Jun 24, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2022-2023 
USC Catalogue 2022-2023 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Psychology (PhD)

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Residency Requirement

A minimum of 24 graduate units at USC is required for the doctoral degree.

Course Requirements

Each student must take at least 36 substantive units in psychology at USC during the first three years. Students must complete one statistics and/or research methods course as well as a set of core courses that cover topics in brain and cognitive sciences and clinical, developmental and social areas, the specifics of which are provided in the department’s handbook for graduate students. Additional course requirements vary according to specialty area.

Research Requirement

During the first and second year, students work on either a master’s thesis or a research report of comparable scope and quality. A research project done at USC is required of all students (by the conclusion of the summer following the student’s second year), regardless of prior graduate work.

Screening Procedure

The student’s ability to master graduate-level course material is first evaluated after completion of no more than 24 units, and not later than the third semester of graduate work at USC. The final screening procedure is the successful completion of a second-year project requirement. This evaluation is based on the student’s performance in courses taken and on an evaluation of the student’s research competence as reflected in the second year research project. The project is evaluated by a committee of three faculty, including the student’s primary adviser.

Additionally, students are evaluated each year based on adviser input, course work and research progress.

Qualifying Exam Committee

In preparation for the qualifying examination, each student assembles a five-person qualifying exam committee to direct the student’s program of studies and evaluate research competence. The committee continues to serve until after the qualifying examination has been passed, the dissertation topic approved, and the student admitted to candidacy for the PhD. At that time the student assembles a dissertation committee of four or more members (usually consisting of members of the qualifying exam committee, one of whom must be a faculty member from outside the department), who advise on and evaluate the dissertation.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination evaluates the student’s ability to conduct independent scholarship and research. The student is evaluated based on oral and written presentation of two elements: a written review paper or written exam and the dissertation proposal. The qualifying examination is planned, administered and evaluated by the student’s qualifying exam committee. It should be taken no later than during the fifth semester.

Doctoral Dissertation

A student is expected to engage in research activity throughout his or her graduate career, leading up to and culminating in the PhD dissertation. The dissertation is based on an original investigation, usually involving empirical data.

Defense of the Dissertation

The student’s doctoral dissertation is defended at either a defense oral, based on an approved preliminary copy of the dissertation, or a final oral, based on the final version of the dissertation.


Each student has a major adviser who is usually in the specialty area. The qualifying exam committee should be formed at least one semester before the student takes the qualifying examination. Advisement concerning graduate school requirements may also be sought from the staff graduate adviser and the faculty member serving as director of graduate studies.

Internship Requirement

Students in the clinical science PhD program need a minimum of three full-time in-residence academic years of graduate study plus one full year of internship at a facility approved by the clinical faculty.

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