The Department of Psychology offers programs of study leading to the PhD degree in psychology. Students are ordinarily admitted only if they intend to complete the doctoral degree.
Entering students must have an undergraduate degree with an academic record of distinction. It is desirable but not essential to have majored in psychology; indeed, some breadth of training in biology, computer sciences, mathematics, philosophy, physics, or the social sciences is preferred to over-concentration in psychology. Some college work in elementary statistics or quantitative methods is advisable. In assessing the applications of candidates whose undergraduate training was in the arts or humanities, the admissions committee will need to place more emphasis on such things as general math and science grades, and the GRE scores. Candidates must take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test in time for the results to reach the Admissions Office by December 15. We do not require the psychology subject test; if you have taken it and feel the score would be an asset in your application, you may elect to have it sent. International applicants must have a bachelor's degree from an institution where English is the language of instruction, or take the TOEFL test and receive a grade of at least 80.
We do not require a master's degree for admission. If you have done graduate work elsewhere you may apply for credit for a maximum of eight half-courses after you have been enrolled in the PhD program for one term. It is possible, but very uncommon, for students to have PhD program requirements waived because of previous graduate work.
Harvard graduate school applications are done online. Information and a link to the on-line application can be found at the GSAS Admissions website. The application deadline is generally December 15 for Psychology, please check the GSAS admissions website for specific deadlines each year.
The department's Admissions Committee reviews applications in two broad areas: 1) the candidate's qualifications and aptitude, which are assessed by a review of grades, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation; and 2) the candidate's appropriateness for this program in terms of goals and research interests. The committee will judge this mainly by an examination of the statement of purpose and letters of recommendation. The "fit" of a candidate with the program is extremely important. While applicants are not required to know exactly what narrow specialty area they will pursue in graduate study, they should know at least in broad terms what area within psychology they are interested in. A candidate is unlikely to be admitted if his or her interests are not in an area studied by any of our faculty. It is important to list, both in the Statement of Purpose and in the front of the application, the faculty member(s) the applicant hopes will serve as mentors.
We urge candidates to read carefully the materials from all programs they apply to, especially information about the research interests of the faculty. In addition to materials from the programs, one may find good information about a variety of doctoral programs in the American Psychological Association's (APA) publication Graduate Study in Psychology and Associated Fields. This book is available in libraries or may be purchased from the APA publications office (800-374-2721). We also encourage applicants to read recent articles in the scientific literature by faculty whose work is of interest.
In applying, please take special care with the Statement of Purpose. Divide your reply into three parts: (1) Describe reasonably fully any research experience you have had, including assisting in a laboratory or other scientific facility, dissertation research, or individual work. Please include reprints of published work, if any, but do not send unpublished materials such as term papers or other manuscripts; (2) Describe the nature of your interests in graduate education, answering the following questions: Why continue on with your education? Why do you need to learn more? What skills, theories, and knowledge do you lack? What are the kinds of discoveries and theories that sparked your interest in the chosen discipline? In graduate school, what kinds of questions do you hope to address? Why do you think that these questions are important? Given the set of questions that you will focus on, what kinds of methods do you hope to apply? What skills do you bring forward as you enter graduate school and which skills do you hope to acquire? What holes do you see in the current discipline [big picture stuff]? In what ways do you think that they can be addressed during your graduate career? What kind of graduate environment are you looking for? Who are you hoping to work with, and why? (3) Briefly outline the type of career you envision. Please be as concise as is compatible with a clear response on each point; please limit yourself to 1,000 words.
Admission to the Harvard doctoral program is competitive. The department typically reviews many applications and has an entering class of 12–16 people. Our ability to admit applicants is constrained by the amount of financial aid funds we have available, since typically the number of qualified applicants greatly exceeds the number of students we can support.
Admitted students receive a merit-based award consisting of six years of tuition support, a living stipend in the first two years, a summer research fellowship for the first four years, and a living stipend for the final dissertation-writing year. In the third and fourth years, students are guaranteed teaching fellowships. All applicants are urged to apply for outside fellowships from a variety of sources, and are required to accept such awards in lieu of the Harvard award. If an outside award is for 12 months, it takes the place of Harvard stipend and summer research fellowship. Students will be eligible for a prize of up to $4,000 for each academic year of external funding they receive. For US citizens, the primary outside funding sources are the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowshipsand the NDSEG fellowships. Applicants outside the US should explore sources of scholarship aid such as from their national governments. Students are required to maintain satisfactory progress in order to be eligible for financial aid.
It is our expectation that most graduates of our program will go on to have academic careers. Hence, experience in teaching is an integral part of the graduate training program. This teaching is expected of all students regardless of their source of funding.
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requires that doctoral candidates be in residence, full-time, for at least two years prior to receiving the degree. That is, a minimum of 16 half-courses, or equivalent units of independent work, must be completed satisfactorily (B, or higher, for those which are graded), and paid for at the full tuition rate. Reduced tuition is charged in the third and fourth years; thereafter, either the facilities fee or active file fee is charged.
It is assumed that students will be enrolled full-time during the first year. A candidate for admission who anticipates being unable to study full-time should consult with the chair prior to being admitted. In later years, part-time work may be approved on petition.
In psychology a period of five years from the date of first registration, or six years for clinical students, is deemed sufficient to satisfy all requirements and to obtain the doctorate. Ordinarily, a candidacy will be terminated if the student has not received the degree within that time. The department reserves the right to terminate a student's candidacy at any time if the faculty is not satisfied with the progress made.
On or shortly after entering the department each student is assigned an advisor. Advisors may be changed from time to time either as a matter of mutual preference or because the student begins to concentrate his or her work in an area distant from the interests of the original advisor.
The Department is organized into four areas: clinical science; developmental; social; and cognition, brain, and behavior. These groups consist of faculty members whose combined interests span a coherent program of advanced study and research in some subfield of psychology. Individual faculty are encouraged to participate in more than one group. In addition, there are various "themes" that cut across the areas. Faculty in the Department of Psychology have a wide range of interests, and the themes of their research often span the boundaries of traditional areas in the field. Active research is being conducted in each of the topics listed below, primarily by the faculty listed after each entry. There are regular research seminars on these topics, and numerous opportunities to become involved in research with the relevant faculty.
Students enrolled in the PhD program in the psychology department may currently follow one of two curricula: clinical psychology, and the Common Curriculum.
Information about current faculty and their research interests can be found on the Psychology Department web page.
Section I. Requirements for Non-Clinical Students
The non-clinical Ph.D. program in Psychology can and should be completed in five years. Students who require more time must petition the CHD (Committee on Higher Degrees) and receive written approval of their request. Requests for one additional year will typically be approved and—except under extraordinary circumstances—subsequent requests will be denied. Students who have not completed the Ph.D. program at the end of six years will be withdrawn. Students who have been withdrawn may seek readmission, which will be contingent on (a) the willingness of a tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the Psychology Department to serve as the student's advisor; (b) approval by the CHD; and (c) successful completion of an examination approved by the CHD.
A. Courses and Projects
All students must complete the following requirements. Course requirements are completed by achieving a grade of B+ or better.
1. Psychology Department Proseminar (PSY 2010) must be completed by the end of the first year.
2. Two Survey Courses must be completed by the end of the Spring semester of the second year.
- One of the survey courses must be CBB Proseminar (PSY 2020ab) or Social Proseminar (PSY 2500) or Developmental Proseminar (PSY 2170).
- The second survey course must either be one of the above or a substitute survey course approved by the CHD.
3. Two elective courses must be taken from a list of elective courses approved by the CHD. Elective courses are typically substantive seminars offered by Psychology Department faculty.
4. Two statistics courses must be taken.
5. One of the statistics courses must be PSY 1950 (Intermediate Statistical Analysis in Psychology) which must be completed by the end of the Spring semester of the first year.The current department policy is to only allow substitutions which cover the same material as 1952.
6. The second statistics course must be PSY 1952 (Multivariate Analysis) or a substitute statistics course approved by the CHD, and must be completed by the end of the Spring semester of the second year.
7. Students must complete a first-year project. Students must write a satisfactory proposal for an original research project (not a review). The report must be approved by the student's faculty advisor(s) by the end of the Fall semester of the student's first year. Students must complete the proposed project and submit a satisfactory written report to their faculty advisor by the end of the Spring semester of the first year.
8. Students must complete a second-year project. Students must write a satisfactory report of an original research project (not a review). The report must be approved by the student's faculty advisor(s) and an independent reader (i.e., a faculty member who is not a collaborator on the project) by the end of the Spring semester of the student's second year. Students must also make a satisfactory oral presentation of this work to the department in May of the second year.
B. Master of Arts (AM)
Students may be recommended for the non-terminal degree of Master of Arts upon completion of the relevant GSAS residence requirements and the requirements in I.A.1–8.
Section II. Requirements for Clinical Students
The clinical Ph.D. program in Psychology can and should be completed in six years (prior to internship). Students who require more time must petition the CHD and receive written approval of their request. Requests for one additional year will typically be approved and—except under extraordinary circumstances—subsequent requests will be denied. Students who have not completed the Ph.D. program at the end of seven years will be withdrawn. Students who have been withdrawn may seek readmission, which will be contingent on (a) the willingness of a tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the Psychology Department to serve as the student's advisor; (b) approval by the CHD; and (c) successful completion of an examination approved by the CHD.
A. Courses and Projects
All students must complete the following requirements. Course requirements are completed by achieving a grade of B+ or better.
1. PSY 2010 (Contemporary Topics in Psychological Research) must be completed by the end of the Fall semester of the first year
2. PSY 1951 (Intermediate Quantitative Methods) or PSY 1950 (Intermediate Statistical Analysis in Psychology) must be completed by the end of the Fall semester of the first year.
3. PSY 1952 (Multivariate Analysis) must be completed by the end of the Spring semester of the first year.
4. PSY 2040 (Contemporary Topics in Psychopathology) must be completed by the end of the Spring semester of the second year.
5. PSY 2050 (History of Psychology) must be completed by the end of the Spring semester of the fourth year.
6. Students must complete a first-year project. Students must write a satisfactory proposal for an original research project (not a review). The report must be approved by the student's faculty advisor(s) by the end of the Fall semester of the student's first year. Students must complete the proposed project and submit a satisfactory written report to their faculty advisor by the end of the Spring semester of the first year.
7. Students must complete a second-year project. Students must write a satisfactory report of an original research project (not a review). The report must be approved by the student's faculty advisor(s) and an independent reader (i.e., a faculty member who is not a collaborator on the project) by the end of the Spring semester of the student's second year. Students must also make a satisfactory oral presentation of this work to the department in May of the second year.
8. Students must complete a six-hour general examination covering in considerable depth the literature in the area of psychopathology and clinical psychology during the summer preceding the Fall semester of the third year.
9. Students must complete a one-year clinical internship. Students must complete all of the above requirements described in II.A.1–8 before beginning the internship. In addition, students must meet the course requirements and the practicum placement requirements of the APA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts licensing board before beginning the internship.
10. Finally, students must meet or exceed the standards for professional conduct and responsibility that are described in the clinical program handbook. Failure to meet these standards can be grounds for termination from the clinical program, even if a student is in good academic standing.
B. Master of Arts (AM)
Students may be recommended for the non-terminal degree of Master of Arts upon completion of the relevant GSAS residence requirements and the requirements in II.A.1–8.
Section III: Requirements for All Students
A. The Dissertation Prospectus
By the end of the spring semester of their penultimate year, students must complete a dissertation prospectus for an original project that is meant to culminate in the dissertation.
The prospectus committee will comprise three members, at least two of whom must be faculty members in the Psychology Department.
The prospectus committee members will be nominated by the student and his or her advisor and must be approved by the CHD. (Nominees who are tenured or tenure-track members of the faculty of the Psychology Department are automatically approved). The student must supply the CV of any nominee who is not a tenured or tenure-track member of the faculty of the Psychology Department.
The prospectus committee will not be approved by the CHD until the student has completed all requirements listed in Section I.A of this document.
The Department requires that the prospectus be approved by the end of the Spring semester of the penultimate year. (Note that students who wish to apply for the guaranteed Dissertation Completion Fellowship must observe the GSAS deadline, which requires that the prospectus be approved by the prospectus committee by the early February of the student's penultimate year).
Students whose prospectuses have not been approved by the prospectus committee by the end of the Spring semester of the penultimate year will be considered in bad standing and will be withdrawn from the graduate program. Students in bad standing may not receive financial aid such as tuition grants, and may not hold teaching fellowships.
B. The Dissertation and the Oral Defense
In the ultimate year, students must submit a doctoral dissertation in one of two formats.
The traditional format is described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation.
The 3-paper format consists of:
- Three articles describing original empirical research that the dissertation committee deems "of publishable quality." The student must be the first author on each paper. At least one of the three papers must be under review, in press, or published in a peer-reviewed journal.
- An introductory chapter that thoroughly reviews the literature relevant to the three papers.
- A concluding chapter that describes what was learned from the three papers.
The dissertation committee comprises the members of the prospectus committee and an additional member—the outside examiner— who was not a member of the prospectus committee. The outside examiner must be approved by the CHD. Any tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the Psychology Department is automatically approved as an outside examiner.
The dissertation must be approved by the student's advisor before it is submitted to the dissertation committee.
Once the dissertation committee is satisfied with the written dissertation, the student may schedule an oral defense of the dissertation. Oral defenses may not be scheduled during summer months.
The interval between the date that the dissertation committee receives the dissertation and the date of the oral defense may not be less than three weeks.
The format of the oral defense is determined by the chair of the dissertation committee.
The only formal dual-degree program at Harvard involving two different graduate or professional schools is an MD/PhD program. Candidates interested in that program should contact Harvard Medical School. In general, it is difficult to implement combined programs that cross two different professional areas. An individual may only attend one Harvard graduate school at a time. Applicants considering dual degree programs with law, public health, or other programs should think carefully about the practical feasibility of such a program. It is best to do one program immediately preceding or following another, rather than trying to interleave the programs. While the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences allows students admitted to one department to apply to form an ad hoc degree committee, such an option is not common or encouraged in psychology. However, it is relatively easy to combine study in two different areas within a faculty, such as arts and sciences, on an informal basis.
One of the advantages of Harvard is its location. Within the University and the broader Cambridge/Boston area are many labs and researchers doing work of interest to our faculty and students. The department encourages students to seek out opportunities to work with these researchers. Students are also encouraged to cross-register for courses at other Harvard graduate schools and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Harvard's Graduate School of Education has master's and EdD programs in human development and psychology. For information on that program, visit its website or write:
Graduate School of Education
Admissions Office, Longfellow 111
Cambridge, MA 02138
Harvard’s Graduate School of Education offers a Ph.D. in Human Development, Learning, and Teaching. Information can be found at http://www.gse.harvard.edu/doctorate/doctor-philosophy-education
A program in neuroscience is offered by the Department of Neurobiology of the Division of Medical Sciences at Harvard Medical School. It is a PhD degree-granting program linking together the clinical and basic science faculties in the neurosciences at Harvard Medical School, the Harvard Affiliated Hospitals, and Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences into a single unit. The large faculty consists of a diverse group of investigators whose research interests include neurophysiology and biophysics, neurochemistry, neuroanatomy, genetic and molecular biological approaches to the nervous system, immunology, neuroendocrinology, psychiatry, diseases of the human nervous system, and related areas. The goals of the program are to turn out a generation of exceptionally well trained research scientists who are knowledgeable about and interested in the diseases and disorders of the nervous system and to link into a single unit the large faculty working in the neurosciences at Harvard Medical School, its affiliated hospitals and at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. For information, visit the Department of Neurobiology, or contact:
Program in Neuroscience
Division of Medical Sciences
Harvard Medical School
260 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Faculty Research Interests
For the latest listing of Psychology Department faculty and their research interests, please see the list on the Department website.