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PhD Degree Requirements

Graduate students in the Department of Psychology's PhD program conduct in-depth research in one of five areas of study: Cognitive, Developmental, Affective, Neuroscience, or Social Psychology. 

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CoURSE Requirements

Research and Department Requirements

Teaching Requirements

University Requirements

Additional Requirements

Course Requirements

Students must be enrolled in 8-10 units every quarter to be considered full-time. Students must receive a grade of B- or above in all coursework taken for a letter grade. If a passing grade is not obtained, a student may be asked to repeat the course or take a comparable course.

1. Five Core Courses

All required core courses, along with statistics, should be taken by the end of the third year.  On occasion, course scheduling will not allow this, in which case students must obtain approval from their advisor and communicate this with the Student Services Manager.

2. Two Statistics Courses

Each student is required to take two approved graduate courses in statistics during his or her first 2 years. At least one of these courses must be taken in the first year. Students who did not have an undergraduate course in statistics should take PSYCH 10 (STATS 60) in the earliest possible quarter within the first year. This is a prerequisite to any graduate statistics course. As a first course, PSYCH 252 (Statistical Methods for Behavioral and Social Sciences) is strongly recommended. As a second course, you can choose from PSYCH 253 (Statistical Theory, Models, and Methodology) or PSYCH 254 (Lab in Experimental Methods). Students must receive a grade of B- or better in all of the courses taken for a letter grade.

3. Additional Courses

Students in each area may be required to take up to two additional non-core graduate courses in their area of specialization. Please consult with your advisor about any additional requirements in your area of specialization. Students must receive a grade of B- or better in all of the courses taken for a letter grade.

4. Advanced Courses/Minor Requirement

The department requires students to complete 12 units of advanced graduate coursework or a PhD minor in another department. It is the hope of the department that this requirement will encourage students to supplement and enhance their training in psychology, using resources provided to them throughout the University. If a student waives the minor requirement in favor of the 12 advanced units, the advanced course requirement can be fulfilled by taking either (a) non-core graduate courses required by a particular area, or (b) graduate-level courses in other departments comparable in quality to Psychology’s graduate courses. Since the 12 advanced units are in lieu of a minor, it is understood that the units/courses will all conform to a theme that the student and their advisor agree upon.

Before taking any courses, students should submit a list of possible outside courses to their advisor for approval using the Advanced Courses Form. This form must be signed by their advisor and the Chairperson of the Graduate Program Committee and returned to the Student Services Office (SSO) by the first Monday of October of the 2nd year. See the Graduate Guide for additional information.

5. Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR)

All students must have completed all required courses (core courses, statistics, and advanced courses) before the beginning of their fifth year. Students should apply for Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) when they have accumulated 135 units of residency and have filed a Dissertation Reading Committee form. Once the TGR is approved, students register for course PSYCH 802 TGR Dissertation for zero units. For more information, consult the Graduate Guide.

Typical Schedule for Completing Course Requirements

First Year:

PSYCH 207 Pro-Seminar for First-Year PhD Graduate Students

PSYCH 275 Grad research course (please choose the section led by your advisor)

At least one approved graduate course in statistics (must be taken for letter grade):

  • PSYCH 252

  • PSYCH 253

  • PSYCH 254

At least one core course listed below (must be taken for letter grade):

  • PSYCH 202 Neuroscience

  • PSYCH 205 Foundations of Cognition

  • PSYCH 211 Developmental Psychology

  • PSYCH 212 Social Psychology or PSYCH 215 Mind, Culture, and Society

  • PSYCH 213 Affective Science

Second Year:

Two additional Core Courses

One remaining Statistics Course

October: Submit Advanced Courses Form

Third Year: 

All remaining coursework should be completed by the end of the third year

Fourth Year: 

Complete 135 units

Apply for Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR)

Fifth Year:

Register for TGR status

Research and Department Requirements


It is expected that students will spend at least one-half of their time on research from the beginning of their first year to the completion of their PhD. Although students will have one official advisor, they are encouraged to engage in research with other faculty with whom they have mutual interests. 

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 FYP (First Year Project). This report should resemble a journal article in their area, and is written in consultation with their advisor.  First year students must also work with their advisor to determine a second FYP reader (another Psychology faculty member). The second FYP reader should be identified by the end of October in Autumn Quarter of the first year. More information on the First Year Project can be found in the Graduate Guide.

Conceptual Analysis of the Dissertation Area (CADA)

The CADA provides an opportunity for the student to develop a perspective on a body of literature relevant to the dissertation research. Prior to the submission of the CADA, submit the CADA Proposal to Student Services.

Dissertation Proposal

The Dissertation Proposal typically includes a presentation of preliminary research, perhaps including the first study to be reported in the dissertation. The Dissertation Proposal may also take the form of an NRSA proposal.  

The exact timing and sequencing of the Dissertation Proposal and CADA will be developed by the student in consultation with the committee. Students may complete the CADA first, followed by the Dissertation Proposal. Alternatively, some students may choose to complete the Dissertation Proposal first; this may be beneficial in the case of Dissertation Proposals in the form of NRSA proposals. For more information on the CADA or Dissertation Proposal, consult the Graduate Guide.


First Year:

December 1: First Year Project Proposal due

June 1: First Year Project due

Meet with second FYP reader during summer 

Second Year:

Continue research

Third Year:

First Monday of June: Submit CADA Proposal if you choose to submit CADA first

Fourth Year: 

First Monday of October: If CADA Proposal was submitted in June, complete CADA. Otherwise, this is the deadline for the Dissertation Proposal.

End of Spring Quarter: Complete the remaining requirement (CADA or Dissertation Proposal )

Fifth Year:

Final Dissertation

Teaching Requirements

The Department views experience in supervised teaching as an integral part of its Graduate Program. Regardless of the source of financial support, all students serve as teaching assistants for at least five Psychology courses during their graduate study. Of these five teaching occasions, two must involve PSYCH 1, or either two Statistics courses (i.e., PSYCH 10, PSYCH 252, PSYCH 253, and PSYCH 254), or one Statistics course and one other course the Department may designate as a service course.

Second Year: 

Begin teaching assistantship

Third and Fourth Year:

Continue teaching assistantships

Fifth Year:

Complete five teaching assistantships

University Requirements

Admission to Candidacy

Admission to a doctoral degree program is preliminary to, and distinct from, admission to candidacy. Admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree is a judgment by the faculty of the student’s potential to complete successfully the requirements of the degree program. Students are expected to apply for PhD candidacy by the end of their second year in the PhD program. Application for candidacy must be filed as soon as all first and second year requirements are completed and no later than the first day of Autumn quarter of their third year. 

For more information on Candidacy, consult the Graduate Guide.

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. This application should be discussed with the Student Services Office in the Department of Psychology. The application process typically happens within the second or third year.

Oral Examination and Committee

For the oral examination, the student should identify an outside Chair, typically someone who has not been a member of the committee until that point. (The Chair must a faculty member outside of the Psychology Department and also an Academic Council member.) The oral exam committee consists of at least five faculty members including the advisor and the Chair; most students often include the other members of the dissertation reading committee and one additional faculty member, although students may invite additional faculty members to join the committee for the oral examination.  Please see the Student Services Office for more information or required forms.


There are two ways to submit your dissertation:

In-Person Submission: A hard copy can be submitted by scheduling an appointment with the Registrar's Office. 

Electronic Submission: The Registrar's Office, in conjunction with the Stanford University Library, offers students the option to submit their dissertation in electronic format. This electronic submission process is free of charge to students and allows them the ability to log into Axess and check their pre-submission requirements in the eDissertation Center under the Academics tab. Once these requirements have been met, students will be given the option to upload a soft copy of their dissertation. 


Second Year:

End of summer: Complete the Application for Candidacy Form and submit to Student Services Office

Third Year:

June 1: Submit Dissertation Reading Committee Form

MA Degree Application (optional)

Fifth Year:

June 1: Dissertation and Oral Exam

Additional Requirements

Dissertation Reading Committee

After admission to candidacy and before taking the University Oral Examination or before approval of Terminal Graduate Registration, students must submit the Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee Form to the Student Services Office.

The dissertation reading committee consists of the principal dissertation advisor and at least two other readers, usually the same committee formed to review the Dissertation Proposal and the CADA. At least two members must be from the major department. For more information on the committee and member requirements, consult the Graduate Guide.

Terminal Graduation Quarter

Registration is required for the term in which a student submits a dissertation or has a degree conferred. Students who meet all the following conditions are eligible to be assessed a special tuition rate for the quarter in which they are receiving a degree:

  • All coursework, degree requirements, oral exams, and residency requirements for all graduate degree programs, including joint degree programs, have been completed.

  • A graduate or professional student must have enrolled or have been on an approved leave of absence in the term immediately preceding the term chosen as the graduation quarter.

  • The student has formally applied to graduate.

  • The student has only to submit the dissertation by the deadline for submission in the term designated as the graduation quarter. 

  • The student has filed all necessary forms regarding graduation quarter before the first day of the term chosen as graduation quarter.

Students enrolled in the graduation quarter are registered at Stanford and thus still retain the rights and privileges of registered students. Only one graduation quarter may be requested. There is a $150 tuition rate for Graduation Quarter.


First Year: 

Autumn: Choose research advisor 

Second Year:

Begin to choose Dissertation Reading Committee

Third Year:

June: Finalize members and begin meeting with Dissertation Research Committee

Fifth Year:

January 1: Oral Committee and Oral Exam scheduling

Register for Terminal Graduation Quarter (optional)

More details on PhD degree requirements can be found in the  Graduate Guide.