to future lines of inquiry in a research area.

Structuring the comprehensive exam is complicated by the fact that there are at least three aims that are not entirely aligned. First, by graduate school requirements, there is an evaluative component – successful completion of a qualifying exam is required to continue in the program. However, the faculty expect and want students to succeed, and are not looking to “weed students out.”  To this end, the process allows for guided revisions, and we hope that goals two and three can typically be primary.  The second goal is that comps should be useful, for example in making progress towards a dissertation or additional publication. The third (procedural) aim is to make the exam process manageable, so as not to interfere with students’ productivity and career progress. These differing aims make it somewhat difficult to balance dimensions such as standardization (good for fairness in evaluation) versus flexibility (good for making the process useful).  We try, in this revised description, to provide more clarity about expectations, while attempting to allow flexibility without compromising equity. We have added an explicit requirement for a pre-writing meeting to try to ensure clear expectations, and now ask for a brief Description of Work, described below, towards allowing flexibility without disadvantaging students who, for example, take on a new topic.


Comprehensive exam committees must include three faculty members; at least two must be associated with the Developmental Science Program. The planned project should be described in a written proposal that is specific enough to make clear what the committee can expect the final project to cover, towards minimizing the possibility that the committee has different expectations than the student. The time allotments are firm deadlines, and can only be extended under exceptional circumstances, by vote of the entire developmental faculty. Students may choose one of the following two options for the comprehensive exam:

  • Prepare an academic review paper that would be appropriate for publication in Psychological Review, Psychological BulletinDevelopmental Review, or another appropriate journal that uses a long-review format. The paper should provide a unique synthesis and can serve as a stepping stone for the dissertation. After the topic and journal are approved, students will have 1 month to write the review paper. This review paper should typically be approximately 6000-7500 words (20-25 double-spaced pages), not including references.  Departures from this length should be pre-approved by the committee.
  • Prepare 3 questions relevant to the field of developmental science. After the questions are approved, students will have 1 week to prepare written answers to all of the questions. Typically the first question would be related to the student’s research area, the second question would address a broad topic relevant to Developmental Science, and the third question would address a methodological or statistical issue relevant to Developmental Science.  These question answers should normally be approximately 2100-3000 words each (7-10 double-spaced pages), not including references.  Departures from this length should be pre-approved by the committee.

Pre-Writing Meeting

Students are required to meet with their committee after providing the written proposal but before writing their answers.  This meeting is designed to be in students’ interest, to minimize the chances that they will go down a different path than expected by their committee. A typical meeting would involve a short (e.g., 10 minute) summary from the student, followed by discussion and questions.

Pre-Writing Work

Typically a proposal for a review paper would be an approximately 1.5 - 2 page outline, not including references (which should be included).  A proposal for the 3-question version would typically be three outlines of approximately one page each, not including references (which should be included). Normally the student would have read most of the relevant literature as part of the process of preparing these outlines, but would not have done additional writing beyond the outline. Usually advisors will consult on the outline, but the writing will be done independently. While the above describes the typical process, we recognize that students will, for good reasons, differ in the amount of work that is done before the writing period, differ in the amount of consultation received, and differ in their prior knowledge on the topic of the project.  For these reasons, we ask students to present, with their exam, a Description of Work paragraph.

Description of Work

The Description of Work should briefly describe what work was done prior to the writing period, and how the answers build on or are independent from their previous research. We do not want to discourage students from tackling new projects or working independently, and we also recognize that in some circumstances it may make sense to extend an area of expertise.  In an effort to adjust our evaluation criteria accordingly, we are asking students to describe what work was done ahead of time, including, for example, if portions were drawn directly from, or built from, previous work; what help/consultation/collaboration was received; and to what extent the project reflects a new area versus an area of expertise.  This will enable the committee, for example, to expect a less sophisticated analysis if work is being done in a brand new area.


Students will pass their comprehensive project or be asked to make revisions, and potentially to have a second meeting.  The committee will set an appropriate time-frame for these revisions. We wish to be explicit that being asked for revisions should not be considered failing or reflecting poorly on the work.  Rather, revisions are a common outcome that, we hope, will strengthen the ultimate product and bring it closer to being useable.  In the most unusual case, the committee may determine that the student’s work is not acceptable after revision (at the committee’s discretion, a second opportunity for revision may be offered). When the exam is passed, the chair of the committee must write a memo to the GPD indicating this. In the unlikely event that the exam is failed and the student removed from the program, students have the right to appeal as described in the PBS Graduate Program Policies and Procedures.


Previous successful comps answers can be seen by request to the division head.

          Deadline: The comprehensive examination is to be completed by February 1st.

Fourth Year

Dissertation Proposal: (See the departmental Policy and Procedure document.) 

Deadline: The dissertation’s proposal should be approved by September 1st. It should be noted that the graduate school requires a minimum of 7 months between acceptance of the proposal by the graduate school and the PhD Dissertation Defense.