Curriculum and Degree Information

Program of Study

All students enroll in PSYC 70500 Statistics I (3 cr) and PSYC 70600 Statistics II (3 cr); PSYC 79900 Ethics (3 cr, or its equivalent); PSYC 77100 Teaching of Psychology (3 cr); and PSYC 80102 CCP Colloquium (2 cr each semester for Years 1 and 2) for a total of 20 credits. There are two additional required core courses: PSYC 73800 Cognitive Psychology (3 cr), and PSYC 71600 Animal Behavior 1 (3 cr). Beyond the core requirements, students must take 3 elective courses (3 cr each), with at least 2 of these electives from within the CCP training area, and independent research courses each term (3 or 5 cr each) until they reach at least 60 credits. Elective courses are chosen through consultation between the student and the student’s advisory committee. Course selection must be approved by the student’s advisory committee.

CCP is a mentor-based and research-focused training area, so students are expected to enroll in Independent Research (PSYC 80200 for first-year students and PSYC 80206 otherwise) each semester until they have completed their credit requirement for Level III. Students are encouraged to take at least one independent research course with a faculty member who is not their primary advisor. Once a student has completed at least 60 credits, successfully passed their 1st and 2nd doctoral exams, and submitted their Dissertation Topic Proposal, they register for PSYC 90000 with their supervisor each term to continue work with their internal Dissertation committee on their Dissertation Proposal and, ultimately, their Dissertation. There are specific requirements, and it is the responsibility of the student and their supervisor to follow closely the guidelines posted on the Psychology PhD Program webpage (Forms and Procedures page) before scheduling the dissertation defense.

See below for additional curriculum and degree information:

Example Course Sequence

This sequence describes how students would complete 60 credits within the first three years of the five year program.

Year Semester Course Credits Year End Totals
Y1 Fall Cognitive Psychology 3  
    Stats I 3  
    Independent Research 3  
    CCP Colloquium 2  
  Spring Animal Behavior I 3  
    Stats II 3  
    Independent Research 3  
    CCP Colloquium 2 Year 1: 22
Y2 Fall CCP Elective 3  
    Ethics Requirement 3  
    Advanced Independent Research 5  
    CCP Colloquium 2  
  Spring CCP Elective 3  
    Teaching of Psychology 3  
    Advanced Independent Research 5  
    CCP Colloquium 2 Year 2: 48
Y3 Fall Advanced Independent Research 5  
    CCP Elective 3  
  Spring Advanced Independent Research 5 Year 3: 61

PR = General Program Requirement

Path to Degree

*bolded* lines represent program milestones

  • Take required core Cognitive Psychology course (73800)
  • Take required core Animal Behavior I course (71600)
  • Take required Statistics I (70500) and II (70600)
    • These statistics courses satisfy a GC requirement, and it is possible to take different statistics courses to satisfy the same requirement (discuss with your comittee)
  • Form advising committee consisting of a chair (your advisor) plus two other faculty. Meet at the end of the first semester, and end of first year.
  • Take two semesters of Independent Research (80200); this forms the basis of the 1st doctoral examination
  • Take the CCP colloquium series course
  • Advisable: a. Apply for NSF pre-doctoral fellowship b. Submit abstract for poster presentation at annual GC Psychology Research Day c. Have the majority of work for first doctoral exam finished so you can complete the exam in a timely fashion.
  • Pass the 1st doctoral examination before the completion of 45 credits, typically before the second semester of the second year (paper and oral defense)
  • Take Ethics (77100) and Teaching of Psychology (79900) a. These are GC requirements, and there may be other course options to satisfy these requirements (discuss with committee)
  • Take two semesters of Advanced Independent Research
  • Take CCP Colloquium series
  • Take two CCP electives (consult with committee about other possible options)
  • Establish topic for 2nd doctoral exam; create committee; create reading list
  • Advisable: a. Prepare and submit paper (likely based on first year project) for publication. b. Apply for doctoral student research grant c. Submit abstract for poster presentation at a non-CUNY conference
  • Move to Level II tuition status (completion of 45 credits and 1st doctoral examination)
  • Develop independent research project in consultation with 2nd doc committee (which can differ from the 1st doc committee)
  • Take Advanced Independent Research each semester
  • Take a third CCP elective
  • Complete second doctoral exam (literature review, grant proposal, oral defense)
  • Advisable: a. Submit abstract for poster presentation at a non-CUNY conference b. Complete another research project and submit a paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal
  • Move to Level III status (completion of 1st and 2nd doctoral examinations, coursework, and dissertation topic proposal), and register for Dissertation Supervision (90000)
  • Establish CUNY-internal dissertation committee (which can differ from the 1st and 2nd exam committees)
  • Submit dissertation proposal within 6 months of completing 2nd doctoral exam
  • Continue research project stemming from dissertation proposal
  • Advisable:
    1. Submit abstract for talk at a non-CUNY conference
    2. Submit an additional manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal
    3. Assemble letters, CVs, website, and other material for job search
    4. Apply for dissertation-year fellowship
  • Complete research based on dissertation proposal
  • Submit chapter(s) from dissertation to a journal
  • Submit abstract for talk at a non-CUNY conference
  • Begin search for faculty, post-doctoral, industry, non-profit, or other positions
  • Complete doctoral dissertation committee (including external readers)
  • Complete, submit, and defend dissertation
  • Deposit dissertation and attend commencement before September

Learning Goals

A student in Cognitive and Comparative Psychology (CCP) 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 Cognitive and Comparative Psychology, including the ability to:

    • Read and critically evaluate the research literature
    • Describe current and classic theories and findings within a specific sub-field, and explain how theories accommodate available findings
    • Design a study to address a major unresolved research problem
  2. Demonstrate appropriate quantitative, observational, and computational skills for data generation (conducting studies) and data analysis.

  3. Make an original contribution to the field.

  4. Demonstrate abilities to explain theory and data in written and oral forms, including:

    • Writing a journal-quality manuscript and submitting it for publication to a peer- reviewed journal
    • Delivering a conference presentation
    • Giving an undergraduate lecture
    • Writing a grant application for external funding
    • 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.

The First doctoral exam is a written exam and oral presentation 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 paper, preferably in APA style, and delivers a short (e.g., 20 minutes) presentation of the work to the committee.

There are two options for the paper, empirical paper OR review paper. Students discuss their choice of paper with their first doctoral committee. The scope of the project should be tailored so that it can be completed in the first year.

  1. Empirical paper option: Conduct an empirical project that is approved by the student’s advisory committee and address a question in the field. The extent of the project should be appropriate to the laboratory in which the research is being conducted. Complete an analysis of the results. Write a publication quality APA-style research paper.
    • Peer-reviewed publication is NOT a requirement for completing the first-doc. For example, students could write-up null results in the event that the outcome of the research project was not as expected
    • There is some flexibility in determining the nature of the research project, this should be done in consultation with the first doctoral examination committee, who will approve the project. For example, it may be permissible to analyze an existing data set as a means to test a novel theory.
  2. Review paper option: Students have a choice of writing a publishable quality literature review aimed at critically assessing published research in any subfield of cognitive and comparative psychology. The topic of choice should be approved by the student’s advisory committee.

Every portion of the writing of the exam must be original, even if existing data sets are used. The advisory committee that will grade the exam and determine whether the student has passed or failed. The first doctoral exam should be completed soon after the end of the first year and no later than the end of the first semester of the 2nd year. If a student fails their written or oral 1st doc exam, they will be given one more opportunity to pass by the end of the 2nd year.

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.

The Second Exam is written in the student’s fifth and sixth semester (third year). The Second Exam involves a written exam and oral presentation. There are two options for completing the 2nd doctoral exam, and the option taken by the student is discussed in consultation with the committee for the 2nd doctoral exam. The options are NRSA style grant OR literature review.

  1. NRSA style grant: 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.

  2. Literature Review: 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.

The student orally presents and defends the material written for the Second Exam. The 2nd doctoral exam should be completed at the end of the 3rd year, and the student should move to level III at the beginning of their 4th year (e.g., complete 60 credits, and register for Dissertation Supervision)

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.

A dissertation proposal must be defended in the semester following the passing of the Second Doctoral Exam. The student must select an internal dissertation committee of at least 3 CUNY faculty members affiliated with the CCP program. An additional non-CCP faculty member may be added to the committee providing that they are on Doctoral Faculty through the Graduate Center. One of these committee members 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 Proposal should not be confused with the Dissertation Topic Proposal.  The Topic Proposal is a 1-page document (see Forms and Procedures web page on the Psychology PhD program website) identifying the general topic and committee membership.  The Dissertation Proposal, on the other hand, spells out the general plan for the dissertation project.  This document (e.g., up to 50 pages) could include the general introduction to the dissertation, along with the specific plan for experiments and data analyses.


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 asks a coherent set of questions, and the expectation is that work described in the thesis would form the basis for 3 individual publishable papers in a peer-reviewed journal.

The thesis is formatted according to the GC template. In general, it includes an introduction motivating the work, a series of empirical chapters, and a general discussion. If the student has already published three peer-reviewed manuscripts that will form the bulk of the thesis, these manuscripts may be inserted as the empirical chapters (formatted according to the GC template).

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 addition to the internal 3-member committee, the student should have at least one external reader outside of CUNY.  Readers are arranged in consultation with the dissertation supervisor, but special forms are to be submitted before a defense can be scheduled.  The Psychology Executive Office will be contacted at least 1 month prior to any planned dissertation defense date, and all procedures must be followed prior to a date being set (see Forms and Procedures web page at the Psychology PhD program web site).  Once all the documents have been appropriately submitted for scheduling the defense, then it can proceed.  The defense will take the form of an approximately 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 order to have successfully completed the dissertation the student will have:

  1. Designed an experimental or theoretical approach to an unresolved research problem in any area within cognitive or comparative psychology in humans or animals.” (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).

Additional Information

Lab rotations are not formally required, however they are possible and encouraged in consultation with a student’s advisory committee. For example, a student may wish to gain expertise by learning a method, or exploring another research domain, in another laboratory. This can easily be accomplished by making arrangements to complete one of the indepedent research, or advanced independent research courses with a different faculty member in CCP.

Students are strongly encouraged to register for CCP electives, as these courses will likely be most germane to their topics of study. Occasionally, a student may decide in consultation with their committee that a different elective should be taken in place of one of the CCP electives. This decision is made by the student’s committee with approval from the CCP training area head. However, at least 2 of the 3 electives must be from the CCP program. Taking more than 3 electives is permissible.

Students should form an advisory committee as soon as possible in their first year, typically within the first month. The advisory committee will consist of the primary advisor, along with at least 2 other CCP members. Additional GC faculty can also be invited to join the committee. The committee should meet with the student at the end of the first semester and first year to discuss student progress. After the first year, the committee should meet at least once per year to discuss student progress. Typically, the yearly meetings could also occur at the same time the committee meets for an examination (e.g., first doc, second doc, etc.). The composition of the committee may change flexibly across the years as the student’s research program comes into focus.