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Course Work

Students take four courses each semester for the first two years, including one semester of Problem, Theory, and Method (PSYC-301), and two consecutive semesters of Statistical Methods (PSYC-302). In subsequent semesters in residence, students take two or three content courses and research or reading courses. A total of 16 one-semester courses is required for the Ph.D.


Students demonstrate qualification to begin dissertation work by completing a portfolio of elements totaling 6 points during the first three years. Examples of elements include conference posters, papers, journal submissions, and grant proposals.

The portfolio approach allows students to demonstrate qualifying status for the doctoral dissertation by developing a balanced set of scholarly achievements. Portfolios help students learn a broader range of professional scholarly skills that result in competitive Ph.D.s; capitalize on strengths by allowing students to build focused programs of research; and remediate weaknesses by helping students develop needed skills.

The portfolio consists of various elements. Each element is awarded points according to the extent of the student’s involvement. By the end of the third year, the portfolio must total 6 points.

Portfolio elements can include:

  • Traditional papers written for an internal audience
  • First- or second-authored posters or conference presentations
  • Journal articles
  • Book chapters
  • Grant applications
  • Reviews

The majority of elements will count as one point except for the following: a first-authored journal article will count as one or two elements, depending on the extent of student involvement; or, a second- or third-authored poster or conference presentation will count as half an element.

Journal articles and book chapters must be submitted for publication in order to count as portfolio elements. Conference presentations must be accepted in order to count as portfolio elements. Several posters or several papers on the same piece of research can count as only one element. However, one poster and one journal article on the same research will count as two elements because writing a journal article requires different skills and is more extensive than the poster. The first-year or second-year project does not count as a portfolio element until it is submitted for publication.

A committee works with the student in assembling a portfolio at the beginning of the student’s first semester.

Portfolio Committee

The Portfolio Committee consists of the student’s adviser and two other faculty members from the Psychology Department. The student’s primary research adviser will be the chair of the Portfolio Committee. The departmental administrator will randomly assign two other faculty members to serve as advisory members of each student’s Portfolio Committee. These two members will remain on the committee in the event that the student switches primary research advisers. Students must go to the office to initiate this process.

The committee does not make “quality judgments” during the process of the creation of an element (e.g. requiring more drafts, changing content, etc.). Rather, the committee monitors the student’s progress to insure that the portfolio is diversified and to agree on number of points per element.


A supervising faculty member will work with the student on each element. This faculty member need not be part of the Portfolio Committee. Supervision is required for all elements. It is the supervisor’s responsibility, not the committee’s, to oversee the portfolio element from beginning to completion. Students submit a proposal to each committee member, in writing, for each portfolio element before it is completed. The proposal should include sufficient detail to enable the committee to evaluate the appropriateness of the element in the overall academic life of the student and the accuracy of the point assignment.

Sample proposal

I propose to collaborate with Martha Stewart and Jaan Valsiner on an article, “Lovely Little Methods of Stacking Rubber Bands,” which we will submit to The Psychological Bulletin: Home Supplement. I will be analyzing data that I helped collect. I will be second author and plan to count this project as one portfolio point.

Faculty who supervise a portfolio element will document, in writing, that the proposal is acceptable. Upon completion of the project, the faculty supervisor will document, in writing, whether or not they support the element as part of the student’s portfolio. If changes have taken place during the project that necessitate reconfiguring how many points the work is worth, the supervisor should note this.

Sample support

The original proposal was for the student to be second author, but Stewart and Valsiner became more interested in stringing paperclips, so the student was first author on the rubber band project. The project is now worth two points instead of one.

The Portfolio Committee will negotiate with the student and faculty supervisor if there is a disagreement regarding the number of points to be awarded for the element. Portfolio Committee chairs should sign each proposal accepted by the committee, and copies of this document should be kept by the student, portfolio chair, and departmental administrator. As each element is successfully completed, a signed copy of the faculty supervisor’s approval should be kept by the student, portfolio chair, and departmental administrator.

The student, adviser, and committee members are jointly responsible for ensuring a reasonable degree of breadth in the portfolio. Breadth can be theoretical, methodological, across content areas, and across professional activities. Breadth may be defined differently in clinical, developmental, and social areas. Ultimately, what is appropriate for each student will be determined by the student, the adviser, and the committee, with the adviser making the final decision.

The Portfolio Committee will meet with the student at least once a year for a face-to-face meeting. For first-year students, this meeting should take place in September. Each year, the student’s portfolio will be reviewed by his/her adviser and committee. Written feedback will be provided to both the student and the department prior to the graduate student evaluation meeting in May. Advisers will also discuss any feedback from the spring evaluation directly with the student.

I want to submit a paper for publication. Who decides when it is ready?

It is the faculty supervisor’s responsibility to help the student determine when a manuscript is ready to be submitted. Generally, an approaching deadline for completion of the portfolio will not be a consideration in determining whether a paper is ready for submission. In other words, a student should not submit a paper prematurely as a means of completing requirements.

I think I should be first author of my paper and that it should be counted as two points. My collaborator thinks I should be first author, but my portfolio committee thinks the paper should only count as one point.

Authorship of papers is often a difficult issue to resolve, and is something for you and your collaborator to decide. It is best decided at the point when the element is proposed to the Portfolio Committee, although sometimes in the course of completion of a paper, one author may end up contributing more or less than was first expected, and authorship may change. First authors who deserve two elements for their contribution are generally those who contribute the majority of ideas to the paper, and have actually written most of the paper, with little assistance from their collaborator. First authors who deserve one element are generally those who contribute less work and should probably be second authors, but have generous collaborators! If authors are unable to resolve the issues among themselves, disputes may be brought to a department meeting for discussion and resolution.

When I arrive here in first year I’m assigned an adviser. Then I later decide to work with someone else. Who is the chair of my Portfolio Committee?

The portfolio adviser will change if your dissertation adviser changes.

What happens when my adviser is on sabbatical?

Faculty sabbaticals will be handled as they are with other aspects of graduate education. Faculty may agree to advise over email, phone, or other avenues. If a faculty member plans to be out of touch for a long period of time, a temporary replacement adviser may be agreed upon by the student, the current adviser, and the committee.

What happens if I don’t complete my portfolio by the end of my third year?

Students who are not on track to complete their portfolio by the end of the third year must submit a written plan to be approved by the adviser and committee prior to the end of the spring semester of that year. The plan should propose in detail how the remaining elements will be completed in either of the following ways (each qualifying paper or exam counts as one element):

  1. A traditional qualifying paper may be written for each remaining element.
  2. The committee has the option to recommend a written exam. A proposed topic and reading list will be submitted to the committee prior to the exam.

What if I still haven’t completed all my requirements by the extended deadline?

Students who have not completed their portfolio by the end of the fall semester of their fourth year will be placed on Special Resident Status.

Independent Research Project

Each student must be actively involved in research from the beginning of their graduate training.  An Independent Research Project is completed in the first two years of study under the supervision of one or more faculty members. Usually, students begin a project in their first year and complete it in their second year.

Graduate Research Conference

At the end of their first year, students will present their work-in-progress in poster format at an annual Graduate Research Conference in early May. At the end of their second year, they will present this work at the conference as an oral paper.

The conference is an opportunity for first- and second-year students to share their research with faculty and fellow students. It also gives students an opportunity early in their career to a take part in a conference experience and to practice their oral presentation skills. The poster sessions will be similar to those at conferences. You will stand next to your poster for approximately one hour to answer questions and have fruitful intellectual discussion with observers — in this case, faculty and peers.

Note: Neither first-year posters nor second-year talks count as a portfolio element unless they are accepted for a conference or have been submitted for journal publication. The spring graduate presentations are in-house, whereas the portfolio system focuses on presenting the student to the larger academic world.

At the end of the first year, students present work in progress in a poster format at the Graduate Research Conference. The poster should give evidence of substantial thought and careful planning, but data need not be collected at this point. In some cases, however, work presented at the end of the first year may represent a completed project.

There are two options for these posters:

  1. Current progress on second-year project. If no data has been collected for the project yet, the poster would likely include an introduction, methods, projected or preliminary results, and a discussion.
  2. A first-year project unrelated to the second-year project. This project might be based on already collected data. For example, a student might analyze a portion of data collected by others in their adviser’s research program and present these results. In this case, there should be complete data analysis included in the poster content.

Students presenting their second-year project are expected to give a 15- to 20-minute talk about the project at the Graduate Research Conference and spend 10-15 minutes answering questions from the faculty and student audience. The project should be complete at the time of the talk.

No written version of this talk is required for the presentation in May, although it is strongly encouraged that students write up their presentation in article format and submit the article for publication.

The project will be written up in journal article format by the end of August of the second year. The Portfolio Committee will judge when this part of the requirement has been satisfactorily completed. Students who fail to complete this requirement will not be allowed to take a full course load in the fall and will have to continue on special status until the write-up is completed.

The project will be deemed complete when it is written up in the format of a journal article.

Can grad students who are not in their first or second year attend graduate spring presentations?

All grad students are encouraged to attend the graduate spring presentations and are free to ask questions during question periods.

I would like to receive an official master’s degree so that I can put this on my vita for job purposes. Can I do that?

Students desiring an official master’s will be awarded one when they finish the journal article write-up and have completed the University requirements for submitting a master’s thesis.

I came to the Clark Ph.D. program with a master’s degree already. Do I still have to do first- and second-year projects?

Student who already have a master’s are not required to complete first- and second-year projects. However, they are required to present research along with the second-year students. Their presentation may be based on their master’s work, or may be a presentation of their dissertation work-in-progress or some other research that they have worked on during their year at Clark.

Students desiring a formal M.A. degree may submit their research to the University as their M.A. thesis. There will be no thesis defense. The University requirements, which are concerned primarily with formatting issues, are available in the Graduate School Office. Students entering the program with a completed M.A. will work with their Portfolio Committee and the program chair to decide which courses they can transfer to the program. The Portfolio Committee will also decide if each student needs the experience of presenting at the Spring Graduate Research Conference, and if so, whether a poster or paper presentation would be most beneficial to the student. Students may not miss the early May Graduate Research Conference deadline and must present something at the conference, unless there are extenuating circumstances requiring special status or a leave of absence. Insubstantial work at the end of the second year without approval for special status or leave will result in termination of the program at the M.A. level.

Students wishing to obtain a formal M.A. should consult the University website for M.A. requirements.

Credit for Prior Graduate Work

Prior completion of a master’s degree in psychology at an institution requiring an empirical master’s thesis may, at the student’s request, be recognized by waiver of: 1. First- and second-year independent research projects; 2. Up to six content courses because of equivalent (non-applied) graduate courses at the prior institution; and 3. Up to two portfolio elements provided the previous work (e.g., conference presentations, articles submitted for publication) meets the standard requirements for portfolio elements. Previous completion of graduate work in psychology or a related discipline that did not result in a master’s thesis may be recognized by waiver of some requirements at the discretion of the program chair.

Ph.D. Dissertation

The student demonstrates the ability to conduct research by the presentation of an acceptable dissertation. A dissertation committee of three faculty members is formed to supervise all phases of the research. A dissertation proposal is first written and defended at a meeting with the committee and other faculty who have read the proposal. Once completed and approved by the committee, the dissertation is presented publicly to the psychology faculty, graduate students, and appropriate guests, and is open to questions from the faculty. The format of this oral examination is that of a professional presentation. The candidate is expected to demonstrate the ability to address questions on their work and on related matters. This oral includes at least the committee and two additional faculty members.

Dissertation Requirements

Once the independent project and portfolio are completed, the Dissertation Committee then takes the place of the Portfolio Committee in supervising the student’s work. A dissertation committee will be formed when the dissertation proposal is started, and a copy of the names of committee members and proposal title given to the departmental administrator. Upon formation of the Dissertation Committee, the student must arrange an initial meeting to discuss the proposal and dissertation timetable. All members of the committee should be kept informed as to the progress of the proposal and of the dissertation at regular intervals. Any changes in committee membership should be followed by notification of all members and the departmental administrator.

Its format is similar to a grant proposal and should include topics such as specific aims and hypotheses of the project, background to the research, design and methods, limitations, significance of the study, and timetable.

The purpose of the defense is to ensure that the candidate is ready to continue with a feasible project. The Dissertation Committee and others interested in the work will meet with the candidate to discuss the proposal and suggest any revisions. When the revisions are complete, a signed statement should be submitted to the Psychology Department.

The defense consists of an oral presentation by the student followed by a question-and-answer period led by the student’s adviser. In addition to the committee, two other faculty members and/or visiting scholars will be invited to participate.

Special Resident Status

A student who has not completed a requirement on schedule will be placed on Special Resident Status for no longer than one year. During this time, only directed readings or research relating to the incomplete work can be pursued, and the student will not be supported by a stipend. Failure to complete requirements may result in termination from the graduate program.

Contact Information

Frances L. Hiatt School of Psychology

Office Location
  • Jonas Clark Hall, 3rd floor
    950 Main Street
    Worcester MA 01610

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