The guidelines for psychology were written to correspond with the four levels of our curriculum: Introductory classes, foundational classes, advanced classes and capstone courses. Reviewing each level of the pyramid, we asked, as a faculty, what skills students should have when they complete one set of courses and enter into a new plateau. We also asked what skill set students should have when they exit our major and how we might ensure that they leave with the skill set that will prepare them for either entrance into professional school, graduate school or the workplace at a level that is competitive with their peers.

In concert with some of the themes identified in the general education plan for the university, we chose five skill sets or learning processes as central to our mission: knowledge of content; critical reading, oral communication, writing, and critical thinking and analysis. Below we chart the guidelines that we recommend at each level of the curricula to foster these skills. Importantly, these guidelines are constrained by class sizes.

Introductory Level Courses and Methods Courses:

  • Content: Definitions, facts, procedures (the vocabulary of a field)
  • Critical reading: Secondary sources like texts. Learning to read graphs, data sheets.
  • Oral language: Discussions, asking questions, class participation
  • Writing: Short essay, group lab reports
  • Critical thinking & analysis: Synthesizing across units, evidence based hypotheses

Foundational courses:

  • Content: Specialization, defining studies for a theory
  • Critical reading: Text plus primary sources
  • Oral language: Discussions, class participation
  • Writing: In-class writing
  • Critical thinking & analysis: Synthesizing articles and text, identifying author’s stance

Advanced courses:

  • Content: Narrow specialization
  • Critical reading: Text plus primary sources
  • Oral language: Group presentation on topic
  • Writing: Research paper
  • Critical thinking & analysis: Theoretical support for hypotheses plus alternative explanations


  • Content: Become either expert of generalist
  • Critical reading: Primary sources
  • Oral language: Oral presentation to peers
  • Writing: Research paper meeting intensive writing requirements
  • Critical thinking & analysis: Use primary literature to derive and critically evaluate hypotheses

Undergraduate Program

The Undergraduate Program in Psychology provides a curriculum which emphasizes breadth of coverage of various content areas of the discipline, along with education in statistical and methodological principles which are necessary for producing and understanding data analysis.  The Program also emphasizes the development of critical thinking and communication skills.  The graduate should be prepared to assume responsibilities in a variety of employment settings, and also, for those interested, to pursue advanced work in Psychology, Social Work, Educational Psychology, Counseling, and other related fields.

Basic Principles

To establish a firm foundation in the basic principles of Psychology, encompassing both the social science and the natural science principles of the discipline.  To understand the function, development, evolution and biological basis of both individual  behavior and mental processes as well as those of groups;  to understand both the pathological and normative aspects of these behaviors and mental processes.

Implementation:  We require two introductory-level courses (Psych 1061 and Psych 1071) one of which is  Introduction to Psychology as a Social Science and the other Introduction to Psychology as a Natural Science.

Breadth of Content Areas

To establish a broad foundation of knowledge of the various content areas in the  discipline.

Implementation:  This is established at the 2000 course level, and is achieved by requiring a distributional choice of courses across  two major groupings:  Developmental/Clinical/Social Areas and the Bio-Behavioral Area. Students must select a total of three courses from a pre-established list representing the above two groupings.  Students must select at least one course in each of the two areas for a 1-2 or 2-1 set of choices.

Depth in Content Areas

To establish a greater depth of knowledge in content areas of the student’s choice.  Many students at this point will choose courses in a given area of interest, while others will choose across areas.  The intention here is greater depth of understanding.

Implementation:  This is established at the 3000 course level.  From a list of approximately 10 course titles offered at the 3000 level each semester, the students choose those courses of greatest interest.

Statistical, Research, and Methodological Principles

To establish a basic understanding of statistical analysis, methodology, design and research principles in the social sciences.  To enable students to read research more critically, to be able to apply basic strategies for systematic evaluations of their own work, to understand what counts as evidence, to appreciate what constitutes “proof” in empirical investigation, and to have an adequate  foundation for subsequent graduate education.   To be able to formulate testable research questions/hypotheses, formulate appropriate research designs and data collection methods, to use appropriate methods of analysis, and to draw appropriate conclusions.

Implementation:  We require a sequence of three courses which deal with the above:  Foundations of Statistics (Psych 1167), which introduces students to basic principles of descriptive statistics;  Inferential Methods (Psych 2168), which introduces students to associational and predictive statistics; and Scientific Thinking (Psych 2196), which is a writing intensive course which introduces students to research design, statistical applications, research evaluation, and critical thinking.

Technological Skills

To gain competencies in the developing technologies which are relevant to the current practice of the discipline.  These include development of computer skills (word processing, presentation software, data analysis, information storage and retrieval, use of the internet) and awareness of technologies for measuring and evaluating psychological phenomena.

Implementation:  The course, Inferential Methods (2168) is being developed to incorporate instruction in SPSS.  Students will be introduced to the use of this statistical software in both descriptive and inferential statstics.  Students will be educated, through various other courses, in effective use of the internet for information searches, in the use of word processing, and in other applications that are of interest.

Critical Thinking and Writing Skills

To establish better writing skills, critical thinking skills and to engage in a process of synthesis of knowledge achieved; to understand the discourse of the discipline, to write effectively in the language of the discipline, and to develop effective oral and visual communication skills.

Implementation:  Students must take two writing intensive courses within the Department.  One course, Scientific Thinking, has been described already, and focuses on the consumption and expression of research-based information.  The second course, Capstone, is required to be taken in the senior year (preferably the final semester) and involves intensive writing around a topic or set of topics, enabling the student to draw from knowledge gained from the prior undergraduate education.

Psychology in the Community

To gain an appreciation and understanding of the role of psychological knowledge in strengthening the community and informing public policy.

Implementation:  This goal will be achieved through all of the courses offered.  Each course will approach this in a way that is relevant to course content.

Experiential Learning

To provide opportunities for enriching experience outside the classroom, in order to develop research, organizational, professional and/or assessment skills related to the discipline.

Implementation:  Students are encouraged to participate in many available opportunities.  pre-approved off-campus internship sites number about 40, and represent a wide range of settings within which to learn the applications of the discipline.  On-campus opportunities are available through a Departmentally-based course known as Collaborative Research.  This three-credit course may be take for as many as four semesters, and gives a student the opportunity to learn research skills, laboratory procedures, interviewing/assessment procedures from a selection of 14 laboratories.

Graduate Program

The Graduate Program in Psychology prepares students for careers as professors—teachers and researchers—in university settings. Learning objectives therefore cut across several areas. 1. Preparation for a career in academic psychology; 2. Mastery of the broad subject matter of psychology; 3. Mastery of the subject matter in the student’s proposed area of specialization; 4. Preparation for teaching; 5. Development of research skills; and, as appropriate, 6. Development of clinical skills.  Although those objectives are intertwined in students’ day-to-day activities, they are discussed separately here.

Preparation For a Career In Academic Psychology

To provide new graduate students with an introduction to the “hidden” aspects of an academic career, ranging from what to expect from the student-advisor relationship; to how to prepare a CV; to how to apply for a job, do well in an interview, and give an effective job talk. These are areas, which are typically learned only through osmosis, if at all, and sometimes only long after graduate school. Success in one’s early career development can be greatly enhanced by making the information explicit and available to students early in their careers, so that they can prepare for the challenges that they will face as developing academicians.

Implementation: In response to graduate-student request, we have initiated a Professional Development Course, taken by all students in their first semester. This course, which will use the APA’s The compleat academic as a text (which we give our graduate students on entering the program), which covers a broad range of topics which, although obvious to experienced academics, are unknown to incoming students. Students in this course will also be exposed to faculty who have experience in the topics being covered (e.g., applying for grants and fellowships; post-doctoral training; juggling family responsibilities and career demands).

Mastery of the Broad Subject Matter Of Psychology

To establish an understanding of the subject matter of psychology that goes significantly beyond that given at the undergraduate level. The Ph.D. graduate should have a broad- and deep-enough mastery of the subject matter so that he or she will be able to teach undergraduate courses outside of his or her area of specialization. In addition, the graduate will have a firm understanding of the place of his or her area of specialization within the discipline.

Implementation: All graduate students are required to attend at least four Ph.D. Core Courses from a set of five courses offered on a rotating basis in the Department. Those courses are designed to present a high-level introduction to the subject matter in a sub-area of psychology.

Mastery of the Area of Specialization

To establish high-level competence in the area of specialization that prepares the student to make a significant contribution to the development of psychological science. The graduating Ph.D. should know as much about his or her area of specialization as anyone else in the field.

Implementation: Student attend advanced topical seminars in their area of specialization. In addition, as part of their participation in their mentor’s research laboratory (see below), students are given exposure to cutting-edge knowledge in their area of specialization through regular laboratory meetings.

All graduate students are required to complete the Preliminary Examination.. The preliminary examination consists of a written document, which is supervised and approved by the student’s advisor and an examining committee; and an oral examination on that document. All graduate students also present and defend a dissertation proposal. Upon completion of the dissertation research, students again must prepare a written document and defend it before an examining committee.

Preparation for Teaching

To prepare students to deal with the specific responsibilities involved in the teaching their own courses. To enable students to become familiar with the details of teaching, as well as enabling the students to develop mastery of the various skills involved in the professor-student relationship.

Implementation: Students are gradually immersed in the teaching program of the department. Early students typically serve as teaching assistants in introductory-level courses, where their main responsibilities center on developing and grading exams and meeting with students individually for guidance and tutoring, or leading recitation sections. Teaching assistants typically meet regularly with the course instructor, which enables the students to receive assistance in dealing with any difficulties that arise in their assignments as well as acquiring first-hand information concerning behind-the-scenes complexities underlying teaching.

As students advance through the program, their teaching-assistantship assignments become more challenging, going from introductory courses to content courses in their areas of interest, to research-methods courses, and culminating with the graduate student’s being given the primary responsibility for teaching a course in his or her area of expertise. To provide support for graduate students as they prepare for teaching their own courses, students attend a course in Teaching Psychology in the semester before they are scheduled to begin their first solo teaching assignment. This course serves to introduce the student in a more-formal way to the details of teaching—e.g., selecting a text, preparing exams—and culminates in the student’s preparation of a syllabus for the course that he or she will be teaching the following semester.

Development of Research Skills

To enable the student to carry out well-designed original research and to prepare him or her with the skills to acquire and maintain funding for an ongoing research program.

Implementation: All students are admitted into the program to work in a specific researcher’s laboratory. In this way, students are immediately exposed to a strong research program. In addition, students are encouraged—and in the case of some areas in the department, required—to submit papers to professional organization meetings, as well as to publish their research. The department provides funding for student travel to conventions and conferences, which stimulates student interest in research, by demonstrating to them that the ideas they and their fellow students and advisor think about in the laboratory are of interest to other individuals. The Professional Development Course, discussed earlier, will provide information—from text material as well as directly from experienced researchers—concerning strategies for obtaining research funding.

First-year students are required to attend a two-semester statistics sequence, which provides a foundation in modern statistical methods. The department also offers advanced statistics courses, often in response to student requests. These courses provide the formal background to enable students to design and analyze their research projects.

Development of Clinical Skills

Half of our graduate students are in the Clinical Program, where a significant portion of their graduate training is focused on acquisition of clinical skills. This training is carried out in accordance with guidelines set out by the American Psychological Association, and the Clinical Program undergoes periodical review and accreditation by the APA.

Implementation:  The acquisition of clinical skills is implemented in a graduated, sequential fashion. In their 1st year, Clinical students take a two-semester sequence of Assessment courses in which they learn techniques of assessment, culminating in actual assessments of Psychological Services Center (PSC) clients under the supervision of a licensed psychologist.  Also, in the 2nd semester of their first year, Clinical students take a course on Introduction to Clinical Psychology in which among other things, they learn interviewing skills, professional ethics, and are generally prepared to take on their first therapy client through the PSC.

Beginning in the summer after their first year, Clinical students begin to take clinical practicum courses (“clinic teams” and “assessment teams”), become full-fledged student clinicians in the PSC and begin to take on their own therapy and assessment cases in the PSC, which continues through the 2nd and 3rd years of graduate school.  In the students’ 4th and 5th years they arrange year-long clinical practica in the community, under the supervision of licensed psychologists at the practicum site.  All external practicum sites are approved by the Director of Clinical Training and the students’ academic advisor in the Clinical program.  Clinical students are also required by APA to complete a predoctoral clinical internship as part of their Ph.D. requirements. They complete their clinical internship in their 5th or 6th year, with such internships providing acquisition and practice of the highest levels of clinical skills and readying students to sit for state licensing exams and independent clinical practice and supervision.