PhD Requirements

The PhD will typically be completed in five years, with each student’s progress and time to degree evaluated each semester during their first year of the PhD program, and annually thereafter. Satisfactory progress toward the PhD is required for continued stipend funding and tuition remission. Specifically, funding will not be made available for any fifth-year student without an approved Thesis Plan by September 1 of the fifth year. Funding is not available beyond the fifth year.

Each graduate student will identify an area in which to concentrate: biopsychology, developmental psychology, or cognitive psychology. The student will develop intensive knowledge and understanding of the area of concentration through advanced seminars, topical seminars, and research experience.

A brief summary of the requirements of the PhD in Psychological and Brain Sciences follows. Complete information for current PhD students and faculty advisers is available in the Graduate Student Handbook.

Courses and Seminars

All courses must be passed with a grade of B- or better (B- is passing, but unsatisfactory).

Fundamentals & Core Topics in Psychology

AS.200.613 Fundamentals of Psychological & Brain Sciences, AS.200.654 Psychological & Brain Sciences Core Topics A, and AS.200.655 Psychological & Brain Sciences Core Topics B will offer an introduction to the fundamental principles of cognitive and physiological psychology and psychological and brain sciences. Students will read seminal and contemporary papers in topics that cover the breadth of the field.


A thorough understanding of statistics is useful in virtually all research settings. Two statistics courses are required during the first year of graduate training. The normal sequence is 200.314 Advanced Statistical Methods in the fall, followed by 200.318 Quantitative Methods for Brain Sciences in the spring. Students with exceptional statistical training may take two more advanced courses by arrangement with the Director of Graduate Studies and their faculty advisor. Students are encouraged to take more statistics, as appropriate.

Advanced Seminars

Advanced seminars are more specialized in content than a Core Topics course, but are still geared to students with interests both inside and outside the area. Students are required to complete one advanced seminar outside their concentration area. Completion of an additional advanced seminar is strongly recommended.

Topical Seminars

One or more faculty members lead seminars on topics of special interest, such as cognitive processes, developmental psycholinguistics, neuro-physiological aspects of behavior, mathematical psychology, and information processing. Through these seminars a student gets intensive knowledge in particular specialties. Topics vary from semester to semester and are determined by the interests of both faculty and graduate students. The format of the seminar is optional, and the course may or may not require formal tests of knowledge. Students are urged to complete topical seminars as appropriate.

Research Seminars

Students and faculty engaged or interested in research in particular areas organize these seminars. Participants discuss their own research and other current research in the area.

PhD Milestones

First-Year Research Proposal & Project

During the first year, the student, together with the faculty advisor, chooses a research project that will provide extended research experience. Normally, the student designs a study as a larger ongoing project. A project proposal must be submitted by April 15 of the first year; this presents the nature of the problem, reviews the relevant literature, and describes the study in detail, together with the anticipated data, means of analysis, and interpretations. A final report must be submitted by December 15 of the second year; this includes all the information appropriate for published work.

Master of Arts in Psychology

A student who has been admitted into the PhD program can earn a Master of Arts degree in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD degree. Normally, candidates for the PhD degree in psychology will qualify for the MA degree at the end of their second year, after having completed two area seminars and at least two courses in psychological research design and/or advanced statistics, provided that their performance is of the quality judged satisfactory for the MA level. There is no terminal master’s program.

Advanced Examination

The Advanced Examination is designed to assess expertise in the student’s area of concentration. The examining committee will consist of the advisor and two additional faculty members.

The exam must be successfully completed before the fall semester of the third year and will include a multiday written portion and an oral portion. The Advanced Examination is broad; e.g., cognitive psychology, not just attention; psychobiology, not just motivation.

Literature Review

The literature review should be modeled on articles appearing in the Psychological Bulletin or another high-quality journal of reviews, and it should be suitable for publication in such a journal.

Ordinarily, it will provide a background for the thesis plan, but students may prepare a literature review on a topic other than the one selected for their thesis. In either case, the literature review should be a separate document.

The literature review will be evaluated by the same committee of at least three faculty members from the department who evaluate the student’s thesis plan. The literature review should be submitted to the committee prior to or simultaneously with the thesis plan, by April 15 of the fourth year.

Thesis Plan

The thesis plan is a detailed document stating the issue the student wishes to address in a dissertation, the experimental design to be used, and the way the student will interpret the various possible results. In essence, it is a proposal for a research project with predictions and preliminary data, rather than results. The outline of the experiments should be sufficiently clear that the readers will fully understand the procedures; the plan should also include a timeline.

This plan should be completed as soon as possible, but no later than June 30 following the fourth year. Dissertation research cannot proceed until the Thesis Plan has formally been approved. Three or more full-time faculty from this department constitutes the student’s thesis plan committee. This committee is chosen by your advisor.


The dissertation should be your finest and most independent piece of scholarly work to date. It often establishes the pattern for a research career and the basis for post-doctoral study and/or employment.

Faculty members have different styles of working with students on dissertations, but in general you should initially present a detailed outline of the dissertation to your advisor, and then work closely with your advisor until the dissertation is completed.

Graduate Board Oral Examination

The final requirement for the PhD is the Graduate Board Oral Examination, at which you defend your thesis orally before a faculty committee consisting of three faculty members of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and at least two members of the Hopkins faculty outside the department. Typically, the committee involved in your Thesis Plan will also serve on the Final Oral Exam/Dissertation Defense committee, as selected by your advisor and approved by the Department Chair and Graduate Board.

Teaching Assistantships

Teaching requirements are fulfilled by graduate students serving as teaching assistants to members of the department’s faculty, in courses taught in the School of Arts and Sciences. All graduate students are expected to TA a total of four semesters, beginning in the second semester of the first year. A committee composed of graduate student representatives participates each semester in the selection of teaching assignments, in addition to the Department Chair, Director of Graduate Studies, Department Administrator, and Academic Program Coordinator.

Advanced students may apply for a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship. This prestigious fellowship provides graduate students an opportunity to grow both as educators and scholars by allowing them to propose, design, and offer an undergraduate seminar course.

For more detailed information on the requirements for the PhD in psychological and brain sciences, view the Graduate Student Handbook.