Senior Requirement Information

Slides used during Senior Requirement Orientation, Jan 30, 2017 (PDF)


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Deadlines for Fall 2017

If you are writing a senior essay this term (i.e., the so-called “substantial paper” with more than 5,000 words), the deadline is December 8 (Fri) 4:30pm for students who are not seeking Distinction. For students who are seeking distinction, it is due December 1 (Fri) 4:30pm (it is sooner because we need to assign it to a second reader). 


Senior Requirements 

Majors are required to earn two course credits from courses numbered PSYC 400–499. At least one of these course credits must be taken during the senior year, for which a student must write a substantial final paper (a minimum of 5,000 words) and receive a letter grade, which excludes PSYC 490-495 that can only be taken Pass/Fail. 

The following table illustrates 400-level course combinations that are acceptable for senior requirements and comments for each combination. 

Explanations for the codes used in the table

  • 495: 0.5 credit tutorial, Pass/Fail
  • 493: 1 credit tutorial, Pass/Fail
  • 499: Senior Essay
Option # Course that can be taken any year Course that must be taken during the senior year and produce a senior essay
1 Senior Seminar Senior Seminar
2 493 Senior Seminar
3 495, 495 Senior Seminar
4 Senior Seminar 499
5 493 499
6 495, 495 499
7   499, 499
  • Psyc 493, 495, and 499 can be repeated as many times as you wish. Though, only 3 credits from these courses can count towards psych credits. 
  • Students seeking a BS degree must conduct empirical research through Psyc 499. Thus, those students can only choose from options 4-7. 
  • Students seeking a BA degree can choose from options 1-7, but most do options 1-3. 
  • Students in the neuroscience track have the same requirements, but both of the 400-level courses must have neuroscience content. 
  • Students seeking distinction in the major have the same requirements except that their senior essays must be submitted 1 week before the last day of the class in the term they are taking the course for senior essay. 
  • Option 7 is recommended for those who want to go to graduate school in Psychology, would like to publish their senior essay, plan to conduct multiple studies, or plan to do extensive literature review. If Option 7 is selected, the student must produce two substantial papers (> 5,000 words), one from each term, and the word count applies to only the non-overlapping portions. (For instance, one may submit a 7,000 words paper at the end of the second semester of Psyc 499 using some of the write-ups from the first semester of Psyc 499, but of these, 5,000 words should be new.) 

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Some Common Senior Requirement Questions

Q: What qualifies for distinction in the major?

A: To qualify for distinction in the major, students must obtain grades of A or A– in three-quarters of the credits in the major as well as a grade of A or A– on the senior essay. All courses taken in the Psychology Department will be included in these calculations for Distinction in the Major (which for some students may include classes above and beyond the 12 courses used for major credit). We also include classes outside are department which are taken for major credit (e.g., MCDB classes that are used for Psychology major credit in the Neuroscience Track) in these calculations. Note that Grades of F as well as marks of CR in courses taken on a Credit/D/Fail basis are included as non-A grades.

Q: I preregistered for a 400-level senior seminar.  What are my options for fulfilling the second senior requirement credit? Can I take two senior seminars to fulfill my 2 credit senior requirement?

A: Yes, you can fulfill your senior requirement with a senior seminar (unless you are seeking a BS degree) or with a senior essay course (PSYC 499). You can take two senior seminars to fulfill both senior requirement credits, but we can pre-register you for only one seminar.  Pre-registration for senior seminars takes place at the end of the Junior year.

Q: I am planning to take two semesters of Senior Requirement Directed Research to fulfill my senior requirement.  May I still preregister for a senior seminar?

A: All rising seniors may pre-register for a senior seminar for their senior year.  However, if there is a shortage of slots available for senior seminars, priority will be given to students who need a senior seminar in order to fulfill their senior requirement.

Q: I am seeking a BA degree with Distinction.  Do I have to write a literature review for my senior essay or can I do an empirical research project?

A: There are no restrictions in research format for students seeking a BA.  For a BA degree with Distinction, the senior essay can be a literature review or empirical study.

Q: How is the senior essay graded for distinction in the major?

A:  Unlike the papers submitted for other PSYC 400-level classes (which are only graded by the faculty member supervising the 400-level class), senior essays submitted for distinction are also graded by a second reader appointed by the DUS. You and your advisor may suggest possible second readers for your essay. 

Q: What sorts of papers qualify for “substantial writing” or a senior essay?

A: “Substantial writing” or a senior essay means a paper with at least 5,000 words for a senior seminar course (PSYC 400-489) or for PSYC 499. Most senior essays will consist of a literature review and/or empirical study. A literature review summarizes and analyzes a large body of empirical research concerning a specific topic. Writing a high quality literature review requires reading a large number of journal articles, synthesizing the results of previous experiments, and highlighting areas for future research. Since the senior essay must involve an original contribution, at least some part of the literature review must approach the topic from a novel angle. An empirical study is an experiment (or series of experiments) that addresses a novel research question. Performing an empirical study for the senior essay requires identifying a question that has not been adequately explored by existing studies, developing an experiment that addresses the question, and analyzing the results and drawing conclusions. If you choose to do an empirical study for your senior essay, your essay must also include a literature review; however, the literature review will be significantly briefer than if you choose to make the literature review the focus of your senior essay. But you should also discuss this issue with your advisor who may have more specific suggestions based on the nature of your senior essay project.

Q: How do I choosing a lab and advisor for the directed research course I’ll use for my senior requirement?

A: If you plan to conduct an empirical research study for your senior requirement, you will need to join a research lab affiliated with the psychology department. The three most important criteria for choosing a lab are (1) the amount of overlap between your research interests and the lab’s research interests, (2) the quality of mentorship afforded undergraduate students in the lab, and (3) personal compatibility between you and your advisor. First, It is essential that there is some overlap between your interests and the interests of the other members of the lab. Faculty members are most knowledgeable about topics relating to their research interests, and furthermore, if your interests do not intersect with those of other lab members, it is likely that either you or your advisor will not be enthusiastic about your essay. The psychology department website contains information about faculty research interests. Faculty member websites often contain more detailed information about their research and links to journal articles they have recently published. It is especially important to read recent publications to find out about your faculty advisor’s current interests. Second, different labs vary greatly in the nature of responsibilities and support given to undergraduates. In some cases, students will join existing essays and gradually develop their own essays, whereas in other cases, students will be encouraged to start their own essay immediately. In some labs, the professor works closely with undergraduates and in other labs, graduate students are primarily responsible for advising undergraduates. It is important to ask (i) “what do you expect from me?” and (ii) “what is the nature of the mentoring I will receive?” before joining a lab. Here are some specific considerations you might want to ask about. (i) What is the expected time commitment? What will my responsibilities be (e.g., running experiments, designing experiments, data analysis, writing a paper based on the results)? How much input will I have in the experiment’s design and other intellectual aspects of the essay? Are there opportunities for becoming a co-author on research studies? (ii) What is the advising structure in the lab? What contact will I have with the professor (e.g., weekly one-on-one meetings, group lab meetings)? To what extent will I be expected to work independently and to what extent will I be expected to work collaboratively with other members of the lab? Third, academic considerations are very important when choosing a lab, but you also need to consider the personal compatibility between you and your advisor. As is the case with any endeavor, if you can’t stand the people you are working with, you probably won’t have a good research experience. Alternatively, if you have a positive working relationship with your advisor, this will increase your enthusiasm and improve your attitude toward your essay. Thus, you should consider “personality” and “fit” issues in addition to academic issues when selecting a lab and an advisor. Other undergraduates working in labs are an excellent source of information regarding their experiences. They are likely to speak candidly concerning the pros and cons of their labs. Speaking with current seniors is particularly helpful for learning which professors are especially good senior essay advisors.

Q: How do I make contact with a potential advisor for a directed research course for my senior requirement?

A: Once you’ve decided that you want to work in a particular lab, you should contact the professor with an e-mail describing your background and why you are interested in joining their lab. Professors want to see that you’ve taken the time to think about why their lab is a good fit for you and that you are familiar with the lab’s research. An ideal candidate will have read several of the lab’s recent publications. This shows that you are genuinely interested in their work.

Q: What’s the best timeline if I want to do an empirical project for my senior requirement?

A: If you have a passion for research (or want to find out if you would enjoy doing research), you should consider doing research as early as possible during your Yale career. Research takes a long time and many studies that are eventually successful don’t work at first and undergo lots of fine-tuning. It is ideal to start thinking seriously about the senior essay in the spring of the junior year.  Since it is easy to underestimate the amount of time needed to complete a senior essay and you will undoubtedly run into a few snags along the way, it helps to start early. We suggest that at least by the spring of junior year, you should start thinking seriously about potential topics for a senior essay. Once you have some idea of what topic you want to explore, contact faculty members who may be suitable advisors. You don’t need to have a concrete plan for a specific research study at this point, but potential advisors will want to guage your interests before deciding to accept you into their lab. If you plan to work in a psychology lab over the summer, you will need to apply for positions during the spring semester. Many labs at Yale offer summer research opportunities for rising seniors. If you plan to pursue graduate school in psychology or want to get a head start on your senior essay, seriously consider working in a lab over the summer. The summer is a great time to work in a lab because you won’t have to balance your commitment to the lab with other classes and extracurricular activities, allowing you to immerse yourself in your essay and make significant progress.

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Other Helpful Links on Writing A Substantial Psychology Paper

  • Technical Writing: By Gray et al.  [pdf]
  • Writing Narrative Literature Reviews: By Baumeister & Leary [pdf]
  • Writing the empirical journal article: by Bem [pdf]
  • Writing a Review Article: by Bem [pdf]
  • The Science of Scientific Writing: by Gopen and Swan  [pdf]
  • Revision Strategies: by Sommers [pdf]

Examples of Award Winning Psychology Senior Essays

  • Suzanne Estrada ‘16, “The Impact of Individual Differences and Community Factors on Altruistic Behavior” [pdf]
  • Madeleine Marino ’15, “Prosocial Helping in Dogs: A Strategy to Secure Loyalty?” [pdf]
  • Deanna Palenzuela ’15, “Growing Up in Neverland: An assessment of the long-term physical and cognitive correlates of the Operation Pedro Pan exodus” [pdf]
  • Scott Snyder ’10, Angier Prize Winning Senior Essay entitled “Adaptive Traits Associated with Psychopathy in a “Successful,” Non-Criminal Population” [pdf]
  • Meg Martinez ’10, Angier Prize Winning Senior Essay entitled “The Blame Game: Lay causal Theories and Familiarity with Mental Illness.” [pdf]
  • Stav Atir ’10, “Memory for Information Paired with Humorous, Relevant Jokes” [pdf]

If you still have questions, contact the DUS or lauretta.olivi@yale.edu.