Doctorate in Psychology (Ph.D. and Psy.D.) – everything you need to know in 2024

What’s in this guide, ph.d. or psy.d..

  • Why get a doctorate in psychology?

Entry Requirements

  • PhD in psychology jobs
  • How long does it take to study?

How to choose a program

How much does it cost, earning potential , find your degree.

By Staff Writer

A doctorate in psychology is a terminal degree typically lasting 4-7 years. It prepares graduates for independent research, clinical practice, or university-level teaching careers in psychology.

There are many reasons you may want to pursue a doctorate degree in Psychology, the following guide will provide everything you need to know; from the options, costs, timeframes, career advantages and more.

what is a phd in psychology like

First up, what are the two types of doctorate degree you can get and what are the differences?

The two doctorate degrees you can get in psychology are Ph.D. and Psy.D.

In simple terms, a Ph.D. in psychology is more research-focused, while a Psy.D. emphasizes clinical practice. The best choice between the two depends on your career goals and whether you prefer research and academia or direct clinical work.

Why study for a doctorate in psychology?

  • Doctorate-level psychologists typically have higher earning potential compared to those with a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree in the field.
  • Gain in-depth knowledge and expertise in your chosen area of specialization within psychology.
  • Potentially make significant contributions to the field.
  • Advanced career opportunities in various settings, such as academia, research institutions, government agencies, hospitals, and private practice.
  • Connect with other professionals, researchers, and academics in the field of psychology, expanding your professional network

The minimum requirements to study a doctorate degree in psychology will vary from institution to institution. However, there are several common requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree:  all programs require applicants to have completed a  bachelor’s degree , in psychology or a related field. Some programs may accept candidates with a degree in another discipline if they have completed prerequisite coursework in psychology.
  • Master’s degree : Some doctoral programs require applicants to have a  master’s degree in psychology  or a related field. Others may admit students directly from their bachelor’s degree and incorporate a master’s degree into the doctorate program.
  • GPA : Many programs have a minimum GPA requirement, usually 3.0 or higher. Some competitive programs require a higher GPA.
  • Letters of recommendation : Applicants typically need to submit letters of recommendation from professors or professionals who can speak to their academic and research abilities.
  • Research experience : Prior research experience is often valued by doctoral programs in psychology. This may include experience working on research projects, completing a thesis, or participating in research internships or assistantships.
  • Personal statement:  Applicants usually need to submit a personal statement or statement of purpose that outlines their academic and research interests, career goals, and why they are interested in the specific doctoral program.

Doctorate in psychology jobs

  • Addiction Counselor
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  • Licensed Mental Health Conselor
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  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
  • School Psychologist
  • Organizational Psychologist
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • Sports Psychologist
  • Clinical Psychologist
  • Counseling Psychologist
  • Research Psychologist
  • Professor of Psychology
  • Child Psychologist

*Outside of the licensed psychologist jobs listed above many of the above roles  do not require a doctorate but it is important to note that employers for these roles are increasingly favoring candidates with a doctorate. 

How Long Does It Take To Study?

For the majority of students, a doctorate in Psychology may take anywhere from 4-7 years to finish, which will include a research dissertation and most likely residency or an internship in clinical or medical environments.

what is a phd in psychology like

By far and away the question our career coaches get asked most frequently about doctorate degrees is how to choose a program. The choice of institutions and programs is truly overwhelming.

Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Accreditation – Ensuring the program is accredited by the American Psychological Association . Accreditation affects the quality of education you will receive, your eligibility for professional licensure, and your job prospects after graduation.
  • Program Focus and Curriculum –  Different programs may emphasize various aspects of psychology, such as clinical practice, counseling, research, or specific subfields like neuropsychology or health psychology. Match the program’s strengths and curriculum to your career interests and goals. Investigate whether the program offers courses and training that are critical to your desired career path.
  • Faculty Expertise – Look into the backgrounds and areas of expertise of the faculty within the program. Consider how these align with your research interests or the professional skills you wish to acquire. Having mentors who are experts in your area of interest can provide invaluable guidance and opportunities for collaboration.
  • Research Opportunities – For those interested in research, evaluate the resources available, such as labs, funding, and support for attending conferences or conducting fieldwork. Check if the program encourages or requires publications and what kind of support it offers to achieve these milestones.
  • Clinical Training and Internships – For clinically oriented programs, look at the quality and variety of their practicum and internship placements. These are often required for licensure.
  • Funding and Financial Support – Understand the types of financial support offered by the program, including teaching and research assistantships, fellowships, and grants. Funding can significantly impact your experience by allowing you to focus more fully on your studies and research without needing to seek employment externally.
  • Alumni Success and Networking Opportunities –  Investigate where alumni of the program are currently working. This can give you a sense of the program’s reputation and effectiveness in placing graduates in jobs. Additionally, networking opportunities through alumni networks, professional associations, and academic conferences can be critical for career development.
  • Program Size and Student Support Services – Consider the size of the program and the ratio of faculty to students, which can affect the amount of individual attention and mentoring you receive.
  • Location – Certain locations might offer better practicum, internship, and employment opportunities in your field of interest due to the presence of significant healthcare facilities, research institutions, or industries.

Depending upon the institution, method of study, location and type of program then you can expect to pay $25,000-$80,000 per year to study for a doctorate in psychology.

An online program would likely fall at the lower end of this range whilst an out of state student in a private university might expect to pay the upper end of this range.

Many psychology doctoral programs, particularly in research-oriented universities, offer funding packages to their students. These can include full or partial tuition waivers, health insurance coverage, and a stipend to help with living expenses

The average salary for an individual with a doctorate in psychology is $114,768.

Earning potential varies considerably by specialty, location and industry but we see roles requiring a doctorate advertised in the $80,000-$130,000 range.

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  • PhD in Sports Psychology

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Psy.D. Vs. Ph.D.: Which Is The Right Fit For You?

Brandon Galarita

Updated: Jan 2, 2024, 3:22pm

Psy.D. Vs. Ph.D.: Which Is The Right Fit For You?

Committing to a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. program can have a significant impact on your career path. Both will prepare you for a career in psychology , but there are significant differences between the two programs you should know about. In general, a Ph.D. in psychology focuses more on research and a Psy.D. focuses on practical application.

While both programs can lead to becoming a licensed psychologist , taking a closer look at what each degree track will provide will help you determine whether a Ph.D. or Psy.D. is best for you.

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What Is a Ph.D. in Psychology?

A Ph.D. in psychology, or a Doctor of Philosophy in psychology, is a doctoral degree that primarily focuses on training students in scientific research. Compared to a Psy.D, the Ph.D. is more common and can be found at many public and private universities.

Students in a Ph.D. in psychology program can expect to obtain and build on the knowledge and skills within general psychology or in a concentration. The American Psychological Association (APA) has an extensive list of subfields that range from clinical psychology to climate and environmental psychology.

Benefits of a Ph.D. in Psychology

A significant benefit of a Ph.D. in psychology is that it offers more financial aid options. Many programs offer scholarships, teaching assistantships or even full or partial tuition remission to cover expenses. Some programs also have research grants and fellowships that are sponsored by government agencies and private companies that you can apply for and become part of a research team.

Another benefit is that some programs offer training in both applied practice and in research, rather than focusing heavily on application as a Psy.D. program would. Having dual training may provide you more opportunities on the job market.

What Is a Psy.D.?

A Psy.D., or a Doctor of Psychology, is also a doctoral degree that focuses on application. A Psy.D. program prepares students to provide services for patients and clients, rather than a focus on research.

Unlike a Ph.D., Psy.D. programs are often found in professional schools of psychology that may be university-based, free-standing or in medical or health and science institutions.

Benefits of a Psy.D.

While a Psy.D. may not have the same financial benefits of a Ph.D. program, a Psy.D. will give you more experience with patients earlier in your program. Candidates will often begin coursework and clinical training in the first year of their program.

A Psy.D. program, such as one for aspiring clinical psychologists , features an intensive focus on client-focused skills. Courses can include supervision and consultation, treatment and assessment and other classes that will cover disorders.

In some Psy.D. programs, you may be expected to complete a doctoral-level research project instead of a dissertation.

What to Consider When Choosing a Program

The first consideration you should make when choosing a program is the kind of work you want to pursue post-graduation. Do you want to do research or teach? Do you want to provide services to clients and patients?

Here are some considerations you should make when making the big decision.

Look at Time Spent in School

Both Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs require a heavy investment of your time in school. Programs often require applicants to have an undergraduate and master’s degree. However, some programs have combined master’s and doctorate degrees, reducing years of education and allowing students to enter the workforce sooner.

Students can expect to spend five years in school before obtaining a degree, with four years of coursework and one year of internship. Many candidates, however, take between five to seven years to graduate.

Find Your Focus

Your academic focus and concentration choice may sway your decision in applying for one doctoral degree over the other.

Concentrations in a Psy.D program are typically in clinical, counseling, school or industrial-organizational psychology . In contrast, the options of subfields within a Ph.D. program are more broad and focus heavily on research and experimentation to build knowledge within a discipline.

Consider Your Career Path

Considering your career path or interests will help you decide whether a Ph.D. or Psy.D. is right for you. While the most familiar psychology careers are commonly found in education and healthcare, psychologists are needed in other industries, such as business and technology. These in-demand specialties contribute to high psychologist salaries .


Accreditation of your Ph.D. or Psy.D. program ensures that your program is recognized by the governing bodies for licensure. While completing an accredited program will not guarantee you employment or licensure, it will equip you with necessary skills and knowledge.

The APA has a tool to help students find accredited doctoral programs, as well as internships and postdoctoral residencies across the country.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What can you do with psy.d..

A Psy.D. focuses on working directly with patients to provide psychological services. For example, a clinical Psy.D. will prepare students to provide mental and behavioral healthcare to individuals and families across all demographics and over individuals’ lifespans.

Which psychology field is most in-demand?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects strong job growth for psychologists from 2022 to 2032, with a 6% increase overall. Clinical and counseling psychologists will see the highest demand, with an expected growth rate of 11%, followed by industrial-organizational psychologists at 6%.

How long does it take to earn a Ph.D. in psychology?

Many Ph.D. programs project a five year completion time. However, many students can take upwards of seven years.

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Brandon Galarita is a freelance writer and K-12 educator in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is passionate about technology in education, college and career readiness and school improvement through data-driven practices.

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Getting a Ph.D. in Psychology

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

what is a phd in psychology like

Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity,, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.

what is a phd in psychology like

Verywell / Evan Polenghi

Ph.D. vs. Psy.D.

Job opportunities, earning a degree, specialty areas, alternatives.

Getting a Ph.D. in psychology can open up a whole new world of career opportunities. For many careers paths in psychology-related career paths, a doctoral degree is necessary to obtain work and certification. A Ph.D. is one option, but it is not the only educational path that's available to reach some of these goals.

A Ph.D., or doctor of philosophy, is one of the highest level degrees you can earn in the field of psychology . If you're considering pursuing a graduate degree, you might be wondering how long it takes to earn a Ph.D. in psychology . Generally, a bachelor's degree takes four years of study. While a master's degree requires an additional two to three years of study beyond the bachelor's, a doctoral degree can take between four to six years of additional graduate study after earning your bachelor's degree.

Recently, a new degree option known as the Psy.D. , or doctor of psychology, has grown in popularity as an alternative to the Ph.D. The type of degree you decide to pursue depends on a variety of factors, including your own interests and your career aspirations.

Before deciding which is right for you, research your options and decide if graduate school in psychology is even the best choice for you. Depending on your career goals, you might need to earn a master's or doctoral degree in psychology in order to practice in your chosen field. In other instances, a degree in a similar subject such as counseling or social work may be more appropriate.

A doctorate in psychology is required if you want to open your own private practice.

If you want to become a licensed psychologist, you must earn either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in clinical or counseling psychology.

In most cases, you will also need a doctorate if you want to teach and conduct research at the college or university level. While there are some opportunities available for people with a master's degree in various specialty fields, such as industrial-organizational psychology and health psychology , those with a doctorate will generally find higher pay, greater job demand, and more opportunity for growth.

In order to earn a Ph.D. in psychology, you need to first begin by earning your bachelor's degree. While earning your undergraduate degree in psychology can be helpful, students with bachelor's degrees in other subjects can also apply their knowledge to psychology Ph.D. programs . Some students in doctorate programs may have a master's degree in psychology , but most doctorate programs do not require it.

After you’ve been admitted to a graduate program, it generally takes at least four years to earn a Ph.D. and another year to complete an internship. Once these requirements have been fulfilled, you can take state and national exams to become licensed to practice psychology in the state where you wish to work.

Once you enter the graduate level of psychology, you will need to choose an area of specialization, such as clinical psychology , counseling psychology, health psychology, or cognitive psychology . The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits graduate programs in three areas: clinical, counseling, and school psychology.   If you are interested in going into one of these specialty areas, it's important to choose a school that has received accreditation through the APA.

For many students, the choice may come down to a clinical psychology program versus a counseling psychology program. There are many similarities between these two Ph.D. options, but there are important distinctions that students should consider. Clinical programs may have more of a research focus while counseling programs tend to focus more on professional practice. The path you choose will depend largely on what you plan to do after you complete your degree.

Of course, the Ph.D. in psychology is not the only graduate degree option. The Psy.D. is a doctorate degree option that you might also want to consider. While there are many similarities between these two degrees, traditional Ph.D. programs tend to be more research-oriented while Psy.D. programs are often more practice-oriented.

The Ph.D. option may be your top choice if you want to mix professional practice with teaching and research, while the Psy.D. option may be preferred if you want to open your own private psychology practice.

In the book "An Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology," authors John C. Norcross and Michael A. Sayette suggest that one of the key differences between the two-degree options is that the Ph.D. programs train producers of research while Psy.D. programs train consumers of research. However, professional opportunities for practice are very similar with both degree types.

Research suggests that there are few discernible differences in terms of professional recognition, employment opportunities, or clinical skills between students trained in the Ph.D. or Psy.D. models. One of the few differences is that those with a Ph.D. degree are far more likely to be employed in academic settings and medical schools.

Social work, counseling, education, and the health sciences are other graduate options that you may want to consider if you decide that a doctorate degree is not the best fit for your interests and career goals.

A Word From Verywell

If you are considering a Ph.D. in psychology, spend some time carefully researching your options and thinking about your future goals. A doctoral degree is a major commitment of time, resources, and effort, so it is worth it to take time to consider the right option for your goals. The Ph.D. in psychology can be a great choice if you are interested in being a scientist-practitioner in the field and want to combine doing research with professional practice. It's also great training if you're interested in working at a university where you would teach classes and conduct research on psychological topics.

University of Pennsylvania; School of Arts and Sciences. Information for applicants .

American Psychological Association. Doctoral degrees in psychology: How are they different, or not so different?

U.S. Department of Labor.  Psychologists . Occupational Outlook Handbook .

Norcross JC, Sayette MA. An Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology (2020/2021 ed.) . New York, NY: The Guilford Press; 2020.

Davis SF, Giordano PJ, Licht CA. Your Career in Psychology: Putting Your Graduate Degree to Work . John Wiley & Sons; 2012. doi:10.1002/9781444315929

US Department of Education. Bachelor's, master's, and doctor's degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by sex of student and discipline division: 2016-17 .

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

What is a PhD in Psychology?

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What Is Psych PhD

When surveying the options available in PhD programs, an important distinction to make is whether you want to work in a psychology-related field such as counseling, social work, therapy or education; or if you are striving to get a diploma conferring a "Doctorate of Psychology." Novices quite frequently confuse the academic Discipline of Psychology with alternative disciplines which are psychology-related and in the mental health field.

The "Doctorate of Psychology"

If you want to earn a doctorate in the discipline of psychology, you will  be presented with 2 options from which to choose within the field: you will be able to enroll in either a doctoral program which grants a Ph.D. or one that will culminate in the awarding of the Psy.D.  Scholars who are focused on research, data collection and processing, academics, professorship and authorship are best suited for the Ph.D. in Psychology. Individuals who are interested in research but are more people and practice-driven as well as; desirous of being on the front lines working with patients, interested in methodologies and enjoy making educational theory a reality are well served by enrolling in a Psy.D. program.

Dr. Emma Mansour is a licensed psychologist and founder of  "Life Matters Counseling and Psychological Services, LLC., with locations in Salt Lake City and Farmington, Utah.  Dr. Mansour is a graduate of  the Counseling Psychology Program at the University of Utah, as well as a former instructor. She has taught classes in Developmental Psychology, Group Counseling, Personality Psychology and Counseling Skills. In her capacity as educator, Dr. Mansour has come in contact and consulted with many students facing these exact questions. Regarding the choice between the Ph.D. and the Psy.D. her advice is straightforward;

"My advice would depend on the student's ultimate career goal. If the goal is to become a professor and engage in teaching and research as a career, there is really no option but to get a PhD. If the student is not interested in teaching or research and just wanted to be a private practicing psychologist, I would advise that they consider a PsyD program."

Learn more about a psychology doctoral degree .

Do I need a PhD to Achieve My Goals?

One of the pressing questions doctoral candidates face is whether or not they are primarily only interested in a career as a practicing counselor, therapist or educator. If this happens to be the case, technically speaking they do not need to go beyond the Master's Degree in Counseling, Therapy, Social Work, etc., to reach their goals. In other words, various careers  are accessible with a master's degree and do not require a PhD. On the other hand, some careers are only available if you have a PhD. This is the point at which clarification of your career objectives becomes imperative. Getting a PhD is an arduous process and if you are unsure of your ultimate goals, it is advised you thoroughly research all of your options. Experts agree: it pays to do your "homework" before you enroll in a doctoral program.


"Becoming a psychologist, versus a counselor or therapist, is certainly a longer process but it affords you many more possibilities and will ultimately open many more doors for you as a professional, both from the status of the degree to the possibility of branching out into many other areas. It is important to bear in mind that a students' current interests will likely change over the course of their career so the broader degree allows for ongoing growth and opportunity."

How Long Will it Take to Get a PhD in Psychology?

Universities are highly unique in their approaches to their doctoral programs. For example, UCLA's program is 6 years. In describing their program they write, "The Ph.D. program is a six year, full-time only program." In other words, students do not have the option of attending part-time. Many PhD programs can be completed within 5 years; most of them typically require the equivalent of 72 semester units. The design of the program can greatly influence the length of time it takes to earn the PhD; even for doctorates earned at the same institution. For example, NYU has 2 Psychology PhD programs: the PhD in Cognition and Perception and the PhD in Social Psychology. Although each doctorate requires 72 semester units, students who are "Teaching or Research Assistants" in the Cognition and Perception program usually take 3 courses per semester; the remaining student schedules are more flexible. Thus someone taking 2 courses a semester will graduate later than those taking 3 classes a semester. Most programs also have a maximum time limit to complete the PhD; at NYU if the matriculant has not finished their requirements after 7 years, their enrollment in the program is likely to be terminated.

Some of the questions you'll want to research with regards to the amount of time you will be in school are:

  • Is the college on a semester or quarter system and how many units are required to complete the PhD in Psychology?
  • Does the program have a minimum number of units to complete each quarter or semester?
  • Is the program strictly full-time or is there a part-time option?
  • Is there a time maximum within which the program must be completed?
  • Is there a time limit condition on program grants, awards or special financing?

What Types of Classes Will I Take in a PhD Program?

PhD programs in the field of psychology consist of some or all of the following categories of study:

  • Core Content Classes and Advanced Elective Courses
  • Oral Examinations
  • Presentation of Papers
  • Practicum & Teaching
  • Internships
  • Special Event, Conference or Convention Attendance
  • Doctoral Dissertation Proposal, Submission and Defense

Elements of the PhD in Psychology

  • Core Content Classes and Advanced Elective Courses: The length and depth of core classes depend heavily on the nature of the PhD program and the university. Each college program varies on how many units are required, the title of the courses and how much emphasis is put on the ratio of research/clinical. Below is a very generalized sampling of what to expect.

Core classes prepare the student for the in-depth research they will embark upon as they advance in their prospective careers. Statistical proficiency is an important aspect of every program; examples of courses include:

  • Mathematical Tools for Cognitive Science and Neuroscience (NYU)
  • Statistics courses (UCLA)
  • Developmental Psychology (Stanford)
  • Foundations of Cognition (Stanford)
  • Exploratory-Graphical Data Analysis (Vanderbilt)
  • Multivariate Analysis (Vanderbilt)
  • Psychological and Educational Measurement (Vanderbilt)

Advanced Electives: Some examples of Advanced Elective courses from NYU are:

  • Principles of Neuroimaging
  • Research in Social Psychology
  • Cognitive Development
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Cellular, Molecular & Developmental Neuroscience
  • Language Acquisition
  • Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Stress and Disease
  • Research: Every university expects the student to constantly be involved with research throughout their years of training. Throughout the process of research, students are supervised by at least one member of the faculty in some form of an advisory role. However, differences in a university's research emphasis, timing, manner of execution and application of research requirements is one of the factors you will confront when choosing a PhD program. For example, research dominates the 8 UCLA program specialties from which to choose. They write:
"Students are admitted by one of the department's eight areas: Behavioral Neuroscience, Clinical, Cognitive, Developmental Psychology, Health Psychology, Learning and Behavior, Quantitative and Social. With rare exception, this area affiliation is retained throughout a student's stay in the program. Much of the program is administered by the areas."   Also- " All areas are research-oriented. This applies to the Clinical area as well: although this area offers excellent clinical training, the emphasis lies in research, not in training private practitioners."    

At UCLA research is included in the core curriculum and has a designated time sequence:

"The core program has three parts: a two-quarter statistics series, four courses selected from among special offerings in each of the seven areas, and a two or three quarter research sequence. In the latter sequence the student designs, conducts, and writes up a research project under the direction of two faculty members. Core-program work is completed by the end of the second year."

In slight contrast, while the program at Vanderbilt also emphasizes research- "We expect students to be continually involved in research throughout their tenure in our program;" their description of the first 2 years is quite different:

"The faculty attempt always to tailor graduate training to meet the needs and the interests of each individual student" and "The curriculum is designed to: (a) familiarize students with the major areas of psychology; (b) provide specialized training in at least one of the five specific areas of psychology emphasized in the program; and (c) provide students sufficient flexibility to enroll in classes consistent with their interests and long-term developmental trajectory. During the first two years, students take several core courses in quantitative methods and in substantive areas. Beyond this, the program consists of seminars, further research participation, and other inquiries expressly designed to fulfill career objectives."
  • Oral Examinations: As a PhD candidate you will need to be prepared to undertake oral examinations as part of the qualifying and requirements processes. Oral examinations can take place at both the MA/MS level as well as the PhD level. This method of examination may prove helpful in preparing for a license; according to the American Psychological Association (APA) 21 states require an oral examination to qualify for licensure.
  • Presentation of Papers : Some universities may require the submission of yearly papers and encourage students to present these papers at conventions or other academic events. For example, one of the research requirements at NYU is a first, second and third year paper (the third year paper may or may not be the dissertation proposal, depending on the program). While students are not required to present papers, under a bold heading in the PhD Cognition and Perception program requirements it reads:

Highly Recommended

" Presentation of Research Papers at Professional Meetings The Program strongly encourages its students to present papers (or posters) on their research at relevant professional meetings around the country as a "real life" part of their education in becoming professional scientists and educators and to aid them in forming contacts for possible jobs and postdocs after the Ph.D."
  • Practica: If you have tried to understand what a practicum is and have failed, do not dismay. Even the experts in the field admit that it means different things in different places. In the report, "Report on Practicum Competencies" by The Association of Directors of Psychology Training Clinics (ADPTC) Practicum Competencies Workgroup: Robert L. Hatcher, Ph.D. & Kim Dudley Lassiter, Ph.D. answer the question in the following way:

What is a Practicum?

Psychology programs vary considerably in their definition of practicum. Some consider the experience at their department’s in-house clinic to be the practicum, and may call subsequent pre-internship training in other settings  “traineeships.”  Others classify all pre-internship clinical experience as practica; others limit this definition to supervised experience only. This document is based on the definition that practicum experience includes all supervised pre-internship clinical training."

One of the strong suggestions made by the APA is that your practicum time is a phase of preparation for your internship. In the APA published cover article, "Steps to the Match: Laying the groundwork to land an internship starts on day one of your program" by Christopher Munsey, the author offers an informative, easy-to-read and must-read regarding practica for every psychology PhD candidate. The author outlines the best possible uses of time during "all supervised pre-internship clinical training."  Munsey advises that during your practicum you:

  • Establish a positive connection with all practicum supervisors
  • Acknowledge areas in which you excel and be sure to become and remain teachable in areas in which you perform poorly
  • Work with all types of people; diversity in experience is a plus
  • Develop superior communication skills
  • Identify target internships
  • Progress check to ensure your experiences are in alignment with your internship goals
  • Accumulate lots of hours and keep immaculate records
  • Network with psychologists
  • Rehearse interviewing
  • Give presentations

Teaching Requirements

Doctoral programs can include teaching experience as a requirement for successful completion of the degree. Each university has unique mandates about the nature of the teaching experience and when it occurs.

  • Pre-Doctoral Internships: Currently (2016) the topic of the psychology internship is of serious concern. explains in detail the current dilemma which the APA is addressing in the article, " Internships in Counseling: Shedding Light on the Explosive 'Match .'"

To summarize, doctoral students are paired with internships which have earned APA approval. This process is called the "Match." The crisis stems from a profound lack of APA approved internships. While the APA is making strides in bridging the gap, the problem remains substantial. The progress made since 2012 is hopeful: in 2012 there were 1,041 students who could not progress in their doctoral studies because there were not enough matches. By 2015 the APA had reduced the number to 689 students. ( The APA Report can be accessed by following this link . ) For some students, waiting the year(s) to be matched was not an option. Some did non-approved internships, which had lifelong consequences.

A doctorate which includes a non-approved internship means that even when the PhD is granted, the graduated can never work for the Veterans Administration (one of, if not the largest employer of psychologists in the nation) or any military/government organizations. Secondly, many states will not grant a license to practice without an APA approved internship. The   Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) has a database within which the  Handbook of Licensing and Certification Requirements can be accessed. Before reviewing the handbook, however, you will have to provide the ASPPB with basic information about yourself. (The link provided for the Handbook will take you immediately to the questionnaire.) In retrospect, it becomes clear why the APA advises you to begin to work on getting your internship as soon as you begin your doctoral program; if you do not, you might not finish the program.

  • Special Event, Conference or Convention Attendance: While not every university requires you to attend events, some have a form of scholastically-based group which is a graduation requirement. The PhD degree requirements at NYU have two examples:
"Brown Bag Seminar: All members of the program are expected to participate in the weekly Brown Bag seminar. The seminar meets informally, over lunch, and is a forum for presenting current and planned research. Each student is required to present on his or her research once a year. The seminar is a key component of student training over the five years of doctoral study.

Mini-Convention: The Mini-Convention is a day-long, convention-type meeting currently held on the Friday a week-and-a-half after Labor Day in September. Faculty and students of the Program attend this meeting which provides a training experience in convention-style oral presentation. All first- and second-year students are required to present talks based on their research projects. Upper-year students with well-worked-out, interesting findings to report are encouraged to present talks, as well as those who have not presented at a Brown Bag for the past academic year."

  • Doctoral Dissertation Proposal, Submission and Defense: The dissertation is required by all PhD students. This voluminous composition  includes and represents the entirety of the candidate's body of work, research and study focus. It presents an original thesis which the student is prepared to propose, submit and defend.

Proposal: Preparation for the dissertation-the proposal, begins and varies according to each university program. Examples of requirements from the colleges utilized thus far are:

NYU: " Dissertation Proposal . In the third year, it is expected that each student will have sufficiently clarified his or her interests to be able to formally propose a dissertation project." Note: NYU offers 2 choices regarding the dissertation. The student can present the Traditional Thesis or choose a " Publication Route ."

UCLA: " By the fourth year a student should have enough experience and knowledge of current research issues to begin formulating a dissertation proposal."

HARVARD: " 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."

Basic Elements of a Proposal: The following is a general list of what is contained in the proposal.

  • Importance of the topic: The proposal should provide intellectual rationale for why the thesis is critical to the field of study
  • A review of the literature currently in existence on the topic
  • An explanation of the theoretical basis of the proposed thesis
  • Detailed description of the research methods to be used
  • Comprehensive discussion of proposed analyses
  • Projected implications of the topic for the field

Proposal Resources: There are numerous proposal support avenues, the most obvious being the APA website. A valuable listing of their publications specifically dealing with the dissertation from start to finish can be found in their Education section under " Dissertations and Research " (link provided).    

Submitting: The proposal is typically submitted to the student's advisor(s); following their approval it is submitted to  department/governing committee for approval. The final "paper(s)" or dissertation is also submitted for final acceptance.

Defense: Dissertations are defended by the PhD candidate in a formal setting. Scholars in the field test the ability of the student to orally explain and defend their research findings. There are usually university-specific "norms" regarding the event and knowing what they are should be of utmost importance.

Funding : The time and research materials for the dissertation can run into the thousands of dollars. There are many ways to receive financial assistance; the APA is a good place to start. Their " Student Funding " page is helpful for finding grants, scholarships and the like. (link provided) They also have many advisory articles which offer real life examples of how others have managed the costs involved.

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Psychology Graduate Program

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Welcome to the Psychology PhD program at Harvard University!

Our work is united in the focus on the science of mental life, yet highly interdisciplinary.

The Psychology Department is organized into four research areas: 

  • Clinical Science/ Experimental Psychopathology  
  • Developmental Psychology  
  • Social Psychology
  • Cognition, Brain, and Behavior (CBB)

Students enrolled in the PhD program may follow one of two tracks: Clinical Science or the Common Curriculum, which includes Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, and Cognition, Brain, and Behavior (CBB). Students may only be considered for Clinical Science during the graduate school application process, and may not transfer in at a later date.

Click here to view our current graduate student profiles. 

Clinical Student Admissions, Outcomes, and Other Data, as required by the American Psychological Association, can be found here . 

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This page has been archived and is no longer being updated regularly.

Doctoral degrees in psychology: How are they different, or not so different?

Doctoral degrees in psychology offer individuals preparation to conduct scientific research, professional practice or both. Most individuals receive either the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. Although each of these degrees is designed to engage students in deep knowledge and skills within a subfield of psychology, there are substantial differences in the type of training and career plans of individuals with these degrees. Finding the best-fitting program for an individual student begins with understanding these differences.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The PhD is the most common degree conferred in psychology and is generally offered at either private or public research universities. 1  PhD degrees are intended for students interested in generating new knowledge through scientific research (i.e., setting up experiments, collecting data, applying statistical and analytical techniques) and/or gaining teaching experience . PhD graduate students receive substantial training in research methods and statistics in order to independently produce new scientific knowledge and are often required to produce a dissertation to demonstrate research competency. Students enrolling in PhD programs may also be interested in pursuing professional careers in applied work — such as health services, counseling in school settings and consulting in businesses and organizations in addition to research and academic work.

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

The PsyD degree came into existence in the 1970s as an alternative to the PhD for those more interested in providing psychological services than conducting disciplinary research. The PsyD degree is generally offered in professional schools of psychology — either affiliated with research or teaching universities or housed in a free-standing graduate school. 2  The focus of PsyD programs is to train students to engage in careers that apply scientific knowledge of psychology and deliver empirically based service to individuals, groups and organizations. Most programs require students to write a thesis or dissertation, and students may use quantitative or qualitative methodologies to demonstrate how psychological research is applied to human behavior.

Both PsyD and PhD programs can prepare students to be licensed psychologists, and training in these types of programs prepares graduates to take state licensing exams (licenses are awarded by individual states, not graduate programs). 3  Many states require graduates to have attended accredited graduate programs to ensure that all students have minimum training and competency necessary for treating patients and serving clients. APA accredits doctoral programs in clinical, counseling and school psychology, and you can find a list of these programs on the APA Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation website.

When you’re gathering information about particular programs, it is important you understand what training and education the program provides so you are aware of what skills and abilities you will acquire and how those prepare you for a career after you get your doctorate. There is no “best” doctoral degree in psychology: There are, however, “best-fits” for your academic and professional goals. Please visit the Office of Graduate and Postgraduate Education and Training website for more resources on graduate study in psychology. The APA Office of Program Consultation also provides further details on the distinctions between PhD and PsyD degrees in its Standards of Accreditation for Health Service Psychology (PDF, 222KB).

1  According to the most recent Graduate Study in Psychology data from 2013-2014, 94 percent of participating PhD programs were housed in university colleges of arts and sciences or education. Participating PhD programs housed within nonspecified or indeterminate institutional locations were excluded from analysis.

2  According to the most recent Graduate Study in Psychology data from 2013-2014, 72 percent of participating PsyD programs were housed within professional schools of psychology (university-based or free-standing) or in medical/health science institutions. Participating PsyD programs housed within non-specified or indeterminate institutional locations were excluded from analysis.

3  The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards offers comprehensive resources pertaining to psychology licensure regulations and examination requirements.

About the Authors

Garth A. Fowler, PhD

Fowler leads the Education Directorate’s efforts to develop resources, guidelines and policies that promote and enhance disciplinary education and training in psychology at the graduate and postdoctoral levels. Throughout his career, Fowler has been active in education, training and career development for young scientists. He served on the National Postdoctoral Association’s board of directors from 2009-12 and is a member of its finance committee. He has been an invited speaker or keynote presenter at more than 100 career development events and has served as a panelist for two National Academies of Science Committees, the State of the Postdoctoral Experience and the Committee on Research Universities. From 2005-07, he was the director of the science careers outreach program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he developed workshops, presentations and seminars and wrote articles to help early career scientists promote and pursue their chosen career paths. He has served as a consultant for universities and research institutions on developing training grants for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars and developing learning outcomes and assessing career outcomes.

Daniel S. Michalski, PhD

Applying to graduate school in psychology 

APA video series on getting into grad school 

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Additional resources for undergraduate students

what is a phd in psychology like

MS vs PhD: Which Psychology Degree Should You Get?

An  undergraduate degree  proves a great starting point for people interested in careers involving psychology. To advance into occupations involving greater responsibility and pay, however, generally requires a graduate degree.

For instance, a master’s degree in psychology is one of the necessities to become a licensed therapist, such as a marriage and family therapist – a career the  Bureau of Labor Statistics  (BLS) predicts to grow a whopping 16% between 2020-2030. And becoming a  psychologist  – a position with an average median annual salary of $82,180 – requires earning a doctorate in psychology.

What Are MS and PhD in Psychology Degrees For?

The  MS (Master of Science) in Psychology  and the  PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Psychology  are degrees for people interested in advanced study in the discipline. Students obtain a greater understanding of human behavior and how to help others. Degree earners are often interested in careers as therapists, licensed psychologists, researchers, or professors.

Choosing Between a Master’s Degree in Psychology vs. a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology Program

The choice between pursuing a Master’s Degree in Psychology vs. a PhD in Psychology boils down to individual interests and career aspirations. Many students find a MS in Psychology sufficient for the types of jobs they want. Others discover a doctorate necessary for the occupations to which they aspire.

What Is a MS in Psychology?

An MS in Psychology is a graduate degree that prepares recipients for a variety of careers. It also can serve as a building block to entering doctoral studies, and an MS program typically takes about two years to complete. Online MS in Psychology programs sometimes offers accelerated options in which ambitious students can finish in around 18 months.

While coursework varies by institution and personal interests, students in psychology master’s programs often take these classes:

  • Lifespan development
  • Research methodology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Personality
  • Foundations of therapy
  • Family systems theory
  • Abnormal psychology

Some students focus on general psychology. Others gear their master’s program to a specific area. Some niche choices include:

  • Educational psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Industrial-organizational psychology
  • Sport psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • Child and adolescent development
  • Applied behavior analysis

Who Should Get a MS in Psychology?

Students who want to expand their knowledge of psychology beyond the undergraduate level often seek a master’s degree. Some students pursue an MS to become more attractive candidates to schools when they apply to doctoral programs. 

Others enter the workforce after receiving their MS in psychology. They find careers in the following fields:

  • Advertising
  • Human resources
  • Criminal justice
  • Social services
  • Mental health

What Can You Do with a MS in Psychology?

Individuals who have earned a Master’s in Psychology find their degree a gateway to various types of jobs dealing with people and what influences their behavior. A sample of possible occupations is listed below.

What Is a PhD In Psychology?

A PhD in psychology is the highest-level degree within the discipline. Earning it signifies academic excellence and dedication to the field. In addition to mastering psychological theories and concepts, PhD candidates learn how to advance scientific knowledge through their own original research.

Who Should Get a PhD In Psychology?

Obtaining a PhD in psychology is a rigorous process. It involves classwork, passing an oral exam demonstrating competency, and completing a dissertation. Practicums, internships, and teaching experiences may also be part of the program.

Students thinking about entering such a program should possess a  strong background in psychology , such as a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree. They also should look closely at their career goals and decide whether a PhD puts them on the right path.

What Can You Do with a PhD In Psychology?

The expertise obtained from earning a PhD in Psychology opens doors to a variety of careers. Three sample positions include:

Many PhDs remain in academia. They teach classes at colleges and junior colleges as well as perform research in their area of interest within the field of psychology. The BLS lists the mean annual wage for postsecondary psychology teachers as $85,050. 6

Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat a variety of mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. Some specialize in certain areas, such as treating depression or eating disorders. Others work with specific populations, such as children or the elderly. The median yearly salary for a clinical psychologist in 2020 was $79,820 per the BLS. 7

These professionals apply their knowledge of psychology to the workplace. Companies and governmental organizations hire them to examine issues such as productivity, morale, teamwork, hiring, and organizational development. Their suggestions lead to workplace improvements. The BLS reports the median annual salary for an industrial-organizational psychologist in 2020 as $96,270. 7

PsyD Vs PhD at a Glance

Individuals wishing to earn a doctorate have another option besides a PhD in Psychology. They may pursue a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology). Selecting which to earn depends on the student’s educational and career interests.

In general, PsyD programs:

  • Focus heavily on applied psychology
  • Take 4-7 years to complete
  • Attract students interested in working as therapists inc community mental health, hospital, and private practice settings

By comparison, PhD programs in psychology:

  • Focus extensively on generating new knowledge through scientific research
  • Attract students interested in remaining in academia as professors and researchers, though many do  seek licensure and become practicing psychologists

What to Look for in Psychology Graduate Degree Programs

Online vs. on-campus learning.

Whether a student wishes to pursue a master’s degree or a doctorate, choices exist regarding the learning format. Some schools offer graduate-level psychology programs online. Choosing such a route can prove beneficial in terms of access, flexibility, and cost. 

Online studies remove geographical barriers when selecting an institution, which opens up a greater pool from which to choose. Remaining at home eliminates expenses related to travel and campus housing, and students with spouses or children do not need to upend their family’s lives to further their education and careers.

Students seeking online degrees should check the terms, however. Some programs include short residency requirements. Likewise, individuals may need to go to campus or other physical sites to complete research projects, internships, practicums, or other hands-on experiences.

Of course, regular on-site programs remain an option for students preferring traditional graduate school. A consistent schedule and the social aspect of attending classes physically alongside others still appeal to many students.

Psychology Certification and Licensure

Psychology-related occupations often require state licensure. Knowing the specifics for the state in which one hopes to find employment can guide educational and career choices and prevent unwelcome surprises down the line.

Psychologists, for example, typically need to complete the following:

  • A PsyD or a PhD in Psychology
  • An internship
  • A post-doc or 1-year supervised professional experience after the internship
  • A passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology 
  • Completion of a dissertation or case study

States usually require all licensed therapists to complete the following:

  • A master’s degree
  • A range of 2,000-4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience
  • A successful exam score

Applying to Psychology Doctoral Programs

Acceptance into a Doctoral in Psychology program involves applying to individual institutions. Competition for spots can be substantial, so candidates should apply to several schools in order to increase the chances of getting in. 

Some places are more selective than others and may present harder entrance requirements. Someone who has not completed an undergraduate degree in psychology or a sufficient number of psychology courses will likely need to address this gap before seeking admission.

Admissions Requirements for PsyD and PhD Programs

Depending on where a student applies, the prospective school may ask for the following::

  • Official transcripts from past collegiate studies at the undergraduate and graduate level, including classes taken, GPA, and degree(s) awarded with date
  • Proof of any internships, certifications, or licenses
  • A resume of work history, including dates and duties
  • A description of other relevant activities, such as volunteer work or participation in professional associations
  • Scores from the GRE and the GRE Psychology Test
  • 2-3 letters of recommendation that support the candidacy
  • Responses to essay prompts
  • A personal statement explaining why the student wants to pursue this degree
  • Interviews with faculty

Note that some programs look only at candidates who already possess a Master’s Degree in Psychology or a closely related field. Others accept students with a bachelor’s degree into a combined master’s/doctoral program.


Selecting a school with regional accreditation ensures the institution has met certain educational standards. Choose one approved by the  U.S. Department of Education  or the nonprofit  Council for Higher Education Accreditation  (CHEA). Your school’s specific graduate psychology program also should be accredited by one or both of these organizations.

Another important factor is checking if the program is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). 8  Satisfying licensure requirements in some states can be problematic without APA accreditation. Likewise, employers will often look at only job candidates who graduated from an APA-approved program and completed an APA-accredited internship.

Graduate Psychology Career Resources

The following organizations provide further information on licensure for different careers:

  • The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards
  • The National Board for Certified Counselors
  • The Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards
  • Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification
  • Someone possessing a PhD is not a medical doctor. A PhD is a doctor of philosophy. In recognition of the expertise obtained from completing this rigorous course of study, holders of a PhD are entitled to use the title “Doctor” if they so choose.
  • One isn’t better than the other, just different. Which degree to pursue depends on individual interests and career aspirations. Aspiring therapists and counselors often choose a master’s program. Those wishing to become licensed psychologists must complete a doctoral program. Also, PhD programs focus heavily on research and often lead to working in an academic setting or consulting.
  • Some career options for people who earn a graduate degree in psychology include marriage and family therapist, mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor, counseling psychologist, researcher, and psychology professor.
  • A person holding a PhD in psychology is not a medical doctor and usually cannot write prescriptions. A few states do allow psychologists with training in psychopharmacology to prescribe a limited number of psychiatric medications. The majority of prescriptions, however, are written out by psychiatrists since they are MDs.

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What are the Key Differences Between a PsyD and Ph.D Program in Psychology?

If psychology is your major of choice, and you want to get an advanced degree, you might be faced with choosing between a PsyD and Ph.D. The question is, what are the differences between the two?

Ultimately, both degrees offer a high level of training in psychology, but how these programs go about doing that differs, both in terms of some of the coursework and the learning outcomes you are expected to master.

Likewise, you will find differences in the careers you might pursue after completing a PsyD as opposed to a Ph.D. Other differences exist, too – which are explained in the detailed guide below.

PsyD Vs PhD

PsyD Vs Ph.D.

PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) emphasizes clinical practice and hands-on therapy. Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology) often focuses on research, theory, and teaching. While both can lead to therapeutic roles, their primary goals differ: PsyD trains clinicians, while PhD prepares researchers and academics.

PsyD programs are much newer. While Ph.D. programs in psychology date back to the late 1800s , PsyD programs weren’t developed until the early 1970s . But why did the psychology community feel the need to add another high-level degree offering?

Simply put, back then, as today, Ph.D. programs in psychology focused mostly on research and academic pursuits, not clinical applications of psychology. PsyD programs, on the other hand, were developed as professional training specifically for students who wished to provide psychological services to clients in a clinical setting.

As a result of this key difference, these programs approach coursework and learning outcomes in different ways.

Differences in Coursework

The core coursework of most PsyD and Ph.D. programs is actually quite similar. In both programs, you will spend the first couple of years of your studies exploring the central tenets of psychology in courses like psychopathology, developmental psychology, and ethical issues in psychology.

Likewise, PsyD and Ph.D. programs typically include coursework in psychological assessment, history and systems of psychology, and cognitive psychology. Behavioral psychology, psychological interventions, and psychoanalysis are common.

However, as one progresses through these programs, the focus of the coursework begins to diverge. For example, as a PsyD student, you can expect to continue a path of psychology coursework for much of the remainder of the program. But as a Ph.D. student, the third through sixth years of the program focus much more on research-related topics.

Let’s assume you are a third-year PsyD student. Since PsyD programs focus more on clinical applications of psychology, your semester course schedule might look like this:

  • Projective personality assessment
  • Couples and family therapy
  • Psychopharmacology

Now let’s assume you are a third-year Ph.D. student. With a focus on psychological research, your semester course load might look like this:

  • Biostatistics
  • Experimental design
  • Data analysis

So, while the foundational courses students initially take might be very similar, the focus in many programs begins to shift such that PsyD students get the needed training to apply their knowledge as a clinician, whereas Ph.D. students get the needed training to conduct research .

It’s worth mentioning that not all Ph.D. programs are wholly focused on research – some Ph.D. options mirror the training provided by a Psy.D.

Differences in Duration, Core Subjects, and Electives

When deciding between a PsyD and a PhD in psychology, understanding the duration and course structure can help prospective you align their choices with your personal and professional goals.

  • Duration : Typically, PsyD programs last between 4 to 6 years , including internship. The exact duration can vary based on full-time vs. part-time enrollment, the program’s intensity, and individual progress.
  • Course Structure :
  • Core Subjects : PsyD programs often include core courses in psychotherapy, diagnostics, psychological assessment, human development, and psychopathology.
  • Electives : PsyD programs may offer electives in areas like child psychology, forensic psychology, neuropsychology, and health psychology, allowing you to tailor your education to specific interests.
  • Clinical Training : Hands-on clinical experience is central to the PsyD curriculum. You will engage in supervised internships or practicums throughout your program.
  • Duration : PhD programs typically last between 5 to 7 years , with the variation often due to the time required for original research and dissertation completion.
  • Core Subjects : PhD programs frequently include core courses in research methods, statistics, cognitive psychology, biological psychology, and psychometrics.
  • Electives : As a PhD candidate, you can choose electives related to your specific research interests, be it in social psychology, developmental psychology, organizational psychology, or other specializations.
  • Research : A significant portion of a PhD program is dedicated to research. You will be expected to produce original research, culminating in a dissertation. Some programs also require teaching or assisting in undergraduate courses.

Differences in Learning Outcomes

As a result of the differences in coursework between these programs, there are often distinct differences in learning outcomes as well.

A good example of this is in the application of knowledge and skills acquired in a PsyD versus a Ph.D. program:

  • A primary learning outcome for PsyD students might be successfully assessing and diagnosing a client with a specific psychological disorder. This would include having competency using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to identify the presenting issue and outlining a course of treatment to address the presenting.
  • A primary learning outcome for Ph.D. students might be to design and carry out a psychological experiment successfully. This would include the competency to examine relevant psychological research, conduct detailed data analyses, and interpret data to draw evidence-based conclusions.

We can drill down to even more specific differences in these learning outcomes. For example, a PsyD student might be evaluated on their ability to form a trusting relationship with a client in a clinical setting. This skill would be evaluated and assessed in the context of a supervised field experience, such as a pre-doctoral internship. The PsyD student would be observed by their supervisor, who would provide actionable feedback regarding the student’s demeanor with the client, application of relevant skills, and so forth.

Meanwhile, a Ph.D. student might be evaluated on their research competencies in the context of their dissertation research. The dissertation process is a lengthy one, with years of research devoted to the project and feedback provided by one’s dissertation committee at various points in the process.

But, rather than being evaluated on their ability to provide psychological services to a client, a Ph.D. student’s dissertation committee would provide a final evaluation of the quality of research and academic value of that research during the student’s dissertation defense. Again, while the underlying theory and training might be similar, the application of knowledge gained in a PsyD versus a Ph.D. program can be quite different.

Licensing and Certifications

After completing a PsyD program, graduates typically need to pass a state licensing exam, often referred to as the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) . Additionally, all states have post-doctoral supervised practice requirements before granting full licensure.

If you are looking to specialize further, there are various certifications available. These can be in areas like clinical child psychology, forensic psychology, school psychology, or neuropsychology. These certifications may enhance your job prospects, professional reputation, and potential earning capacity.

Just like PsyD graduates, PhD graduates aiming for clinical practice must pass the EPPP and fulfill any state-specific requirements. If you are planning to venture into academia, credentials like teaching certifications or post-doctoral fellowships can further bolster your academic profile.

Differences in Career Opportunities

As a result of the differences in coursework and learning outcomes in PsyD and Ph.D. programs, you’ll find that the career opportunities can be quite different as well.

Assume you are a PsyD graduate looking for your first job. With your background in psychological assessment, diagnosis, and treatment, it stands to reason that the career opportunities ahead of you would be in areas like clinical psychology, counseling psychology, or marriage and family therapy.

Bear in mind that the specific job opportunities you have depend on your specific PsyD training. For example, some PsyD programs focus on forensic psychology. In that case, the career opportunities you pursue would be specific to that field, such as clinical forensic psychology. With this specialization, jobs in marriage and family therapy would likely not be on your radar.

Even though PsyD programs might have a narrowed focus on a specific niche of psychology, what binds PsyD programs together is clinical training. Regardless of whether your PsyD program focuses on clinical psychology, developmental psychology, forensic psychology, or something in between, your training will lead to a career in which you apply your skills in a therapeutic setting with clients.

The career opportunities for Ph.D. students can be much broader than Psy.D. students. On the one hand, if you complete a traditional Ph.D. program focusing on psychology research, your career opportunities will mostly exist in the research and academic realms.

For example, you might pursue employment at a psychology research lab, conducting research trials for new medications to treat psychological conditions. Alternatively, you might pursue employment at a college as a teaching professor in psychology. In both instances, you’re applying your training in non-clinical fields.

However, as noted earlier, not all Ph.D. programs in psychology are research-focused. For example, you can complete a Ph.D. program in counseling psychology and pursue a career in community mental health. Likewise, your Ph.D. program might provide you with training in child psychology, which would lead to a career working with children and adolescents in a clinical setting.

Differences in Admission Requirements

The application process for PsyD and PhD programs can be competitive. Admission requirements for PsyD and PhD programs slightly differ:

  • Educational Background : Most PsyD programs require a bachelor’s degree, but not always in psychology. However, having a foundation in psychology can be beneficial.
  • Prerequisite Courses : Some programs might require completion of specific coursework, such as statistics, research methods, or foundational psychology courses.
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) : Many programs require GRE scores, but some might waive this requirement.
  • Letters of Recommendation : Typically, 2-3 letters from academic or professional references..
  • Personal Statement : An essay detailing your interest in the field, career goals, and reasons for choosing a PsyD program.
  • Clinical Experience : While not always mandatory, having prior experience in a relevant clinical or counseling setting can strengthen an application.
  • Educational Background : A bachelor’s or master’s degree, often with a preference for psychology or a related field.
  • Research Experience : Given the research emphasis of PhD programs, prior research experience, publications, or presentations can be a significant advantage.
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) : Required by most, though some institutions have started to eliminate this requirement.
  • Letters of Recommendation : Generally, 2-3 letters, with a preference for those from research advisors or professors familiar with your academic abilities.
  • Statement of Purpose : This is more than just a personal statement. It should detail your research interests, potential faculty mentors, past research projects, and long-term career aspirations.
  • Interview : Many PhD programs have an interview component, either in-person or virtual, where the fit between you and the program is evaluated.

Both PsyD and PhD programs may also assess other materials like writing samples and CVs.

Is a PsyD Harder than a PhD?

Whether a PsyD is harder than a Ph.D. really comes down to your individual strengths as a student and prospective psychologist.

For example, if you aren’t comfortable working with clients with serious psychological issues, you might have difficulty completing a PsyD program since much of its focus is on developing the skills necessary to build an effective therapeutic relationship with a client. Likewise, if you aren’t terribly interested in mastering the techniques of specific psychological approaches (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy), you will find a PsyD program hard to complete.

Conversely, a Ph.D. program would be difficult if you struggle with the scientific applications of psychology. If statistics, for example, is hard for you to understand, you will have trouble in a Ph.D. program since statistics is a much larger component of the curriculum than in a PsyD program.

In other words, in a vacuum, a PsyD program isn’t harder than a Ph.D. program, nor is a Ph.D. program harder than a PsyD program. What it comes down to is what your strengths are, what your goals are, and what you’re interested in as a future psychologist. If you align your selected program to those components, you’ll have an easier time completing the program.

It should go without saying, though, that both PsyD and Ph.D. programs are difficult. They require years of training and practical experience, an enormous output of time and money, and require a sincere dedication to mastering relevant knowledge and skills. No matter which type of program you select, you will have to work hard to achieve your educational goals!

Is a PsyD as Good as a PhD?

Yes, a PsyD is every bit as accepted as a high-level psychology degree as a Ph.D. Think about it like the differences between a Master of Science and a Master of Arts – though these degrees have distinct differences, they are widely accepted as equal qualifications for many jobs in the psychology field.

Which is Better? A PhD or PsyD?

As discussed earlier, a Ph.D. is often preparatory for a career in research psychology and academics, which usually makes it a better choice if you wish to pursue jobs in those specific fields. On the other hand, a PsyD might be a better option if you prefer to explore a career in a helping profession like clinical or counseling psychology.

But this isn’t a clear-cut, black-and-white issue in which one of these degrees is always better than the other. Each degree has developed as a quality training program for different psychology applications. Which one is better for your specific needs and interests depends mainly on how you want to apply what you’ve learned in a work setting.

Either way you go, a PsyD. or Ph.D. in psychology is an excellent vehicle for advancing your education. When it comes down to it, you will emerge from either program with a terminal degree in your field backed by years of training and practical experience that makes you an expert in psychology.

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What’s the difference between a Ph.D. and Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology?

Considering a doctorate in clinical psychology? There are some key differences between the Ph.D. and Psy.D. that you’ll need to understand.

More so than other branches of psychology, the field of clinical psychology is particularly concerned with the assessment and treatment of patients diagnosed with mental illness. If you are considering earning a doctorate  in this field, it is first important to determine whether a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology program is the best option for your future goals. What is the difference between a Psy.D. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology ? Below, we explore some key differences between the Ph.D. and Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology programs.

What is a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology?

Since 1948, the American Psychological Association (APA) has officially promoted Ph.D. programs in clinical psychology. A doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., generally focuses on  research practices and the philosophy of a given field. The intention of this program is usually to prepare students to teach and/or conduct essential scientific research that can help advance the field.

Most Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology programs take  five to seven  years to complete beyond the  undergraduate degree. Most programs incorporate a teaching element, and all require a written dissertation.

What is a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology?

Compared to the Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, the doctor of psychology, or Psy.D., is primarily concerned with the practical applications of psychology. According to the APA, “the focus of Psy.D. programs is to train students to engage in careers that apply scientific knowledge of psychology and deliver empirically based service to individuals, groups, and organizations.”

The Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology typically takes four to six years to complete after earning an undergraduate degree. Students also have an opportunity to pursue specializations in certain areas, such as neuropsychology.

While Psy.D. programs are designed to prepare students for careers as practitioners in psychology, students are not prevented from pursuing a career in academia. Most Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology programs also feature practicums or internships, and many also require a written dissertation.

What’s the difference between Ph.D. and Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology?

The main difference between a Psy.D. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology is the specific focus and application of each program. In summary, there are several key differences between a Ph.D. and a Psy.D. The most prominent difference is each program’s focus. If you seek a career in academia, a Ph.D. may be right for you. The Psy.D. was built specifically for those hoping to apply the principles of psychology in professional practice with patients.

Additionally, the program lengths differ. A Ph.D. typically takes five to eight years to complete, while a Psy.D. takes four to six years.

Psy.D. Ph.D.
Clinical focused and practice-based Research-based
Higher acceptance rates Competitive acceptance rates
4-6 years to graduate 5-8 years to graduate
Doctor of psychology Doctor of philosophy

What to Expect from a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology Program

How is a psy.d. in clinical psychology program structured.

In general, Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology programs are designed to advance a graduate’s understanding of how to provide tangible psychological services. Some Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology programs, including programs offered by The Chicago School , follow the Engaged-Practitioner model. This means students undergo training primarily for field practice in combination with a secondary focus on scholarship. APA -accredited Psy.D. programs often offer up to three years of practicum opportunities to prepare students for their APA-required internship.

The practicum provides essential hands-on experience for aspiring practitioners. Psy.D. programs offer this experience to better prepare graduates for their clinical careers—something Ph.D. students will not experience.

Expertise for both the clinic and the classroom

While Psy.D. in Clincal Psychology programs focus on practice, they still prepare students who pursue a career in academia.

Many  Psy.D. graduates become faculty members while managing a clinical practice. So, don’t worry that earning a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology will hinder you from entering academia. Graduates from Psy.D. programs can pursue clinical practice, teaching, or even both.

Greater student accommodation

Psy.D. programs are generally able to admit more students than Ph.D. programs at other schools. This is because Psy.D. programs are often housed within schools concentrated on psychology, as opposed to schools that admit doctoral students to a wide range of programs.

The Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology is The Chicago School’s legacy program. It was our first program ever offered in 1979, which has allowed us to expand our offering of accredited Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology programs at our campuses around the U.S. and provide greater access to this type of education to a wide range of applicants.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology?

Students in Psy.D. programs can expect to spend fewer years in the classroom than Ph.D. candidates. In general, a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology program can take four to six years to complete.

At The Chicago School, students can usually expect to spend about five years in the program, although this time can vary depending on each person’s specific circumstance. The time also includes the APA-accredited internship.

For aspiring doctorate in psychology graduates, the first step is to apply to an APA-accredited Psy.D. program. This ensures that your degree will meet the qualifications for licensing in any state.

Learn more about The Chicago School

Are you interested in learning more about clinical psychology programs available at The Chicago School? Fill out the form below to request more information or apply today through our application portal .

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Amy Bucher, Ph.D.

Applied Behavioral Science for Health and Well-Being

Should I Get a PhD in Psychology?

Should I Get a PhD in Psychology?

Before I get started, keep in mind that PhD programs differ quite a bit between disciplines. If you’re thinking of getting a degree in engineering or English, your program might look a lot different from mine, so keep your grain of salt handy.

You might want to get a PhD in psychology if . . .

You want a job or career that requires a PhD. This one seems like a no-brainer, but not everyone thinks it through. In general, working as an academic in an R1 institution  (that is, a tenure-track professor role that includes both teaching and research) will require a PhD. It’s possible to get a college teaching job at a community college or liberal arts school with a master’s degree, although my guess is that this is getting increasingly competitive as PhD programs graduate new doctors faster than the academic job market can bear . Likewise, it’s possible to work in academic research (particularly in a lab manager or coordinator role) without a PhD, but these roles are not plentiful in the social sciences.

If you are interested in counseling psychology, it may not be necessary to get a PhD. PhDs in clinical psychology who receive their license (through additional training and internships) are qualified to counsel patients, but so are social workers (LMSWs), psychiatrists (MDs), and many other types of professionals. I’d recommend the PhD for someone who wants to counsel patients but is also interested in conducting and consuming research on mental health and treatment.

You can also use a PhD in psychology in a number of non-academic fields. I work in a blended role where I conduct and apply research on motivation and behavior change to health technology. Other psychologists I know work in market research and consumer insights, human resources data analytics, product development, and strategy consulting. A PhD in psychology typically comes with strong research design and analysis skills that can be creatively applied in a number of fields, although you may need to do some work to help others see that connection.

You are comfortable with intellectual uncertainty.  The more you know, the more you become aware of all you don’t know. A doctoral education is a fast way to figure out all of the many, many gaps in your knowledge. Being successful in graduate school requires getting comfortable with the idea that you will never know everything, that there is rarely an easy black-or-white answer to questions, and that your hardest work may not be in acquiring knowledge, but in sorting through it and organizing it. If you’re the type of person who loves puzzling through huge volumes of sometimes contradictory information, you will enjoy grad school more than someone who prefers just enough information to make a basically correct conclusion.

You love learning and sharing what you’ve learned.   This is a corollary to being comfortable with shades of gray. A colleague of mine once told me he can recognize people who have PhDs by their outlook when presented with a problem. He said, they’re the ones who will dive into researching and reading and figuring out the problem and want to discuss it and think about it.

I took this photo in Niagara Falls, and my friend and I dubbed it "grad school."

You have a big but resilient ego.  On the one hand, it’s hard to make it through grad school if you don’t believe in your own intellectual abilities. It’s especially important to have a healthy ego because grad school also consists of being constantly beaten down. That sounds fun, doesn’t it? But in all seriousness, the volume of work required, the depth of feedback given, and the level of competition encountered in grad school all wear down on you over time. Add to that the many rejections and set-backs that everyone encounters during grad school, including paper and conference rejections, grades or exam scores below goal, and funding crises, and it takes a resilient soul to make it through. And it takes a big ego to keep submitting the next paper, exam, or grant application after the last rejection.

This is not to imply that grad school will not also make you more resilient. It will. You will learn a lot of strategies for coping with tough days and nights, and you’ll find enduring friendship in the trenches.

Some cautions . . .

If you want to be rich, a PhD is not a quick win.  You can definitely make a very nice living with a psychology PhD, in several different types of jobs. But grad school is expensive–even if you have a stipend to cover your costs, you will not be earning enough money to save, and you may additionally be acquiring loans. Because grad school living is so lean, I am glad I went right after my undergraduate, while I was still used to having no money (although I have friends who worked between undergrad and grad school and were glad to have some savings).

Hail to the Victors! The University of Michigan Diag in Ann Arbor

Many PhD programs include a master’s degree as part of their curriculum. I’ve met people who pursued a master’s degree as a way to test the waters for a PhD program. In general, I recommend against this. Many, if not all, PhD programs in psychology include a master’s degree as the conclusion of the first few years of coursework, and I’ve never heard of a program that lets someone skip those first few years based on a prior master’s. The people I know who tested the PhD waters by getting a master’s are now people with two master’s.

PhD programs take a while.  My grad school program, like many psychology PhD programs, was approximately five years long and included two years of coursework toward the master’s along with ongoing research requirements and at least four semesters of undergraduate teaching. Students pursuing a clinical license also have to do an internship on top of these other requirements.

People will be weird to you if you get a PhD in psychology.  First, if you get any PhD, some people will want to comment on your intelligence level (at least they assume it’s high!), which I find awkward. Second, if your PhD is in psychology, prepare for comments like:

  • “Do you know what I’m thinking right now?” (Answer: No, that’s psychic, not psychologist.)
  • “Are you psychoanalyzing me right now?” (Answer: No, I’m not that type of psychologist, but even if I were, I wouldn’t be doing my job for fun right now.)
  • “So you must know everything that’s wrong with me.” (Response: Well, I know you don’t really know what a psychologist does.)

Joking aside, I think the PhD can intimidate people at times, so be prepared for those reactions and ready to either use them to your advantage or alleviate them with humor and humility.

It’s up to you.

Like I said, I can’t tell anyone whether a PhD in psychology is right for them. The decision has to be one you own. Grad school is hard and long, but also filled with many adventures and pockets of joy. I am so glad that I went and earned my PhD. I wouldn’t have my career and the opportunities it provides if I hadn’t, and I would never have met many of the people who are the most important in my life. If you want to take on this onerous journey, you have to really want it; but if you do, I promise you’ll have some good times on the way.

Related posts:

  • How to Describe What I Know: The Appeal (and Frustration) of Psychology
  • Careers in Psychology: To Counsel or Not?
  • Career Options Outside Academia for Psychology PhDs
  • Walking Away from Academia with a PhD in Psychology

4 thoughts on “ Should I Get a PhD in Psychology? ”

I’m in my last year of my undergrad in psych. In 27 and have 2 kids. I want to pursue a degree where I can do what I enjoy, and make money. I’m worried about another 7 years in school for a PhD and was told there isn’t much for me with a masters in clinical psychology. I had looked into LCSW, but was not sure if I would be content selling short my dream/goal. Can I counsel, and still do research with a masters? Or am I better with an LCSW?

Admittedly, clinical practice is not my area of expertise. However, I do know people who have counseled with an MA and I also know several people with LCSWs. Both seem like good options if you’re interested in the clinical piece.

I’m not sure about the research part–I’d imagine that depends on where you end up working as a counselor. In a university or health system setting, it seems to me that should be possible. The PhD does make research more feasible as it sets you up to run a lab (assuming you go into academia or a research-focused company).

I was very influenced by the idea that even if something takes a long time, that time will still pass and at the end of it you could have done the thing or not. There have been a few times it’s helped me make choices that seem like they take a lot of time and commitment.

I’m interested in what you decide! I am sure you will find a way to do what makes you happy while making money.

Hi Amy! Thank you so much for your posts. I’ve been STRUGGLING with the decision of whether or not to apply to graduate school for a PhD in Social Psychology. To be frank, I don’t feel qualified to apply and I’m unsure if my reasons for wanting to go to graduate school are good ones. I’m no longer an undergrad student so opportunities to work in a lab has been impossible without at least a Master’s.

A little bit about me: I graduated from undergrad in 2015. I did work as a research assistant for a couple of months, but I mainly invested my time working full-time to pay for school. I liked working in a lab but it was in Human Development & Nutrition, so I often found myself watching the dynamics and social interactions between the family members rather than watching what I was tasked to focus on (whoops). I graduated with decent grades (3.75) with two majors (Communication & Psychology) and a minor (Latin – I love languages). I have a lot of supervising and training work experience from my job, and I would like to continue working in a training/educational capacity (so not really interested in being in academia).

The reason I want to study Social Psychology at the Doctoral level is because I have SO many questions on topics like resilience & life stories. As a trainer & supervisor, I would witness people crumble and thrive in the face of obstacles and (as a person who has the tendency to crumble) I would wonder: “What do resilient people do differently? How can the way we view our life stories change how resilient we are in the face of life challenges? What about in the context of training for a new position? How can programs be created to take into account differing personalities and stories?” Another reason is because I’ve read so many personal development books but I couldn’t help but think: “This is nice but show me the research behind it. I want to see it tested and understand why it works.” Not really sure if those are good enough reasons to apply.

Overall, I want to be able to take research on resilience and make it more applicable and accessible. I want to create workshops & train people on resilience & life stories (possibly do something similar to life coaching), but I’m not sure if that’s a good enough reason to apply or if I should probably go about it through another route.

I apologize for the long comment, but you’re website has been the only helpful website I have found on this topic!

Thank you for the kind comments!

As for applying–it can’t hurt to look at a few programs and see if you can’t find one that feels like a good fit. Having served on the admissions committee while in grad school (we were all required to give a year in service), I can tell you that your passion and curiosity will matter. Maybe you can find a few names of professors or grad students at schools that interest you working on resilience and grit and reach out to them for an informational interview (you may have better luck with grad students).

The other thing you could try to do is find a non-academic research job that lets you explore your questions. Agencies are a good place to look. Many big companies are also bringing behavior change teams in-house.

I’d love to know what you end up doing!

Comments are closed.

Psychology • November 12, 2022

PhD in Psychology: What Can You Do with This Doctorate Degree?

You’ve earned your bachelor’s degree in psychology; now what.

Depending on your career goals and academic interests, you may choose to pursue a master’s in Psychology, a PsyD, or a PhD in Psychology.

A PhD, which is a Doctor of Philosophy degree, may be earned in any number of fields wherein the doctorate program is research focused. A PhD in Psychology , therefore, is a doctorate degree for those interested in psychology research, academia, professorship, and authorship.  This degree is the highest level graduate degree in the field of psychology, and as a result trains students for a wide range of professional opportunities that represent a broad spectrum of research and practice areas.

Alternatively, a PsyD program is a good fit for individuals who are interested in research but are more practice-driven.  A PsyD in Psychology , like a PhD, is a doctorate degree, but was introduced within higher education much more recently and is not offered as widely as the PhD.  Students who desire to work with patients directly, are curious about techniques, and enjoy putting educational theory into practice may benefit from a PsyD in Psychology.

If a doctorate is not of interest, a master’s in psychology will prepare matriculants for a career in behavioral health and counseling, with a lower degree of training in analytical skills and a higher emphasis on career skills.

Of the three graduate degrees we’ve outlined, the PhD in Psychology is considered the most prestigious degree in the field due to its long history and the broad, rigorous training required for completion.

Will a PhD in Psychology help me achieve my career goals?

If a PhD candidate is primarily interested in a career as a professional counselor, therapist, or educator , it is theoretically not necessary to pursue a degree higher than a master's in counseling, therapy, social work, etc. to achieve this objective. A master's degree can be used to enter a variety of professions without a PhD. However, several professions in the field of psychology require a PhD or will be made more easily attainable with the higher level of education awarded by a PhD. This is why it is important to carefully consider all options and get clarity around your goals as a psychologist or otherwise.

one head colored red with lines representing scrambled thoughts and a second head colored blue with outline of a brain

Psychologists make a positive impact in the lives of those struggling with mental health

How do I earn a PhD in Psychology?

All universities require a bachelor's degree to be accepted into a PhD program in Psychology, and will occasionally require a master's degree as well, but the criteria vary depending on the structure of the institution’s programs. As an alternative, some universities offer a combined degree that merges the master's and doctoral psychology programs. In this case, the matriculant begins the program with a bachelor's degree and earns both a master's and a doctorate degree by the time they complete it.

The most important part of PhD program enrollment is the chosen concentration or area of research.  When applying, you will want to be sure your selected university offers programs in alignment with this area of interest.  Not only will your coursework focus on this topic, but this will likely be the subject of your dissertation.

The learning methods used by universities for their PhD programs are unique and depend on the institution. The majority of PhD programs in Psychology require the equivalent of 72 semester units for completion, and many of them can be finished in five years. Even within a single university, the design of the individual program largely affects how long it takes to get a PhD.

To determine the length of time you can expect to spend pursuing your PhD in Psychology, you may wish to do some independent research on the following topics:

  • What type of academic calendar does the college use, and how many units are needed to earn a PhD in Psychology?
  • Is there a set minimum number of units that must be completed each quarter or semester to complete the program?
  • Is there a part-time option available or is the program only full-time?
  • Is there a deadline for program completion?
  • What kinds of classes will you take in a PhD program?

At the culmination of a PhD program, a dissertation is submitted for review and defended in front of a committee of experts.  If needed, dissertation research grants and award programs are available for those studying the field of psychology from sources such as the American Psychological Association (APA) . Once approved, your manuscript may be published and you will have earned your doctoral status.

A woman that wears a graduation robe is holding a diploma in her right hand and a clock in her left hand.

How much time will it take to earn a PhD in Psychology?

Do I need to obtain practical experience while working toward my degrees?

Meridian University recommends that graduate students majoring in psychology actively seek out and make the most of opportunities to participate in research and/or placements in various service settings during their time at university. Through this experience, students have the opportunity to determine whether this is a pursuit that they want to devote a significant portion of their lives to.

Additionally, if research is conducted with a faculty member or practical experience is obtained with a supervisor (or both), a powerful letter of recommendation may be provided by this research mentor, which is another significant benefit of practical experience.  PhD program applications will benefit from a recommendation letter written by someone who can speak to the student's work ethic, punctuality, and ability to effectively contribute to the ongoing research projects or other work being performed.

Experiences like these provided many opportunities for students majoring in psychology to gain valuable, hands-on experience outside of the classroom. These experiences can assist them in determining the kinds of things that interest them. This is essential information for students who will be looking for work immediately after graduation as well as students who will be applying to graduate schools after they have completed their undergraduate degrees. A student can write a compelling cover letter by describing what they did during their undergraduate career, what they learned about themself, and how these experiences influenced their career path.

Working in settings related to mental health can also help students who are interested in applying to graduate programs in psychology to figure out which populations (children and adolescents, adults, individuals with substance use disorders, individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on) or which settings (hospitals, clinics, schools, agencies, and so on) they might be interested in working with. For example, students may find that they are more interested in working with children and adolescents than adults. Examples of such experiences include working as a counselor at a camp, volunteering with a women's shelter, and a wide variety of other possibilities.

People Also Ask

Are people with a phd called dr.

An individual with a doctorate could refer to themselves as “doctor.” However, it is important to note that having a PhD does not make the holder a medical doctor, and is not licensed to prescribe medication or medical treatments in most states within the US.

What does PhD stand for?

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy.

What areas of Psychology can I specialize in?

The field of Psychology is a growing professional space, with room for innovation in countless directions.  Here, we have provided some of the more common areas of specialization.

  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Behavioral Psychology
  • Biopsychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Comparative Psychology
  • Counseling Psychology
  • Cross-Cultural Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Experimental Psychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychology
  • Personality Psychology
  • School Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Sports Psychology

Is psychology the same thing as clinical psychology?

No. Psychology, containing the suffix “-logy,” which means “to study,” focuses on the study of mental behaviors and psychological functions.  Clinical psychology, wherein “clinical” is defined as “ based on or characterized by observable and diagnosable symptoms ,” focuses on diagnosing and treating specific mental health conditions. Clinical psychology is not simply a practice in scientific theory; rather, it goes beyond that and includes work toward concrete developments within behavioral health, human behavior, and studies on the mind.  Earning a master’s degree or doctorate degree in psychology awards the title of psychologist and allows the holder to practice clinical psychology.

What exactly is meant by the term "human behavior"?

Human behavior, in the context of psychology, refers to the fact that the ways in which humans interact run the gamut from physical to mental to emotional behavior. This concept encompasses all aspects of human interaction. In addition, different aspects of a person's life, such as their environment and their genes, can have an impact on their behavior.

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PhD Degree Requirements

This webpage provides a quick overview of the requirements for our PhD program. More detailed information can be found in the Psychology Graduate Guide . This webpage and the Graduate Guide supplement the Psychology PhD requirements defined in the Stanford Bulletin and the policies for all Stanford graduate education as defined in the Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures Handbook . 

The most important component of our PhD program is engaging in scientific research. Students in our PhD program conduct in-depth research in at least one of five areas of study: Affective , Cognitive , Developmental , Neuroscience , or Social Psychology. All students are expected to spend at least half of their time engaged in research. Each quarter, students should register for 8 - 10 research units (PSYCH207: Graduate Research) and take no more than 10 units of coursework.

The sections below outline program requirements regarding coursework and teaching, as well as key milestones towards a PhD degree.

Course Requirements

  • Teaching Requirements  
  • Key Program Milestones

Core Courses, Statistics/Methods Courses, and Advanced Units must be taken for a letter grade and passed with a grade of B- or higher. Click each requirement to open the relevant sections in the Graduate Guide.  

Professional Seminar 

All incoming students are required to take PSYCH207 in the first quarter (Year 1 Autumn). This is a course taught by the Department Chair with guest lectures from faculty across all areas, and serves to introduce the first-year students to the Department. 

  • PSYCH 207: Professional Seminar for First-Year Ph.D Students

As a part of PSYCH 207, first-year students are also expected to meet with their advisor(s) early in the fall quarter of the first year to discuss mentorship expectations. 

Core Courses

Students are required to complete 4 of the following Core Courses by the end of Yr 3.

  • PSYCH 202: Cognitive Neuroscience
  • PSYCH 205: Foundations of Cognition
  • PSYCH 211: Developmental Psychology
  • PSYCH 213: Affective Science
  • PSYCH 215: Mind, Culture, and Society

Statistics / Methods Courses

Students must complete PSYCH 251 and one additional statistics/methods courses by the end of Year 2. At least one of the two courses must be taken in the first year. 

  • PSYCH 251: Experimental Methods (Required) 
  • PSYCH 249: Large-Scale Neural Network Modeling for Neuroscience
  • PSYCH 252: Statistical Methods for Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • PSYCH 253: Measurement and the Study of Change in Social Science Research
  • PSYCH 289: Longitudinal Data Analysis in Social Science Research

Some students may wish to take advanced courses in Statistics or CS not listed above; please consult with your advisor and send an inquiry to the Student Services Manager. These requests may be reviewed by the DGS and/or the GPC.

Advanced Units / PhD Minor  

Students must complete 12 units of advanced graduate coursework (“Advanced Units”, or AU), or complete a PhD Minor by the end of Year 4.  

Students and their advisor(s) should discuss the course requirements and create a plan together for completing the Advanced Units. To this end, rising 2nd year students must submit an Advanced Courses Form by the first Monday in October (usually the first Monday of the Fall Quarter) of the 2nd year. 

Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) Statu s

Students should apply for Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) status once they have accumulated 135 units of residency and have filed a Dissertation Reading Committee form . Students in TGR status should register for PSYCH 802: TGR Dissertation (0 units) and take no more than 3 units of coursework per quarter. Typically, students transition to TGR in the Winter quarter of 5th year. 

For more information about Course Requirements, consult the Graduate Guide and the Stanford Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures Handbook .

Teaching Requirements

All students serve as teaching assistants for at least 5 Psychology courses during their graduate study, regardless of the source of their financial support. Of these 5 TAships, students must apply for 2 of their TAships to be in one of the two tracks: 

  • PSYCH 1 Track (2 quarters of Introduction to Psychology)  
  • STATS Track (2 quarters of core statistics/methods course: PSYCH 10, PSYCH 251, PSYCH 252, PSYCH 253).  

Students can review the Department's complete  TA policy  for more details. Questions about TA assignments or TA policy should be directed to the Student Services Manager. 

Program Requirements and Milestones

Year 1: 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) by June 1 The FYP is submitted to their advisor, second FYP reader (another faculty), and the students’ services manager. Students are also expected to present the results of their FYP in their area seminar. 

Year 2: Admission to Candidacy

In our department, a student’s application for candidacy must be filed as soon as all requirements for Year 1 and Year 2 are completed (and by the end of the 2nd year). The decision to advance a student to candidacy is made based on a holistic assessment of the student’s progress in the program. For more information, please refer to the Graduate Guide, section on Admission to Candidacy. 

Conferral of a masters degree: 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 a conferral of the MA degree.

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. The application should be reviewed with the Student Services Manager. The  application process  typically occurs in 2nd or 3rd year.

Year 3: Research Plan and Dissertation Reading Committee   

Students in Year 3 are expected to:

(1) Form a dissertation reading committee (due Feb 1): 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. 

(2) Schedule and hold the 3rd Year Committee Meeting to take place in Winter or Spring quarter (before June 1), and submit a research plan to their committee 2 weeks before the meeting

(3) After the committee meeting, submit the Research Plan to the Student Services Manager and report the meeting date using the Committee Meeting Google Form .

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

Students in Year 4 are expected to:

(1) Schedule and hold the 4th Year Committee Meeting in the Winter quarter and submit an Area Review & Research Roadmap (ARRR) to the committee two weeks before the meeting.

(2) After the committee meeting, submit the ARRR to the Student Services Manager and report the meeting date using the Committee Meeting Google Form . 

Final Year: Oral Examination and Dissertation  

Students in Year 3 and above are expected to hold a committee meeting every year. In their final year, students must form their Oral Examination Committee including identifying an external chair. Students must submit the Oral Exam Form to the Student Services Manager at least 2 weeks before the anticipated defense and follow the standard Department protocol for reserving a room for their defense.

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. Student completeness the IDP Self-Reflection form  

2. Student prepares the IDP Meeting and Action Plan form and schedules a one-on-one meeting with the advisor. 

3. Student and Advisor(s) complete the Action Plan (pages 3-4 of the IDP Meeting and Action Plan form ). 

4. Student submits the IDP Meeting Google Form to report the meeting to the Student Services.

Students can also use the IDP meeting to discuss mentorship expectations and schedule additional meetings if further conversations are needed. Note that first-year students must schedule a separate meeting with their advisors to discuss Mentorship Expectation as a part of their ProSem requirement

Graduation Quarter

Registration for Graduation Quarter is required for the term in which a student submits a dissertation or has a degree conferred. Please consult the Registrar's Academic Calendar for the quarterly deadlines for submitting dissertations; they are strict, and missing the deadline can have serious funding implications. For more information, please refer to the Graduate Guide and Registrar's Office website .

PhD Program Timeline At-A-Glance

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

End of Fall Quarter 

  • Complete the mentorship expectations meeting with advisor
  • FYP due to Student Services, advisor, and 2nd reader

Summer of 1st Year

  • Meet and receive feedback from advisor and 2nd reader
  • Submit  Advanced Units coursework form  to Student Services

June 1  

  • IDP Meeting Due

By the end of 2nd Year

  • Submit  Candidacy Form  to Student Services
  • Submit  Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee form  to Student Services
  • Schedule 3rd Year Committee Meeting
  • Hold Committee Meeting (Research Plan to committee 2 weeks before meeting), and report meeting to Student Services; IDP Meeting
  • Schedule 4th Year Committee Meeting
  • Submit ARRR to the committee two weeks before the meeting
  • Hold Committee Meeting
  • Report meeting to Student Services
  • IDP Meeting

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 

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9 things you should consider before embarking on a PhD

June 23, 2021 | 15 min read

By Andy Greenspon

Andy Greenspon

The ideal research program you envision is not what it appears to be

Editor's Note:  When Andy Greenspon wrote this article, he was a first-year student in Applied Physics at Harvard. Now he has completed his PhD. — Alison Bert, June 23, 2021

If you are planning to apply for a PhD program, you're probably getting advice from dozens of students, professors, administrators your parents and the Internet. Sometimes it's hard to know which advice to focus on and what will make the biggest difference in the long-run. So before you go back to daydreaming about the day you accept that Nobel Prize, here are nine things you should give serious thought to. One or more of these tips may save you from anguish and help you make better decisions as you embark on that path to a PhD.

1. Actively seek out information about PhD programs.

Depending on your undergraduate institution, there may be more or less support to guide you in selecting a PhD program – but there is generally much less than when you applied to college.

On the website of my physics department, I found a page written by one of my professors, which listed graduate school options in physics and engineering along with resources to consult. As far as I know, my career center did not send out much information about PhD programs. Only after applying to programs did I find out that my undergraduate website had a link providing general information applicable to most PhD programs. This is the kind of information that is available all over the Internet.

So don't wait for your career center or department to lay out a plan for you. Actively seek it out from your career center counselors, your professors, the Internet — and especially from alumni from your department who are in or graduated from your desired PhD program. First-hand experiences will almost always trump the knowledge you get second-hand.

2. A PhD program is not simply a continuation of your undergraduate program.

Many students don't internalize this idea until they have jumped head-first into a PhD program. The goal is not to complete an assigned set of courses as in an undergraduate program, but to develop significant and original research in your area of expertise. You will have required courses to take, especially if you do not have a master's degree yet, but these are designed merely to compliment your research and provide a broad and deep knowledge base to support you in your research endeavors.

At the end of your PhD program, you will be judged on your research, not on how well you did in your courses. Grades are not critical as long as you maintain the minimum GPA requirement, and you should not spend too much time on courses at the expense of research projects. Graduate courses tend to be designed to allow you to take away what you will find useful to your research more than to drill a rigid set of facts and techniques into your brain.

3. Take a break between your undergraduate education and a PhD program.

You are beginning your senior year of college, and your classmates are asking you if you are applying to graduate school. You think to yourself, "Well, I like studying this topic and the associated research, and I am going to need a PhD if I want to be a professor or do independent research, so I might as well get it done as soon as possible." But are you certain about the type of research you want to do? Do you know where you want to live for the next five years? Are you prepared to stay in an academic environment for nine years straight?

Many people burn out or end up trudging through their PhD program without a thought about what lies outside of or beyond it. A break of a year or two or even more may be necessary to gain perspective. If all you know is an academic environment, how can you compare it to anything else? Many people take a job for five or more years before going back to get their PhD. It is true though that the longer you stay out of school, the harder it is to go back to an academic environment with lower pay and a lack of set work hours. A one-year break will give you six months or so after graduation before PhD applications are due. A two-year gap might be ideal to provide time to identify your priorities in life and explore different areas of research without having school work or a thesis competing for your attention.

Getting research experience outside of a degree program can help focus your interests and give you a leg up on the competition when you finally decide to apply. It can also help you determine whether you will enjoy full-time research or if you might prefer an alternative career path that still incorporates science, for example, in policy, consulting or business — or a hybrid research job that combines scientific and non-scientific skills.

I will be forever grateful that I chose to do research in a non-academic environment for a year between my undergraduate and PhD programs. It gave me the chance to get a feel for doing nothing but research for a full year. Working at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the Space Division, I was the manager of an optics lab, performing spectroscopic experiments on rocks and minerals placed in a vacuum chamber. While my boss determined the overall experimental design, I was able to make my own suggestions for experiments and use my own discretion in how to perform them. I presented this research at two national conferences as well — a first for me. I was also able to learn about other research being performed there, determine which projects excited me the most, and thus narrow down my criteria for a PhD program.

4. Your current area of study does not dictate what you have to study in graduate school.

You might be studying the function and regulation of membrane proteins or doing a computational analysis of the conductivity of different battery designs, but that doesn't mean your PhD project must revolve around similar projects. The transition between college or another research job to a PhD program is one of the main transitions in your life when it is perfectly acceptable to completely change research areas.

If you are doing computation, you may want to switch to lab-based work or vice versa. If you are working in biology but have always had an interest in photonics research, now is the time to try it out. You may find that you love the alternative research and devote your PhD to it, you might hate it and fall back on your previous area of study — or you may even discover a unique topic that incorporates both subjects.

One of the best aspects of the PhD program is that you can make the research your own. Remember, the answer to the question "Why are you doing this research?" should not be "Well, because it's what I've been working on for the past few years already."While my undergraduate research was in atomic physics, I easily transitioned into applied physics and materials science for my PhD program and was able to apply much of what I learned as an undergraduate to my current research. If you are moving from the sciences to a non-STEM field such as social sciences or humanities, this advice can still apply, though the transition is a bit more difficult and more of a permanent commitment.

5. Make sure the PhD program has a variety of research options, and learn about as many research groups as possible in your first year.

Even if you believe you are committed to one research area, you may find that five years of such work is not quite what you expected. As such, you should find a PhD program where the professors are not all working in the same narrowly focused research area. Make sure there are at least three professors working on an array of topics you could imagine yourself working on.

In many graduate programs, you are supposed to pick a research advisor before even starting. But such arrangements often do not work out, and you may be seeking a new advisor before you know it. That's why many programs give students one or two semesters to explore different research areas before choosing a permanent research advisor.

In your first year, you should explore the research of a diverse set of groups. After touring their labs, talking to the students, or sitting in on group meetings, you may find that this group is the right one for you.

In addition, consider the importance of who your research advisor will be. This will be the person you interact with regularly for five straight years and who will have a crucial influence on your research. Do you like their advising style? Does their personality mesh with yours? Can you get along? Of course, the research your advisor works on is critical, but if you have large disagreements at every meeting or do not get helpful advice on how to proceed with your research, you may not be able to succeed. At the very least, you must be able to handle your advisor's management of the lab and advising style if you are going to be productive in your work. The Harvard program I enrolled in has professors working on research spanning from nanophotonics to energy materials and biophysics, covering my wide range of interests. By spending time in labs and offices informally chatting with graduate students, I found an advisor whose personality and research interests meshed very well with me. Their genuine enthusiasm for this advisor and their excitement when talking about their research was the best input I could have received.

6. Location is more important than you think — but name recognition is not.

The first consideration in choosing a PhD program should be, "Is there research at this university that I am passionate about?" After all, you will have to study this topic in detail for four or more years. But when considering the location of a university, your first thought should not be, "I'm going to be in the lab all the time, so what does it matter if I'm by the beach, in a city, or in the middle of nowhere." Contrary to popular belief, you will have a life outside of the lab, and you will have to be able to live with it for four or more years. Unlike when you were an undergraduate, your social and extracurricular life will revolve less around the university community, so the environment of the surrounding area is important. Do you need a city atmosphere to be productive? Or is your ideal location surrounded by forests and mountains or by a beach? Is being close to your family important? Imagine what it will be like living in the area during the times you are not doing research; consider what activities will you do and how often will you want to visit family.

While many of the PhD programs that accepted me had research that truly excited me, the only place I could envision living for five or more years was Boston, as the city I grew up near and whose environment and culture I love, and to be close to my family.

While location is more important than you think, the reputation and prestige of the university is not. In graduate school, the reputation of the individual department you are joining — and sometimes even the specific research group you work in — are more important. There, you will develop research collaborations and professional connections that will be crucial during your program and beyond. When searching for a job after graduation, other scientists will look at your specific department, the people you have worked with and the research you have done.

what is a phd in psychology like

At the Asgard Irish Pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Andy Greenspon talks with fellow graduate students from Harvard and MIT at an Ask for Evidence workshop organized by Sense About Science. He grew up near Boston and chose to go to graduate school there.

7. Those time management skills you developed in college? Develop them further.

After surviving college, you may think you have mastered the ability to squeeze in your coursework, extracurricular activities and even some sleep. In a PhD program, time management reaches a whole new level. You will not only have lectures to attend and homework to do. You will have to make time for your research, which will include spending extended periods of time in the lab, analyzing data, and scheduling time with other students to collaborate on research.

Also, you will most likely have to teach for a number of semesters, and you will want to attend any seminar that may be related to your research or that just peaks your interest. To top it all off, you will still want to do many of those extracurricular activities you did as an undergraduate. While in the abstract, it may seem simple enough to put this all into your calendar and stay organized, you will find quickly enough that the one hour you scheduled for a task might take two or three hours, putting you behind on everything else for the rest of the day or forcing you to cut other planned events. Be prepared for schedules to go awry, and be willing to sacrifice certain activities. For some, this might be sleep; for others, it might be an extracurricular activity or a few seminars they were hoping to attend. In short, don't panic when things don't go according to plan; anticipate possible delays and be ready to adapt.

8. Expect to learn research skills on the fly – or take advantage of the training your department or career center offers.

This may be the first time you will have to write fellowship or grant proposals, write scientific papers, attend conferences, present your research to others, or even peer-review scientific manuscripts. From my experience, very few college students or even PhD students receive formal training on how to perform any of these tasks. Usually people follow by example. But this is not always easy and can be quite aggravating sometimes. So seek out talks or interactive programs offered by your department or career center. The effort will be well worth it when you realize you've become quite adept at quickly and clearly explaining your research to others and at outlining scientific papers and grant proposals. Alternatively, ask a more experienced graduate student or your advisor for advice on these topics. In addition, be prepared for a learning curve when learning all the procedures and processes of the group you end up working in. There may be many new protocols to master, whether they involve synthesizing chemicals, growing bacterial cells, or aligning mirrors on an optical table. In addition, the group may use programming languages or data analysis software you are unfamiliar with. Don't get discouraged but plan to spend extra effort getting used to these procedures and systems. After working with them regularly, they will soon become second nature. When I first started my job at Johns Hopkins, I felt overwhelmed by all the intricacies of the experiment and definitely made a few mistakes, including breaking a number of optical elements. But by the end of my year there, I had written an updated protocol manual for the modifications I had made to the experimental procedures and was the "master" passing on my knowledge to the next person taking the job.

9. There are no real breaks.

In a stereotypical "9-to-5" job, when the workday is over or the weekend arrives, you can generally forget about your work. And a vacation provides an even longer respite. But in a PhD program, your schedule becomes "whenever you find time to get your work done." You might be in the lab during regular work hours or you might be working until 10 p.m. or later to finish an experiment. And the only time you might have available to analyze data might be at 1 a.m. Expect to work during part of the weekend, too. Graduate students do go on vacations but might still have to do some data analysis or a literature search while away.

As a PhD student, it might be hard to stop thinking about the next step in an experiment or that data sitting on your computer or that paper you were meaning to start. While I imagine some students can bifurcate their mind between graduate school life and everything else, that's quite hard for many of us to do. No matter what, my research lies somewhere in the back of my head. In short, your schedule is much more flexible as a PhD student, but as a result, you never truly take a break from your work.

While this may seem like a downer, remember that you should have passion for the research you work on (most of the time), so you should be excited to think up new experiments or different ways to consider that data you have collected. Even when I'm lying in bed about to fall asleep, I am sometimes ruminating about aspects of my experiment I could modify or what information I could do a literature search on to gain new insights. A PhD program is quite the commitment and rarely lives up to expectations – but it is well worth the time and effort you will spend for something that truly excites you.


Andy greenspon.

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Psychology Ph.D.

Type of degree, school or college, area of study, program format, program overview.

Our PhD programs have a long and distinguished history, having been established in the late 1960s.  Overall, we typically have 35-45 PhD students at any given time, making us among the largest PhD programs at UVM.  All of our PhD students receive 12-months per year funding (stipend, tuition remission) as a graduate teaching assistant and/or graduate research assistant, for 5 years.

Funding Your Graduate Degree

PhD program in Clinical Psychology

The Clinical Psychology PhD program is based on the scientist-practitioner model of training originally outlined at the 1949 Boulder Conference. The program successfully develops competent professional psychologists who can function in applied, academic, or research positions.  An emphasis is placed on research that is clinically-relevant, clinical practice that is empirically-based, and a balance in research and clinical training. There are no other PhD training programs in professional psychology at the University of Vermont or in the State of Vermont; therefore, this program makes a unique contribution in the University and State.

The Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology places equal emphasis on research and clinical training. The Clinical Psychology program is fully accredited by the American Psychological Association.

The Ph.D. program in Clinical/Developmental Psychology provides students with training in the area of developmental psychopathology. Students completing the Clinical/Developmental degree meet the requirements of the Clinical program and those of the Developmental cluster in the Experimental program.

Additional clinical, research, and adjunct faculty supervise students in clinical and research placements.

Applicants interested in the Ph.D. must apply for the Ph.D. degree only. Students whose goal is a terminal master's degree should apply through the M.A. program.

PhD program in Experimental Psychology

The Ph.D. program in Experimental Psychology admits students in 4 broad areas of concentration ("clusters"): Biobehavioral Psychology; Developmental Psychology; Social Psychology; and Behavioral Psychopharmacology.

The Experimental Psychology PhD program involves intensive, mentor-driven training in the student’s chosen area of specialization or “cluster” (Biobehavioral Psychology; Developmental Psychology; Social Psychology; Human Behavioral Pharmacology) as well as additional coursework in methods and statistics and the major foundational areas of psychology. Students are also required to have at least one mentored teaching experience. The curriculum is designed to provide students with depth in their area of specialization, as well as breadth in other areas of psychological inquiry.

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Ph.D. FAQ's

Students are expected to take coursework, participate in seminars, assist faculty in on-going research, develop independent research skills, and gain teaching experience and expertise.

The program is designed so that the requirements can be completed in four years, though some students may take five years or longer to complete their individual program of study.

The program is designed to concentrate coursework during the first three years of study, leading to the qualifying exam. Upon successfully passing the qualifying exam, students are admitted to doctoral candidacy, where course demands are minimal.

Many students spend their first year in the program initiating independent research. This research is designed to lead to a Master of Arts (MA) degree during the student's second year, following their thesis research and a successful thesis defense. Completion of a Master's degree is not required but strongly encouraged. Upon successful completion of required coursework, third-year students are eligible to apply for doctoral candidacy.

Currently, the program has 23 full-time students, and we expect future enrollment to increase. There are 18 core and 11 auxiliary faculty from Psychology, Biomedical Studies, Neuroscience, Nursing, Medicine, and Statistics.

Research interests vary widely. Many of the faculty have behavioral interests, including animal learning, personality and impulsive/aggressive behavior, and memory and cognition. Others have interests in the more molecular aspects of neuroscience, such as psychopharmacology, electroencephalography, and teratology. Finally, many faculty have overlapping interests, and collaborative research among different faculty laboratories is common.

Though admission decisions and funding decisions are considered separately, most students receive full support (see financial support page for specific details). This funding support is granted for one year, with no guarantee of future funding (continued funding is based on availability of resources and academic standing). However, a student in good standing can reasonably expect full funding support for the duration of a reasonable (e.g., 5-year) term of study.

The Department of Psychology and Neuroscience has been a leader on the Baylor University campus with respect to capitalizing on new teaching technologies. Therefore, our classrooms are equipped with state of the art multimedia teaching resources. Continuing our commitment to quality resources, Baylor University completed the construction of a new science building, valued in excess of $100 million dollars, in June of 2004. This facility has state of the art classrooms, laboratories, and animal care facilities. Our commitment to outstanding pedagogical skills is also reflected by the fact that a substantial part of the Ph.D. Program in Psychology at Baylor University is built around exploiting these new teaching resources through formal instruction and hands-on teaching.

Students seeking a terminal Master's Degree are not admitted as our program only admits students who are intent on pursuing the Ph.D. However, as previously stated, students are encouraged to earn their Master of Arts (MA) degree in Psychology by proposing, completing, and defending a Thesis, usually in their 2nd or 3rd year of study. Finally, occasionally students admitted to the Doctoral Program leave before completing all of the work required for the Ph.D. In those exceptional cases, students may be given the opportunity to complete a Terminal MA in Psychology, which may or may not require completing and defending a Thesis.

The successful applicant will have a Bachelor degree or equivalent; minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale; three letters of recommendation; a personal statement of interest; and an expressed area of academic/research interest that is compatible with those of faculty.  Application deadline is December 1 (11:59 p.m. ET) each year. LATE APPLICATIONS WILL NOT BE REVIEWED, although the Baylor Graduate School allows late submissions.

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what is a phd in psychology like

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  • 09 July 2024
  • Correction 12 July 2024

How PhD students and other academics are fighting the mental-health crisis in science

  • Shannon Hall

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Illustration: Piotr Kowalczyk

You have full access to this article via your institution.

On the first day of her class, Annika Martin asks the assembled researchers at the University of Zurich in Switzerland to roll out their yoga mats and stand with their feet spread wide apart. They place their hands on their hips before swinging their torsos down towards the mat and back up again. The pose, called ‘wild goose drinking water’ is from Lu Jong, a foundational practice in Tantrayana Buddhism.

Martin, a health psychologist, can sense that some students are sceptical. They are academics at heart, many of whom have never tried yoga, and registered for Martin’s course to learn how to deal with the stress associated with academic research. Over the course of a semester, she teaches her students about stress and its impact on the body before giving them the tools to help cope with it — from yoga, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation to journalling.

It is one of many initiatives designed to combat the mental-health crisis that is gripping science and academia more broadly. The problems are particularly acute for students and early-career researchers, who are often paid meagre wages, have to uproot their lives every few years and have few long-term job prospects. But senior researchers face immense pressure as well. Many academics also experience harassment, discrimination , bullying and even sexual assault . The end result is that students and academics are much more likely to experience depression and anxiety than is the general population.

But some universities and institutions are starting to fight back in creative ways.

The beginning of a movement

The University of Zurich now offers academics several popular courses on mental health. Beyond Martin’s class, called ‘Mindfulness and Meditation’, one helps students learn how to build resilience and another provides senior researchers with the tools they need to supervise PhD candidates.

The courses are in high demand. “We have way more registrations than we have actual course spots,” says Eric Alms, a programme manager who is responsible for many of the mental-health courses at the University of Zurich. “I’m happy that my courses are so successful. On the other hand, it’s a sign of troubling times when these are the most popular courses.”

Several studies over the past few years have collectively surveyed tens of thousands of researchers and have documented the scope and consequences of science’s mental-health crisis.

In 2020, the biomedical research funder Wellcome in London, surveyed more than 4,000 researchers (mostly in the United Kingdom) and found that 70% felt stressed on the average work day . Specifically, survey respondents said that they felt intense pressure to publish — so much so that they work 50–60 hours per week, or more. And they do so for little pay, without a sense of a secure future. Only 41% of mid-career and 31% of early-career researchers said that they were satisfied with their career prospects in research.

Students painting.

The International Max Planck Research School for Intelligent Systems run bootcamps involving activities such as painting. Credit: Alejandro Posada

A survey designed by Cactus Communications , a science-communication and technology company headquartered in Mumbai, India, analysed the opinions of 13,000 researchers in more than 160 countries in 2020 and found that 37% of scientists experienced discrimination, harassment or bullying in their work environment. This was especially true for researchers from under-represented groups and was the case for 42% of female researchers, 45% of homosexual researchers and 60% of multiracial researchers.

Yet some experts are hopeful that there is change afoot. As well as the University of Zurich, several other institutions have started to offer courses on mental health. Imperial College London, for example, conducts more than two dozen courses, workshops and short webinars on topics as diverse as menstrual health and seasonal depression. Most of these have been running for at least five years, but several were developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “At that time, the true dimension of the mental-health crisis in science was unveiled and potentially exacerbated by the lockdowns,” says Ines Perpetuo, a research-development consultant for postdocs and fellows at Imperial College London.

Desiree Dickerson, a clinical psychologist with a PhD in neuroscience who leads workshops at the University of Zurich, Imperial College London and other institutes around the world, says she has a heavier workload than ever before. “Before COVID, this kind of stuff wasn’t really in the spotlight,” she says. “Now it feels like it is gaining a solid foothold — that we are moving in the right direction.”

what is a phd in psychology like

A mental-health crisis is gripping science — toxic research culture is to blame

Some of this change has been initiated by graduate students and postdocs. When Yaniv Yacoby was a graduate student in computer science at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, he designed a course to teach the “hidden curriculum of the PhD”. The goal was to help students to learn how to succeed in science (often by breaking down preconceived ideas), while creating an inclusive and supportive community. An adapted form of that course is now offered by both Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and the University of Washington in Seattle. And Yacoby has worked with other universities to develop single-session workshops to jump-start mental-health advocacy and normalize conversations about it in academia.

Similarly, Jessica Noviello, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, built a workshop series designed to target a key stressor for academics’ mental health: job insecurity, or specifically, the ability to find a job that aligns with career plans and life goals. She argues that most advisers lack experience outside academia, “making it hard for them to advise students about other career options”, and most institutes don’t have the resources to bring in outside speakers. Yet it is a key issue. The 2020 Wellcome survey found that nearly half of the respondents who had left research reported difficulty in finding a job.

So Noviello established the Professional Advancement Workshop Series (PAWS) in August 2021. The programme has run workshops and panel discussions about careers at national laboratories and in science journalism and media communications, science policy, data science, NASA management and more. And it has hosted two sessions on mental-health topics. “PAWS isn’t a programme that specifically set out to improve mental health in the sciences, but by building a community and having conversations with each other, the experts, and ourselves, I think we are giving ourselves tools to make choices that benefit us, and that is where mental health begins,” Noviello says.

Beyond the classroom

Although these courses and workshops mark a welcome change, say researchers, many wonder whether they are enough.

Melanie Anne-Atkins, a clinical psychologist and the associate director of student experience at the University of Guelph in Canada, who gives talks on mental health at various universities, says that she rarely sees universities follow through after her workshops. “People are moved to tears,” she says. “But priorities happen afterward. And even though they made a plan, it never rises to that. Because dollars will always come first.”

David Trang, a planetary geologist based in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the Space Science Institute, is currently working towards a licence in mental-health counselling to promote a healthier work environment in the sciences. He agrees with Anne-Atkins — arguing that even individual researchers have little incentive to make broad changes. “Caring about mental health, caring about diversity, equity and inclusion is not going to help scientists with their progress in science,” he says. Although they might worry about these matters tremendously, Trang argues, mental-health efforts won’t help scientists to win a grant or receive tenure. “At the end of the day, they have to care about their own survival in science.”

Still, others argue that these workshops are a natural and crucial first step — that people need to de-stigmatize these topics before moving forward. “It is quite a big challenge,” Perpetuo says. “But you have to understand what’s under your control. You can control your well-being, your reactions to things and you can influence what’s around you.”

Two PhD students doing a relay race, once carrying the other in a wheel barrel on the grass.

PhD students compete in a team-building relay race at a bootcamp run by the International Max Planck Research School for Intelligent Systems. Credit: Alejandro Posada

That is especially pertinent to the typical scientist who tends to see their work as a calling and not just a job, argues Nina Effenberger, who is studying computer science at the University of Tübingen in Germany. The Wellcome survey found that scientists are often driven by their own passion — making failure deeply personal. But a solid mental-health toolkit (one that includes the skills taught in many of the new workshops) will help them to separate their work from their identity and understand that a grant denial or a paper rejection is not the end of their career. Nor should it have any bearing on their self-worth, Effenberger argues. It is simply a part of a career in science.

Moreover, Dickerson argues that although systemic change is necessary, individuals will drive much of that change. “My sense is that if I can empower the individual, then that individual can also push back,” she says.

Many researchers are starting to do just that through efforts aimed at improving working conditions for early-career researchers, an area of widespread concern. The Cactus survey found that 38% of researchers were dissatisfied with their financial situation. And another survey of 3,500 graduate students by the US National Science Foundation in 2020 (see found that more than one-quarter of the respondents experienced food insecurity, housing insecurity or both.

In the United States, efforts to organize unions have won salary increases and other benefits, such as childcare assistance, at the University of California in 2022, Columbia University in New York City in 2023 and the University of Washington in 2023. These wins are part of a surge in union formation. Last year alone, 26 unions representing nearly 50,000 graduate students, postdocs and researchers, formed in the United States.

There has also been collective action in other countries. In 2022, for example, graduate students ran a survey on their finances, and ultimately won an increase in pay at the International Max Planck Research School for Intelligent Systems (IMPRS-IS), an interdisciplinary doctoral programme within the Max Planck Society in Munich, Germany.

what is a phd in psychology like

Why the mental cost of a STEM career can be too high for women and people of colour

Union drives are only part of the changes that are happening beyond the classroom. In the past few years, Imperial College London has revamped its common rooms, lecture halls and other spaces to create more places in which students can congregate. “If they have a space where they can go and chat, it is more conducive to research conversations and even just personal connection, which is one of the key aspects of fostering mental health,” Perpetuo says. Imperial also introduced both one-day and three-day voluntary retreats for postdocs and fellows to build personal relationships.

The IMPRS-IS similarly runs ‘bootcamps’ or retreats for many of its doctoral students and faculty members. Dickerson spoke at the one last year. The programme also mandates annual check-ins at which students can discuss group dynamics and raise any issues with staff. It has initiated thesis advisory committees so that no single academic supervisor has too much power over a student. And it plans to survey its students’ mental health twice a year for the next three years to probe the mental health of the institute. The institute has even set various mental-health goals, such as high job satisfaction among PhD students regardless of gender.

Dickerson applauds this change. “One of the biggest problems that I see is a fear of measuring the problem,” she says. “Many don’t want to ask the questions and I think those that do should be championed because I think without measuring it, we can’t show that we are actually changing anything.”

She hopes that other universities will follow suit and provide researchers with the resources that they need to improve conditions. Last year, for example, Trang surveyed the planetary-science community and found that imposter syndrome and feeling unappreciated were large issues — giving him a focus for many future workshops. “We’re moving slowly to make changes,” he says. “But I’m glad we are finally turning the corner from ‘if there is a problem’ to ‘let’s start solving the problem.’”

Nature 631 , 496-498 (2024)


Updates & Corrections

Correction 12 July 2024 : An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Nina Effenberger was involved in a survey on graduate-student finances that won an increase in pay.

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