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Learning Goals for Examinations

Learning Goals

A student in Cognition, Language, and Development (CLD) who has successfully achieved a doctorate in Psychology will show competencies in the domains of understanding, contributing to, and communicating scientific knowledge.  In particular, a student will:

  1. Demonstrate broad and specialized knowledge in the student's chosen area within Cognition, Language, and Development, including the ability to
    1. Read and critically evaluate the research literature
    2. Describe current and classic theories and findings within a specific sub-field, and explain how theories accommodate available findings
    3. Design a study to address a major unresolved research problem
  2. Demonstrate appropriate quantitative and computational skills for data-generation (conducting experiments) and data-analysis.
  3. Make a substantial and original contribution to the field.
  4. Demonstrate clear communication abilities to explain theory and data in written and oral forms, including:
    1. Writing a journal-quality manuscript and submitting it for publication to a peer-reviewed journal
    2. Delivering a conference presentation
    3. Giving an undergraduate lecture
    4. Writing a grant application for external funding
    5. Completing a doctoral dissertation
  5. Interact effectively and collegially with others in the field and conform to the fundamentals of ethical research conduct.
Assessment of Learning Goals
Each of the five principal learning goals are assessed across three major examinations taking place throughout a student's doctoral career. The following sections describe how each examination measures each of the learning goals. Each examination is assessed by a committee of faculty members assembled by the student.

First Examination
The First Exam is a written exam taken by the end of the student’s third semester (and no later than the accrual of 45 credits). The student writes a publication-quality empirical paper, preferably in APA style. Since some projects require more preparation than others, students may submit an examination that involves analysis of existing data sets. In that event, the student must separately write up a methods section detailing the methods they have been learning, discuss how their data analysis dovetails with their planned research, and present the implications of the findings. Every portion of the writing of the exam must be original, even if existing data sets are used. Students may also write up experiments with null results. A rubric is provided for the First Exam to guide the student and the advisory committee that will grade the exam and determine whether the student has passed or failed.
Learning goals assessed (1,3,4,5)
          Learning goals #1 and #3. To complete the First Examination, students spend at least one year reading and critically evaluating the literature (1.a), determining a specific research question that addresses a debate in the field (1.b), and then designing and conducting an experiment to test the research question (1.c).
          Learning goal #2. The successful completion of a first doctoral exam entails appropriate statistical analysis of collected or existing data.
Learning goal #4.  Students are required to produce a journal quality manuscript (4.a), and to give an oral presentation to communicate their findings (4.b).
          Learning goal #5. Students will form their committee in consultation with their primary advisor and have their proposed research approved by the Institutional Review Board in order to conduct the planned research.  Students will meet periodically with their advisor and committee to assess their progress. 
Second Examination
The Second Exam is written between the student’s fifth and sixth semester. The Second Exam is in three parts. 1) The student writes an integrative literature review (which in the ideal case will serve as basis for the introduction to the student’s thesis). The review is approximately 30-50 double-spaced pages using 12-point type and 1-inch margins. 2) The student writes an NIH NRSA grant proposal that is 6 single-spaced pages in length and follows NIH guidelines; the student proposes at least two feasible new experiments. A 6-page proposal to another funding institution may be substituted for an NRSA proposal with the agreement of the student's advisor and committee.  3) The student orally presents and defends the material written for the Second Exam.
Learning goals assessed (1,3,4,5)
          Learning goals #1 and #3. The review portion of the second exam establishes the student's ability to summarize and critically evaluate a specific topic in depth (1.a, 1.b), and integrate their view of the topic within the broader scope of the literature. The grant proposal and experiment proposal sections establish the student's ability to identify an area in the literature where a contribution to new knowledge would be valuable, and to motivate an appropriate study that will fill the gap in knowledge.
Learning goal #2. In performing the tasks of grant writing and proposing new experiments, students will demonstrate their ability to plan a strategy for data-handling and statistical analysis before conducting the experiments.
          Learning goal #4. Students are required to produce a journal quality review paper (4.a), and to give an oral presentation to communicate their findings (4.b), and to produce a grant proposal for external funding (4.d).
          Learning goal #5. The grant-writing requirements assess the student’s ability to motivate their research to their peers. 
Dissertation Proposal
A dissertation proposal must be defended in the semester following the passing of the Second Exam. The student must select a dissertation committee of at least 3 Graduate Center faculty. One of these will be the dissertation supervisor.  The proposal lays out the basic plan of the thesis in enough detail for the committee members to determine the feasibility of the project, the appropriateness of the proposed methods and scope, and the suitability of the research questions.  The committee may recommend changes to improve the progress of the thesis work.  Students are expected to continue to work closely with their supervisor and dissertation committee.
The dissertation, or thesis, is expected to be completed no later than the end of the student's fifth year in the Psychology Program.  The thesis may take one of two forms:  a) 2-3 individual publishable papers on a theme (the number to be determined by the complexity and number of experiments in each paper); b) a conventional thesis.
  1. Under the 2-3-paper model, the thesis reflects the student’s body of work over the course of their doctoral studies. Although 3 is the typical number of expected papers, 2 may be sufficient in the cases of multi-study papers, longitudinal studies, studies with very complex designs, and so on.  Students are expected to write a general introduction and discussion that links the papers.
  2. Under the conventional model, the thesis asks a coherent set of questions and follows a traditional format consisting of a series of studies investigating those questions and the overall conclusions.
Dissertation Defense
Dissertation defenses are arranged once the dissertation committee has determined that the student is ready to defend their thesis.  Defenses are open to the public.  In additional to the 3-member committee, the student may have an internal reader and an external reader.  Readers are arranged in consultation with the dissertation supervisor.  The defense typically takes the form of a 30-minute presentation by the student, followed by questions from anyone attending the defense.  The committee may ask some questions in public and others with only the student in the room.
Learning goals assessed (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5)
In successfully completing the dissertation the student will have accomplished the following
In order to have successfully completed the dissertation the student will have:
1. Designed an experimental or theoretical approach to a significant, unresolved research problem in cognition, language, or development (1.a, b, c, & 3).
2. Identified and initiated a research design appropriate to that approach, including critical controls. (1.c & 2)
3. Mastered the methodologies required for data collection. (1.c & 2)
4. Organized and presented the research data effectively in both oral and written forms. (4.a, b, e)
5. Published one or more first-author papers in peer-reviewed journals. (4.a)
6. Effectively defended the thesis and displayed an understanding of the current state of research in areas cognate to the thesis topic. (1.a, b, 4.e, & 5)