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Haverford College
Department of Psychology

Senior Thesis

The senior thesis experience is the capstone of the psychology major. In a typical thesis project, each student works closely with a faculty adviser and a small group of fellow seniors to carry out an original research study.

Student Research

In the course of this project, students apply skills and knowledge that they acquired during previous coursework in the psychology major. Thesis students do not merely learn about research that has already been done in psychology. Rather, they collect new data to address questions of interest. In this way, the thesis embodies the highest level of scholarship, in which students strive to contribute original knowledge to the field.

The thesis project is typically carried out over two semesters. In the first semester, students work to identify a conceptual question of interest, read and integrate background literature on that topic, and formulate a novel research plan. In the second semester, students carry out their proposed studies by collecting data, statistically analyzing the results of the study, and interpreting how the results relate to the study's original hypothesis. Both semesters involve intensive writing, with detailed feedback from the faculty adviser.

Many psychology departments offer a senior thesis to select students as an honors program, but at Haverford the senior thesis is required of all students. We firmly believe that designing, implementing, and interpreting the results of an original project develops skills that can be applied to many different career paths. Thesis projects at Haverford are often presented at scholarly conferences, and many have resulted in publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Research Experience Prior to the Senior Year

While psychology students are guaranteed an intensive research experience in the senior year, research training actually begins prior to that time. As described on the curriculum page, all students gain experience with research methods in several steps, including the Experimental Methods and Statistics course and two upper-level lab courses prior to the thesis project. In addition, positions are available to work as research assistants (RAs) on ongoing faculty research projects. Although the number of RA positions is limited, some students are able to begin working as RAs as early as the sophomore or junior year. Such work can result in publications that are co-authored with professors.