Program Details

Graduate Handbook for Social Psychology [PDF] – In this document you can learn about the social psychology program’s training philosophy and goals as well as the curriculum and requirements for the master’s and PhD programs.

Program Strengths

VCU’s social psychology PhD program provides excellent training for academic positions and for research positions in government and in the private sector. The program has a strong track record in recent years of sending graduates to faculty and post-doctoral positions at research universities (e.g., City University of New York, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University) and at teaching colleges (e.g., Hope College). Recent graduates have also taken Program Director and other positions at the National Institutes of Health (e.g., Tobacco Control Research Branch, Child Development and Behavior Branch).

Students have the opportunity not only to collaborate with social psychology faculty, but with talented affiliate faculty, including Dr. Nao Hagiwara in the Health Psychology program, Dr. Scott Vrana in the Clinical Psychology program, and Dr. Ev Worthington in the Counseling Psychology program. In addition, affiliate faculty at the University of Richmond, including Dr. Don Forsyth and Dr. Scott Allison, serve on thesis and dissertation committees, and collaborate with VCU faculty and students.

Social PhD students develop important skills and abilities during their training:

  • Knowledge of psychological science, particularly social psychology. Students are broadly trained in the basic areas of psychology, including the biological bases of behavior and learning and cognition. Students become knowledgeable in foundational areas within social psychology, including attitudes and attitude change, social perception and social cognition, the self and identity, attraction and long-term relationships, stereotyping and prejudice, and more. Students also develop a professional identity as social psychologists, joining professional associations such as the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), the Association for Psychological Science (APS), and/or specific disciplinary or regional organizations (e.g., Society for Prevention Research, Society for Southeastern Social Psychologists). 
  • Expertise in theory development and research design. Students develop the ability to conceptualize a problem and develop testable explanations of social phenomena. Through a class on social psychological research methods, as well as collaboration with faculty and fellow graduate students, students develop a host of laboratory and field research skills. In addition to the thesis and dissertation, students are expected to collaborate with faculty on research projects throughout their training, and the results of these research projects are published in high impact journals and presented at regional and national conferences. 
  • Statistical expertise. Students take a rigorous two-semester course sequence in statistical methods during their first year, and are urged to take several advanced statistical courses. Across a variety of departments, VCU has an excellent set of course offerings, such as meta-analysis, multi-level modeling, structural equation modeling, and more. Social students typically develop strong expertise in a variety of statistical methods, which opens doors for collaboration across the department and the university, as well as expanded employment opportunities after graduation.
  • Presenting research at conferences and publishing research in psychological journals. A top research priority of graduate students is to publish their work in high-impact psychology journals. Our students typically graduate with multiple publications in social psychology and other specialized and broadband psychology journals, including the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Students also are active in presenting their work at annual national and international conferences.
  • Instructor training. Our teacher training and opportunities to teach are exemplary. Students develop their pedagogical skills by taking Dr. Jody Davis’ teaching practicum course. Graduate students have opportunities to be teaching assistants in two or three different courses. In addition, upon completion of their master’s thesis, students are strongly encouraged to teach their own section of social psychology in the summer. Future summers often provide opportunities to develop additional courses (e.g., Introduction to Psychology). Our graduates have won a very high percentage of the Outstanding Graduate Student Teacher of the Year awards in the last two decades. Students also have conducted research on the scholarship of teaching with faculty members. All of these skills and experiences greatly enhance post-graduation employment prospects.
  • Mentorship of undergraduate and junior graduate students. Students have opportunities to gain mentorship skills by working with undergraduate research assistants and junior graduate students in their faculty advisor’s research lab. In addition, the Graduate Student Mentorship Program provides a year-long training in mentoring undergraduate research interns. The Preparing Future Faculty Program also provides excellent preparation for academic positions.