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Queen's University
 

Developmental Psychology at Queen's UniversityGuidelines for Comprehensive Examination

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Normally, all students registered in the Developmental Graduate Program will write the Developmental Comprehensive Exam. Any exceptions must be approved by the student’s supervisor and by the Chairs of the Developmental and Graduate Committees. 

The comprehensive exam should be a broad extension of the student’s research interests and cover a topic that is in your broad area of study. The topic should not be directly related to your dissertation and may not form the introduction to your dissertation. The topic should also not be a direct extension of your Master’s thesis work. Students will begin work on the comprehensive exam during Ph.D. 1, with completion within one year (see details below).

There are 2 options for the comprehensive exam format:


Option 1:  Written Examination

Objectives. In Option 1, students create a reading list around a topic and when prepared, undertake a written examination. The abilities being assessed are: (1) the ability to develop a systematic understanding of a broad literature, and (2) the ability to quickly and coherently articulate answers to questions about that literature (much as one might have to do in discussions with expert colleagues or to a group of students). One can think of the goal of Option 1 as being to demonstrate enough depth and breadth of knowledge of a topic that one would be able to teach a graduate seminar on it. The timeline for completion is as follows:

Ph.D. 1 June: Proposal. The proposal is a short (approx. 4-5 pg.) description of the comprehensive exam plan, including: (1) the format/option chosen, (2) the topic chosen (including why the chosen format is appropriate), and (3) an explanation of how this exam will satisfy the general requirement of “breadth” requirement of the comprehensive exam (e.g., What is the broader importance of this topic?, How does this topic relate to the theoretical questions of importance in developmental psychology? What has research in this area uncovered and what remains to be investigated? What are some of the major disagreements in the field and why do they occur? )

Ph.D. 1 August: List of readings. The organized list will typically contain about 100-150 references, including books and/or articles, in whatever ratio is appropriate for the area. (Note, though, that if the area is book-heavy, the list will be on the smaller side.) It is possible that the student has already read some of the articles on the reading list. The reading list, however, must reflect the broad topic area and be designed to enhance, broaden, and bring breadth to the student’s knowledge of the topic. After compiling the list, it is reviewed by the comprehensive exam committee. Before approving the list, the committee has the right to make suggestions regarding additions or deletions to the list.

Ph.D. 2 June: Sample questions from student. The student will submit a specified number of sample questions that reflect the student’s knowledge of the reading list, and evidence an effort to integrate disparate areas of research. The committee will use these sample questions as the basis for their own questions for the examination. Ultimately, the committee will write the questions that form the exam. Typically, students will suggest 8-10 questions.

Ph.D. 2 June: Written Exam. The examination will typically consist of 6 take-home (and “open-book”) questions to be completed in two days. Evaluation of the student’s responses will be returned within 2 weeks.

Ph.D. 2 August: Revisions. If revisions are required, the student will resubmit the responses and include a cover letter. The cover letter is similar to the letters that one provides to journal editors when a revised manuscript is submitted and will address how the student has incorporated the revisions to the manuscript suggested by the committee.


Option 2:  Comprehensive Paper

Objectives: In Option 2, students will be required to develop a deep systematic understanding of a topic and demonstrate the ability to articulate and defend a thesis position on that topic in a Psychological Bulletin or Developmental Review style paper. While the topic area might have a somewhat more narrow focus than in Option 1, the student will be expected to approach the review from multi-theoretic and multi-disciplinary perspectives. One can think of the ultimate goal of Option 2 as publishing a critical review of a specific field in an appropriate journal. The timeline for completion is as follows:

Ph.D. 1 June:  Proposal. The proposal is a short (approx. 4-5 pg.) description of the comprehensive exam plan, including: (1) the format/option chosen, (2) the topic chosen (including why the chosen format is appropriate), and (3) an explanation of how this exam will satisfy the general requirement of “breadth” inherent to a comprehensive exam (e.g., What is the broader importance of this topic? How does this topic relate to the theoretical questions of importance in developmental psychology? What has research in this area uncovered and what remains to be investigated? What are some of the major disagreements in the field and why do they occur?)

Ph.D. 1 August: List of readings. The organized list will typically contain about 100-150 references, including books and or articles, in whatever ratio is appropriate for the area. (Note, though, that if the area is book-heavy, the list will be on the smaller side.) The proposed reference list needs to broadly cover the proposed topic and it is possible that the student has already read some of the articles on the list. The reading list, however, must reflect the broad topic area and be designed to enhance, broaden, and bring breadth to the student’s knowledge of the topic.

After compiling the list, the list is reviewed by the comprehensive exam committee. Before approving the list, the committee has the right to make suggestions regarding additions or deletions to the list.
 
Ph.D. 2 June: Comprehensive Paper Submitted. The paper will be submitted to the committee. Evaluation of the paper by the committee members will be returned within 2 weeks.

Ph.D. 2 August: Revisions. If revisions are required, the student will resubmit the review paper and include a cover letter. The cover letter is similar to the letters that one provides to journal editors when a revised manuscript is submitted and will address how the student has incorporated the revisions to the manuscript suggested by the committee.


Pass/Fail Timeline

Students will have the opportunity to revise their original exam (i.e., Option 1: responses to questions; Option 2: paper) two times. If a second revision is not deemed a “pass” by the committee by December 15th of PhD3, the comprehensive exam is considered to be failed, and the student will not be able to continue in the  PhD programme. Please see the Graduate Calendar for the Queen’s School of Graduate Studies for more information.

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