For a student without previous graduate training but with an undergraduate major in psychology, sociology, or human development, the Ph.D. program usually requires five years. Students with more limited preparation may need additional time.  Students in the Ph.D. program are currently offered funding (tuition and a stipend, usually in the form of a teaching- or a research-assistantship) for five years. Graduate education at Cornell is based on a Special Committee, which consists of three faculty members for the Ph.D.  Special Committee members are chosen by the student from among graduate faculty whose research interests are compatible with the interests of the student.  The Special Committee in conjunction with the student decides which particular courses the student will take and guides the student's research.  Applications for admission require completing the application form for the Cornell Graduate School. 

Students enrolled in the Ph.D. program in the Department of Human Development may follow one of two subjects. The first subject is Developmental Psychology. The second subject is Human Development and Family Studies.

Developmental Psychology is the study of changes that occur in human beings over the course of their life span, from conception to the end of life. This subject includes a broad range of sub-areas, including cognitive development, developmental neuroscience, and social, personality, and emotional development.

Human Development and Family Studies focuses on the understanding of the dynamic interrelations among individual and ecological/ environmental factors as they relate to individual development and adjustment. The ecological factors include family, neighborhood, community, institutions, and social organization and norms.

Each subject contains areas of concentration in which students acquire more specialized expertise. Students also need to indicate two faculty members with whom they wish to work. 

For more information on the department view the Field of Study Guide - Human Development. The Faculty listing found in the Field of Study Guide for Human Development, paired with this more extensive information on Human Development Research will serve to clarify our faculty research strengths.

Apply for graduate study in Human Development at the Cornell University Graduate School. 

The milestones in the Human Development program are:

First year students must take a full load of credit hours (at least 9 hours per semester).  Among these courses, there are three that are required of all Human Development Ph.D students during the first year:

  • HD6200 First Year Proseminar in Human Development (Fall)
  • HD6750 Quantitative Methods I (Fall) or another course in statistics recommended by the Temporary Advisor
  • HD6760 Quantitative Methods II (Spring) or another course in statistics recommended by the Temporary Advisor and/or Special Committee chair

Other First Year Requirements: 

  • Complete at least one substantive theoretical course per semester.
  • Students must select a temporary advisor as soon as they begin their first semester. That person may become their special committee chair.  Changes may be made to the committee chair later in the first year if student interests change.  These changes are now made through one's Student Center.
  • Students should be enrolled in at least three courses each semester, four courses if they are supported by a fellowship. A research methods course is strongly recommended in the first year.
  • Before the end of the first semester: Students should be involved in a research project with an HD faculty or field member.
  • End of the second semester:  PhD students are required to present an in-progress research project to the HD faculty.  This need not be a completed research project. Empirical data is a plus for the presentation, but it is not a requirement.
  • Before the end of the first year:  Choose a committee chair and at least one more member of your Special Committee. A form must be filed with the Graduate School in order to record your committee; it cannot be filed by anyone but the student.  Students must meet at least once a year with their Special Committees.
  • Continue taking substantive courses as recommended by one's Special Committee. The Special Committee works with the student to select appropriate courses.
  • We strongly recommend that HD students take additional statistics courses and at least one research methods course during the second year.  A masters or predoctoral research project should be underway during the second year and this is facilitated by seeking appropriate methodological training.
    • Students who do not opt to complete a masters thesis in Human Development at Cornell must complete the predoctoral research requirement in order to qualify for the PhD.  The research requirement is met by writing an empirical research paper (see Masters thesis for a description of empirical research.) The empirical research paper should be written in the style of a journal article.  The student is expected to be the first or sole author of this paper.
    • The predoctoral paper is not "defended" in an oral exam, but it does need to be accepted by the entire Special Committee as fulfilling the predoctoral research requirement.  After the committee accepts the paper, the Special Committee chair writes a formal letter to the HD Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) stating that the committee has accepted the paper.
  • End of the second year:  You should add a third committee member to your special committee during your second year. The Graduate School requires that a third member be added before the beginning of the 5th semester (i.e. before the beginning of the third year). A form must be filed to add a 3rd member. Some students add a 4th member as well, particularly if they are completing minors.
  • Research should continue during the second year.  Involvement in a research laboratory will lead to opportunities to write papers that can be presented at professional meetings and then published as journal articles.
  • Summer before the third year:  Complete the masters thesis or a predoctoral research project. Students who entered the program with a masters degree in Human Development or closely-related field are required to complete a postdoctoral research project.
  • The masters thesis or predoctoral research project should be completed before the end of the first semester, if you are not able to complete it in the summer.
    • Students who do not opt to complete a masters thesis in Human Development at Cornell must complete the predoctoral research requirement in order to qualify for the PhD.  The research requirement is met by writing an empirical research paper (see Masters thesis for a description of empirical research.) The empirical research paper should be written in the style of a journal article.  The student is expected to be the first or sole author of this paper.
    • The predoctoral paper is not "defended" in an oral exam, but it does need to be accepted by the entire Special Committee as fulfilling the predoctoral research requirement.  After the committee accepts the paper, the Special Committee chair writes a formal letter to the HD Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) stating that the committee has accepted the paper.
  • Ideally, the masters thesis or predoctoral research project should be completed before the 5th semester at Cornell begins so that the A-exam can be completed before the end of the third year.
    • The A-exam is a Cornell Graduate School requirement.  The A-exam is where a PhD student demonstrates that he or she has sufficient scholarly achievement, disciplinary knowledge and methodological skill to proceed to PhD candidacy and to the dissertation, which is expected to be an original scholarly work that makes a contribution to the field of Human Development. Passing the A-exam is a significant milestone.
    •  The A-exam in HD consists of written papers (at least one from each Special Committee member) and an oral exam where the Special Committee as a whole examines the student's knowledge and preparation in the areas represented by the papers.  Each Special Committee member designs a written assignment for the student.  It is a good practice for the Special Committee to meet with the student and coordinate the topics, expectations, and due dates for the written papers.  This meeting should also facilitate a discussion of how each assignment will contribute to the student's development as a scientist.
    • The content of the written exam will vary for each student, but the following are practices typically used in HD.  None are absolute requirements for the A-exam; and there is no one "best" A-exam style:
      • A formal written proposal for the dissertation may be assigned
      • Review of substantive areas of research relevant to completing the thesis
      • Statistical and other design/methods problems for undertaking the thesis
      • Reviews of literature in fields that broaden a student's perspective in developmental science
      • Special requirements for completing minors, such as timed written exams and problem sets
    • It is also a good practice for the Special Committee to stagger due dates for different components of the exam.  Every member of the Special Committee should receive a copy of each of the papers completed for the exam (or results of timed tests and problem sets).
    • The A-exam must be formally scheduled a week in advance by the student, using the Graduate School's Schedule of Examination form. The findings of the exam (Pass, Conditional Pass, Fail) are recorded on the Results of Exam form. The forms must be signed by the appropriate committee members and the DGS and handed back to the Graduate School in order to record the exam.
    • It is a good practice for the student and the Chair of the Special Committee to meet before scheduling the exam in order to assess the student’s readiness for the exam.  The student and chair should also meet to discuss how the oral exam will be conducted.
  • Students often take courses during their third year, but enrollment in a full schedule of substantive classes is not required. Special committees frequently recommend additional statistics, methods, and theory courses to improve preparation for the A-exam.  Students should be involved in substantive research projects throughout the third year.
  • Students who are completing minors in statistics, psychology, or other fields of study should plan to complete any required course work for those minors by the end of the third year, before the A-exam. 
  • Before the 7th semester or 4th year: Complete and pass the A-exam.If you have completed your masters thesis or predoctoral research project before or early in your third year, you will be on time for completing the A-exam before the 7th semester
  • Write a dissertation proposal.  Some committees make a dissertation proposal part of the A-exam, others ask for it after the A-exam.
  • If you have not yet written or completed your dissertation proposal, complete it early in your 4th year.  Work on your dissertation research.
    • A dissertation in the Human Development field must be an empirical research study that makes an original contribution to the field.  It may be written in dissertation (monograph) style, with chapters for introduction, literature review, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion, or it may be written as three separate papers written in journal style, with an integrative introduction and conclusion separate from the three papers.  The structure and methods used for the dissertation are developed in partnership with the Special Committee.
    • The three paper option is increasingly popular with graduate students because this option facilitates building a strong C.V. for the job market.  All of the three papers must be first-authored or sole-authored by the graduate student. They may be previously published or in press.  It is essential that when taking this option that the three papers be theoretically connected, however this is usually the case if the student works in a faculty member's laboratory over a period of several years.
  • Students also remain involved in collaborative and other research projects during their fourth year in order to build their presentation and publication records for the job market.
  • The B-exam

    • The Graduate School requires that the B-exam be an oral exam where the Special Committee examines the student in the areas relevant to the dissertation.  The exam is technically a public event and is announced to faculty in the field before it takes place.  Guests may come to a B-exam, with the permission of the student and Special Committee.
    • The entire Special Committee must be in attendance. The oral defense is a graduate school requirement.  The dissertation thesis is read in advance by all Special Committee members who prepare questions for the student.  For courtesy's sake, every Special Committee member should receive a copy of the dissertation at least 7 days before the scheduled exam. (Two weeks in advance if the dissertation exceeds 100 pages.)
    • The thesis exam must be scheduled at least a week in advance through the Graduate School.  A signed form is required to schedule the exam. The form may be downloaded  and the student must allow enough time to get all of the required signatures. After completing the thesis exam, the student must also deliver a Results of Examination form to the Graduate School, which must be signed by all Special Committee members and the Director of Graduate Studies.
    • A final copy of the thesis must be delivered to the Graduate School by the student, by the date specified to meet degree award requirements.  The thesis must meet all the format requirements of the Graduate School.
  • Begin applying for academic or other jobs and post doctoral positions.
  • Complete the dissertation.
  • Continue involvement in other research projects which may result in publication.