General Character Of The Program

The primary goal of graduate education in psychology at Yale University is the training of research investigators in academic and applied settings, who will broaden and deepen the knowledge base upon which the science of psychology rests.

Major Components of Training

An important aspect of graduate training is developing broad knowledge of the field of psychology as a whole. Toward this end, courses of broad content in the several major specialties are offered. Students are required to complete a minimum of three such courses during their first four semesters of graduate study, at least two of which must be outside the major area of concentration. Basic methodological training includes courses in statistical analysis and research methods.

Graduate training also involves a concentration upon more particular topics of special interest to the student for the purpose of developing a deep understanding of the research findings and theory in a focused domain. Toward this end, a rich variety of specialized seminars is offered from which students are expected to tailor a course of study suited to their individual needs and goals. Each student chooses courses in consultation with appropriate faculty advisors. At first this may be principally the Director of Graduate Studies, but, by the end of the first semester, a faculty member with allied research interests is selected. Eventually a theme group of three faculty members become advisors.

All students are encouraged to begin research early, under the guidance of faculty members, with the degree of supervision appropriate to the individual’s level of experience. The research programs of the primary faculty are generally the ones in which graduate students are invited to participate.

Students are encouraged to “shop around” if they are uncertain about their choice of main advisor. Most students work on research projects with more than one faculty member. Hence, there are many opportunities to get to know a good portion of the faculty. Although a student usually remains with the main advisor selected by the end of the first year, there is little difficulty in changing advisors, should someone else better serve his or her research. With the exception of the clinical program, which places some special demands on students because of clinical licensure requirements, programs are quite fluid. Students may cross between programs or create their own as needed. A tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility is built into the Yale graduate program, so that students may create the programs of study and research which best suit their individual needs.

Research is the major focus of the program and all graduate students must show evidence of sufficient progress in their research programs throughout their time in the program.  Formal research requirements include the First Year Research Paper (due end of first year), the Predissertation Paper (due end of second year), and the Dissertation (required for completion of the program).  In addition, graduate students are expected to be conducting and publishing research in every year they are in the program.

Much of the training received is via course work and research, but instruction does not end here. Frequent departmental colloquia offer opportunities for distinguished speakers from other institutions to present and discuss their research. The numerous informal seminars organized by individual faculty members often take the form of discussions of ongoing research of interest to members of a particular group. These informal discussion groups offer opportunities to exchange ideas for research topics, data analysis, and theoretical development. Students are expected to enroll, for both semesters during each year of residence, in at least one of the weekly “Current Work” courses (which generally meet as “brown bag” lunches). These weekly meetings throughout the year involve research presentations by faculty, graduate students, or visiting scientists, and thus afford a detailed panorama of the cutting edge of research methods and problem areas. Students also may attend any “Current Work” sessions outside their areas should the topics appeal to them.

Although major emphasis is placed upon preparation for research, a concerted effort also is made to give students a background for teaching. This is done not only through appropriate course work but through opportunities for serving as Teaching Fellows under the supervision of the Psychology faculty. Teaching Fellowships are arranged for all students after the first year of graduate study. The faculty view serving as a Teaching Fellow as an important aspect of graduate training, rather than as a form of student employment.

The concentration of graduate training in research and teaching is consistent with a variety of career objectives. In addition to academic careers, Ph.D.s from the Department of Psychology have pursued careers in applied settings, such as industrial consultation, market research, and involvement with medical institutions, to name only a few. The department does not offer specific training in these specializations, but rather believes that rigorous and balanced exposure to general psychology and research methods is the best preparation for careers in academic as well as applied settings.


The general requirements of the Department and of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences are kept to a minimum in order to allow each student to be trained in accordance with his or her own interests and career goals. The standard degree requirements are: (1) satisfactory completion of a minimum of three basic-level courses, which include at least one course in the student’s area of concentration and at least two additional courses (each in a different area) outside the student’s concentration; (2) competence in statistics; (3) first-year research paper, (4) the pre-dissertation research project; (5) a theme essay in the student’s area of interest; and (6) a dissertation research project. The department sets no universal requirements for particular courses (except a one-semester course on data analysis, and the three basic-level courses mentioned above) or for any fixed minimum number of courses, although the program area (e.g., Clinical) may add additional course requirements.

The full faculty of the Department review every student in the graduate program at the end of every academic term, and determine whether students are making sufficient progress to continue in the program. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requires a grade of “Honors” in at least two semester courses before registration for the third year of study. The Graduate School also requires a decision by the department, called “Admission to Candidacy,” at the end of three academic years of graduate study at Yale, which determines whether or not the candidate is qualified to continue in the doctoral program. The Graduate School requires a dissertation prospectus to be submitted prior to work on the dissertation. This prospectus is a necessary requirement for Admission to Candidacy.

For the full text of the formal requirements for the Ph.D. degree, click here.