Experimental Psychology Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. program in experimental psychology (which includes earning the M.S. degree, unless the student already holds a master's degree from a psychology department that was based on an empirical thesis) follows an apprenticeship model in which the student is exposed to individualized research experiences within the laboratory of his or her major professor and, in many cases, other faculty as well. This research training is accompanied by an integrated concentration of courses that support development of an area of specialization. Throughout, major emphasis is placed on the role of the psychologist as a scholar - a person who can advance the science of psychology through original research. 

Financial Support, Including Full Remission of Tuition:

Admitted students are funded via academic-year teaching assistantships (or, sometimes, research assistantships or project assistantships), which require approximately 20 hours of work per week. Teaching assistants usually lead discussion or laboratory sessions. In addition to their stipends (approximately $11,838 per academic year for a teaching assistant), all assistants receive full remission of tuition (both in-state and out-of-state tuition), as well as benefits such as health insurance. The Psychology Department is able to guarantee 3 years of assistantship funding for graduate students, but we typically fund students for far more than three years.

Applying to the Program:

The application deadline is December 1, 2014. To apply to the Experimental Psychology Ph.D. program, you must submit two separate applications, one to the UWM Graduate School and one to the Psychology Department. Please follow the link below to access the application materials. These materials include the Department of Psychology Graduate Admissions Brochure, which provides application instructions and describes all of our graduate programs in detail.


Areas of Study:

Although five major areas of study are available to students in the experimental Ph.D. program, the department has particular strengths in three areas: Behavior Analysis, Health and Social Psychology, and Neuroscience. Accordingly, the vast majority of students in the experimental Ph.D. program major in one of these areas.

About the Major in Behavior Analysis:

Behavior analysis is a field of experimental psychology focused on environmental influences on behavior. The major in behavior analysis provides students with broad theoretical, conceptual, and applied research training. Students may focus on the experimental or applied analysis of behavior. Students and faculty work together to investigate the fundamental relations between an organism's behavior and environmental events as well as techniques to apply these basic findings to a variety of situations in which a change in behavior is desired. Current research projects include the study of choice behavior in pigeons and assessment and intervention with children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Behavior Analysis Certification Board, Inc® has approved our course sequence as meeting the coursework requirements for eligibility to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst Examination® to become BCBA’s (nationally) and licensed behavior analysts (in Wisconsin). UWM currently has the only BACB approved course sequence in the state of Wisconsin.

About the Major in Neuroscience:

Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field devoted to the study of the nervous system. The major is designed to provide students with the intellectual and technical skills necessary for a productive career in academics or industry. The core faculty members are located in the psychology and biological sciences departments, and graduate students have frequent interactions with the faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and other students through course work, research collaborations, and weekly seminars. Students are also part of the greater Milwaukee Area Neuroscience group, which includes faculty and students from UWM, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Marquette University. Students majoring in neuroscience learn a wide range of techniques working with laboratory animals and human subjects. These include, but are not limited to, experimental design, behavioral testing and analysis, neurophysiology, aseptic surgical techniques, quantitative protein and mRNA assays, immunohistochemistry, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Current research topics include: cellular and molecular mechanisms of learning and memory; mapping brain areas involved in memory and emotion in humans and rodents using fMRI; effects of exercise on cerebral blood flow; mechanisms of recovery from brain damage; effects of aging on learning and memory; and the role of calcium and calcium binding proteins in ischemic cell death.

About the Major in Health and Social Psychology:

Health psychology, which is concerned with the psychological variables that influence physical health and illness, has become a dominant force in the health sciences, a field to which social psychological theories and research have much to offer. The major in health and social psychology offers training in research and theories relevant to health promotion. Faculty and students work together on projects focused on gender and health, cancer prevention and health education, reproductive health and STD prevention, patient advocacy and self-care behaviors, the effects of stress and mechanisms of coping with it and child abuse prevention. Research is conducted in the laboratory as well as in clinical settings, and many of the faculty have strong ties to the Milwaukee community.

Course Requirements:

  • Departmental major: Students in the Ph.D. program in experimental psychology select a major from the following three areas: Behavior Analysis, Health and Social Psychology, and Neuroscience. The number of courses required for the major depends on the area.
  • Minors: Students majoring in Health and Social Psychology or Neuroscience complete two minors; students majoring in Behavior Analysis complete one minor. The minor areas cannot be the same as the major area. Available areas for the minor are Behavior Analysis, Health and Social Psychology, Neuroscience, Cognition and Perception, Developmental Psychology, Quantitative Methods, Psychopathology, and Neurobiology (this minor is required of all Neuroscience majors, and is not available to students majoring in areas other than Neuroscience). Each minor consists of two to three courses, depending on the area.
  • Statistics requirement: Students complete the two-semester introductory statistics sequence (Psychology 510 and 610).
  • Breadth requirement: Students take at least one course in an area other than their major and minor areas.

Master’s Thesis:

The student, under the direction of his or her major professor, must develop an acceptable thesis based on empirical research. Candidates must pass an oral examination in defense of the thesis. Doctoral students must earn the M.S. within three years of enrolling (by March 10 of their third year for most favorable consideration within the teaching assistant priority system).

Note: Students who, upon admission, already have a master's degree from a department of psychology that included an empirically based master's thesis are exempt from the requirement of having to earn the M.S. at UWM. However, students admitted with a master's degree in psychology that did not include a thesis must complete a thesis or thesis-equivalent at UWM.

Doctoral Preminary Examination:

To advance to doctoral candidacy, students must pass a preliminary examination in their major area after they earn the M.S., and within five years of enrolling.


Candidates must write an empirically-based dissertation that demonstrates the ability to formulate a research topic and pursue an independent and original investigation. Candidates must pass an oral examination in defense of the dissertation. Students must pass the dissertation defense and earn the Ph.D. within seven years of enrolling.