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What Are the Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation?

dissertation psychology

Most graduate programs in psychology require students to complete a thesis project or dissertation as part of the course of study. The specific details of each vary from school to school but there are some general differences that will be found across colleges in regards to a thesis or a dissertation.

What is a Thesis?

A thesis is a project that is completed during the course of a master’s degree program in many fields. In psychology students will be asked to complete one of two types of thesis projects. The first (generally in a Master of Arts degree program) is a literature review on a specific topic that is relevant to the field of psychology. In this type of project, the student will use existing research or data on their topic and evaluate the topic across a time period. There are many different topics that students can choose from. The second type (generally in a Master of Science degree program) is where a student will either conduct their own research or participate in ongoing research with a faculty member and write a thorough scientific paper on the study and their findings. In many cases, students will have the opportunity to present their research at a presentation or submit it for publication.

What is a Dissertation?

A dissertation is conducted during the course of a doctoral program for those pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology. A dissertation starts with a topic of interest in the field of psychology. The study will work with their faculty mentor to design and implement an ethical study to investigate their topic. Their findings are turned into a scholarly paper that will often be submitted for publication or presentation. After the paper portion is complete, the doctoral candidate will then go before a board of professionals and instructors to “defend” their thesis. They will present their material and answer probing questions from the panel. Those pursuing a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) can complete either a traditional dissertation or a thesis-like literature review, depending upon the requirements of the program.

What Are the Major Differences Between a Thesis and a Dissertation?

The major difference between these two is the level at which they are completed. A thesis is traditionally a mater’s level project, while a dissertation is complete at the doctoral level. Another difference is the level of intensity in the project. Thesis projects are generally completed over the course of 1-2 semesters. Dissertations can take upwards of a year to complete.

What Are the Similarities Between a Thesis and a Dissertation?

There are also some similarities between the two. Both projects involve an thorough investigation of a topic in the field of psychology. They also both require the student to complete a lengthy, and scholarly paper. Students at both levels can choose to submit their work for publication or presentation.

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Starting the dissertation

Experts offer tips on picking a topic, conducting a lit review and narrowing your focus.


gradPSYCH Staff

You've watched other classmates sweating over their dissertation topics, poring over the literature, agonizing over their research design, writing and editing. Now, it's your turn.

But, when and how do you begin?

Ideally, dissertation advisers say, students identify a research interest in the first or second year of their program and then use that general area as a theme throughout their coursework. But students don't need to view that general area as a trajectory of their career. Instead, experts encourage students to view the dissertation as a teaching exercise, in which they learn how to conduct, design and analyze independent research.

So first off, you need a topic.

"The topic is the foundation for everything-with a good topic and research question, you'll be set to go," says Melinda Stoops, PhD, a director of the counseling center at Framingham State College in Framingham, Mass., who has spoken at APA conferences on writing the dissertation.

Experts offer the following advice on tackling these beginning stages of your dissertation-from getting organized to narrowing your topic to identifying your problem and research questions.

Then, take it one chapter at a time, dissertation advisers say.


When deciding your topic, keep in mind that you will undoubtedly spend the next few years immersed in it, says psychologist John Cone, PhD, a professor emeritus at Alliant International University (AIU) and co-author with Sharon Foster, PhD, of " Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish " (APA, 1993). Cone advises the following steps to pick a topic:

Ask a favorite professor, preferably one active in research, about possible topics.

Read departmental information on the research interests of the faculty to find a topic a faculty member is interested in as well. Consider asking the faculty member to be a part of your dissertation committee, which will help guide you in your research.

Read an empirical paper that interests you and see what future research is suggested in the discussion section.

Think about term papers you enjoyed writing and choose a topic that reflects those interests.

Sift through literature reviews in your areas of interest-such as in the Annual Review of Psychology, Psychological Bulletin and Clinical Psychology Review.

Avoid topics in which you are overly emotionally involved-such as research on depression if you or a family member is depressed. Such emotional elements can interfere with your research, Cone says.

To narrow your focus, identify what within your chosen topic area interests you, says Foster, a psychology professor at AIU. Bounce ideas off a mentor and consult the literature to determine what has been done before, she advises. Also, consider choosing a topic that you've already been exposed to, such as through your master's thesis or a research project.

That's exactly what sixth-year doctoral student Jody Ernst did. Ernst-who is in the University of Texas at Austin's individual differences and evolutionary psychology program-has spent her entire graduate career researching behavioral genetics.

"Selecting the topic sort of fell into place naturally as a product of the research I have been doing for the past five years," Ernst says. In particular, her dissertation investigates the genetic factors that influence problem behavior development over the life span.

"It is helpful to choose a topic that builds upon past work you have done," Ernst says. "I think this makes the process of identifying the big questions much easier because you are already familiar with the relevant literature."

But, make sure you have passion for the topic. Nate Tomcik-a fifth-year doctoral student in the clinical psychology program at the University of Tennessee-has an interest in his research on therapists' views of couples therapy because it allowed him to integrate research with his clinical work with couples.

"My advice would be to not choose a topic that is an unappealing offshoot of your adviser's work or a project that you have lukewarm feelings about in general," Tomcik suggests. "It's important to remember that the dissertation is a marathon, not a sprint, and lukewarm feelings can turn cold quickly.

"If I didn't love my dissertation idea as much as I do, I know it would have been much harder to stay on track and focused," he adds.


Once you've identified a topic, the next step is to write a review of the literature in the area. The lit review section will include a brief introduction to your topic, introduce key concepts and review the existing literature.

But be prepared: The lit review often is the most difficult part of the dissertation, Foster maintains.

"Sometimes you are going to feel lost and like you don't know where you're going," Foster says. "The reason for that is because you are trying to do several things concurrently-you're trying to learn about this whole field and get a conceptual framework of how to map out this area of research."

But, it's nothing your classes haven't prepared you to take on, Foster says.

Cone and Foster also suggest that students:

Determine how experts in the field have organized their thinking by reading chapters or integrative articles they've written.

Find meta-analyses, journal articles or books on the topic and scan their reference sections for other references.

Identify key journals that cover the topic and scan their table of contents from the past five years for material.

Search electronic bibliographies-such as PsycINFO (which contains nearly 2 million citations of journal articles, books and dissertations in psychology) or the Education Resources Information Center, or ERIC, which offers a database of journal and other education literature.

Identify major authors in the area and search for them by name in databases, such as PsycLIT, to determine if they've written on other related items.

Determine if related research might be published under different keywords.

For example, Foster says in her research on girls' aggression, "aggression" as a keyword didn't cover it. Without trying other keywords, she would have missed key information on "delinquency" and "conduct disorders," which use similar criteria to define the population.

Jennifer Reese-a fourth-year doctoral student in the PsyD program at the University of Denver-used what she calls the "scavenger hunt" approach for her lit review; she scanned reference sections of relevant books and journal articles and then found those referenced sources as well. She is validating the use of Jane Elliott's Blue Eyes Brown Eyes exercise, a behavior training method that uses discrimination against a person's eye color to teach Caucasians about prejudice and oppression. Reese even spoke with Elliott-a retired schoolteacher who created the experiment in the 1960s-to get background on what similar studies had been done.

So how do you know when you've gathered enough for your lit review? "I know when I go to the reference sections, and I'm not finding any new things-when I keep turning up the same things over and over again," Foster says.


Once you feel confident that you've covered the literature, identify the rationale for your study, why it's important and what hasn't been studied about it before, Foster says.

To do that, Cone suggests writing a paragraph or two summarizing the literature review. Then, determine what unresolved issues are identified in the most recently cited studies-and most relevant to your study. Select one of these issues and formulate one or two research questions and associated hypotheses.

When formulating the research question, consider whether you'll be able to recruit enough participants, Stoops says. Ask your dissertation committee-which usually comprises three or four faculty members you choose when you first begin your dissertation-for feedback on whether they believe you'll be able to recruit enough participants or obtain animals, if needed, dissertation advisers suggest.

After her extensive lit review, Ernst was able to pinpoint her research questions for her dissertation on problem behavior development, including: Are there predictable developmental trajectories for problem behaviors? What factors influence the development of problem behaviors for vulnerable individuals across the life span? She identified these questions by finding the gaps within the problem behavior development literature.

Both the statement of the problem and research questions will be lumped in the introduction of your dissertation, which provides an overview of your study. But, while the introduction is sometimes the first chapter in your dissertation, don't feel compelled to have it be the first thing you do, says Framingham State College's Stoops. She didn't write her introduction until after doing her lit review and methodology.

However, Ernst wrote her statement first and then continually added relevant citations as she came upon them.

"Writing the intro first helped me to organize my thoughts about gaps in current research and helped me to identify what new and relevant information I would be adding to this line of research," she says.


Whatever methods you choose, even these beginning stages to your dissertation may seem overwhelming. So treat your dissertation as a job, Cone advises. He suggests committing 10 to 20 hours per week for 12 to 18 months to avoid becoming a casualty to the All But Dissertation (ABD) label. Set specific work hours and choose a specific place to work, he advises.

And tap the guidance of others-such as professors, peers or other mentors-who can help you through the process, Foster adds. (For tips to finding a mentor, see Building mentorships for success .)

"People who are a little ahead of you in the process can be very helpful," Foster says. "They will tell you what they've gone through and normalize your experience and give you leads."

One way to get a peer network for your dissertation: Join the APAGS dissertation listserv . 

Another is taking a class on the dissertation process. That certainly helped Chris Bernuth, a sixth-year counseling psychology doctoral student at University of Missouri-Columbia, to stay on track. The professor's due dates and the class's extra support prevented procrastination, he says.

"Very smart people can become ABD because they procrastinate or think they can write the dissertation in a couple of all-night sessions, and you cannot do that with a dissertation," Foster says.

When Stoops was working on her dissertation, she combated tendencies to procrastinate by setting deadlines with her dissertation chair. One way to set those deadlines, Cone says, is to list each step in chronological order and then use it to create a milestone chart.

And most importantly, Cone says students can be confident about their ability to complete the dissertation.

"After all," he says, "you have made it this far."

The dissertation, start to finish

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Home > School, College, or Department > CLAS > Psychology > Dissertations and Theses

Psychology Dissertations and Theses

Theses/dissertations from 2022 2022.

Transforming Learning Communities, Transforming Ourselves: A Qualitative Investigation of Identity Processes in a Participatory Action Research-themed Undergraduate Course , Julia Sara Dancis

Clarifying and Measuring Inclusive Leadership , Kelly Mason Hamilton

Intersections of Masculinity, Culturally Relevant Factors, and Intimate Partner Violence Perpetration Among Asian American Men , Jason Zengo Kyler-Yano

Sleeping to Support: An Examination of the Relationship Between Leader Sleep and Positive Support Behaviors , Jordyn Jan Leslie

Work-Related IPV Among Latinos: Exploring the Roles of Fatherhood Status, Gendered Expectations, and Support for Intimate Partner's Employment , Adrian Luis Manriquez

Masculinity Instability and Ideologies as Predictors of IPV Perpetration: The Mediating Role of Relationship Power , Emma Christine Marioles O'Connor

The Benefits of Social Support on Health and Well-Being in Military Populations: Examining Mechanisms, Source of Support, and the Reach of a Workplace Well-Being Intervention , AnnaMarie Sophia O'Neill

Do Motives Matter? The Role of Motivation in Shaping the Impact of Mindfulness Training on Teachers' Psychological Distress and Wellbeing , Cristi N. Pinela

Theses/Dissertations from 2021 2021

The Longitudinal Effects of a Family and Sleep Supportive Intervention on Service Member Anger and Resilience , Shalene Joyce Allen

Drug Conviction and Employment Restriction: Experiences of Employees with Drug-Related Criminal Histories , Liana Bernard

Sustaining Boys' Motivation Over the Transition to Middle School: Can Interpersonal Resources Protect Boys from Engagement Declines Across Sixth Grade? , Brandy Anne Brennan

Returning to Rejection: Outcomes and Boundary Conditions of Mental Illness Stereotypes , Stefanie Fox

Guarding Against Strain: The Moderating Role of Nonwork Experiences in the Relationship Between Work-Related Hypervigilance and Strain in Correctional Officers , Samantha Getzen

Anti-Muslim Bias: Investigating Individual Differences, Threat Perceptions, and Emotions in Islamophobic Policy Support , Aeleah M. Granger

Black Children's Development of Self-Regulation within Stressful Contexts of Parenting: Investigating Potential Buffering Effects of a Kindergarten Social-Emotional Learning Program , Eli Labinger

"Like I Was an Actual Researcher": Participation and Identity Trajectories of Underrepresented Minority and First-Generation STEM Students in Research Training Communities of Practice , Jennifer Lynn Lindwall

Claiming Miscommunication to Justify Rape: The Role of Liking the Perpetrator , Alyssa Marie Glace Maryn

An "I" for an "I" : A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Instigated and Reciprocal Incivility , Lauren Sarah Park

Parenting and Children's Academic Coping as a Dynamic System: Feedforward, Feedback, and Mediators of Changes Across the School Year , Kristen Elizabeth Raine

Does Experiencing Spousal Support and Strain Impact the Quality of Family-Based Support that Supervisors Provide to Employees? , Joseph Alvin Sherwood

"B-ing Flexible" : Examining Creativity in Bisexual Employees , Megan Jane Snoeyink

Exploring the Relationships Between Community Experiences and Well-Being among Youth Experiencing Homelessness , Katricia Stewart

Mothers' Drinking Motives , Sheila Kathleen Umemoto

An Examination of Nurses' Schedule Characteristics, Recovery from Work, and Well-Being , Sarah Elizabeth Van Dyck

Preventing Sexual Violence Through Understanding Perceptions of Sexual Offenders , Judith G. Zatkin

Theses/Dissertations from 2020 2020

Examining Employee Needs at Work and Home: a Self-Determination Theory Perspective , Dana Anuhea Auten

Trajectories, Time Windows, and Alternative Pathways of Engagement: Motivational Resources Underlying Academic Development during Middle School , Heather Anne Brule

Examining Mindfulness Training for Teachers: Theoretical and Methodological Extensions of Intervention Effectiveness , Jaiya Rae Choles

Detecting Reinforcement Patterns in the Stream of Naturalistic Observations of Social Interactions , James Lamar DeLaney 3rd

An Investigation of the Temporal Relationship Between Agitation and Sleep Disturbances , Emily Catherine Denning

Peers' Academic Coping as a Resource for Academic Engagement and Motivational Resilience in the First Year of Middle School , Daniel Lee Grimes

Home Resources Supporting Workplace Resources: an Investigation of Moderated Intervention Effects From the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans (SERVe) , Sarah Nielsen Haverly

"It Puts a Face to All the Knowledge We've Gotten" : a Program of Research on Intimate Partner Violence Surrogate Impact Panels , Kate Louise Sackett Kerrigan

A Daily Examination of Anger and Alcohol Use Among Post-9/11 Veterans , James David Lee

An Examination of Daily Family-Supportive Supervisor Behaviors, Perceived Supervisor Responsiveness and Job Satisfaction , Luke Daniel Mahoney

Nurse Can't Even: the Immediate Impact of Incivility on Affect, Well-being, and Behavior , Katharine Lucille McMahon

Perceptions of Police Use of Force at the Intersection of Race and Pregnancy , Emma Elizabeth Lee Money

The Impact of Paternal Caregivers for Youth Who Commit Sexual Offenses , Miranda Hope Sitney

Human Energy in the Workplace: an Investigation of Daily Energy Management Strategies, Job Stressors and Employee Outcomes , Morgan Rose Taylor

Individual and Community Supports that Impact Community Inclusion and Recovery for Individuals with Serious Mental Illnesses , Rachel Elizabeth Terry

Investigating Sexual Fantasy and Sexual Behavior in Adolescent Offenders , Hayley Lauren Tews

Theses/Dissertations from 2019 2019

Integrating Work Ability into the Organizational Science Literature: Advancing Theory and Developing the Nomological Network , Grant Brady

Family Linked Workplace Resources and Contextual Factors as Important Predictors of Job and Individual Well-being for Employees and Families , Jacquelyn Marie Brady

The Role of Teacher Autonomy Support Across the Transition to Middle School: its Components, Reach, and Developmental Effects , Julia Sara Dancis

Does X Mark the Applicant? Assessing Reactions to Gender Non-Binary Job Seekers , Kelly Mason Hamilton

Urbanicity as a Moderator of the Relationship Between Stigma and Well-being Outcomes for Individuals with Serious Mental Illnesses , Emily Leickly

The Relationship Between Undergraduate Research Training Programs and Motivational Resources for Underrepresented Minority Students in STEM: Program Participation, Self-efficacy, a Sense of Belonging, and Academic Performance , Jennifer Lindwall

Perceived Partner Responsiveness, Sleep and Pain: a Dyadic Study of Military-Connected Couples , AnnaMarie Sophia O'Neill

Recruitment Marketing: How Do Wellness and Work-Life Benefits Influence Employer Image Perceptions, Organizational Attraction, and Job Pursuit Intentions? , Amy Christine Pytlovany

The Combined Effects of Parent and Teacher Involvement on the Development of Adolescents' Academic Engagement , Nicolette Paige Rickert

Examining the Development and Classroom Dynamics of Student Disaffection Over Multiple Time Periods: Short-term Episodes and Long-term Trajectories , Emily Anne Saxton

Drinking on a Work Night: a Comparison of Day and Person-Level Associations with Workplace Outcomes , Brittnie Renae Shepherd

Development and Validation of the Workplace Mental Illness Stigma Scale (W-MISS) , Nicholas Anthony Smith

Relational Thriving in Context: Examining the Roles of Gratitude, Affectionate Touch, and Positive Affective Variability in Health and Well-Being , Alicia Rochelle Starkey

Preventing Child Sexual Abuse and Juvenile Offending Through Parental Monitoring , Kelly E. Stewart

"To Call or Not to Call?" The Impact of Supervisor Training on Call Center Employee Attitudes and Well-Being , Whitney Elan Schneider Vogel

Theses/Dissertations from 2018 2018

The Impact of Leader Race and Gender on Perceptions of Organizations in Response to Corporate Error , Nicolas Derek Brown

Impacts of Mindfulness Training on Mechanisms Underlying Stress Reduction in Teachers: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial , Jaiya Rae Choles

Student Motivation Profiles as a Diagnostic Tool to Help Teachers Provide Targeted Support , Cailin Tricia Currie

Insufficient Effort Responding on Mturk Surveys: Evidence-Based Quality Control for Organizational Research , Lee Cyr

Affirmative Consent Endorsement and Peer Norms Supporting Sexual Violence Among Vulnerable Students on College Campuses , Alyssa Marie Glace

Gendered Partner-Ideals, Relationship Satisfaction, and Intimate Partner Violence , Sylvia Marie Ferguson Kidder

Organizational Calling and Safety: the Role of Workload and Supervisor Support , Layla Rhiannon Mansfield

Bystander Intervention to Prevent Campus Sexual Violence: the Role of Sense of Community, Peer Norms, and Administrative Responding , Erin Christine McConnell

Benevolent Sexism and Racial Stereotypes: Targets, Functions, and Consequences , Jean Marie McMahon

Perceived Overqualification and Withdrawal Among Seasonal Workers: Would Work Motivation Make a Difference? , Anthony Duy Nguyen

Differential Well-Being in Response to Incivility and Surface Acting among Nurses as a Function of Race , Lauren Sarah Park

Financial Strain and the Work-Home Interface: a Test of the Work-Home Resources Model from the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans (SERVe) , MacKenna Laine Perry

Neighbor Perceptions of Psychiatric Supportive Housing : the Role of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors , Amy Leigh Shearer

The Role of Caregiver Disruption in the Development of Juvenile Sexual Offenders , Miranda Sitney

Intrapersonal and Social-Contextual Factors Related to Psychological Well-being among Youth Experiencing Homelessness , Katricia Stewart

Age-based Differences in the Usefulness of Resources: a Multi-Study Investigation of Work and Well-being Outcomes , Lale Muazzez Yaldiz

Pathways to Kindergarten Growth: Synthesizing Theories of the Kindergarten Transition to Support Children's Development , Rita Yelverton

Theses/Dissertations from 2017 2017

The Force of Manhood: the Consequences of Masculinity Threat on Police Officer Use of Force , Aurelia Terese Alston

Supervisor Mindfulness and Its Association with Leader-Member Exchange , Dana Anuhea Auten

Combat Experiences, Iso-strain, and Sleep Quality Affect Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress among Working Post-9/11 Veterans , Gilbert Patrick Brady Jr.

A Study of Shame-proneness, Drinking Behaviors, and Workplace Role Ambiguity Among a Sample of Student Workers , Sarah Nielsen Haverly

Intraminority Support For and Participation In Race-Based Collective Action Movements: an Intersectional Perspective , Jaboa Shawntaé Lake

Patients and Nurses and Doctors Oh My!: Nurse Retention from a Multi-Foci Aggression Perspective , Kevin Oliver Novak

Intimate Partner Violence Impact Panels for Batterer Intervention: a Mixed-Methods Evaluation of a Restorative Justice Process , Kate Louise Sackett

Investigating the Relationship Between Supervisor Status and the Modus Operandi of Juvenile Sexual Offenders: a Routine Activity Theory Perspective , Kelly E. Stewart

The Influence of Sense of Community on the Relationship Between Community Participation and Recovery for Individuals with Serious Mental Illnesses , Rachel Elizabeth Terry

Profiles of School Readiness and Implications for Children's Development of Academic, Social, and Engagement Skills , Elizabeth Jane Tremaine

Capturing Peers', Teachers', and Parents' Joint Contributions to Students' Engagement: an Exploration of Models , Justin William Vollet

Sleep and Young Children's Development of Self-Regulation and Academic Skills , Emily Michelle Weiss

Examining the Structure of the Modus Operandi Questionnaire for Adult & Juvenile Sex Offenders , Judith Gayle Zatkin

Theses/Dissertations from 2016 2016

A Meta-Analysis of the Nomological Network of Work Ability , Grant Brady

Vulnerability and Protective Factors of Stress-Related Drinking: an Exploration of Individual and Day-Level Predictors of Alcohol Involvement , Cameron Trim McCabe

Finding the Missing Links: A Comparison of Social Network Analysis Methods , Shawn James Mehess

The Mediating Effects of LMX on the Relationship Between Supervisor and Employee Age Differences, Satisfaction, and Retirement Intentions , Amy Christine Pytlovany

Teacher Mindfulness in the Middle School Classroom: Reliability and Validity of a New Scale , Nicolette Paige Rickert

Understanding Neighborhood Satisfaction for Individuals with Psychiatric Disabilities: a Mixed Methods Study , Amy Leigh Shearer

The Role of Recovery from Work in Work Stress-Related Drinking , Brittnie Renae Shepherd

A Community Engaged Approach to Address Intimate Partner Violence among Sexual Minority Women , Rachel Marie Smith

Conceptualizing the Mindful Teacher: Examining Evidence for Mindfulness Skills in Teachers' Classroom Speech and Behavior , Cynthia Lynn Taylor

Theses/Dissertations from 2015 2015

Exploring Dietary Sacrifice in Intimate Relationships for Couples with Celiac Disease , Lindsey Marie Alley

Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Consequences of Loneliness: Health Behavior, Social Interactions, Self-Disclosure, and Perceived Responsiveness , Sarah Noel Arpin

Developmental Perspectives on Motivational Resilience: Predictors of Eighth-grade At-risk Students' Academic Engagement and Achievement , Heather Anne Brule

The Role of Emotional Support Consistency and Child Risk Factors in Predicting Pre-K Cognitive and Social-Emotional Development , Amy Lynn Cannell-Cordier

Dynamic Job Satisfaction Shifts: Implications for Manager Behavior and Crossover to Employees , David Ellis Caughlin

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5 Tips to Survive Your Psychology Dissertation Process Staff

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Every student enrolled in a psychology PhD program will go through the psychology dissertation process at one point or another. While similar to writing a thesis, writing a dissertation requires a larger commitment on your part because you will spend more time doing research, writing and editing. Use some basic tips to ensure that you can survive this process and write an effective dissertation.

Select an Engaging Topic

The psychology dissertation process starts when you select a topic. Make sure that you pick a topic that is both engaging and interesting but also one that works with your future career goals or plans. If you want to work with kids in a public high school, you might look at how standardized test scores relate to college success or how a college prep curriculum assists those going on to college. Keep in mind that you'll spend months working on your dissertation, which is why you should select a topic that interests you.

Write Frequently

The two biggest pieces of advice that students like you need is that you should write frequently and that you should write as often as possible. Even if you only have 30 to 60 minutes free during the day, take a seat and jot down some notes or do some simple research. The more work you do now, the less work you need to do later. Writing frequently also helps you stay on top of the psychology dissertation process. This ensures that you are ready for each stage in the process.

Skip Between Sections

A typical psychology dissertation features multiple sections, including an introduction, citation's page and methodology section. Many students think that they must start at the beginning, work on one section at a time and only move on to the next section after completing the previous section. As you work on some of those sections, especially the longer sections, you may find yourself suffering from writer's block, which will make it nearly impossible for you to keep writing. Feel free to skip between sections as you write. This helps keep the information fresh in your mind and lets you avoid writer's block.

Avoid Distractions

There are dozens of distractions that you might face as you write your dissertation. Those distractions can include the work that you do for the school or in an off-campus job, your family and friends and any other personal commitments or obligations that you might have. While you cannot avoid all those distractions during the psychology dissertation process, you can take steps to reduce those distractions. You might spend more time working in the campus library than at home, but you can also create a weekly schedule that shows you when you need to work on your paper every day.

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Set Clear Deadlines

Stephanie Hedge , who went through the dissertation process herself, recommends that you set clear deadlines for yourself during the psychology dissertation process. Before you write or type a single word, create multiple deadlines for yourself that will guide you through this process. Write down when you want to complete each section, the time you will spend doing research in the library, the editing work that you need to do and any appointments that you have with faculty members in your program. Those deadlines will help you stay on track as you research, write and edit.

Before you can earn your psychology PhD, you must write a dissertation. Though your college will give you the option of choosing your own topic, you need to know how to survive the psychology dissertation process, which may include writing frequently and setting clear deadlines.

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Course Organiser: Prof. Hugh Rabagliati

Dissertation Information Session

An introductory session for the dissertation will be held on Monday of Week 1 (19th September) at 9AM. The session will be held in person in Appleton Tower Lecture Theatre 3, and you will receive more details by email.

Declaring your dissertation project

Feedback policies and marking procedures


Statistics and R Support for Dissertation s

Technical Support for Dissertation s

First year participant pool (SONA)

Psychometric tests

Ethics committee submissions 

Procedures for honours projects involving children  at schools

Dissertation Submission

Public Availability of Dissertations

Declaring your dissertation project

When your project and supervisor have been arranged, you must submit the working title of your project and the name(s) of your supervisor(s) and dissertation partner(s) (if applicable) via this  form , which should be submitted electronically to the Teaching Office via the Dissertation Learn page by  Wednesday 5th October, 12 noon . Note that your final dissertation does not need to use this title – the declaration is for our records.

The dissertation involves engaging in a research project, and this project can take many forms. It can use quantitative or qualitative methods, and it can require you to collect new data, repurpose an existing dataset, or perhaps conduct a meta-analyses on the results of the existing literature on some topic. It is important to note that all these different kinds of projects have their advantages and drawbacks, and each draws on different sets of skills. As such, although the methods used may not be strictly comparable, the amount of work required in each will be similar.

The Dissertation is the capstone to your career in Edinburgh’s psychology department and, for many students, the most meaningful and personal piece of work that you will complete. It is an excellent opportunity to practice your acquired skills and even build new ones. This page contains some key information about the steps for completing your dissertation, including details on the Semester 1 Poster Day, on how to submit for ethical approval, on how you will be given feedback, and on how your dissertation should be submitted.

The Poster Day in Semester 1 will be an opportunity for you to get feedback from peers and staff on the design of your dissertation, as well as an opportunity to get practice communicating science. Students will make a poster describing their planned dissertation research, that will be presented at the Poster Day on Monday 28th November . The poster sessions will take place in person. There will be a competition with a prize for the best poster. A few weeks before the Poster Day, we will release a short video describing how to produce strong, impactful posters. Note that the posters will not count towards the assessment, but they're a great opportunity to get essential feedback on your work.

Your supervisor will be available for guidance and advice on your dissertation work, and it is expected that you will hold regular meetings with him/her, at which you will receive informal feedback on progress in your project. There is an additional opportunity to get early-stage feedback from staff and peers at the Poster Day, during S1.

Formal feedback will be given on two documents: a  structured report form  and a 1000 word  writing sample (the forms can be found on Learn) . These forms should be submitted on Learn, and we expect most students to submit them between week 8 of Semester 1 and week 3 of Semester 2. However, the precise timing of your submission should be discussed with your supervisor. You and your supervisor will then discuss these documents in a specific feedback meeting  where progress to date, and plans for completion and writing of the project, will be discussed.  You should ensure to arrange this feedback meeting with your supervisor in advance, so that they have enough time to fully process your report form and writing sample.

The dissertation is worth 100% of the mark for the dissertation project. It will be marked by two independent markers, the first of whom will be your thesis supervisor. The second marker will mark your dissertation anonymously (he/she will not know your identity). Note that the second marker may not be an expert in your precise topic of study, and so it is important for your dissertation to be written clearly enough that a non-expert psychologist can understand it.

Keep in mind that excellent project work means asking questions: to know when to seek help from others, and whom to approach is an important characteristic of a successful research worker. Once you have graduated, you will be entitled to receive a summary of the markers' comments and supervisor report.

The Psychology Final Honours Dissertation write up should be your own individual piece of work, even if you have done the project collaboratively. 

Do not hope to earn marks through quantity of words rather than quality: Your markers will be more impressed by a precise and well-structured argument than by a bloated review full of tangential information. Remember also that a description of your own research is more important than your summary of research by other people. You need to demonstrate that you can move on from just describing the literature, to evaluating it, and using that evaluation to motivate your own study.

Some useful general advice about writing the dissertation can be found below. Further information, along with examples of best practice to follow, can be found at the PPLS Skills Centre .

1. Try to choose a TITLE which is short and to the point, rather than a long one. It does not have to be the title that you submitted in Semester 1.

List on the TITLE PAGE the names of your partner(s) in the project, your supervisor(s) and anyone else who has materially helped in the design, execution and analysis of the work, so that it is clear what is your own work.

2. The ABSTRACT should be brief (300 words maximum). Some commentators now believe that asking for structured abstracts (with subheadings, e.g., Objectives / (Design) / Methods / Results / Conclusions) encourages the writer to sharpen up the composition and conveys more information. But this scheme is not yet widely used in journal abstracts, and for the present it is enough to make sure you cover each of these points where appropriate - but be succinct!

3. The INTRODUCTION should be short (say, 1000 to 1500 words) and you should focus on those sections of the literature that are most relevant for your particular project rather than reviewing the whole literature. It usually helps to end the introduction with a paragraph or section on 'The Present Study' (you may even separate this out with a sub-heading) which spells out what you intend to do in your study and why. This section should make clear to the reader the point of your piece of work, and the logic behind the design of your study, and springboard them into the Methods.

4. The METHODS section should not be a slavish transplant of the kind of methods sections you wrote in second year practical reports: look at the range of methods sections in published papers in the area you are working in to see what is essential and what is optional. If procedures are well known or standard, you can get away with a short description or reference, but if you have invented your own techniques describe these succinctly but in full. You may want to write the methods and results in parallel, to see which points about the design and statistics can be explained better in the methods and which can be explained better in the results. If you are collaborating with someone else on your project, do not use a co-written Methods section, even if you will say very much the same things. It is essential also to include a statement reporting the study’s ethical approval, including the name of the body (or in some case bodies) giving approval, and any reference number/s. All projects must be approved by the School (PPLS) Ethics Committee ( ).

5. The RESULTS section is one of the most important, so allocate a due amount of time for writing it up. It helps if you have worked out how you are going to analyse the data before you embark on the study (but the situation can usually be rescued, even if you have not, providing that you have used a straightforward design). Because of the diversity of Honours Dissertation topics, it is difficult to lay down firm guidelines for the analysis - the guide must be what would be acceptable in an up-to-date publication in the relevant area. Exploratory data analysis is an important precursor to good statistical analysis. Think about your data before you dive into the analysis, and decide how you can best present or summarise it (e.g., Figures vs. Tables) so that the reader can understand the important features before you get down to hypothesis testing, etc. Different studies will demand different approaches, so be aware that you are trying to demonstrate that you know what would be appropriate in a published piece of work - choose a statistical analysis appropriate in kind and level of complexity (speak to your supervisor), and show that you are aware of the complications of post-hoc and multiple testing, etc. (For example, it is often appropriate to use a Bonferroni adjustment to the critical P value if you are going to carry out statistical tests across a number of different measures; in the past, some honours students have been so delighted to find that even one comparison, out of 20+ made, "was significant at P < .05" that they disregarded the possibility that this might be the one in twenty that would reach this level by chance). Remember that analyses of the effect sizes or of the power of your study may be necessary to understand the importance of any significant or non-significant results. If you are collaborating you will want to discuss the results with your partner - but you must  write your Results sections independently .

6. The DISCUSSION is also arguably a critical section in showing your own critical thinking and evaluation of your results in the light of your hypotheses. It can cover: (a) what you have discovered or achieved, and how this relates to results already in the literature, (b) strengths and weaknesses of the current study (and of any that have gone before), and (c) where now? i.e., it can suggest the next questions to be tackled in research stemming from your work. Always try to be brief and to the point - this is a discussion of what you have achieved, not a free-floating essay. 

A good article on how to structure a Discussion is by:

M. Docherty & R. Smith (1999). The case for structuring the discussion of scientific papers. BMJ, 318, 1224-5, 8 May 1999

This article can be obtained at : , but remember that what is appropriate for a medical paper may not work as well in a fourth year thesis reporting a project involving discourse analysis or psychophysics, so treat their suggestions as hints rather than stipulations. The best place to look for inspiration is published articles in a field similar to that of your dissertation project, particularly in journals with papers of a similar length.

7. The formatting of the thesis, including CITATIONS and REFERENCES, should follow that of the American Psychological Association (6th or 7th edition) ( ). 

Statistics and R Support for Dissertations

Please refer to the PPLS Data Collection and Analysis  page.

Technical Support for Dissertations

Technical support is available for your thesis work. In the first instance, please consult with your supervisor about the technical requirements of your chosen project. There will also be workshops available for students wishing to learn to use online stimulus presentation software packages such as Testable or jsPsych. Information about these will be circulated via email. If you require further information, or you need assistance with any matter relating to labs, equipment or software, please contact the department's technical support team on  [email protected] , stating clearly what kind of support you need.

Online surveys (Qualtrics)

If you would like to use an online survey engine, our department has a license for Qualtrics, which is a powerful research tool. More information is available at

Qualtrics can also be used to create simple online experiments, as long as you do not require collecting reaction time data or using specialised input devices. 

The first-year subject pool can be used even for online studies. If you would like to use it to recruit participants, you should follow the steps below:

Request a SONA researcher account from  [email protected]

Use your University of Edinburgh email address

Familiarise yourself with the SONA Researcher introduction . 

Aside from participants being 18 or older, studies offering credits  cannot  have eligibility requirements (e.g., you cannot require that participants have English as a native language).

Ethics expiration date must match that on the ethics approval form

Credits/No Shows should be granted/noted as soon as possible

A Principle Investigator must be named prior to a study being approved

Studies that have been inactive for more than a year will be deleted from the system

Psychometric Tests

Many students will wish to use psychometric tests in their research projects. Psychology houses store of tests, and – depending on COVID-19 restrictions – students may borrow some of these tests from the librarian. Some general information about choosing and locating tests, together with some information about specific types of test, e.g. personality, can be found at the following links:

Ethics Committee Submissions   (Convenor, Prof Sergio Della Sala)

Ethics and student projects

All psychologists doing research involving human subjects are required to ensure their projects conform to British Psychological Society ethical guidelines. Researchers therefore submit their proposals to independent ethics committees for review.

In accordance with this, all staff, postgraduates and final honours students carrying out projects are required to submit information about their research projects to the Psychology Research Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee will review your proposal and will, usually, either (1) approve it as it stands or (2) ask you to clarify things or make adjustments to your protocol before your study can go ahead. It is important that you submit your proposal as soon as your study design has been agreed by your supervisor, so that your data collection phase is not delayed by not having approval from the Ethics Committee. Before submitting your proposal, it is important to have your supervisor go over it, to ensure that any obvious errors or omissions are taken care of; this will avoid unnecessary work for the ethics reviewers and delays to approval of your proposal.

Preparing your project proposal for the Ethics Committee

Ethics applications are to be completed online here:  . The form should be completed either in collaboration with your supervisor, or you should  complete the form and then your supervisor should check it over (ask your supervisor what s/he would like you to do). Note that all applicants on the form (including your supervisor) will be required to provide an electronic signature after the form is submitted, but before the form is processed. It is your responsibility to ensure that all required signatures have been provided, as the application will not be reviewed until all outstanding signatures are received.

If your project has already been submitted to an external committee, such as Lothian Health, please indicate on the application that you have gained approval elsewhere, and hand in a copy of your approval letter with your ethics application. Along with your submission, you must include copies of any material you are planning to hand out to your participants – e.g., questionnaires or information sheets. This is important so that the Committee can see exactly what your participants are being told and what they are being asked to do.

Approval can take as long as 2-3 weeks, so plan accordingly. Once you have submitted your proposal, you will get an automatic email confirming the submission. You will receive the Committee’s response by email once review has been completed. If you do not receive any response at all after submission, check the system to be sure that you application has been fully submitted. If your proposal has been successfully submitted but you do not get a response from the committee within 3 weeks (this is very unusual), ask your supervisor to contact the head of the Committee (or send them an email yourself).

Health and Safety

Students are required to follow the health and safety rules for the department at all times. This means you are required to design your study so that you are not breaching these rules. See your Health & Safety handbook for the current guidelines on personal safety and times you are allowed to see participants in the psychology building.

Studies with children

Studies involving children may encounter significant delays because of the additional requirements regarding Disclosure Scotland. Your project supervisor will advise you on this process.

Wider information on Ethics

It is expected that you will be familiar with, at minimum, the BPS ethics guidelines, which can beconsulted on the BPS’s website:

Guidelines and policies

Procedures for honours projects involving children at schools

Where students are seeking to conduct research projects in schools within the City of Edinburgh and the Lothians, there is a formal procedure that should be followed. Students should first discuss their projects with their supervisors after which the supervisor (not the students) should make a first informal approach to the relevant schools by phone or letter. At this stage the supervisor can make it clear that all projects are subject to local ethics vetting and that the students would be following through by sending the school copies of their supporting documents (see below).

If the head teacher is willing to proceed, then the students should send a brief summary of the proposed study, including an estimate of the time required for testing sessions; the age and number of children required for the study; the timescale of the project and an indication of what may be required by way of testing space and tables, electrical sockets, etc. They should also enclose a copy of a letter for gaining parental permission, and a copy of their Disclosure Scotland forms.

Note that the school may also ask students to fill out their own forms for testing approval.

These procedures apart, all students should also consult the guidelines for testing children and vulnerable adults by following the link to “Testing children” in the local-only access from the Psychology Department homepage and comply with all relevant instructions.

Please read the information below to find guidelines on the formatting and submission rules for your dissertation.

You need to submit one electronic copy, and use the cover page (below). You may acknowledge your dissertation partners (if you have any). Please use size 12 font and add page numbers. Do not exceed the agreed word limit - this is an upper limit and not a guideline. Headings and subheadings count towards the word limit. Tables and figures (and their titles) do not count. Footnotes do not count towards the word limit. However, the APA Manual advises against using footnotes excessively. For dissertations taking a qualitative approach, where long textual extracts are required for analysis, please see guidance below. If you have further questions email the Senior Teaching Coordinator ( [email protected] ) or speak to your supervisor. 

Dissertation cover page template [Word document]

An electronic copy must be submitted by  13th April 2023 via Turnitin, the plagiarism detection software. A link to Turnitin will be available via Learn. This will also link directly to Edinburgh Research Archive (see details on the archive below). 

Students should be aware that it is University policy to deduct 5 marks from the final mark for each calender day that you are late with submitting your dissertation and that after 7 calender days the work will be awarded a mark of zero.

The submitted dissertation is part of the degree examination, and it will contribute to the determination of the degree awarded. This deadline is therefore firm, and only under very exceptional circumstances will the Course Organiser (in consultation with the Convenor of the Board of Examiners) agree to an extension for which permission must be sought in advance. You should be aware that for your degree to qualify for accreditation by the BPS, it is essential to obtain a pass mark for your dissertation.

As the second marking of your dissertation will be anonymous, the electronic copy must not have your name on the title page. Instead you should include on the title page your exam number, along with the name of your supervisor(s). 

The dissertation must not normally exceed 6000 words  (approximately 18 pages of single-sided A4, double spaced, 12 point font). This limit does not include the text of the abstract, references, tables or figures (but note that figure captions should only clarify what is shown in the figure - if you use them to cram in text that should not be in a caption, in order to avoid exceeding word limits, this may have a negative impact on your mark). Discourse analysis extracts are also not included in the word limit. Where it is desirable, for completeness, to include full sets of stimulus material, lengthy descriptions of procedure, or computer analyses etc., which would take the thesis above this limit, these should be put in an appendix. Material in the appendix will not necessarily be read by the examiners, and so it should not be used for evidence which is essential to the argument of the dissertation. Your dissertation should be your own piece of written work, even in a collaborative project.

If you are conducting a qualitative project, then you can request from your supervisors the option of having a word limit that is higher than 6000 but no higher than 8000 (e.g., 7000). Your supervisor can determine this at their discretion. 

In using computers (e.g., to store data and to word-process your dissertation), you are strongly advised to ensure that you back up your work adequately. Also, in case you encounter last minute computer or printer problems, you should have a draft copy of your thesis available well before the deadline. This copy should be identical in text to the final copy (i.e., it may differ only in format or in minor typographical respects). Further details regarding submission criteria will be circulated in due course to the course secretary.

From 2005/6, the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh keeps an electronic copy of your Honours dissertation for use in teaching or research in the Philosophy/Psychology Library, 7 George Square. The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 requires the University to make available to any enquirer any information held by the University, unless one of the legislation’s narrowly defined exemption applies. Information contained in your dissertation will be made available to any enquirer unless you indicate that it should be withheld.

Edinburgh Research Archive (ERA)

ERA is a digital repository which showcases the research output from the University of Edinburgh to the world. This online repository contains full-text PhD Theses, MSc dissertations, book chapters, journal pre-prints and peer-reviewed journal reprints. Most of the content is available to download, and indexed by the major search engines (Google Scholar, Yahoo) which give material from ERA a higher ranking in their search results.

Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature on the internet, and making it available free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions, removes the barriers to serious research. The School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences has its own closed collection in ERA for dissertations.

To put your research online you can do so by submitting through Turnitin in Learn where it will be automatically uploaded into ERA. Please note that unless you actively opt-out, all submissions via Turnitin will appear in our closed collection, meaning they will be available to future PPLS students and staff. You can choose to opt-out for any reason, but sometimes you will want to do so at the request of your supervisor because you intend to publish your work, or because your results feed into a larger research project. If this applied to you, your supervisor will let you know.

If you have any questions, would like to opt-out of the closed collection, or need a hand, please send email enquiries to: [email protected]


How to Write a Psychology Dissertation

Defending one's dissertation is the final step in a process that takes years.

The psychology dissertation is the final phase of doctoral study, produced after years of research on a particular subject within the discipline. They are written in a formal academic voice, most generally using the American Psychological Association style guide, and they include review of current academic literature, as well as independent research. Most often associated with doctoral programs, some colleges also require dissertations or theses for undergraduate and graduate degree completion.

Explore this article

1 Choose a Topic

Before students can write their dissertations, they must consider and choose topics worthwhile of in-depth study. Since a dissertation project can last more than a year, it’s imperative that students have true passion for their topics. They can choose from areas they have already studied or look to work that holds particular interest to them. A student who has studied autism might choose to focus on effective teaching strategies of students on the autism spectrum. Someone who volunteers at a women’s shelter might consider topics related to domestic violence in American society.

2 Review Existing Literature

An important component of a dissertation is the review of literature already written and published by others. Such a review also helps students better focus their topics. By looking at existing bodies of work, students might better be able to find gaps, limitations and areas worthy of further research. Looking at the resources of others also gives students books, journals and other publications that may aid in their own investigations. The written lit review must have a clear thesis, well-developed body and thoughtful conclusion that naturally leads to the student area of study.

3 Develop Research Questions and Process

Conducting literature reviews fully immerses student into their chosen topic,s and they become experts capable of honing in on appropriate research questions. In the case of the student working at the shelter, she might look for patterns connecting patriarchy to gender roles and consider whether such a link has an impact on incidences of abuse. Students are often paired with mentoring faculty throughout the dissertation process, but consulting an advisor is particularly helpful as students formulate their plans for research.

4 Conduct Research and Analyze Results

Whether they choose to perform experiments, take oral histories or conduct surveys, student research must be thorough and objective, following sound principles of the academic inquiry and research methods. Once the data is collected and analyzed, students can then begin to create mind maps or outlines that will help organize the structure of their papers.

5 Write Paper

The broad components of the dissertation include an introduction, body, conclusion and references. However, dissertations must adhere to the strict guidelines of a discipline and institution and are often divided into several subsets. At Gallaudet University, students are instructed to begin papers with their title and a signature page that includes the student’s name and the approval signatures of dissertation committee members. Other components include an acknowledgement page, abstract, table of contents, statement of problem, review of literature, research methodology and results, discussion, references and appendices.

About the Author

Linda Emma is a long-standing writer and editor. She is also a digital marketing professional and published author with more than 20 years experience in media and business. She works as a content manager and professional writing tutor at a private New England college. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.

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Psychology and Counseling

Guide to Completing the Dissertation

This site is intended to help doctoral candidates in the UCA Department of Psychology and Counseling navigate the steps of their dissertation as well as provide helpful resources and links. Variation in the details below may occur as a function of the dissertation topic itself, the student, the dissertation chair and committee, and other aspects of the process. This information should be considered along with UCA’s Thesis and Dissertation Preparation Guide  available on the UCA Graduate School website. Students are responsible for initiating all the major steps of this process.

what is a dissertation psychology

#1: Pre-Proposal

1. access your resources:.

2. Enroll in Dissertation Research Seminar (PSY 74V1)

3. Identify your dissertation chair and have this approved by the program’s director, then develop your topic and research question(s).

4. Choose a dissertation committee

5. Enroll in PSYC 9310 (Dissertation Research)

6. Finish writing your proposal

7. Obtain approval from your Dissertation Chair (and possibly other committee members) to schedule a dissertation proposal meeting.

what is a dissertation psychology

#2: Proposal Defense Meeting

1. make preparations for the proposal meeting.

2. Hold Proposal Meeting

3. Complete Report of Dissertation Proposal Defense Form  with your committee chair.

#3: Data Collection and Writing

1. obtain irb approval.

2. Complete data collection, data analysis, and writing .

3. Complete written dissertation document .

4. obtain approval from dissertation chair (and possibly other members) to schedule a defense meeting..

what is a dissertation psychology

#4: Defense Meeting

1. schedule dissertation meeting..

2. Hold Dissertation Defense Meeting

3. Paperwork Process after Successful Defense

“A good dissertation is a done dissertation” —  Ancient grad student proverb

“it always seems impossible until it’s done” —  nelson mandela.

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The Dissertation and Final Examination

Adopted 1/20/2012

Planning the Dissertation Research

Time limits, the ph.d. committee for the dissertation, writing the dissertation proposal, dissertation proposal review, conducting the research, planning for publication, writing the dissertation, final examination.

Dissertations conducted in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience (P&N) at Duke University can employ any of the wide variety of approaches to research evidenced in our field. Research designs in psychology and neuroscience take many forms, from purposive laboratory manipulation to field-based naturalistic measurement. They examine thoughts, feelings and behavior using a broad range of levels of analysis, from biological processes to group interactions. They are conducted using both human and non-human animals as subjects. In virtually all instances P&N dissertations are based upon empirical research. On rare occasions, the dissertation can involve the formulation of new theoretical or historical analyses without empirical data. Individual training programs in P&N may have additional guidelines and expectations.  

Students and their committees will evaluate the appropriateness of a dissertation topic based upon its level of contribution to the field. The dissertation methodology will be evaluated based on the scientific rigor of the proposed design and analysis and the feasibility of its successful completion. In addition, the proposed research will be considered in the context of (a) the students’ training and experiences up to and including the dissertation and (b) the student’s career objectives.  

According to the Graduate School, "the doctoral dissertation should be submitted and accepted within two calendar years after the preliminary examination [in P&N, the Major  Area Paper, or MAP] is passed.” Should the dissertation not be submitted and accepted within four calendar years after the MAP examination, the student, with the approval of the committee, may petition the Associate Dean of the Graduate School for an extension of up to one year. If this extension is granted and the dissertation is not submitted and accepted by the new deadline, the student will be dropped from candidacy. The student must then pass a second MAP examination to be reinstated as a candidate for a degree. In such cases, the time limit for submitting the dissertation will be determined by the Associate Dean of the  Graduate School and the student’s committee. Credit will not be allowed for a MAP that is six years old at the date of the Final Examination. In cases of exceptional merit, however, the Associate Dean of the Graduate School may extend these limits. Should the six year limit be exceeded, the student's department will submit to the Dean specific requirements for  revalidating credits. On occasion a student will receive an extension but then fail the Final Examination. In these cases, a second examination cannot be scheduled sooner than six months after the first (another Graduate School rule). This compulsory delay often forces the candidate beyond the six-year limit which renders the MAP examination invalid.  Consequently, the student is faced not only with the pressure of a second (and terminal) Final Examination but with a second MAP as well. Thus, it is wise to plan the dissertation carefully in order to avoid such a circumstance.  

It is not unusual to change committee membership between the MAP and the dissertation because faculty availability changes from year to year for a multitude of reasons. Additionally, the rationale for a particular committee structure at one stage of graduate training may not be appropriate to a later stage. It is the student’s responsibility to make adjustments as necessary. Changes in the committee membership should be conducted in consultation with the Faculty Mentor; or, in the case of a change in Faculty Mentor, the student should involve the program director and the DGS. In these guidelines, 'Faculty Mentor' refers to the student’s intellectual advisor and Chair; ‘administrator’ refers to the committee member who will run the meeting and ensure that all procedures are followed. Students should be aware that after the MAP is passed, the committee remains intact.

Therefore, if the student then wishes to substitute new members, s/he must communicate with those to be removed from the committee and inform them of the reasons for change. They will rarely  object, but this is a requirement and they deserve this courtesy.  A written confirmation from the dropped committee member should be sent to the DGS via email. 

As in the case of initial establishment of the committee, any changes in membership involve:

(1) consulting with the Faculty Mentor (or DGS in the case of a new supervisor) about the new committee membership; (2) getting consent of the new members to serve; (3) getting consent of former members to withdraw; (4) requesting of the DGS in writing the new committee structure. This is done on the Committee Approval Form. The DGS will then submit the change form electronically to the Associate Dean of the Graduate School requesting the committee change. Committee changes should be requested two weeks prior to the Final Examination date; However, even with changes each step takes considerable time, so do not put off committee changes when they are needed.  Note that students may  not change their committee composition if s/he fails to pass the Final Examination and elects to take a second examination.

The committee that supervises and evaluates the dissertation must contain a minimum of four members, but the Graduate School allows more than four when such additions seem warranted (see Committee Formation guidelines on the P&N Website). As in the case of the MAP, one member of the committee must be from a related field but outside the candidate's principal area (‘Minor Member’). In most instances, the administrator of the committee will be selected by the student’s Faculty Mentor but cannot be the Faculty Mentor or the Minor Member.  

All students must meet with their committee within six months after passing the MAP and at least once in every 12-month period thereafter until a dissertation proposal is submitted or until the Final Examination is passed.

Perhaps the best format for the proposal is that suggested by the National Institute of Health for research grant applications. We also suggest restricting the proposal to 15 single-spaced pages of text (or 30 double-spaced pages), not counting title page, references, tables, etc. The plan should contain an introduction giving the rationale for the study and providing clearly stated objectives and  hypotheses. The design should be outlined with specific statements about the methods to be used, including quantitative methods for data analysis. Although it is very helpful to include preliminary data, it may be counterproductive to collect a large amount of data before meeting with the committee. Consequently a student should consult with her/his Faculty Mentor as to the appropriate time for scheduling this meeting. The proposal meeting should take place at least nine months prior to the Final Examination.  

All members of the committee must meet together with the student to review the proposal. An exception can be made only in the case of a member from a distant university in which case the member must join the meeting by teleconference. Notification of the proposal review date must be given to the DGS Assistant to help in locating a room for the proposal review. The dissertation proposal should be distributed to the committee at least 10 days before the meeting. The approval of the dissertation proposal is made by completion of the “Dissertation Project Approval Form" and obtaining the signatures of all committee members. This form must be filed with the DGS Assistant.

Note that the proposal meeting is not an exam and there is no “passing” or “failing” of the proposal meeting.  If the committee discussion with the student leads to alterations in the proposal plans, then the committee can ask for changes prior to signing the form. This can take place after the proposal meeting.

Note: Clinical psychology students must have dissertation proposal successfully defended prior to applying for internship (i.e., before October 1.)

The student’s ability to proceed with their work over the summer will often suffer if they are unable to have a dissertation proposal review meeting after the beginning of May. Assuming committee  members are available in the summer months students have the option of having a summer meeting for the proposal without paying a registration fee. However, when possible, these meetings should take place by the end of May or at the end of August right before the semester begins.  

During data collection, students should regularly consult with committee members, either individually or in a group, to obtain advice and keep them informed of their progress. All research with human subjects must be approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). If the studies require the use of animals, an animal use protocol must be filed with the DUIACUC. Students will need approval from these committees before beginning data collection. P&N maintains a Human Subject Pool that may be helpful in research. (For information concerning University Principles and Procedures for Human Subject Research and Human Subject Pool Information, see Appendix V.)  

Although completion of the dissertation and passing of the Final Examination are the proximate goals of most students, the faculty expects prompt, visible publication of the dissertation research. It is a disservice to oneself and the field not to publish the culmination of what is usually a great amount of thought and effort. Yet many excellent dissertations are never published. The reasons are many and varied, but there seem to be two main, related causes. First, the dissertation often must be rewritten to meet the format requirements of a specific journal. Second, since the student completes the PhD before publication then the publication process competes with the demands of a new job or postdoctoral position.

Given these considerations, we strongly urge students to publish each publishable unit along the way to the dissertation. Students should work with their Faculty Mentor to decide whether the dissertation will constitute one or more publishable papers. As much as possible, the dissertation should be composed of material easily converted into journal articles and/or book chapters.  

The Graduate School provides an online booklet titled, Guide for the Preparation of Theses and Dissertation, although it is revised from time to time so students should be sure to have the most up-to-date guide. It includes references to other guides as well. Students should pay close attention to the format requirements for a Duke dissertation described in the guide. All final dissertation format checks must be approved by the Graduate School.

Students should use the format listed by the Graduate School to compose text, references, tables, figures and citations. The Graduate School’s format is a broader format within which APA style can be written (or other styles such as Chicago, or Turabian). In P&N we use APA style.    

The student must “Apply for Graduation” early in the semester in which she/he plans to receive the degree (e.g., late January for May graduation).  There is no penalty for failing to finish in that semester, but a student cannot graduate without applying. Students must also submit an electronic version of the dissertation approximately two weeks prior to the Final Examination. This Final Examination cannot be held later than mid-April for a May graduation. The timeline is available here:  

It is the student’s responsibility to schedule the Final Examination. The scheduling process should begin well in advance of the intended exam date (e.g., 6-8 weeks). If the Final Examination occurs after the semester is over (the beginning of May), the Graduate School expects the student to be registered and pay registration fees in the summer session.  If a student is willing to pay the registration fee to take the exam in the summer, consideration must be given to the faculty. The administrator of the committee must be the negotiator with the committee members about attending a summer exam. It is legitimate for some committee members to be unavailable during the three summer months.

The completed paper must be submitted to committee members at least 10 days before the Final Examination.  Students should ask committee members if they would like a paper copy or an electronic document and provide them with the format preferred. The committee members must email the administrator their vote on whether the the Final Examination should proceed no later than 48 hours prior to the scheduled exam. The Final Examination proceeds as long as there is no more than one dissent among the committee and that dissent is not from the Committee Chair.

The Committee administrator will compile votes and must notify the student and the other committee members no later than 24 hours prior to the scheduled exam whether the Final Examination will proceed. If the paper is not acceptable, the exam is canceled. All committee members are expected to be present for the Final Exam and will arrive at the meeting having closely read the dissertation and having considered the kinds of questions they will ask. In rare instances, a member may need to join via teleconference, but this requires notification and approval from the Associate Dean. The Faculty Mentor must always be present.

At the start of the exam, the student should leave the room to allow the committee members a short discussion period.  When the student returns he/she should give a 20 minute presentation of the dissertation, typically using a small number of slides to illustrate major points.

Amendment Open Session

The first part of the Final Examination will be open to all members of the Duke community and other invitees. Announcement by the administrative member of the time and place of the exam will occur only after the committee has agreed that the exam should proceed (24 hours advanced notice). The student should begin by giving a 40-50 minute presentation of the dissertation, typically using slides  to illustrate major points. Attendees who are not members of the student’s committee will then be invited to ask questions. Then, all invitees will be asked to leave and the committee members will begin their part of the examination.

Committee   members   will   ask   questions   that   stem   from   the   dissertation’s   written document.  The  defense  should  be  focused  on  the  paper,  but  the  student  should  also  be prepared to demonstrate knowledge in the broad field of study. Students are responsible for answering all questions.

The closed oral defense will consist of at least two rounds of questions. In each round, each committee member questions the student with the administrator establishing the order of questioning. Each committee member will be allowed up to 15 minutes of time to examine the student during the 1st round, and up to 10 minutes during the 2nd round.

The time allocated to each committee member is intended to be used primarily by that member; other members may ask brief questions of clarification during that period but extensive questioning by other members is not appropriate. The administrator is responsible for monitoring time and for gently enforcing time limits. After the two rounds of questions, the committee may decide to have an optional 10-15 minute discussion period in which all members may ask questions.

At the conclusion of the exam, the student will leave the room and the committee members will determine whether the candidate has passed or failed the exam. The committee will complete the forms titled “Written Dissertation Evaluation Form” and “Dissertation Final Examination Evaluation Form.”  These forms ask for specific judgments regarding the student’s accomplishments along  several dimensions related to the written paper and oral defense (see attached evaluation form).

The evaluation forms are first completed individually by committee members. Following discussion, individual committee members can change their rating if they wish to do so. The committee members should consider a score of 3 or higher on each of the evaluative dimensions as passing. If there is a shared feeling among committee members that the scores could improve with additional questioning, they may decide to have an additional round of questioning. After the final ratings and questioning, the committee members must vote either “pass” or “fail.” The ratings on both forms are then used to provide the student with feedback regarding the written and oral portions of the examination.  These rating forms should be turned into the DGSA to file as the data are used for SACS reporting.

Note that while the committee can request some minor revisions, the pass or fail vote must be made at the end of the Final Examination. It is then the responsibility of the Faculty Mentor to make sure that any suggested minor revisions are made prior to the dissertation being submitted to the graduate school.

Successful completion of the Final Examination requires at least four affirmative votes and no more than one negative vote. The sole exception to this policy is that a negative vote cast by the Faculty Mentor will mean a failure on the examination. A student who fails the Final Examination may be allowed to take it a second time, but no earlier than six months from the date of the first examination. Permission to take the second examination must be obtained from the Faculty Mentor and from the Dean of the Graduate School. Failure to pass the second examination renders the student ineligible to continue work for the Ph.D. degree at Duke University. The committee may also decide that no re-examination is possible. This occurs via a second vote taken after a failing vote on the first round.

Psychology Dissertation Overview

An essential feature of a university-based doctoral program is a commitment to scholarship. Students complete a clinical dissertation that emphasizes the link between research and practice and reflects our commitment to professional practice that is informed by the best available research evidence in the context of culture. The clinical dissertation provides an opportunity to investigate a clinically relevant topic and meaningfully contribute to the evidence base informing professional practice. The foundational and primary methodology for our dissertations is the Systematic Review, a focused analysis of the scholarly literature to answer clearly formulated research questions that reflect the current evidence base to inform professional practice. These questions can examine psychotherapeutic interventions, clinical disorders and presenting problems, specific populations, risk and protective factors, assessment tools, cultural and diversity considerations, and other areas of study that provide an evidence base to inform practice. The Systematic Review dissertation is informed by the foundational principles and procedures articulated in the widely-accepted PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines (see ) and by standards developed by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (see Document 1 ).

Students can develop their clinical dissertations in the context of faculty Applied Scholarship Communities ("ASC labs") or in association with a faculty member's individual scholarly and professional activities. Our faculty work on a range of clinically relevant topics such as trauma, recovery-oriented services, child mental health, stress and resilience, interpersonal violence, culture and diversity, psychological and forensic assessment, neuropsychology, relationships and couple therapy, attachment, college student mental health, religion/spirituality, families, positive psychology, homelessness, and clinical supervision/training. Some students may choose a "Research Emphasis" option which consists of opportunities for a range of dissertation methodologies including quantitative designs, qualitative inquiry, program development and evaluation, survey research, N=1 repeated measures and case study research, theoretical scholarship, and community-based action research projects, among others. This option requires approval by the dissertation chair and PsyD Executive Committee.

Work on the dissertation commences in the first year and aims for completion by the third or fourth year. Students are given extensive support throughout the dissertation development process

The Clinical Dissertation Handbook , (Pepperdine GSEP, Doctor of Psychology Program) provides details regarding the structure and process of the dissertation requirement.

Copyright  ©  2023  Pepperdine University



The doctoral dissertation project requires the student to demonstrate a sound understanding of the scientific process upon which professional competence is based and provide a contribution that may be of an applied nature. It is expected that the dissertation project be of publishable quality (that is, in the form of a journal or book chapter, or a report for local consumption by practitioners or an agency serving mental health needs) and that an extensive review of theory and previous research serve as a foundation. The project requires an oral presentation of the proposal and an oral presentation and defense of the finished product. The doctoral dissertation may consist of, but is not limited to:


The dissertation committee consists of the faculty chair and two additional members. Students may petition the director of clinical training for permission to have one of their committee members be someone other than a faculty member of Loyola's psychology department. Outside committee members must hold a doctorate in psychology or a field of study pertinent to the project. (In rare cases, exceptions to the doctoral degree requirement for committee members may be approved by the director of clinical training, where it is determined through consultation with the committee chair that the individual would make a contribution to the student's learning equal to or exceeding that of a professional holding a doctoral degree). The dissertation committee chair must be a full-time faculty member, or a core faculty member who has received approval from the committee on graduate studies at Loyola. Students will go through a matching process. This matching process will take place for those entering into the first year of the curriculum in the spring of that first year and for those entering into the second year of the curriculum during that first fall semester. 

*Questions related to the program's accredited status should be directed to the Commission on Accreditation:

Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation American Psychological Association 750 1st Street, NE Washington, DC  20002 Phone: (202) 336-5979 Email: [email protected] Web:

Rachel Grover

Rachel Grover, Ph.D.

Rachel Grover, Ph.D., has taught psychology at Loyola for over a decade, including courses in her favorite topic: heterosocial competence


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