The aim of the Psychology Department is to provide students with an understanding of human behavior that will support their ability to add to scientific knowledge, to help others, and to participate as informed members of our society. One path to this goal involves mastery of the theoretical concepts psychologists use in describing and understanding behavior; the other involves competence in the use of the scientific methodologies employed in the study of behavior. We emphasize the importance of both concepts and methods across diverse topic areas within psychology, including biological, cognitive, social, personality, and culture.
The Haverford psychology program aims to instill in our students an excitement for learning about the mind and behavior and to develop skills for making original contributions in basic research or application of psychological knowledge. Our curriculum emphasizes a hands-on and inclusive approach that builds students’ ability to do the following:
- Articulate and evaluate foundational theories and concepts from the major subfields of psychology;
- Conduct primary research with methodological rigor, using sophisticated technologies and analytic approaches to generate new knowledge;
- Think critically about ideas and findings, developing healthy skepticism, tolerance of ambiguity, and consideration of alternative explanations;
- Value and engage with diverse socio-cultural contexts, perspectives, and contributions;
- Embody ethical scientific practice and community engagement;
- Communicate psychological findings and principles effectively through multiple modes (oral, written, and visual), in styles appropriate for both scientific and nonscientific audiences;
- Apply psychological research to broader societal domains, such as mental and physical health, social work, education, law, policy, and industry.
Haverford’s Institutional Learning Goals are available on the President’s website, at http://hav.to/learninggoals.
The psychology major contains a breadth requirement, a general research requirement, a discipline-specific research requirement, and a senior project, as described below:
- One semester of introductory psychology: PSYC H100 (Foundations of Psychology).
- PSYC H200 (Experimental Methods and Statistics), or Bryn Mawr PSYC B205.
- Six additional psychology courses beyond the introductory level, with at least one taken from each of the following groups:
- social and personality psychology
- biological psychology
One of these courses must be a full-credit 300-level course (i.e., a seminar).
- See the Psychology Student Guidebook on the departmental website for details on which classes fulfill each of these groups.
- One half-credit laboratory course [vs. two] for psychology majors in the graduating classes of 2021 and 2022.
- One of the following senior thesis options:
- two semesters of empirical senior research or
- a one semester non-empirical senior thesis and an additional psychology course beyond the introductory level.
We typically accept equivalent courses within the Tri-Co, with permission of the department, to fulfill major requirements. However, not all courses in other departments fit into the above designated areas. See the Psychology Student Guidebook for more information. As a general rule, no more than two courses taken outside of the Tri-Co may count toward the psychology major. This includes courses taken for a study abroad program. All courses taken outside of the Tri-Co for major credit must be submitted to the department for approval.
The research requirement of the major trains students to think scientifically about psychological questions and to understand empirical approaches to the discipline. In addition, students obtain hands-on training in conducting behavioral research and answering original research questions.
General Research Training
Students take one semester of Experimental Methods and Statistics (PSYC H200). In this lecture and lab course, students will learn the principles of statistics and research design. In lab sessions, students put the statistical techniques that they learn during lectures into practice by designing and conducting several different kinds of data collection and analyses. This course is equivalent to PSYC B205 at Bryn Mawr; either PSYC H200 or PSYC B205 will be offered in each semester. Either of these courses is a prerequisite for the following lab course requirement.
Discipline-Specific Research Training
- Lab courses: One half-credit 300-level lab course for psychology majors in the graduating classes of 2021 and 2022. These courses must be taken in the Haverford Psychology Department and typically have PSYC H200 as a prerequisite.
- Senior Research: By the time psychology majors reach the senior year, they are well prepared to carry out their senior research requirement. If students choose the year-long original empirical project, they will be involved in all phases of the research process; from formulating the questions, designing the study, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting the research both orally and in writing. If students choose the one-semester non-empirical thesis, they will conduct an in-depth literature review of a given topic along with their own original synthesis and analysis of the issues.
The senior thesis experience is the capstone of the psychology major. In a typical thesis project, each student works closely with a faculty advisor and a small group of fellow seniors to carry out an original research study. A detailed description of this process is set out in the annual departmental Guide to the Psychology Senior Thesis Experience (available as PDF download or from the department chair).
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 advisor.
An alternative option is a one-semester, non-empirical project that may be appropriate in some circumstances. In the one-semester project, a student conducts an in-depth literature review of a given topic along with their own original synthesis and analysis of the issues, and submits a paper that relates this work.
Senior Project Learning Goals
The senior thesis is envisioned as a capstone experience in which students are required to integrate the content knowledge and skills acquired in the earlier parts of our curriculum to a specific research question of interest. This, in turn, leads to increasingly sophisticated critical thinking skills that vary somewhat between one vs. two semester projects but can be summarized as follows:
For two semester projects, students are to:
- thoroughly review the extant literatures on the chosen topic and integrate those literatures into a cohesive rationale for an empirical project.
- develop and articulate testable hypotheses that are contextualized within the psychological literature using the scientific method of inquiry.
- design and conduct a rigorously conceived empirical study to test the stated hypotheses, using the methods that are normative within that discipline.
- analyze the empirical data that has been collected using the appropriate statistical techniques to test the stated hypotheses, and interpret those analyses with respect to the stated hypotheses.
- describe the results of the study using
- correct statistical notation and
- clear, concise, and accessible language.
- interpret the results and discuss how they relate to past research findings and/or theory on the chosen topic.
- identify the strengths and limitations of the current project.
- imagine directions for future research and applications based on the findings of the study conducted.
- work cohesively within a collaborative lab group (if conducting research in a group).
- communicate the study in the form of a written research report that is clear and sophisticated with regards to scholarly writing.
- present the project orally to the department (faculty and peers) clearly and concisely.
- demonstrate mastery of the research topic and ownership of the empirical project.
For one-semester projects, students are to:
- thoroughly review the extant literatures on the chosen topic and integrate those literatures into a cohesive summary of past work.
- develop a novel theoretical framework or original application of the literature.
- communicate their work in the form of a written manuscript that is clear and sophisticated with regards to scholarly writing.
- present the project orally to the department (faculty and peers) clearly and concisely.
- demonstrate mastery of the research topic and ownership of the project.
Senior Project Assessment
Senior thesis work is assessed via two main components: the strength of the student’s paper and their contribution to the thesis project.
- The paper is evaluated on a number of criteria, including the thoroughness of the background literature review, its overall organization, accuracy, style, the student’s creative input, their ability to integrate different ideas in a novel and cogent fashion and finally, whether arguments and conclusions are persuasive given the issues at hand. Each student is expected to hand in an individual paper, even if working as part of a thesis group.
- The student’s degree of active involvement in the senior thesis experience is also assessed. During the fall semester, we consider the extent to which each student helps shape the study questions, design, and methodology of the project. During the spring, we consider the effort expended in the data collection and analysis phases of the study, and the contribution to project presentations and the final poster. Although the paper is weighted more heavily than the project contribution in arriving at the final course grade, it is possible to write an excellent paper but receive a significantly lower grade due to insufficient involvement with the project.
The primary research advisor and second reader will evaluate work based on the above criteria. Final grades are determined by a consensus process involving all department members, who will discuss each student’s performance and compare it with other students, both past and present, in order to arrive at a fair evaluation of your work.
For a two-semester thesis, the following criteria are used grading the first semester paper:
4.0 work for the first semester indicates a paper that has gone above and beyond a summary of the relevant literature in terms of scope, synthesis and integration. In addition to reflecting a nearly flawless paper that provides a coherent rationale for the study to be undertaken, this grade can also represent exceptional or original independent contributions, or individual effort that has gone beyond what is normally expected. A grade of 4.0 is not commonly awarded during the first semester.
3.7 work for the first semester indicates an extremely thorough, coherently organized, and generally well-written summary of the literature that identifies all of the seminal work that has led up to the current study. In addition, this grade reflects that the rationale for the current study is abundantly clear and the procedures to be used are well-described. There may be improvements that can be made to this paper, but there are no major areas of deficiency.
3.3 work for the first semester reflects a good to very good paper that needs improvement in one or more areas. The literature review may need to be more thorough, or the literature better summarized or integrated. The writing may be choppy or difficult to follow in some areas. There may be conceptual gaps that lead to an incomplete rationale for the study to be undertaken.
3.0 work for the first semester indicates that although the paper is good, there are several areas in which improvement can be made. For example, the literature review may have been too scant or poorly integrated. That is, the paper may have included summaries of appropriate studies without integrating how those studies support an important point or how they relate to the study that you are undertaking. The literature review may not have been thorough enough or may have relied too heavily on non-primary sources. In general, the reader may have had a difficult time understanding how the literature review culminates in the problem to be addressed in the current study.
Requirements for Honors
The department awards honors to majors who show exceptionally high attainment in their coursework and demonstrate work in senior research or senior thesis and related research courses that is of superior quality.
The Haverford minor in psychology consists of six credits in psychology including:
- PSYC H100 (Foundations of Psychology), and
- Five additional psychology courses beyond the introductory level, with at least one from two of the following groups:
- social and personality psychology
- biological psychology
See the Guidebook on the departmental website for details on which classes fulfill the requirements for each of these groups. As a general rule, no more than two courses taken outside of the Tri-Co may count toward the psychology minor. This includes courses taken for a study abroad program. All courses taken outside of the Tri-Co for major credit must be submitted to the department for approval.
Concentrations and Interdisciplinary Minors
Minor in Neuroscience
The minor in neuroscience is designed to allow students with any major to pursue interests in behavior and the nervous system across disciplines. The Psychology Department offers courses that contribute to this minor, and many of our majors elect to complete this minor.
Multidisciplinary Health Studies Minor
The goal of the Multidisciplinary Health Studies Minor is to give greater context to the issues facing health professionals on local, national, and global scales. The structure of this program is intentionally multidisciplinary, bringing scientists together with social science and humanities professors to guide students through the political, cultural and ethical questions that relate to health issues worldwide. The Psychology Department contributes several courses to the Multidisciplinary Health Studies Minor, which is popular with our majors.
Concentration in Education
The Bryn Mawr-Haverford Education Program invites students to study the discipline of education; explore the interdisciplinary field of educational studies; begin the path of teacher preparation for traditional classrooms; and participate in teaching experiences in a range of classroom and extra-classroom settings. Given its connection to psychology, some of our majors choose to concentrate in the Bryn Mawr-Haverford Education Program.
Some psychology majors may opt to study abroad during the fall or spring semester of junior year. Many students are able to complete the psychology major while at Haverford and opt to take courses in other disciplines while studying abroad. However, psychology students may earn up to two major credits while studying abroad, pending approval from the chair of the Psychology Department. Students may consult the Psychology Student Guidebook for a list of study abroad courses that have already been approved for major credit. For courses not on this list, students must provide documentation (e.g., course description, syllabus) to the chair for review in order to gain approval.
A description of laboratories, equipment and other special facilities for this program is available on the departmental website.