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Psychology Thesis

Psychology Thesis Option

The Psychology Thesis is intended for the serious psychology student who is seeking challenging research training and the opportunity for individual mentoring by a faculty member. Students must write  and propose their research project to a committee of three faculty members, conduct the research investigation, give a poster presentation on their work, and successfully defend the thesis before the faculty committee.

Students completing the two-semester thesis sequence (Psy498 and Psy499) receive essential preparation skills for graduate study in psychology and related fields, as well as their future careers. In addition, the experience gained by Psychology students can be extremely beneficial in giving them an advantage with future career plans, whether they opt to seek employment immediately after graduation or to pursue graduate school.

Benefits of completing a Psychology Thesis

  • Completing a thesis shows you are committed to the field and really helps with gaining better understanding of where your professional passions may be.
  • Entry to graduate and professional programs is competitive. Completing a two-semester thesis project is a way you can distinguish yourself. Further, engaging with your faculty advisor on a thesis project often leads to a strong, more effective letter of recommendation from your faculty advisor.
  • Students pursuing a degree in Psychology are better known by the faculty, offering additional personalized experiences and learning.
  • The individual research project gives you a solid background in research methodology, which is important for graduate school admission to both clinical and research-oriented programs. It will help you to develop strong time management skills.
  • You will have the opportunity to present study at a conference and possibly publish your results.
  • You can participate in the University’s Three-Minute Thesis competition.

Student and Faculty Expectations

The Thesis consists of an independent research project spanning two semesters and is typically completed during the senior year. The student will choose a faculty member who ultimately will serve as the research advisor for the student’s Thesis. We strongly recommend that students interested in completing a thesis begin exploring faculty research interests and reading their research to learn more about the kind of work in which they engage. Faculty research interests are listed on the faculty section of psychology department webpage.

Students are encouraged to try working in a Psychology faculty member(s) research lab(s), whether on a voluntary basis or for independent study credit, during their sophomore and junior years. If a student has difficulty identifying a faculty advisor, please reach out to the Thesis Program Director (Elizabeth Richardson; for assistance.

Application for completion of a thesis is typically submitted during the end of the student’s junior year. The student and faculty member should meet during the spring semester of the student’s junior year in order to initially develop an informal arrangement for supervision of the student’s research. This will become formalized when the student registers for three credits of PSY 498 Thesis research (typically taken in the Fall of senior year) and then continues with three credits of PSY 499 Thesis research (typically Spring of senior year). Registration forms are available on the Psychology Department webpage. Specific expectations and requirements are outlined below.

Student Expectations

The Thesis must be a scholarly endeavor that makes a contribution to the body of knowledge in psychology. This typically will include a review of extant literature, a detailed description of the methods and procedures, analysis of results, and a discussion relating the findings to the broader literature and field of psychology. The length of the thesis commonly ranges from 20-50 pages, depending on the scope of the project, number of references, figures and tables, and appendices (e.g., research instruments, qualitative interview questions, lab protocols).

Students will work in collaboration with their faculty research advisor to develop a research project that is both inherently interesting to student and faculty, as well as realistic to complete within the allotted timeframe. The Thesis is not required to be of publishable quality, although publication or presentation of the results to the scientific community is a desirable goal. It is important that students take an active role in communicating with their faculty advisor about what is expected in the thesis research in order to avoid misunderstandings at later dates.

At the end of the PSY 498 semester, students will be expected to successfully complete a thesis proposal meeting with their selected thesis committee before proceeding to PSY 499. At the end of the PSY 499 semester, students will be expected to successfully defend their thesis project before their committee and will also be expected to complete a poster that will be presented at the bi-annual Psychology research conference, and any other research conference identified by student and faculty research advisor. Details are provided below regarding a suggested timeline for completion.

Faculty Expectations

Faculty who agree to serve as research advisor for Thesis research take on some of the responsibility for ensuring that the student completes graduation requirements and all tasks necessary for the successful completion of the thesis. It is expected that the faculty advisor will make him/herself available to the student on a regular, reliable basis and that his or her work with the student ultimately benefits the student’s undergraduate educational experience.

The Thesis research project is expected to be of high quality but also manageable proportions. The usual time commitment for an Thesis project is about 10 hours a week for two semesters. Ideally, the scope of the project is consistent with this expectation so that students can graduate in May.

Faculty should make every effort to clearly outline with the student what their expectations are for the Thesis research. Faculty may have different working models of what an Thesis should be, based upon their own working style, the type of research, and the student’s abilities and skills. Early communication with the student about these expectations is critical. Students typically are unclear about what a Thesis involves, and what a faculty member may wish to see in the student’s work may not be self-evident to students unless these expectations are made explicit. For instance, faculty need to consider when they will hold regular meetings with the student, and if they have preferred methods and times for communication (e.g., face-to-face appointment, email, text, Zoom or Skype appointments).

While students are responsible for ensuring that they acquire and complete all necessary forms with signatures, it is helpful for faculty research advisors to be aware of the paperwork requirements. Forms can be obtained on the Psychology Department webpage.

Faculty are also strongly encouraged to establish a detailed timeline with each of their thesis students. Faculty should inform students if they will be on sabbatical, on vacation or away at a conference, or otherwise unavailable during any part of a semester (note that if a faculty member will be unavailable for extensive periods they should not take on the commitment to supervise an Thesis). Below, please find an example timeline of tasks to be included for both semesters of the Thesis. This can be modified as needed, but a pre-established timeline discussion with the student ensures that both student and faculty are clear on what is expected of each of them. Another example of a thesis contract, with a fillable table is offered as a helpful resources on the Forms section of the website, under Undergraduate Program.


Sample PSY 498 semester timeline [Fall of Senior Year]

Sept. 30: review existing relevant literature and develop draft of study hypotheses

Oct. 15: detailed outline of Introduction section

Oct. 30: full draft of Introduction section; outline of study methods and plan for statistical analyses

Nov. 15: full draft of study methods, plan for statistical analyses, and study hypotheses

Nov. 30: submit completed full draft of Introduction, Methods, Study Aims/Hypotheses and Proposed Analyses to faculty research advisor

Dec. 7: prepare all necessary IRB paperwork

Dec. 15: thesis proposal meeting with committee (committee members must receive full thesis proposal one week before meeting). Important note: Students will receive an IP grade for PSY 498 until they have successfully proposed their thesis and submitted their signed PSY 498 Thesis Approval Form. Once this has been completed, the student will receive their final grade for PSY 498 and will then be enrolled in PSY 499.

 Dec. 20: upon committee approval of study proposal, study materials must be submitted for IRB review (Note: all studies must be submitted for IRB review only after they have been approved by the research thesis committee).

Sample PSY 499 semester timeline [Spring of Senior Year]

Jan. 30: all study materials to be prepared and ready for administration

Feb. 7: assuming approval by IRB, begin study recruitment and implementation

March 21: tentative completion of study implementation

Withdrawal date:  Particular attention must be paid to the Withdrawal date listed in the Academic Calendar for that particular semester. Students and faculty must assess if the project is possible to complete. Important note: Students who remain in 499 past this date must either complete the thesis, take an incomplete that will delay graduation until complete, or receive an F for the course.

March 31: all data entered/downloaded and cleaned

April 12: analyses completed and Results section drafted

April 19: Complete draft of thesis (Title Page, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and accompanying tables/figures) drafted and submitted to faculty research advisor

May 3: Complete thesis distributed to committee members at least one week before meeting

May 10: thesis defense meeting with committee; accompanying paper to be prepared and signed upon successful defense of thesis project.

The Thesis in Psychology

The only acceptable Thesis in psychology consists of an empirical investigation (whether qualitative, quantitative, or mixed-methods) of a topic relevant to the science of behavior. Portfolios are not acceptable. The thesis should generally follow the structure of a published article, containing an introduction and review of the literature, statement of the study aims and hypotheses, method, results, and discussion. Acceptable lengths vary from 20-50 pages, including relevant appendices and references.

Selecting a Research Advisor and a Research Thesis Committee. Students can find research advisors and research thesis committees in multiple ways. They may have taken a course or two with a particular faculty member whose research is particularly interesting and in line with their own interests. Alternatively, they may have served as a research assistant for a professor whose work is of interest to the student. The student’s faculty research advisor will ultimately be the best source to provide the student with suggestions for the remaining committee members, consisting of a total of three faculty members, at least two of which need to be faculty within the Psychology department.

Selecting a Topic. The topic of the thesis is usually decided on a mutual basis by the student and faculty research advisor. The topic should not be so narrow that there is little relevant literature to review, nor should it be so broad that it is poorly defined or cannot be completed within the span of a year. Importantly, the topic should be one that is interesting enough to the student that they are motivated to put in many months of work to see it through to successful completion. Generally, students who have worked with their faculty advisor previously have worked toward some topic possibilities

Registration and Expectations for Thesis Courses. Pre-requisites for registering for PSY 498 include: junior (or above) standing; Psychology major. Ideally, the student and potential faculty research advisor will begin a series of conversations about a potential thesis project during the spring of the student’s junior year. In addition to discussing what the study might consist of, conversation should include discussion of what is expected of student and faculty member. This will become formalized when the student completes the Thesis Proposal Form and Semester Plan for PSY 498 (see below) and submits this to their faculty advisor for their signature. The faculty advisor will then be responsible for submitting this form to the department Thesis director (Elizabeth Richardson;, who will then submit to the department chair and CAS Dean for their signatures. Once the final signature is obtained, the CAS Dean’s office will forward this paperwork to the Registrar’s Office for a 3-credit section of PSY 498 to be established for the student.  Please note these additional considerations regarding PSY 498 registration:

  • PSY 498/499 does not fulfill the Capstone Experience requirement, nor does it satisfy university studies requirements. This two-semester thesis sequence does, however, satisfy the requirement for two additional 300-400 level courses in Psychology.
  • To receive a passing grade in PSY 498, the student must successfully complete their thesis proposal meeting and all faculty committee members must approve and sign the PSY 498 Thesis Approval Form (see below) prepared by the student. Please note that this serves as a contract between student and the committee, with the expectation that the student will complete evaluation of the proposed aims and hypotheses. See attached form.
  • Should the student not successfully propose their thesis by the end of that semester, an Incomplete grade will be assigned until the thesis proposal has occurred, at which time a change of grade form will be submitted by the faculty advisor. Incomplete grades will be converted to a failing grade if the thesis proposal is not completed within one year of the incomplete grade being assigned. Please note, withdrawals are not possible after the end of the semester in which the student first enrolls in PSY 498.  Once past that point, students must complete the course or take a F as a final grade.
  • Should the student not successfully propose their thesis by the end of that semester, an incomplete grade will be assigned until the thesis has been defended before committee and the PSY 498 Thesis Approval Form (see Forms) signed. A change of grade form can then be submitted by the faculty advisor. Students CANNOT enroll in PSY 499 until they have received a letter grade for PSY 498.
  • Upon successful completion of PSY 498, students will submit the one-page summary of their thesis goals (PSY 498 Thesis Approval Form) with committee signatures in order to be enrolled in PSY 499. To receive a passing grade in PSY 499, the student must successfully complete their thesis defense meeting and all faculty committee members must provide approval.
  • Please note, students who remain in 499 past the withdrawal date must either complete the thesis, take an incomplete that will delay graduation until complete, or receive an F for the course. Incomplete PSY 499 grades will be converted to a failing grade if the thesis is not defended within one year of the incomplete grade being assigned.

The Thesis “Proposal” and “Defense”. The Department of Psychology requires that students working on a Project successfully pass a thesis proposal meeting (culmination of PSY 498 semester) and a thesis defense meeting (culmination of PSY 499). The student is expected to provide an oral justification of the project to their research committee, which will include a short summary of the research itself, followed by a period of questioning and discussion with members of the committee. The purpose of the proposal is to have the student present their research project and carefully review the rationale for the work and study design. The purpose of the defense is to give the student a chance to show his or her familiarity with the topic of the research and to gather the committee together to share comments and suggestions.

At least two weeks prior to the thesis proposal/defense meeting, the student should give a final draft to the faculty research advisor. The advisor will carefully review this document, provide feedback, and once the advisor’s approval is obtained, the student should then distribute the final copy of the paper to be proposed/defended to the remaining committee members. Distribution of the paper to committee members must occur at least one week before the defense so that the research committee members have time to review the document before going into the meeting.

It is the student’s responsibility to prepare and distribute all materials electronically to the research committee and to arrange for the time and place of the upcoming proposal/defense meeting. The document must follow APA style, be neat and organized, and contain: title page, abstract, the body of the paper, and any appendices, such as measures. Once the student has arranged the date and time, a room must be reserved through the campus online system and faculty informed of the meeting location. While the thesis proposal meeting should involve only the student and faculty committee, the student may invite others to watch the thesis defense, such as research assistants who have helped with the project or friends who are interested and want to provide support.

For the proposal and defense meetings, students are expected to dress appropriately and conduct themselves in a professional way. This is a formal opportunity for the student to present him or herself in a professional manner that suggests how they may perform in future roles in graduate school or professional settings. This is valuable information that may be used in writing letters of recommendation on the student’s behalf. Students should work to communicate their points clearly and professionally, and respectfully address each committee member’s ideas and suggestions.

For the thesis proposal, students will want to prepare a brief (10-15 minute) presentation that outlines the key components of relevant background literature, specific aims and hypotheses of their own project, what they intend/have accomplished, and how this is relevant to existing literature and broader societal implications. For the thesis defense, students should spend more time on their study results and implications. Students are expected to respectfully address each committee member’s ideas and suggestions. While students are often anxious about this process, they should be encouraged to realize the benefits of this experience. They have the opportunity to discuss a topic that is close to their heart with faculty members who also care deeply about the topic. This commonly leads to wonderful, stimulating discussion and a chance to learn from one another.

At the conclusion of the thesis defense, students will be asked to leave the room while the committee deliberates on the quality of the project and makes decisions regarding recommendations for whether the project has been successfully completed. Usually these deliberations take only a few minutes, after which the student will be invited back into the room and the results of the committee’s decision shared with the student.

At the end of the thesis proposal and defense meetings, signatures from the committee should be obtained on the PSY 498 Thesis Approval Form (for thesis proposal) or PSY 499 Thesis Completion Approval Form (for thesis defense). Signatures may typically be obtained even if some minor revisions are required. If more than minor revisions are required, committee members may opt to sign this page after they have noted that revisions have been successfully made. Once all signatures have been obtained, the faculty research advisor will submit the grade for that semester.


After the Defense. From this point on, it is up to the student whether or not to do anything further with the thesis. The student may wish to meet further with the faculty advisor to discuss the possibility of continuing on the research in some form, or the possibility of publication. The following points are encouraged for discussion between student and faculty research advisor:

  • If the student wishes to go on to graduate school and a professional career in psychology, publication of the thesis can be an important and valuable first step. Students should clarify authorship of any publication that results from the thesis research, as well as who would be responsible for what tasks in preparing for publication. Students should have opportunity to serve as first author on any manuscripts, posters, and other products resulting from their thesis.
  • Students who fail to make progress on publication after two years default their rights to first authorship to the faculty member if the faculty member chooses to pursue publication
  • Importantly, each student should provide a complete copy of their thesis data set and any supporting data to their faculty advisor. Students are responsible for reviewing the requirements of the IRB for data protection and storage and to discuss these steps with the faculty advisor to ensure best methods for data storage, protection, or destruction post study completion.

Finally, while there are many challenges to completing this two-semester sequence, most students who complete this feel that it was a positive, growth-stimulating experience. It is important to recognize the skills used throughout this process - resourcefulness, persistence, organization and maturity - in order to accomplish this goal!

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