Note: Admission to this program is temporarily suspended.

Program goal

The Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology offered by VCU prepares students for basic or applied research and includes three specialty areas: biopsychology, developmental psychology and social psychology. The concentration in developmental psychology trains students for work in either college or university academic departments or applied settings. Applied developmentalists work in a variety of settings and programs (violence prevention, community intervention, schools, family service agencies, nonprofit agencies, health care settings, disability agencies) with a variety of human populations (infants and young children, school-age children, adolescents, at-risk youth, incarcerated youth and adults, parents, older adults, persons with disabilities); they do not offer counseling/therapy services.

The Center for Psychological Services and Development, a campus-based community service agency operated by the department, provides training opportunities for graduate students in all departmental programs, including practicum and research training for graduate students in the clinical psychology program. A wide variety of other on- and off-campus practicum placements also are available.

The department maintains laboratory facilities for research in the areas of behavioral assessment, behavioral medicine, developmental, learning, behavioral pharmacology, psychophysiology, psychotherapy process, social perception, social influence and group dynamics. Opportunities for field research also are available in a variety of settings.

Student learning outcomes

  1. Students will acquire an accurate, comprehensive and up-to-date understanding of biopsychological concepts, principles and findings in the key domains of the field, including physiology, learning and memory, and current neuroscience principles.
  2. Students will develop the intellectual skills required to generate theories, do research, communicate ideas and information to others, evaluate conclusions statistically, locate the information needed for these intellectual pursuits and prepare scientific reports.
  3. Students will strive to expand the conceptual and empirical foundations of the field by conducting original research utilizing sound research methodologies. The results of these studies are presented at scientific conferences and published in scientific journals. This research is, in some cases, supported by extramural grants to biopsychology faculty or students.

VCU Graduate Bulletin, VCU Graduate School and general academic policies and regulations for all graduate students in all graduate programs

The VCU Graduate Bulletin website documents the official admission and academic rules and regulations that govern graduate education for all graduate programs at the university. These policies are established by the graduate faculty of the university through their elected representatives to the University Graduate Council.

It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU Graduate Bulletin as well as the Graduate School website and academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites. However, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the VCU Graduate Bulletin and Graduate School websites, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

Visit the Graduate study section for additional information on academic regulations for graduate students.

Degree candidacy requirements

A graduate student admitted to a program or concentration requiring a final research project, work of art, thesis or dissertation, must qualify for continuing master’s or doctoral status according to the degree candidacy requirements of the student’s graduate program. Admission to degree candidacy, if applicable, is a formal statement by the graduate student’s faculty regarding the student’s academic achievements and the student’s readiness to proceed to the final research phase of the degree program.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following degree candidacy policy as published in the VCU Graduate Bulletin for complete information and instructions.

Visit the Graduate study section for additional information on degree candidacy requirements.

Graduation requirements

As graduate students approach the end of their academic programs and the final semester of matriculation, they must make formal application to graduate. No degrees will be conferred until the application to graduate has been finalized.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following graduation requirements as published in the Graduate Bulletin for a complete list of instructions and a graduation checklist.

Visit the Graduate study section for additional information on graduation requirements.

Note: Admission to this program is temporarily suspended.

Admission requirements

Degree: Semester(s) of entry: Deadline dates: Test requirements:
Ph.D. Fall Jan 10 GRE-General

In addition to the general admission requirements of the VCU Graduate School, the following requirements represent the minimum acceptable standards for admission.

  1. Applicants must have graduated with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, but not necessarily with a major in psychology.
  2. Applicants must present 18 semester hours of undergraduate course work in psychology. This is the minimal, but not optimal, number of hours for an applicant to be considered for admission. Included must be each of the following courses: general psychology, statistics and experimental psychology. Exceptionally well-qualified applicants with less than a major in psychology, or applicants whose undergraduate work is considered outdated by the admissions committee, may be advised to complete some additional undergraduate courses at the beginning of their graduate study program.
  3. Applicants must present an undergraduate record indicating superior academic potential.
  4. Students must show proof of satisfactory performance on the GRE.
  5. Three letters of recommendation from previous instructors are required.
  6. A personal interview may be required at the discretion of the department.

The number of students who can be admitted is limited by the facilities and staff available. All applicants will be notified of the decision made. The screening process may begin as early as Jan. 1. First offers of admission are made by April 1. By June 1, after other offers to alternates have been made and final acceptances by students have been received, admissions may be closed.

Applicants to the psychology doctoral program should specify to which of the three divisions they are applying (i.e., biopsychology, developmental or social).

Transfer credit hours for graduate work at other institutions will be evaluated after the completion of nine semester hours in the department.

Note: Admission to this program is temporarily suspended.

Degree requirements

In addition to general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, students are required to complete course work in core and elective courses and to conduct significant research. All work toward the Ph.D. degree must be completed within eight years of the first enrollment.

  1. Credit hour requirements: Students in the psychology Ph.D. program are required to earn a minimum of 72 graduate-level credit hours beyond the baccalaureate. At least one-half of the credit hours presented for graduation must be at the 600 level or higher.
  2. Grade requirement: Receipt of a grade of C or lower in two courses, or grades of C or lower in more than six credit hours of psychology courses, constitutes automatic dismissal of a student from the program.
  3. Master’s-level candidacy and requirements: All students in the Department of Psychology are required to complete a department core curriculum (13-15 credit hours) or its equivalent for students entering with a master’s degree. Students who receive grades of B or better in each of the department core courses are considered to have fulfilled the university requirements of a master’s-level comprehensive examination and will then officially be considered candidates for the Master of Science degree. Students who receive grades of C or lower in two or more department core courses will have failed the comprehensive examination and will be dismissed automatically from the program. Students who receive a grade of C or lower in one of the department core courses must either (a) satisfactorily complete a re-examination of the material covered in the course within one semester following the receipt of the grade (this re-examination is to be arranged and evaluated by the course instructor) or (b) repeat the course for credit the next time it is offered and receive a grade of B or better. Regardless of which of these approaches is chosen, the students will be given only one opportunity to demonstrate that they have mastered the course material. Students who either fail the re-examination or repeat the course and receive a grade of C or lower will have failed the comprehensive examination and will be dismissed from the program. Additional courses and training experiences will be determined in consultation with and subject to the approval of the student’s faculty adviser and graduate program committee. All students are required to complete a master’s thesis and to defend it successfully in an oral examination. Ideally, the thesis should be publishable as a piece of research and make a contribution to the field of psychology. Students who have previously completed a master’s thesis in psychology at another university may have the thesis requirement waived if the thesis is accepted by their graduate program committee. The residence requirement for the master’s degree is 18 hours, nine in each of two consecutive semesters. Completion of the degree usually requires four semesters. At least six credit hours in PSYC 798 must be completed, and no more than six can be counted toward the M.S. degree.
  4. Doctoral candidacy and requirements: Students are obligated to request, in writing from their program committees, continuation of study beyond the master’s degree and approval of their doctoral plan of study. Application from a student for continuation beyond the master’s level will be evaluated by the appropriate program committee after completion of all requirements for the master’s degree. The program committee reviews the student’s request and approves or disapproves the request. The student must pass a written preliminary examination to become a doctoral candidate. Students are required to complete this requirement prior to defense of their dissertations and prior to leaving on internship for students in the clinical and counseling psychology programs. With the consent of the program committee, doctoral students may design a minor consisting of courses in departments other than psychology or courses in an area of psychology other than the major. Both the clinical and counseling psychology programs require completion of applied practica and a one-year predoctoral internship approved by the program committee. Research practica are required by all programs. Practicum credit hours will vary depending on the program. Internship will be one-half credit hour per semester. A dissertation requiring the planning, completion and oral defense of an original research project is an integral part of the doctoral program. At least 12 credit hours in PSYC 898 must be completed, and no more than 12 can be counted toward the Ph.D. degree. Completion of the entire program usually requires four to six years (including the internship year for students in the clinical and counseling programs). Candidates must complete all requirements for the Ph.D. degree within an eight-year period from the date of admission to the graduate program unless permission is granted for an extension. In some cases, specific programs and divisions may have requirements in addition to those stated here.

A more detailed description of the requirements for each of the graduate programs is included in the Department of Psychology’s Graduate Student Handbook, which is provided to each incoming graduate student. Visit the website for more information:

Curriculum requirements

Department core courses
PSYC 617Sensation and Perception 13
or PSYC 629 Biological Basis of Behavior
PSYC 619Learning and Cognition 13
PSYC 675Ethical Principles of Psychology 12
PSYC 680Statistics in Psychological Research I 13
PSYC 681Statistics in Psychological Research II 13
Required psychology courses
Select one of the following:3
Psychology of Aging
Developmental Processes
Social Development
PSYC 638The Evolution of Psychological Systems3
PSYC 671Readings and Research (and/or) 13
or PSYC 690 Research Practicum
PSYC 798M.S. Thesis 16
PSYC 898Doctoral Dissertation12
Required courses for concentration in biopsychology
PSYC 617Sensation and Perception 1,23
or PSYC 629 Biological Basis of Behavior
PSYC 639Research Methods in Biopsychology 13
Select three of the following: 19
Mammalian Physiology
Neurochemical Pharmacology
Behavioral Pharmacology
Seminar in Motivation
Physiological Correlates of Emotion
Special Topics
Recommended electives
Select 16 credit hours of the following: 116
Mammalian Physiology
Neurochemical Pharmacology
Behavioral Pharmacology
Special Topics in Pharmacology
Directed Research in Pharmacology
Seminar in Motivation
Physiological Correlates of Emotion
Social Psychology
Operant Behavior
Research Methods in Biopsychology
Readings and Research
Research Practicum
Special Topics
Grant Writing
Practicum in the Teaching of College Psychology
Total Hours72

Required course for M.S. degree (40 credit hours minimum) 


Complete the course not chosen for the departmental core above. 

Total number of graduate credit hours required (minimum) 72

Graduate program director
Michael A. Southam-Gerow, Ph.D.
Professor, associate chair and director of graduate studies
Phone: (804) 827-0585

Additional contact
Joseph H. Porter, Ph.D.
Professor and director, biopsychology concentration
Phone: (804) 828-0096

Program website: