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The Social Psychology Doctoral Program maintains a light and flexible curriculum that allows students to develop their full potential as researchers and theorists. Students, in consultation with their research mentors, have the opportunity to design a course of study that will best suit their unique scholarly trajectory. It is expected that students will complete the program in 5 years.

Curriculum requirements include:

  • PSYC 830 Statistical Methods in Psychology I
  • PSYC 831 Statistical Methods in Psychology II
  • PSYC 860 Directed Research Seminar in Social Psychology
    • To be taken every semester the first 3 years, as well as in every subsequent semester when students register for more than 3 credit hours.
  • PSYC 863 Methods of Social Psychology
  • A minimum of 3 Core Courses in Social Psychology offered by UNC faculty
    • PSYC 719 Experimental Health Psychology
    • PSYC 864 Topics in Attitude Research
    • PSYC 866 Interpersonal Processes and Close Relationships
    • PSYC 869 Advanced Social Cognition
    • PSYC 870 Psychology of Emotions
    • PSYC 873 Prejudice and Stereotyping
    • PSYC 874 Social Judgement and Decision Making
    • PSYC 875 Positive Psychology
    • PSYC 876 Social and Affective Neuroscience
    • PSYC 888 Moral Psychology
    • PSYC XXX Self-Regulation
  • An additional 3 “out-of-area” courses; Quantitative Psychology is highly recommended.
  • Competency in Doctoral Candidacy
  • Defense of Doctoral Dissertation

Students may petition to have graduate-level courses from other universities meet these curriculum requirements. For more information regarding courses, please review the current Graduate Record.

Competency in Doctoral Candidacy

To pass Doctoral Candidacy, the Social Psychology Doctoral Program requires that students show research competency. To do so, students must complete the following two requirements prior to the start of their 4th year:

  1. Empirical Master’s Thesis: A lead-author empirical paper to be submitted for publication can serve as the Master’s Thesis, provided that the student’s research mentor attests to the student’s appropriate independence in the lead-author role. Alternatives: Students may also write up empirical work that will not be submitted for publication to meet this requirement. Students may also petition to have an empirical Master’s Thesis completed at another university to meet this particular doctoral candidacy.
  2. Programmatic Research Requirement (a.k.a. “Comps” and “Doctoral Written Examination”): The second and final requirement to advance to doctoral candidacy is for students to demonstrate that they have an emerging and coherent research program. This can be demonstrated in one of the following three ways:
    1. A second lead-author empirical paper to be submitted for publication. This is beyond the one accepted as the Master’s Thesis and, likewise, the research mentor is again required to attest to the student’s appropriate independence in the lead-author role (i.e. submission of an early draft of the manuscript before a mentor takes/had taken an active co-author role). To meet the Programmatic Research Requirement, this paper must build on the student’s prior research (e.g., build on the Master’s Thesis) to present a coherent program of research.
    2. A lead-author theoretical paper. This option can serve to chart a future research program. It should be written in the format of an article suitable for submission to Psychological Review. Papers should advance a novel thesis or propose a novel framework, drawing on existing literature as evidence, or integrating and organizing the existing literature around this framework. A simple review of the literature in the area does not constitute a theoretical paper.
    3. A complete grant proposal as PI. This option can also serve to chart a future research program. Grant proposals review existing evidence with the aim of motivating a new research direction, and propose a novel empirical test of the ideas presented. Example of a grant mechanism of suitable format to fulfill this requirement: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship [F31].

Students should consult with their primary advisor regarding which option for the Programmatic Research Requirement is best for them. This conversation should begin by the Spring semester of a student’s 2nd year in the program. Once an option is selected, the student should discuss their general plan with their advisor to get their approval. Advisors can provide feedback at the planning and outline stages, but student work after that must be independent.

Regardless of which version students choose for their Programmatic Research Requirement, the strengths of the written product will be evaluated by three faculty members (including the student’s research mentor) based on the following categories, and then discussed by the faculty as a whole:

  • Degree of Independence (assessed by mentor only)
  • Introduction
  • Logical Argument
  • Range of Evidence
  • Critical Evaluation
  • Clarity of writing
  • Novelty
  • Conclusion
  • Referencing
  • Overall Caliber

Possible outcomes for the Programmatic Research Requirement are “Pass,” “Master’s Pass,” or “Fail.” Only a “Pass” allows students to advance to doctoral candidacy. (Note: the outcome of “Master’s Pass” is included to support students who seek a terminal master’s degree.)

Sample Graduate Curriculum







PSYC 830
PSYC 860
PSYC 863
PSYC 991
Core Course
PSYC 792
PSYC 831
PSYC 860
PSYC 991
Core Course
First-Year Talk in PSYC 860
PSYC 790
PSYC 860
PSYC 993
Out-of-Area Course
PSYC 860
PSYC 993
Out-of-Area Course
Second-Year Talk in PSYC 860
Submit and Defend Master’s Thesis



Year 3: Submit Theoretical Paper
Years 3-5: PSYC 994 Doctoral Dissertation
Years 3-5: PSYC 994 Doctoral Dissertation

Note: Any additional courses must be taken as necessary, in consultation with an advisor, and all program and departmental requirements must be fulfilled. When registering for a formal course, students must register for PSYC 860. When not registering for a formal course, students must register for 3 credit hours of PSYC 993 or PSYC 994. A successful Doctoral Dissertation must be defended before a Ph.D. is conferred.