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PhD Degree Requirements

This webpage provides a quick overview of the requirements for our PhD program. More detailed information can be found in the Psychology Graduate Guide. This webpage and the Graduate Guide supplement the Psychology PhD requirements defined in the Stanford Bulletin and the policies for all Stanford graduate education as defined in the Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures Handbook

The most important component of our PhD program is engaging in scientific research. Students in our PhD program conduct in-depth research in at least one of five areas of study: Affective, Cognitive, Developmental, Neuroscience, or Social Psychology. All students are expected to spend at least half of their time engaged in research. Each quarter, students should register for 8 - 10 research units (PSYCH207: Graduate Research) and take no more than 10 units of coursework.

The sections below outline program requirements regarding coursework and teaching, as well as key milestones towards a PhD degree.

Course Requirements

Core Courses, Statistics/Methods Courses, and Advanced Units must be taken for a letter grade and passed with a grade of B- or higher. Click each requirement to open the relevant sections in the Graduate Guide.  

Professional Seminar 

All incoming students are required to take PSYCH207 in the first quarter (Year 1 Autumn). This is a course taught by the Department Chair with guest lectures from faculty across all areas, and serves to introduce the first-year students to the Department. 

  • PSYCH 207: Professional Seminar for First-Year Ph.D Students

As a part of PSYCH 207, first-year students are also expected to meet with their advisor(s) early in the fall quarter of the first year to discuss mentorship expectations. 

Core Courses

Students are required to complete 4 of the following Core Courses by the end of Yr 3.

  • PSYCH 202: Cognitive Neuroscience
  • PSYCH 205: Foundations of Cognition
  • PSYCH 211: Developmental Psychology
  • PSYCH 213: Affective Science
  • PSYCH 215: Mind, Culture, and Society

Statistics / Methods Courses

Students must complete PSYCH 251 and one additional statistics/methods courses by the end of Year 2. At least one of the two courses must be taken in the first year. 

  • PSYCH 251: Experimental Methods (Required) 
  • PSYCH 249: Large-Scale Neural Network Modeling for Neuroscience
  • PSYCH 252: Statistical Methods for Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • PSYCH 253: Measurement and the Study of Change in Social Science Research
  • PSYCH 289: Longitudinal Data Analysis in Social Science Research

Some students may wish to take advanced courses in Statistics or CS not listed above; please consult with your advisor and send an inquiry to the Student Services Manager. These requests may be reviewed by the DGS and/or the GPC.

Advanced Units / PhD Minor 

Students must complete 12 units of advanced graduate coursework (“Advanced Units”, or AU), or complete a PhD Minor by the end of Year 4.  

Students and their advisor(s) should discuss the course requirements and create a plan together for completing the Advanced Units. To this end, rising 2nd year students must submit an Advanced Courses Form by the first Monday in October (usually the first Monday of the Fall Quarter) of the 2nd year. 

Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) Status

Students should apply for Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) status once they have accumulated 135 units of residency and have filed a Dissertation Reading Committee form. Students in TGR status should register for PSYCH 802: TGR Dissertation (0 units) and take no more than 3 units of coursework per quarter. Typically, students transition to TGR in the Winter quarter of 5th year. 

For more information about Course Requirements, consult the Graduate Guide and the Stanford Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures Handbook.

Teaching Requirements

All students serve as teaching assistants for at least 5 Psychology courses during their graduate study, regardless of the source of their financial support. Of these 5 TAships, students must apply for 2 of their TAships to be in one of the two tracks: 

  • PSYCH 1 Track (2 quarters of Introduction to Psychology)  
  • STATS Track (2 quarters of core statistics/methods course: PSYCH 10, PSYCH 251, PSYCH 252, PSYCH 253).  

Students can review the Department's complete TA policy for more details. Questions about TA assignments or TA policy should be directed to the Student Services Manager. 

Program Requirements and Milestones

Year 1: 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) by June 1 The FYP is submitted to their advisor, second FYP reader (another faculty), and the students’ services manager. Students are also expected to present the results of their FYP in their area seminar. 

Year 2: Admission to Candidacy

In our department, a student’s application for candidacy must be filed as soon as all requirements for Year 1 and Year 2 are completed (and by the end of the 2nd year). The decision to advance a student to candidacy is made based on a holistic assessment of the student’s progress in the program. For more information, please refer to the Graduate Guide, section on Admission to Candidacy. 

Conferral of a masters degree: Graduate students in the Department of Psychology who have completed (a) the first-year and second-year course requirements and (b) at least 45 units of Psychology courses may apply for a conferral of the MA degree.

Master of Arts Degree in Psychology (Optional)

Graduate students in the Department of Psychology who have completed (a) the first-year and second-year course requirements and (b) at least 45 units of Psychology courses may apply for conferral of the MA degree. The application should be reviewed with the Student Services Manager. The application process typically occurs in 2nd or 3rd year.

Year 3: Research Plan and Dissertation Reading Committee  

Students in Year 3 are expected to:

(1) Form a dissertation reading committee (due Feb 1): The research committee includes the dissertation advisor and at least 2 additional faculty members, for a total of 3 members, at least two of whom should have primary appointments in the Psychology Department. 

(2) Schedule and hold the 3rd Year Committee Meeting to take place in Winter or Spring quarter (before June 1), and submit a research plan to their committee 2 weeks before the meeting

(3) After the committee meeting, submit the Research Plan to the Student Services Manager and report the meeting date using the Committee Meeting Google Form.

Year 4: Area Review and Research Roadmap (ARRR) and Committee Meeting

Students in Year 4 are expected to:

(1) Schedule and hold the 4th Year Committee Meeting in the Winter quarter and submit an Area Review & Research Roadmap (ARRR) to the committee two weeks before the meeting.

(2) After the committee meeting, submit the ARRR to the Student Services Manager and report the meeting date using the Committee Meeting Google Form

Final Year: Oral Examination and Dissertation 

Students in Year 3 and above are expected to hold a committee meeting every year. In their final year, students must form their Oral Examination Committee including identifying an external chair. Students must submit the Oral Exam Form to the Student Services Manager at least 2 weeks before the anticipated defense and follow the standard Department protocol for reserving a room for their defense.

Individual Development Plan

Every year, each graduate student completes an Individual Development Plan (IDP) and has a meeting with their advisor to discuss the IDP and set an Action Plan for the coming year. The goal of the IDP is for the student to step back from their daily tasks, reflect on the larger picture, discuss these topics with their mentor, and make an action plan for achieving their goals going forward. The IDP meeting must occur by June 1 each year. 

The IDP process has 4 steps:

1. Student completeness the IDP Self-Reflection form 

2. Student prepares the IDP Meeting and Action Plan form and schedules a one-on-one meeting with the advisor. 

3. Student and Advisor(s) complete the Action Plan (pages 3-4 of the IDP Meeting and Action Plan form). 

4. Student submits the IDP Meeting Google Form to report the meeting to the Student Services.

Students can also use the IDP meeting to discuss mentorship expectations and schedule additional meetings if further conversations are needed. Note that first-year students must schedule a separate meeting with their advisors to discuss Mentorship Expectation as a part of their ProSem requirement

Graduation Quarter

Registration for Graduation Quarter is required for the term in which a student submits a dissertation or has a degree conferred. Please consult the Registrar's Academic Calendar for the quarterly deadlines for submitting dissertations; they are strict, and missing the deadline can have serious funding implications. For more information, please refer to the Graduate Guide and Registrar's Office website.

First Year

Dec 1

  • FYP Proposal and name of 2nd reader due to Student Services

End of Fall Quarter 

June 1

  • FYP due to Student Services, advisor, and 2nd reader

Summer of 1st Year

  • Meet and receive feedback from advisor and 2nd reader
Second Year

Oct 1

June 1 

  • IDP Meeting Due

By the end of 2nd Year

Third Year

Feb 1

June 1

  • Hold Committee Meeting (Research Plan to committee 2 weeks before meeting), and report meeting to Student Services; IDP Meeting
Fourth Year

April 1

  • Schedule 4th Year Committee Meeting
  • Submit ARRR to the committee two weeks before the meeting
  • Hold Committee Meeting
  • Report meeting to Student Services

June 1

  • IDP Meeting
Fifth Year

2 weeks before Defense: 

End of Spring Quarter: 

  • Oral Examination
  • Submit Dissertation 


  • Schedule and hold a 5th Year Committee Meeting