About the Exam

By passing the preliminary exams the student demonstrates his or her competence to begin dissertation research. Upon completion of the exam and submission of the completed warrant to the Graduate School, the student will obtain dissertator status. (Please note that all Department and Graduate School requirements except the dissertation must be complete in order to obtain dissertator status).

Preparation, grading, and administration of the preliminary exams is the responsibility of the mentoring committee or area group, subject to the following guidelines:

a. Exams should be administered so that a student can finish the exam and faculty can strive to grade the exam before the start of the Fall or Spring semesters

b. The exam must include at least one or more of the following formats: writing a publication-quality paper, a take-home examination, or a four-hour test session. Regardless of the format, the work must be completed specifically for the preliminary examination, so that previous publications, papers written to fulfill course assignments, or other assignments may not be used for the preliminary examination. 

If a student fails the preliminary examination, the student may repeat the examination only if the student’s major professor and major area group or mentoring committee grant permission to take the examination a second time. If a student fails the preliminary examination a second time, permission for a third and final attempt must be based on highly unusual circumstances and must be approved by the major professor, the major area group or mentoring committee, and the department. Having failed the examination, if a student does not obtain permission to attempt the preliminary examination a second or third time, the student will be dropped from the graduate program at the end of the semester in which the examination was failed.

Warrant Process

Students only need to initiate the warrant process when they are completing their final preliminary exam. This means students with two preliminary exams do not need to initiate this process until the semester they intend to complete their specialty preliminary exam.

1. Student must notify the Graduate Coordinator via gradinfo@psych.wisc.edu early in the semester that s/he intends to take the final preliminary exam

2. Student must clear any incomplete, unreported, or progress grades (with the exception of progress grades in research/thesis). Independent study must be given a grade.

3. Student must complete the breadth/PhD Minor form, obtain appropriate signatures, and return to Graduate Coordinator no later than three weeks prior to examination date.

4. The Graduate Coordinator will initiate the Certification Process with student's area group chair in order to ensure all requirements have been met to obtain dissertator status. This is an internal process that does not require action on the student's part.

5. The Graduate Coordinator will then send out a warrant request to the Graduate School.

o    A warrant request will not be issued to the Graduate School until:

§  All course deficiencies have been cleared

§  The breadth/PhD Minor form has been completed and received by the Graduate Coordinator

§  The Certification Process has been completed with student's area group

o    All warrant requests must be received by the Graduate School no later than three weeks prior to student's defense date.

6. Within a few weeks the student will receive the official preliminary warrant.

7. Upon successful completion of the final preliminary exam, student must obtain all necessary signatures and information to complete the warrant.

8. Student will then submit the completed warrant to the Graduate Coordinator in person or via mailbox.

9. The Graduate Coordinator will then submit the completed warrant to the Graduate School and upon approval the student will be granted dissertator status.

Bio/ Perception Requirements to Attain Dissertator Status

Motivation:

These requirements are intended to ensure that a student has both the depth of knowledge to make original significant contributions to an area (i.e., complete a successful dissertation), as well as the breadth of knowledge to be a valuable member of a (future) psychology department.  The requirements below should be understood to satisfy those goals.

To fulfill these requirements, students will (1) complete a prelim examination that evaluates a student's oral and written mastery of at least three content areas within Perception/Biological basis of Behavior (BBB), and (2) write and defend a thesis proposal. 

Format:

Prelim requirement:

Candidates will meet with committee members individually to discuss potential topics and readings (members may provide a reading list). Material may be drawn from the graduate seminars that committee members teach. It is recommended students have taken a class with the committee member.

Each committee member writes 2 candidate questions. The advisor submits 3 pairs of questions to the student (1 pair each week) within a 1-month period. Each week the candidate choses 1 of the pair of questions and writes an in-depth scholarly review.  Each paper should demonstrate depth of understanding and critical analysis. There is no strict page limit, but in general, it would be difficult to write a scholarly review in less than 16-18 pages.  Most papers would not require more than 25 pages.  Exceeding 25 pages would prove a significant challenge for a 1 week period.

Proposal Defense Requirement: 

To demonstrate depth of knowledge the student writes a thesis proposal. This proposal may take the form of a grant application.  Ultimately, the thesis advisor, committee and student are responsible for defining the form of the thesis proposal.

Timeframe:

The Prelim Exam can be completed as early as the end of the 2nd year, but should be completed by the end of the 3rd year (as soon as all class requirements are fulfilled).

Students should consult their committee regarding the areas of emphasis and timing of the examination.  Students are strongly encouraged to meet with the members of their committee on a regular basis prior to the anticipated date of the exam.  Students should meet with each member of their committee, typically 2-6 months before the anticipated exam date to obtain a list of topics that the committee member wants the student to be prepared for, and to obtain a list of scientists and/or articles so that the student can begin their literature research.

Prelim committee:

The student's mentoring committee will serve as the prelim committee.

Evaluation:

The student’s work is read by all members. Upon completion of the written part of the prelim exam there will be a 1-2 hour meeting/oral exam with the prelim committee during which the committee can ask questions related to the written answers.  The intent of this oral exam is to allow the student to expand on the issues addressed in the written format (i.e., exam and/or papers) in an informal setting that is similar to professional evaluations.  The faculty members will meet in private immediately after the oral exam to decide upon the final evaluation. Grades for the prelim exam are: Fail or Pass

Advancement to dissertator:

Students advance to dissertator status once they have both passed their prelims and successfully defended their thesis proposal. Unless the student has written the thesis proposal before the Prelim Exam, this may mean that there will be a 1 semester gap between passing the Prelim and becoming a dissertator.

The thesis proposal is evaluated by a full 5 people thesis committee (with one outside member). The mentor communicates to the committee members what the expectations are for format of the thesis proposal.

Motivation:

Students in the CCN Area Group must complete both a “depth” and a “breadth” requirement for the prelim exam. The CCN group allows a wide range of options to fulfill these requirements, including but not limited to those described below. In all cases, the student should work closely with their mentoring committee to develop a plan tailored to the student’s training needs and satisfactory to the committee members. Committees must include at least three psychology faculty members, including the primary advisor(s) and may differ for breadth versus depth.

Format: 

Options for breadth:

1) Course design. Students can demonstrate mastery of the CCN area by designing an introductory-level course. The committee should decide the content area together, and the student should follow the guidelines laid out in the accompanying document.

2) Write a series of response papers to answer specific questions. Students will meet with their mentoring committee to discuss potential topics and readings (committee members may provide a reading list). Each committee member will write 2 candidate questions. The advisor will submit 3 pairs of questions (i.e., A1/B1, A2/B2, A3/B3) to the student, submitting 1 pair each week during a 1-month period. Each week the candidate chooses 1 question from each pair and writes an in-depth scholarly review. Each response paper should demonstrate depth of understanding and critical analysis. The committee may specify an expected length for response paper (historically 16-20 double-spaced pages).

3) Write a review paper on a topic outside of the student’s primary area of research. The student should consult closely with their committee to choose a topic of appropriate scope. Prior to beginning writing, the student will put together a reading list that will be approved by the committee. Typical manuscript length is 30-40 double-spaced pages.

Options for depth:

1) Write and submit a grant proposal (e.g., NRSA), typically on the student’s dissertation topic.

2) Write a review paper on the student’s primary area of research, which may then be submitted for publication and/or serve as the first chapter of the student’s dissertation.

Timeframe:

Students should start planning their prelims by the end of their second year and should aim to complete the first prelim by the end of their third year and the second prelim by the beginning of their fourth year.

Evaluation:

The student’s submitted work will be read by all members of the prelim (mentoring) committee. Upon completion of the written part of the prelim exam, the student will typically meet with the committee for a 1-2 hour meeting/oral exam during which the committee will ask questions related to the paper. The intent of this oral exam is to allow the student to expand on the issues addressed in the written format in an informal setting that is similar to professional evaluations. The committee members will meet in private immediately after the oral exam to decide upon the final evaluation. Grades for the prelim exam are Fail or Pass. The committee may still request revisions from a student who passed the exam; the timeline and details of such revisions (including which committee members will read the revision, and whether additional meetings are warranted) will be decided by the committee.


Clinical Prelim Info

Students in the Clinical Area Group must complete the preliminary examination through the design of an honor’s sections of an undergraduate course in a broad content area in Clinical Psychology such as Abnormal Psychology and through 3 papers on classic, current and future debates and/or issues in the field of clinical science broadly.

Process and Components

(1) Compose a syllabus for a semester-long honor’s section of an undergraduate lecture course in a broad content area in Clinical Psychology. Assume the semester has 15 weeks and that your class will meet twice a week. The syllabus should include: (A) the topic(s) that will be covered by each lecture; (B) brief description of the key concepts, themes, research findings, etc. that will be emphasized in that lecture, (C) details about required readings to support each lecture (e.g., “read pp. 135-150 of Chapter 9 of our textbook”); (D) basic information about how you will evaluate students’ performance in the course (e.g., a midterm and a final; final project). Note that you do not need to write the exams or the lectures for the course.

(2) Compose a syllabus for a once-a-week discussion or lab section to accompany the lecture component of the course. Assume that the goal of the section is to allow your students to engage more deeply with the lecture material and have the opportunity to discuss important findings (classic and/or modern) in the field. The syllabus should include the reading(s) (and activities, if relevant) for each section. Note that discussing a reading (or pair of readings) is an acceptable section activity.

(3) Write three papers (4 pages each; single spaced) on the following topics: (1) describe a classic debate in the field; (2) describe a current debate in the field; (3) describe where you think the field is going in the future. These issues may not be addressed well in the text and reading assignments the student chose for the course, but are topics that a course instructor should feel confident teaching and discussing. Students are encouraged to take an integrative approach to these topics and attempt to cut across historic domains within the literature.

(4) All documents (i.e., lecture syllabus; section syllabus; paper on classic debate; paper on current debate; paper on future direction) are due to the area group chair by September 1st. The oral defense must occur after the start of the fall semester but prior to October 1st. The oral defense committee will consist of three members of the area group (including affiliates) but will not include the student’s mentor. The student will be notified of the faculty that will serve on their oral defense committee when they turn in their materials. The student should come to the meeting prepared to describe and answer questions about your course, including your choice of topics, readings, and materials to be covered, as well as your three “big question” papers. As such, any topic related to Abnormal Psychology broadly defined could be discussed at the defense.

Additional Details

Students may schedule an initial meeting with their committee before beginning their course design if desired; this is an opportunity to discuss the scope of the intended course and for faculty to provide specific suggestions or guidance to the student (if any are needed). We expect that the student’s course design will be her/his own work; as such, students should not consult other students who have done this assignment before nor seek feedback on the materials the student has compiled. During the preparation of the materials, students may seek out committee members if the need for clarification arises, but it is expected that students will work independently on the selection of topics, readings, and assignments for the syllabus, as well as in the preparation of the three papers.

Rationale for Assignment Format

This assignment is designed to allow students to achieve three goals through one process. First, this assignment will require students to review and engage with a wide range of topics in clinical psychology, including topics outside the specialty areas of our faculty. Second, this assignment will help students develop and receive feedback on teaching materials that could be useful to them in the future. Note that the purpose of the final meeting is not to evaluate students’ teaching methods and/or philosophy, although students may choose to discuss such topics with faculty after the defense if so interested. Third, this assignment will help the faculty assess the student’s mastery of the domain.

 

Please see departmental guidelines for general information about the preliminary exam process. The Developmental prelim process consists of two components: (a) a breadth requirement and (b) a depth requirement.

When students are ready to begin the prelim process, they should assemble a prelim committee. Note that the student’s mentoring committee can serve as the prelim committee (this is typical throughout the department). The minimum prelim committee size is three faculty members (including the advisor). Students should aim to assemble a committee comprised of faculty with different areas of expertise. Ideally, the same committee members will advise both the breadth and depth prelim components for a student.

Students are encouraged to complete their breadth prelim during the summer between Years 2 and 3, and then complete their depth prelim within a year of completing the breadth prelim.

The Breadth Prelim Requirement

Overview. For the breadth requirement, students typically design an undergraduate course covering a broad content area in developmental psychology. The course should include a lecture component and a section, with a syllabus for each. In addition, students write three different essays (see below).

The course design option serves three goals: First, the assignment requires students to review and engage with a wide range of topics in developmental psychology, including topics outside the specialty areas of our faculty. Second, the assignment helps students develop and receive feedback on teaching materials that could be useful to them in the future. Third, the assignment helps the faculty assess the student’s mastery of the field.

Note: If a student thinks the course design option is not the best way to satisfy the breadth component of the prelim, the student may seek her or his committee’s approval to follow a different plan and process than the one outline below.

Process and Components for the Course Design Option.

(1) We suggest that students have a preliminary meeting with their committee before they start working on the breadth prelim. However this is recommended, not required. Students may also check-in with committee members informally rather than hold a meeting with all committee members present.

(2) Select a broad content area in developmental psychology. Broad areas include: child development, adolescent development, or adult development (“cognitive development”, for example, would be too narrow for this exercise).

(3) Compose a syllabus for a semester-long undergraduate lecture course in that area. Assume the semester has 15 weeks and that your class will meet twice a week. The syllabus should include: (A) the topic(s) that will be covered by each lecture; (B) details about required readings to support each lecture (e.g., “read pp. 135-150 of Chapter 9 of our textbook”); (C) basic information about how you will evaluate students’ performance in the course (e.g., a midterm and a final; final project; other ideas?). Note that you do not need to write the exams or the lectures for the course.

(4) Compose a syllabus for a once-a-week discussion or lab section to accompany the lecture component of the course. Assume that the goal of the section is to allow your students to engage more deeply with the lecture material and have the opportunity to discuss important findings (classic and/or modern) in the field. The syllabus should include the reading(s) (and activities, if relevant) for each section. Note that discussing a reading (or pair of readings) is an acceptable section activity.

(5) As you prepare your course, think about how you would introduce your students to: classic debates in the field, current debates in the field, and future directions for the field. For the prelim, write three papers (~4-6 pages each) that dovetail with your course preparation. In one essay, describe a classic debate in the field. In a second essay, describe a current debate in the field. In a third essay, describe where you think the field is going in the future.

(6) Schedule a final meeting with your prelim committee. Send all documents (i.e., lecture syllabus; section syllabus; paper on classic debate; paper on current debate; paper on future directions) to the committee at least one week prior to the meeting.

Come to the meeting prepared to describe and answer questions about your course, including topics (Why these topics and not others?) and readings (What other readings did you consider? If your course requires a textbook, why did you choose the one you chose?), as well as your three essays. Also come to the meeting prepared to answer questions about what the assumptions and themes are for your course. For example: Will your course have a particular theoretical bent (e.g., evolutionary psychology)? How does your course differ from any other course in developmental psychology (e.g., in-depth coverage of a particular topic or approach)?

Note. We expect that the student’s course design will be her/his own work; as such, students should not consult other students who have done this assignment in the past. During the preparation of the materials, students may seek out committee members if the need for clarification arises, but it is expected that students will work independently on the selection of topics, readings, and assignments for the syllabus, as well as the preparation of the three essays.

The Depth Prelim Requirement

For the depth requirement, students write a formal paper covering a specific area of interest.

Process and Components

(1) Work with your mentor to determine the scope and nature of your depth prelim paper. Possible formats include an NRSA proposal, a meta-analysis, a review paper, or a draft of the first chapter of your (intended) dissertation.

(2) Meet with your prelim committee before you begin writing your depth prelim. Draft a formal summary of your depth prelim plan, and send it to your committee one week before the meeting.

(3) Schedule a final meeting with your prelim committee. Send your depth prelim to the committee at least one week prior to the meeting. Come to the meeting prepared to describe and answer questions about the material in your depth prelim.

Goals and Format of Prelims 

The goals for the preliminary exams are to promote mastery of the breadth of ideas in Social Psychology as well as a set of professional capabilities including reviewing and consideration of methods and issues in the conduct our science. Together these skills will help to prepare students to become independent thinkers and scholars, capable of launching their own professional careers.  

Components of the revised prelims will be:

Prepare a review of a scholarly article submitted to a journal.  

Reviewing journal articles is one of the most frequent and important tasks we complete as scholars in the discipline.  The goal of this requirement is to develop an understanding of what a review should entail and to practice preparing reviews.  

To wit, students will complete at least one review (overseen by advisor) written in the year before prelims are taken.  The target paper should be long enough to warrant a review of approximately 2 pages.

In the process, students should think about the role of the reviewer and the role of the editor in the review process.  Students should also consider the author’s perspective when drafting the review.  Writing critical (often the, perhaps too, easy part) yet constructive reviews (the more challenging and possibly more important part) is critical to progress in science.  

Lead one brown bag on a topic of interest that is not the student’s specific research topic.  

Leading discussions is an important skill to develop for the purposes of teaching, participating in brown bags, and more general discussion of the issues related to the field.  The goal is to encourage breadth in thinking about the field.  

Examples of possible topics include but are not limited to: Use of control groups, power, replication, good research practices.  Pretty much any topic that facilitates good discussion of critical issues to doing quality science or to advancing theory would be appropriate.  Students should present a 10-15 minute overview and then serve as discussion leader.  The topic should be approved by all members of the social area.

In class portion of the prelim.

As has been true historically, there will be an in class portion of the prelim.  The goal of this portion of the prelim is for students to demonstrate mastery of the substance of our discipline.  Mastering the substance of the discipline is essential for doing one’s own science in the field and it is essential for engaging with other scholars, reviewing, engaging is dialogue/debate about issues in the field, etc.  Historically, there has been considerable choice in the questions students could answer on the prelim.  The downside of such latitude in choosing what to answer is that students could selectively prepare for the exam.  Moving forward, the format will be similar to years gone by (e.g., identifications, short answer, longer essays), but students will have less choice in questions to answer.  

The “at home” portion of the prelim will be a scholarly paper.  

Historically, the take home exam included 5 essay questions (one typically being an article to review) and was completed over a 1-week period. Moving forward, students will prepare a scholarly a paper aimed at outlining the future issues to be addressed in the student’s research area. Writing this type of paper is a professional productive activity and could lead to a publication.  It should be roughly 30 pages of text excluding references.  For most students, the paper should serve to launch dissertation ideas.  A one-page paper proposal is required four months before the paper due date. 

All of these components will be evaluated by all members of the social area, except the review, which is subject to confidentiality constraints.

In addition to readings in P728, the faculty expects students qualifying for candidacy to have read the following classic papers.  Questions about these pared may be posed on the in-class portion of the prelim.  Question for the in class exam, however, are not limited to these readings. Students should be up-to-date in their journal reading and conversant with topics covered in brownbag sessions (e.g., outside speakers, field related discussions led by faculty or other students).  


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