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Doctor of Philosophy in Behavioral Psychology

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Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology Degree Requirements

The doctoral program trains highly competent researchers in applied behavioral science (e.g., applied behavior analysis, applied psychology). Students are taught to discover and produce, translate and apply, and communicate knowledge in the behavioral sciences for understanding and solving problems of individual and societal importance, both local and global. The curriculum requires a sequence of instruction that integrates courses in the basic principles of behavior, experimental methods and research design, and conceptual foundations, but emphasizes course work and training in applied and intervention research (e.g., assessment, analysis, intervention, evaluation). Its objective is to discover and advance empirically based solutions to problems of individual and societal importance, both local and global.

The doctoral program follows a junior-colleague model. Students work closely with their advisers and join them in every aspect of professional development. This includes designing and conducting research, preparing manuscripts for presentation and publication, presenting and publishing those manuscripts, preparing editorial reviews of manuscripts, and engaging in all facets of the responsible conduct of research. Students typically work with one adviser, but may work with other faculty members or have co-advisers. If a student’s or adviser’s interests change, students are free to change advisers.

Course Requirements

The doctoral degree program requires students to take 1 course in 9 areas, along with 2 practicum courses. The areas and the practicum courses are

  1. Ethical, Legal, and Professional Issues (3). Instruction in the ethical principles in the conduct of research (e.g., informed consent, data analysis), legal issues in professional conduct (e.g., plagiarism, copyright), and professional skills (e.g., journal reviewing, professional communication).
  2. Principles of Behavior I (3). The science of behavior (e.g., observation, experimentation), laboratory methods, basic behavioral principles (e.g., reinforcement, stimulus control), and their applications. (e.g., early childhood, disabilities).
  3. Research Methods I (3). Tactics and strategies of scientific research (e.g., objectivity, empiricism), the logic of experimentation (e.g., validity, reliability), measurement and direct observation, and experimental designs for single-subject and time-series analyses.
  4. Conceptual Foundations I (3). The history and philosophy of behavioral science, contemporary advances in basic research for application, the analysis of everyday conduct (e.g., cognition, emotion), and current issues in the discipline and profession (e.g., relations between basic and applied research).
  5. Applied Behavior Analysis I (3). The characteristics of applied behavioral research (assessment, analysis, intervention, evaluation), intervention research (clinical, community), applied procedures and programs, social validity, and ethical issues.
  6. Principles of Behavior or Conceptual Foundations II (3). Advanced treatment of
    (a) the basic principles (behavioral choice stimulus equivalence) or empirical research in selected content domains (behavioral development, verbal behavior) or
    (b) the historical, comparative, and contemporary foundations of behavior science.
  7. Research Methods II (3). Advanced treatment of the tactics and strategies of basic, applied, and intervention research (e.g., measurement, design), with an emphasis on conducting research in applied settings (e.g., community, school, organizations).
  8. Applied Behavior Analysis II (3). Advanced or specialized reviews of applied and intervention research relevant to new approaches (e.g., ecobehavioral analysis, functional assessment), special problems (e.g., autism, substance abuse), atypical populations (e.g., adolescents, elders), and applied settings (e.g., schools, nursing homes).
  9. Professional Development Seminar (1-3). An overview of professional issues in basic and applied research (consent, deception, bias), professional communications (authorship, plagiarism, publications, presentations), and professional development (vita preparation, job search strategies).
  10. Research or Intervention Practicum I and II (6). 2 supervised practicum courses in
    (a) basic or applied research or
    (b) behavioral interventions.

Master’s Thesis

Students complete an empirically based master’s thesis and pass an oral examination on it. With their adviser’s approval, empirically based theses from other programs may meet this requirement.

Research Skill

Doctoral students must demonstrate proficiency in a Foreign Language or Other Research Skill (FLORS) independent of, but consistent with and contributing to, their research programs. In the department, this may be met by

  1. Demonstrating proficiency in productive and receptive spoken language other than English or in sign language;
  2. Demonstrating reading proficiency in 2 languages other than English;
  3. Demonstrating competence in both computer programming and computer applications;
  4. Completing 3 thematically related courses beyond those required to satisfy the ABS doctoral requirements (e.g., research methods, quantitative methods, epidemiology, health psychology, law, linguistics, rehabilitation, public health);
  5. At least 2 first-author publications in peer-refereed journals other than those used to fulfill written comprehensive requirements; or
  6. At least 3 first-author scholarly presentations at professional meetings, no more than 1 of which may be a poster for work that was completed at KU.

Note: Responsible scholarship requirements were approved after this catalog was finalized. Contact your department or program for more information about this requirement for doctoral students.

Teaching Requirement

Graduate students receive training in the teaching and supervision of undergraduates. The requirement may be met in 1 of 2 ways. In the first, students serve as a paid half-time teaching assistants for 1 semester or as a quarter-time assistants for 2 semesters, assuming proportionate responsibility for class organization, lecturing, grading, and office hours under a faculty member’s supervision. In the second, students take LA&S 792 or ABSC 941, attend 3 brown bag lectures at the Center for Teaching Excellence, and present a guest lecture to the department. In both cases, students must also write a statement of teaching philosophy and obtain numeric evaluations of their teaching in their guest lectures.

Professional Seminar II Requirement

Doctoral students are required to present the results of their research at a department professional seminar meeting. The presentation is comparable to what would be presented at a professional conference. Students answer questions from their peers and the faculty in attendance.

Comprehensive Examination

Students begin work on the requirements of the comprehensive examination after fulfilling the research skill requirements. The examination has 3 components:

  1. Editorial Critiques. Students write 3 editorial reviews of published or unpublished journal articles, all of them empirical. The articles cover a range of topics and experimental designs. The first 2 are graded pass-fail by the student’s adviser; the third must be passed by 2 other faculty members.
  2. Written Examination. In preparation for the oral comprehensive examination, students write a research proposal that includes a critical and comprehensive review of the research literature relevant to the proposed research. The topic is chosen by students with the guidance of their advisers. Students may complete this requirement with a document formatted according to the 2010 APA Publication Manual or a federal grant proposal.
  3. Oral Examination. In preparation for the oral examination, students provide their comprehensive examination committee members with a copy of their research review and proposal at least 2 weeks before the date of the defense. During the examination, committee members ask students questions about the review and proposal, as well as on topics covered in the required doctoral curriculum. The defense is successful if a majority of the committee members vote to pass it.


In consultation with their advisers, students conduct an empirically based dissertation, typically based on the comprehensive examination proposal, and pass an oral examination on it. Before the defense can be scheduled, the Professional Seminar II requirement and all 3 components of the comprehensive examination must be passed. The defense is successful if a majority of the committee members vote to pass it. Any interested member of the College’s Graduate Faculty may attend.

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