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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 Program Requirements

Individual Development Plan

Teaching Requirements

Graduation Quarter

Course Requirements

Students must be enrolled in 8-10 units every quarter to be considered full-time until the student reaches TGR status at the end of 4th year, at which time enrollment must be 0-3 units. For 1st through 4th year students, we recommend that you enroll in exactly 10 units per quarter.

Students must receive a grade of B- or above in all coursework taken for a letter grade. Core Courses and Statistics Courses must be 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. 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. Absolutely all coursework must be complete by the end of the 4th year so that students can apply for TGR status by Autumn Quarter of the 5th year.

1. Professional Seminar

In Autumn Quarter of the first year of the PhD program, students are required to take PSYCH 207, Professional Seminar. This is a course that introduces the first-year cohort to the Department. It is taught by the Department Chair, with guest lectures from across faculty across all areas of the Department.

2. Five Core Courses

Students are required to take each of the following core courses:

  • 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

Consistent with the goal of encouraging breadth and engagement across all areas of the department, students can fulfill the core course requirement by completing one core course in each of the department’s five areas. At the same time, the department recognizes that often a student’s research program will require core course training on a topic not covered in the Psychology core course offerings. To address this possible situation, students may petition to replace one of the five departmental core courses with an alternative course that provides critical core knowledge building in an area not covered by the core courses of the department. 

Such a petition should be based on an overall assessment of the entire body of coursework in consultation with the student’s advisor (including electives, ProSem, core courses, and classes in quantitative methods) and should indicate why approving the petition will allow the student to obtain the necessary background while also allowing time for sufficient research and TA engagement. Such a petition (a) will require the approval of both the student’s advisor and the Graduate Program Committee; (b) must describe a specific request to replace one departmental core course with an alternative core-like course; and (c) must be well-motivated with respect to the student’s overall program of study and research. Petitions are submitted via Google Forms and adjudicated by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the Graduate Program Committee and/or Department Chair as needed.

3. Two Statistics Courses

Each student is required to take two approved graduate courses in statistics during the 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 of Autumn Quarter 2018, all grad students are required to take at least 2 of the following 3 courses:

  • PSYCH 251 Lab in Experimental Methods
  • PSYCH 252 Statistical Methods for Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • PSYCH 253 High-Dimensional Methods for Behavioral and Neural Data

 Students must take the required Statistics courses for a letter grade and receive a grade of B- or better.

4. 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. These additional courses will count towards the Advanced Courses/Minor requirement.

5. Advanced Courses/Minor Requirement

Students must complete 12 units of advanced graduate coursework (referred to as “Advanced Units”, or AU). Students earn AU by taking (a) non-core graduate psychology courses; and/or (b) graduate-level courses in other departments comparable in quality to graduate courses offered by the Psychology Department. If there is any question about the comparability of courses, the student should consult the advisor, student services, and, in some cases, the Director of Graduate Studies before taking the course.

Courses taken for a letter grade must receive a grade of B- or better to count towards the Advanced Units requirement. Students may request to count up to 3 units of undergraduate coursework towards the AU requirement. The advisor should support the request and the undergraduate course must be substantive and relevant to the student's graduate research. These requests must be submitted to the Student Services Manager and may be adjudicated by the Director of Graduate Studies and/or the Graduate Program Committee.

A student may choose to complete a PhD minor in another department in lieu of the Advanced Units requirement. Students who choose to pursue a minor should register this decision with the Student Services Manager.

Advanced Units and/or PhD minors must be completed by the end of the 4th year. It is the Department’s expectation that all decisions related to AUs or the PhD minor are made in close consultation with the student’s advisor. 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 Director of Graduate Studies and returned to the Student Services Office by the first Monday of October of the 2nd year. See the Graduate Guide for additional information.

6. 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 must 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 will register for course PSYCH 802 TGR Dissertation for zero units. For more information, consult the Graduate Guide and the Stanford Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures Handbook.

Research and Program Requirements


Students are expected to spend at least half of their time engaged in research from the beginning of the first year of graduate study to the completion of the PhD, taking no more than 10 units of coursework each quarter.  Although students will have 1-2 official advisor(s), 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 First Year Project (FYP). This report should resemble a journal article in their area. It is written in consultation with their advisor. The FYP proposal is due at the end of Autumn Quarter. The final FYP is due on June 1 of the first year. First-year students must also work with their advisor to identify a second FYP reader (another Psychology faculty member) by December 1 of Autumn Quarter of the first year. Both the advisor and the second FYP reader are expected to read the FYP and provide the student with constructive feedback. It is recommended that students meet with their FYP readers in the summer of the first year to receive feedback.

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 Academic Policies and Procedures Handbook.

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 Manager. The application process typically occurs in 2nd or 3rd year.

Dissertation Reading Committee

Students are expected to form a research committee, which must include the dissertation reading committee, before initiating their dissertation research. 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. Students are required to form the committee and submit the Dissertation Reading Committee form to the Student Services Manager by February 1 of 3rd year.

Students are required to meet with their committee annually beginning in their 3rd year. For the annual committee meetings, if a member of the student’s regular committee is unavailable (e.g. on sabbatical), the student should recruit another member of the Department faculty to attend instead.

3rd Year Committee Meeting and Research Plan

In the 3rd year, students are required to meet with their committee in Winter or Spring Quarter, no later than June 1. At least 2 weeks prior to this meeting, students must submit a 1-2 page Research Plan to the committee.

Research Plan 

The 3rd year Research Plan, which is submitted to the committee, is a short (1-2 page) document containing a brief overview of the experiments that have been completed and the planned experiments. The Research Plan is due in Winter or Spring Quarter of 3rd year and no later than 2 weeks before the committee meeting.

3rd Year Committee Meeting

The goal of the 3rd year committee meeting is for students to present their planned research and preliminary data, as well as for the faculty to give students feedback on their research plan, feasibility, and progress. During the 3rd year committee meeting, students will present and discuss with the committee:

  • Background and hypothesis being tested
  • Experiments and methods
  • Preliminary results
  • Potential outcomes as well as pitfalls

After the committee meeting, students should submit the Research Plan to the Student Services Manager and report the date that the committee meeting took place using the Committee Meeting Google Form.

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

In the 4th year, students are required to meet with their committee in the autumn or winter quarter. At least 2 weeks before the meeting, they must submit their Area Review & Research Roadmap (ARRR) to their committee.

Area Review & Research Roadmap (ARRR) 

This document has 2 parts:

  1. Area Review: A manuscript written in a format of a review paper that summarizes current theories, debates, and empirical work in the area of the dissertation, which ultimately leads to the open questions that will be answered in the dissertation. The goal of writing this document is to enable the students to organize and develop scholarly knowledge relevant to their dissertation research. This document could serve as the basis for the introduction to the dissertation and/or a basis for a review paper. We expect that this section will be the bulk of the ARRR. We expect students to consult with their advisor on the scope of this document, and to receive feedback from their committee during the 4th year meeting.
  2. Research Roadmap: This section is short (1-2 pages) and contains a brief overview of the experiments that will be part of the dissertation. Given that this document is written during the 4th year, it is expected that some of the experiments will have been completed, while others are planned or ongoing.

4th Year Committee Meeting

The goal of the 4th year committee meeting is for students to present their research progress and receive feedback from the committee members on the ARRR. We expect the presentation to start with a review of the relevant work but focus on the research progress. During the meeting, students will present and discuss with the committee:

  • Background and hypothesis being tested
  • Experiments and methods
  • Current results
  • Planned experiments towards dissertation completion

After the committee meeting, students should submit the ARRR to the Student Services Manager and report the date that the committee meeting took place using the Committee Meeting Google Form.

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 be 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 student's advisor. The typical makeup for this committee is:

  1. Chair (external to the department)
  2. Advisor
  3. Member of the Dissertation Reading Committee
  4. Member of the Dissertation Reading Committee
  5. Another member of the faculty with Academic Council status, either within or outside the Psychology Department

Students must submit the Oral Exam Form to the Student Services Manager at least 2 weeks before the anticipated defense. Students are responsible for following standard Department protocol for reserving a room for their defense.


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 (recommended): 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. 

Students must be enrolled for every quarter in which a milestone is completed, including passing the defense and submitting the dissertation. Please consult the Registrar's Academic Calendar for the quarterly deadlines for submitting dissertations. These deadlines are quite strict. If a student misses the deadline for submitting the dissertation for the intended graduation quarter, the student will need to enroll in the following quarter to submit the dissertation, which can have serious funding implications.

Alternative Requirements: CADA and Dissertation Proposal

Students who were admitted prior to 2018-19 may choose to use the prior milestone documents (the Conceptual Analysis of Dissertation Area and Dissertation Proposal) instead of the ARRR. This decision must be registered with the Student Services Manager. 


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, the CADA Proposal must be submitted 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.  

Refer to the Bulletin from your entering year for more details about these prior requirements.

Research Timeline

First Year Second Year Third Year Fourth Year Fifth Year

Dec 1

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

June 1

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

Summer of 1st Year

Meet and receive feedback from advisor and 2nd reader

Oct 1

Submit Advanced Units coursework form to Student Services

By the start of Autumn Quarter of 3rd Year

Submit Candidacy Form to Student Services

Feb 1

Submit Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee form to Student Services

Schedule 3rd Year Committee Meeting

Winter or Spring Quarter, by June 1

Submit Research Plan to committee 2 weeks before meeting

Hold Committee Meeting

Report meeting to Student Services

Fall Quarter

Schedule 4th Year Committee Meeting

Fall or Winter Quarter

Submit ARRR to committee 2 weeks before meeting

Hold Committee Meeting

Report meeting to Student Services

2 weeks before Defense: 

Submit the Oral Exam form to Student Services

End of Spring Quarter: 

Oral Examination

Submit Dissertation


Schedule and hold a 5th Year Committee Meeting 

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. Before the meeting, the student fills out the IDP form. This form is meant to provide the student with an opportunity for self-reflection. The student can choose to share the form with their advisor or keep it private. After completing the form, the student should focus on a few key topics to be discussed at the meeting. 

2. The student and advisor meet to discuss the IDP and the action plan for the coming year. The IDP form offers some sample questions to facilitate this conversation.

3. The student and advisor complete the Action Plan (pages 9-10 of the IDP form). It is best practice that both the student and the advisor keep a copy of the Action Plan. Note that the Action Plan is not submitted to the Department and stays private between the student and advisor. 

4. The student reports the date of the meeting to Student Services using the IDP Meeting Google Form.

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 5 Psychology courses during their graduate study.

Of these 5 TAships, students are required to apply for 2 of their TAships to be in one of two services courses: 2 quarters of PSYCH 1 ("Introduction to Psychology") or 2 quarters of a core statistics course: PSYCH 10 ("Introduction to Statistical Methods"), PSYCH 251 ("Experimental Methods"), PSYCH 252 (“Statistical Methods for Behavioral and Social Sciences”), and/or PSYCH 253 (“High-Dimensional Methods for Behavioral and Neural Data”) . The Student Services Manager will ask rising 2nd year students to indicate which path they prefer. For the PSYCH 1 path, students are required to apply for PSYCH 1. If they are not chosen for the course, they must apply for PSYCH 1 the following year. If not chosen either year, the student's obligation is fulfilled. Likewise, for the stats path, students must volunteer to TA for PSYCH 10 in Years 2-4 or until they have been selected for a stats course 2 times. Students who TA for the graduate statistics courses (PSYCH 251, 252, 253) also fulfill the statistics service course path, but volunteering for the advanced courses is optional and dependent on the student’s skills. If the student volunteers for PSYCH 10 but is not assigned to 2 quarters of stats over Years 2-4, the obligation is still met. Students can apply to both PSYCH 1 and the stats courses if they wish; the requirement will be fulfilled when they have completed 2 quarters of either path.

Students are prohibited from TAing in the first year. Students should begin TAing in 2nd year and complete the 5 required TAships by the end of the 5th year.

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 their Graduation Quarter:

  • All coursework, degree requirements, 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 and/or pass the oral examination 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 in the course of the student's PhD. There is a $150 tuition rate for Graduation Quarter. For more information about Graduation Quarter and other special tuition statuses, please refer to the Registrar's Office website.