Doctoral Program

The Doctoral Program

Psychology Doctoral Student Handbook

(will be updated early 2018)

Orientation Video for Psychology General Masters and Psychology Doctoral students 

Dissertation Guide

Dissertation Template

The Department of Psychology and Special Education offers a Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology. This program has an interdisciplinary perspective, with a strong foundation in methodology. The focus of the program is human cognition and instruction. Students will acquire an in-depth knowledge of human learning and cognition, instructional strategies, research, and evaluation. This emphasis will prepare students to integrate knowledge of human cognition and instructional practice across a variety of occupational, educational, and content matter domains, with emphasis on applications of learning technologies. For Frequently Asked Questions, click here.

Goals of the Ph.D. program in Psychology

1    Provide students with an understanding of the past, present, and future development of the science of Psychology and the discipline of Psychology.

2    Provide students with the understanding required for ethical decision-making and professional practices in the roles of researcher, student, and Psychologist.

3    Provide students with an understanding of the processes and principles that underlie the discipline and science of Psychology, including cognitive development, learning, cognition, and instructional design.

4    Provide students with the skills and understandings needed to design, execute, and evaluate research.

5    Provide students with an understanding of pedagogy and support the development of the skills needed to select, apply, and evaluate the use of educational technology to assist learning, teaching, and training.

Departmental and Federal financial support is available to graduate students during their training. Financial Aid opportunities exist in the form of scholarships, fellowships, grants, and loans. Funding is available, but highly competitive. (Link to Financial Aid)

Admission Requirements



Interviews by invitation only to be held 3rd Friday of February


Interviews by invitation only to be held 3rd Friday of June


 Interviews by invitation only to be held 3rd Friday of October


 Interviews by invitation only to be held 4th Friday of March

Applicants are notified in writing of their status after the application review process.

Students should apply for admission to the Graduate School by completing the application form and providing the requested documentation (i.e., transcripts, GRE scores, recommendations, goal statement, resume). It is possible to transfer prior graduate coursework in Psychology, provided that the classes were taken within the time frame outlined by the Graduate School. Only courses that closely match a corresponding course in the curriculum of the Psychology program will be considered for transfer credit.

Admission to the doctoral program in Psychology is competitive because available facilities and faculty do not permit admission of all qualified applicants. Thus, the Department of Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education maintains the right to deny admission to applicants that fail to meet personal or academic admission standards.

The following information is required or recommended by the Department for consideration of admission:

1)    Graduate Record Examination:
There is no cut-off or minimum score. However, the following scores are desirable.
        GRE quantitative: 550 and higher
        GRE verbal for native English speakers: 500 and higher
        GRE writing: 4.5 and higher

2.    Transcripts:
Applicants are not required to have completed an undergraduate or graduate major in Psychology, nor is any prerequisite graduate coursework required for admission.

a.    Applicants holding the master's degree must have an overall grade point average of at least 3.50 on graduate work, exclusive of practicum and thesis grades.
b.    For students applying with a completed non-thesis master's degree, completion of the thesis will be required prior to admission to doctoral candidacy (empirical thesis can be completed in our program en route to the dissertation and doctoral candidacy).

Master's to Ph.D. in Psychology

The Department of Psychology, Counseling, and Special Education offers the Master of Science and Master of Arts degrees in Psychology. Students can obtain a 30 hour Master's degree with a thesis or 36 hour degree without a thesis. Most of the coursework completed for the M.A. and M.S. programs may be transferred to the Ph.D. program in Psychology.

Ph.D. Curriculum Description

The University requires 90 hours for all incoming students, regardless of whether or not a Master's degree has been completed (unless an empirical thesis was completed in some area of psychology, which would be reviewed by the doctoral committee prior to admission). However, the cognate (minor) part of the degree plan can be filled with Master's level courses transferred in from another university. The student advisor in the department addresses this during the student's first year in the program.

To meet Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board requirements, no more than 49% of a student's coursework can be taken online and used for credit toward the degree. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT - AT LEAST 51% OF COURSES NEED TO BE TAKEN FACE-TO-FACE IN COMMERCE.

The program has five components: Program Core, Doctoral Tools, Electives, Cognate area, and Research Credits (i.e., thesis and dissertation). More specifically (Italics = online offering):

Program Core: (21 hours – pick 7 courses) (* = recommended as first courses to take)

Psy 505 Introduction to Educational Psychology (or Psy 511 Cognitive Science)*

Psy 509 History and Systems of Psychology

Psy 594 Ethical Issues in Organizations

Psy 618 Group Dynamics*

Psy 620 Human Learning and Cognition*

Psy 621 Advanced Cognition (req 620)

Psy 622 Research and Design (may not be required for students with a thesis in‐hand)*

Psy 625 Cognition and Instruction I

Psy 627 Social Cognition

Psy 675 Advanced Topics in Educational Psychology: (18‐21 hours)

Doctoral Tools

Psy 695 Research Methodology (Doctoral Tools 1)

Psy 612 Introduction to Statistics (Doctoral Tools 2)

Psy 681 Intermediate Statistics (Doctoral Tools 3)

Psy 610 Nonparametric Statistics (Doctoral Tools 4)

OR Psy 670 Multivariate Statistics (Doctoral Tools 4)

Psy 671 Advanced Tests and Measurements (Doctoral Tools 5)


Psy 514 Theories of Human Learning

Psy 515 Neuromechanisms/Biological Bases of Behavior

Psy 517 Introduction to Human‐Computer Interaction Design

Psy 527 Social/Cultural Bases of Behavior

Psy 535 Applied Behavior Analysis

Psy 539 Forensic Psychology

Psy 545 Developmental Psychology

Psy 572 Psychological Assessment and Measurement (if taken prior to 671)

Psy 601 Perception

Psy 605 Single Subject Designs

Psy 626 Cognition and Instruction II (req 625)

Psy 661 Organizational Change and Improvement

Psy 679 Program Evaluation

Psy 680 Professional Development

Psy 689 Directed Independent Study (up to 6 hours)

Cognate Area: (18 hours). The cognate area is similar to a minor. This should be a grouping of courses that ties into an area of specialization relevant to your academic and career goals. This area should be constructed in consultation with the coordinator of the doctoral program. Final approval of the cognate area is in the hands of the coordinator and the Graduate School.

Example Approved Cognate: Computer Science

CS 504 Introduction to Computer Applications

CS 514 Internet Development

CS 515 Fundamentals of Programming (req 504)

CS 520 Information Structures and Algorithm Analysis (req 515)

CS 531 Java Programming (coreq 520)

CS 538 Artificial Intelligence (req 520)

Research Credits: (12‐18 hours)

Psy 518 Thesis (up to 6 hours; required of students without a Master's)

Psy 718 Dissertation (up to 12 hours)

Summer Residency Program

This exists to take some of the burden of taking so many courses face-to-face in Commerce off of students who do not live nearby. The student should keep in mind, however, that, depending upon how much graduate coursework is transferred in, FACE-TO-FACE COURSES MAY NEED TO BE TAKEN IN COMMERCE DURING SPRING OR FALL IN ORDER TO MEET REQUIREMENTS, OR MORE THAN FOUR SUMMER RESIDENCIES MAY NEED TO BE TAKEN. Below is a logical course sequence for the summer residence, but these specific courses will not always be offered in a given summer.

First June at Commerce

Psy 505 Introduction to Educational Psychology OR Psy 511 Cognitive Science

Psy 622 Research and Design

Second June at Commerce

Psy 620 Human Learning and Cognition

Psy 627 Social Cognition

Third June at Commerce

Psy 625 Cognition and Instruction I

Psy 671 Advanced Tests and Measurements OR approved elective substitute

Fourth June at Commerce

Psy 675 Advanced Topics in Educational Psychology

Psy 618 OR approved elective substitute

Opportunities After Graduation

Career opportunities for psychologists exist with federal and state educational agencies, national and state legislative groups, regional educational laboratories and research centers, higher education, public and private schools, professional organizations, high technology companies, military, publishers, private funding agencies, medical organizations, and private consulting. Increasing opportunities for psychologists are expected in all settings where job training or retraining is required and where technology-assisted learning (including distance education) is employed.

Doctoral Program FAQs

For Prospective Students


What training does the doctoral program offer?
We study the cognitive and social process in complex learning whether it takes place in classroom or everyday life. We do not provide clinical or counseling training at the Ph.D. level. We have a clinical master’s program; contact Dr. Steve Ball for more information. We have a school psychology master’s program; contact Dr. Jennifer Schroeder for more information.

How do I apply?
Please follow the instructions at the Graduate School.

If you have any questions not answered by these websites, the best thing to do is to email

What is the minimum of GRE?
We do not adopt the minimum GRE score policy.

Can you tell me if I get in? Can you tell me why I did not get in?
We have an organized admissions process. The doctoral committee considers all applications and makes its recommendations. Recommendations are done by the committee, not by individual professors. Then the faculty meeting at the department reviews the recommendations and makes the decisions.

Do you have any online classes?
We offer some online classes, so a portion of your course work can be done online.

Can you provide some information about the program?
Please read the pdf file here.

What is the time frame for a summer residence?
It always starts on the first Monday of June and lasts for 2.5 weeks.

For Current Students

When can I map out my degree plan?
We will discuss your degree plan when you come to do your residence. Prior to that, contact me regarding your course work.

Can we set up an appointment to discuss my degree plan?
In your best interests, I ask everyone to wait till your residence and bring your portfolio and thesis if you have done one at another university. Email me ( for the Degree Plan Spreadsheet in Excel for you to keep track of your degree plan.

Can I get a student handbook?
Download handbook here.

Who should I contact if I cannot register in myLeo?
Contact Tabitha at 903.886.5631.

How long does it take to get the degree?
It depends on when you start to do your research and how you do your research. Any tips? Do some every week, keep a journal of your progress and ideas, and really touch base with your adviser.

Do you have a description of faculty research interests?
Please check out the department website, and contact the individual faculty member if you need more details.

What is the time frame for a summer residence?
It always starts on the first Monday of June and lasts for 2.5 weeks.

What is the 9-month rule?
Make sure you complete the doctoral tool courses listed in the handbook 9 months before you actually could graduate.

If I moved, who should I contact for address changes?
Other than the postal office, you should email Tabitha at

When does the department conduct its annual evaluation of students?
Usually we do this in September. Download the academic progress report here, fill it out, and send it to me ( electronically. I need this document, and not your CV.

How difficult is comp? Or how will my answer be graded?
We are not a program that looks to fail students in comps. Some programs are. Whether you pass or fail, it is the unanimous decision made by at least two experts on the topic.

Is there some comp reading list?
Download the current comps reading list suggested by some faculty members here. Note that the department has and will have new faculty members. This means you need to contact them for any updates.

What would qualify as a good answer to a comp question?
First, quote Dr. Zelhart here.

“I just finished grading a dozen comprehensive examinations. There is a problem with the way several of our students responded to several questions. They treat a question as if it is asking for their analysis rather than what the literature might indicate. There was a general lack of appropriate citations. Treating a question as a thought problem might be alright for some disciplines. Ours is an empirical endeavor, however. Students’ answers should reference appropriate literature rather than their opinions”.

Second, let me give you an example.

Theoretical claim: Memory is highly malleable.

Empirical Evidence: Loftus and Palmer (1974) showed participants short traffic safety films of car accidents. They subsequently asked participants in different conditions how fast the cars were going when they ‘contacted,’ ‘bumped into,’ ‘collided with,’ ‘smashed into,’ or ‘hit’ each other. The speed implied by the verb in the question affected participants’ judgments, such that more intense verbs led higher estimates than less intense verbs. (Note: I quoted this from Zwaan et al. (04).

Third, what if I cannot remember all the studies?

No one expects you to remember them all. However, in my personal view, you need to know at least know one or two studies for each theory.

Do I need to apply to Graduate School prior to my dissertation proposal and final defense?
You need to apply 30 days prior to your proposal and final defense meetings. You need to apply twice!