Psychology at Smith is consistently one of the most popular majors on campus. The department’s faculty is strongly committed to providing a rich, diverse curriculum to majors and nonmajors alike. Our mission is to develop skills that will serve students well in psychology but that can also be applied in other important arenas, including writing and communication skills, hands-on training and multicultural fluency. We emphasize student participation in research; faculty-student collaboration and mentoring; and preparation and guidance for future studies in psychology and related fields.
Important Academic Information for Spring 2020
In response to COVID-19, Smith College has implemented alternate modes of instruction for all academic courses for the remainder of the spring semester, as of March 30, 2020. Guidelines and information for academic continuity are available below. For general information, read the college’s FAQ about COVID-19 and visit the digital support for spring 2020 website.
Psychology department faculty affirmed the following learning goals for our majors. Students will:
- Develop a knowledge base of psychology, becoming familiar with the important theories, findings and historical perspectives in the field.
- Become critical consumers of research and learn to think critically about behavior, brain and mental processes; understand the relations among theories, observations and conclusions; and weigh evidence in evaluating particular theories or approaches.
- Develop research and quantitative fluency, including the ability to develop hypotheses, design studies, and understand, analyze and represent data.
- Develop requisite writing and communication skills within the discipline.
- Understand the ethics and philosophy of science.
- Develop multicultural fluency, including the ability to view issues from different cultural perspectives and to ask pertinent questions about cultural influences.
Each student, with the approval of her major adviser, elects course selections that meet the following requirements:
- Majors must take a minimum of 10 courses, including the foundational courses in psychology (100, 201, 202).
- PSY 100 Introduction to Psychology
- MTH 190/PSY 201 Statistical Methods
- PSY 202 Introduction to Research Methods
Foundational courses must be taken using the regular grading option (not S/U). Students should normally complete these foundational courses by the end of their sophomore year. Discuss requests for waivers (e.g., AP tests, transfer credits) with your adviser.
Beyond these, students are required to achieve breadth and depth across the following major curricular tracks of study:
- Mind and Brain
- Health and Illness
- Person and Society
Breadth is achieved by selecting one course within each of the department's three curricular areas. Depth is achieved by selecting at least two colloquia (psychology courses with numbers 200 or above) as well as two courses at the advanced level (300 or above), at least one of which is a seminar. Note that 200-level courses from other departments (such as EDC 238, ESS 220, EDC 239) count as psychology breadth courses but do not count as psychology colloquia. Furthermore, depth requires that at least one course at the advanced level combines with the student's other courses to create a constellation of three courses that represent a depth in a field of study that is important to the student and recognized by the department as relevant to psychology. Students may count no more than three 100-level courses toward the major, not including PSY100. Although we discourage the use of the S/U option for courses in the major, students are allowed to take nonfoundational courses S/U. All students (including transfer students) must take at least one colloquium and one advanced seminar within the department.
In particular, any student planning a career in academic or professional psychology, social work, personnel work involving guidance or counseling, psychological research or paraprofessional occupations in mental health settings or special education programs should regularly consult her major adviser regarding desirable sequencing of courses.
Each student, with the approval of her minor adviser, elects course selections that meet the following requirements:
- Six semester courses including two of the three courses that comprise the foundational courses for the major and four additional courses selected from at least two of the three areas. In addition, one of these four courses must be a colloquium and one must be a seminar. Note that 200-level courses from other departments (such as EDC 238, ESS 220, EDC 239) count as psychology breadth courses but do not count as psychology colloquia. All courses must be taken using the regular grading option.
Basis (only 2 of these are required):
- PSY 100 Introduction to Psychology
- SDS 201/PSY 201 Statistical Methods
- PSY 202 Introduction to Research Methods
The basis must be completed before entering the senior year. Minors must then complete no less than four additional courses from at least two of the department's three curricular tracks of study. One of these four additional courses must be a seminar.
- Mind and Brain
- Health and Illness
- Person and Society
The departmental honors thesis is for senior psychology majors interested in conducting independent research on a particular topic. Honors students work closely with a faculty member to conceptualize, design, and conduct an empirical research project. Please note: faculty members from outside of the Smith Psychology department are not eligible to serve as thesis advisers. The project culminates in a paper that is equivalent to a publishable journal article in quality and length (i.e., about 30-50 pages of text and written in APA style). At the end of the academic year, Honors students present their projects to the department as a whole. Successful completion of an Honors thesis leads to departmental honors upon graduation.
What are the eligibility requirements?
In order to be eligible for departmental honors, you must have a 3.3 GPA within your major and a 3.0 GPA average for courses outside your major. GPA calculations include all courses taken here at Smith, the Five Colleges and Smith JYA programs. Other transfer credits or JYA program courses are not included.
How should I prepare myself to do an honors thesis?
Students seriously contemplating conducting an honors thesis should begin talking to professors in their area of research interest during their junior year, at the latest. Many honors projects have developed from research that students have done with professors, either by volunteering in their laboratories or through special studies. Besides completing the requirements for the major, we recommend that students thinking about honors take an upper level seminar, laboratory or special studies in the area of research interest. We also strongly recommend that students take Advanced Statistics (PSY 290/MTH 290) during their junior or senior year.
How do I find an honors adviser?
There are several ways to find a faculty member to supervise your honors thesis. Most students begin by volunteering in a faculty member's research laboratory during their first or second years at Smith. This acquaints students with research topics and the nuts and bolts of the research process. Others approach professors of classes that they've especially enjoyed. When a student thinks she knows with whom she wants to work, that student should make an appointment to meet with the professor to discuss the possibility of doing an Honors thesis.
What if I can't find an adviser whose research interests match mine?
The psychology department consists of active researchers studying many exciting topics. Of course, it is possible that our faculty will not be studying the particular topic in which you currently are interested. In this case, you have two options. First, you can ask professors if they would be willing to supervise a thesis outside their area of expertise. Better yet, you can work with a professor to design an honors project that the professor feels comfortable supervising and satisfies your interests as well. We have found that the best experiences occur when student interests can be assimilated into the professor's established research program. Thus, the quality of your training will be enhanced by a good fit between your thesis topic and your adviser's area of expertise.
How do I get approval for honors?
First, you have to complete an application for honors. There are full instructions for the completion of this application on the class deans website. When you are done with your application, you submit it to the director of honors for the psychology department. To enter the honors program, you have to receive approval of your project from both the psychology department and the college's Subcommittee on Honors and Independent Programs (SHIP). First, the psychology department reviews and votes on your honors proposal. If you are approved at the departmental level, the honors director forwards your proposal to SHIP for review and approval.
Can I do honors if I go abroad junior year?
The answer is a most definite "yes," although it will take some planning on your part. You should be prepared to contact your potential adviser before you go away; another option is to approach your potential adviser via email while you are abroad. In any case, do not wait until the beginning of your senior year to make contact, as that will be unfeasible given the submission deadlines (see suggested timeline below).
How is an honors thesis different from special studies?
A special studies is a scholarly project conducted during the junior or senior year under the supervision of any member of the department. It can take the format of either a literature review or an empirical study, and can be worth between 1 to 4 credits. In contrast, the honors thesis is only conducted during the senior year and is subject to an outside approval process. It consists of an empirical study, which you must present before the psychology department in the spring. Presentations usually last 30 minutes, with an additional 20 minutes for questions. Honors theses are worth 12 credits, 6 per semester.
What are the benefits of doing a thesis?
The honors thesis provides you the unique opportunity of immersing yourself in a research project to greater depths than anything else you will experience in the psychology department. Many students report feeling great satisfaction from the experience of taking the lead on a research project, which the honors thesis affords. Your research and writing skills will improve immensely during the process. In addition, the experience may help you focus your research interests when considering a graduate career in psychology.
What are the disadvantages?
The greatest disadvantage is the time commitment, most of which falls during your senior year. The 12-credit requirement also obliges you to take fewer courses during your senior year, which may limit your options. Some students report being intimidated by the writing commitment. However, the psychology department recently has reduced the writing expectations of the final paper to that of a manuscript suitable for publication in a major empirical journal.
What resources are available to support my honors thesis research?
Financial assistance for honors research is available. You can procure funds from the Tomlinson Memorial Fund, administered by SHIP. To request assistance, you need to complete a Tomlinson application, which you receive from the class deans office with the honors application. The Tomlinson request requires a proposed budget and justification of expenses as well as a letter of support from your thesis adviser. You need to submit Tomlinson fund requests at the same time as your honors proposal.
You are required to complete a library instruction session for your honors project during the fall semester. This one-hour session provides instruction in use of the science library's resources to help with your research project.
How are honors evaluated?
First, you are graded by your thesis adviser for the honors credits (typically 12) included on your transcript.
In addition, an official honors designation is given to each thesis at the end of the project based on the student's grades within the major, oral defense of the project, and final written thesis. Two members of the psychology department (an "examiner" and the student's thesis adviser) evaluate the honors student's oral defense. Likewise, two faculty members (a "reader" and the student's thesis adviser) evaluate the honors student's written thesis. The director of honors chooses readers and examiners in consultation with each thesis student and her adviser.
Suggested Timeline for Completing an Honors Thesis
Prior to Spring Semester: Junior Year
- Volunteer in a faculty member's research lab
- Consider taking PSY 290/MTH 290 (Advanced Statistics) in your junior year
- Take an upper level seminar, laboratory course or special studies in your area of research interest
Spring Semester: Junior Year
- Find a faculty adviser and create a research plan
- Consider seeking honors approval this semester, rather than waiting until next fall
- Plan courses for senior year; consider taking PSY 290/MTH 290 (Advanced Statistics), if you have not already
Fall Semester: Senior Year
- Submit honors application to the director of honors by the first Monday after classes begin
- Procure Human Subjects Review approval
- Complete library instruction session
Spring Semester: Senior Year
- Submit expense receipts for the Tomlinson fund, typically by mid-April
- Submit thesis to the department on the deadline determined by SHIP
- Present thesis to psychology department during the last week of classes
- Submit final departmental copy of thesis to the honors director and final library copy to SHIP by the first week in May
The psychology curriculum is structured to develop the skills and objectives set forth in the department's learning goals. Courses are generally organized around the following tracks of study:
- Mind and Brain
- Health & Illness
- Person and Society
These tracks of study have been designed into the requirements for the department's major and minor and are clearly reflected in the courses offered by the department.
Mind and Brain
PSY 110/NSC 210 Introduction to Neuroscience
PSY 120 Human Cognition
EDC 238 Introduction to Learning Sciences
PSY 209/PHI 209 Philosophy and History of Psychology
PSY 213/PHI 213 Language Acquisition
PSY 215 Brain States
PSY 224 Learning and Behavior Change
PSY 227 Brain, Behavior, and Emotion
PSY 313 Psycholinguistics
PSY 314 Foundations in Behavior: Cognition in Film
PSY 315 Autism Spectrum Disorder
PSY 326 Seminar in Biopsychology
PSY 327 Seminar in Mind and Brain
Health and Illness
PSY 130 Clinical Neuroscience
PSY 140 Health Psychology
PSY 150 Abnormal Psychology
ESS 220 Psychology of Sport
EDC 239 Counseling Theory & Education
PSY 230 Psychopharmacology
PSY 240 Health Promotion
PSY 253 Developmental Psychopathology
PSY 254 Evidence-Based Practice
PSY 340 Psychosocial Determinants of Health
PSY 350 Seminar in Culture, Ethnicity, and Mental Health
PSY 352 Seminar in Advanced Clinical Psychology
PSY 353 Seminar in Developmental Psychopathology
PSY 354 Seminar in Advanced Abnormal Psychology
PSY 355 Scientific/Psychotherapy
PSY 358 Research Seminar in Clinical Psychology
Person and Society
PSY 160 Child Development
PSY 170 Social Psychology
PSY 180 Personality Psychology
PSY 260 Psychology of Adolescence
PSY 261 Adult Development
PSY 262 Psychology of Asian American Experience
PSY 263 PSychology of the Black Experience
PSY 265 Political Psychology
PSY 266 Psychology of Women and Gender
PSY 269 Categorization and Intergroup Behavior
PRS 304 Happiness
PSY 360 Seminar in Developmental Psychology
PSY 361 Research Seminar in Alcohol Use and Misuse
PSY 362 Seminar: Psychology of Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood Among U.S. Hispanics
PSY 369 Research Seminar on Categorization and Intergroup Behavior
PSY 371 Seminar in Personality
PSY 374 Seminar on Political Activism
PSY 375 Research Seminar on Political Psychology
Following college precedent, the current curriculum of the Department of Psychology is organized into 100-level introductory courses, 200-level content courses, 300-level labs and seminars and 400-level special studies and honors projects.
In some cases, students also design unique courses of study by incorporating additional classes from other Smith departments, Five College classes not offered at Smith, junior year abroad experiences and original research in the field.
A continuing goal of the department is to offer significant original research opportunities for declared majors and minors, working closely one-on-one or in small collaborative groups with members of the faculty.
Why Do Research?
Research is a great way of developing and learning new skills. It is an opportunity to acquire experiences that would not be possible to gain any other way. Participating in research allows you to learn about topics in a more complex and practical manner, which cannot be obtained simply from reading a book. These forms of experiences can come from working independently or from being part of a collaboration.
Being involved in research also allows you to develop professional relationships, and is a great way of obtaining mentoring. Your role is simply to acquire the most you can from your research opportunities. Working with faculty on their research not only benefits them, but also serves you well in developing your own research interests. It allows you to see what you are most interested in and how you can further develop these interests. Understanding how to successfully conduct research here at Smith is a valuable and rewarding experience.
Obtaining Psychology Research Experience at Smith
Take a Laboratory Psychology Course
Research experience can be obtained by taking a laboratory course in any areas of psychology. By taking a lab course, you'll learn about the steps needed to conduct a research study. This is a great way to obtain research experience while also earning course credit.
Volunteer in a Faculty Member's Lab
Sometimes faculty do not have paid positions available but do welcome students who are willing to volunteer in their labs. Volunteering in a lab can help you become familiarized with different aspects of research (e.g., running experimental sessions, conference presentations, etc.).
Most faculty members only require that you are motivated to learn from them, and assist them with different aspects of conducting the research they need to conduct.
Undertake an Independent Study
Students can earn upper-division credits for participating in a special studies or honors thesis project with a member of the faculty. To do so, it is advisable to approach a faculty member early in your college career, take courses that will be valuable for completing your own project (for example, Advanced Stats) and work with that faculty member in some ongoing research capacity.
Become a Paid Research Assistant
All active faculty in the department have ongoing research programs. Each year, faculty presents new findings at national and international meetings of learned societies and publishes copiously in scholarly journals. We are eager to involve our majors and premajors in our research. It is a valuable opportunity to learn at first hand the technical skills of doing research in psychology, the methods of processing findings, and the style of preparing manuscripts and posters for publication and presentation. These positions are generally paid prevailing rates for student assistants.
Become a Paid Summer Research Fellow
Every summer, the Clark Science Center awards summer research fellowships, which provide students the opportunity to work with faculty on their research while also receiving a stipend. Faculty members usually take on fellows if they have had them in a class or have worked with them in some sort of prior research context. Students should seek this opportunity by talking with faculty about their interest in such a program. A call for application submissions is announced every spring, so students should be looking out for this opportunity early in the spring semester. This allows sufficient time to talk to a faculty member and then submit a cogent proposal.
The Department of Psychology at Smith is housed in Bass Hall, with state-of-the-art laboratories and work areas. These include:
Statistics, Experimental Psychology, Health Psychology and Psychophysiology
In the basement of Bass Hall, there are general laboratories for statistics and experimental psychology. The statistics laboratory is equipped with computers (with dual Windows and Mac OS capabilities) that are also used in courses such as Cognitive Psychology and Perception. On this floor too are laboratories for health psychology and psychophysiology.
Cognitive Psychology, Language Acquisition, and Developmental Psychology and Psychology of Women
On the second floor of Bass Hall are the laboratories for cognitive psychology, language acquisition, developmental psychology and psychology of women. In addition, a well-equipped video analysis facility exists for viewing, transcribing, and editing video recordings of behavior.
Social Psychology, Personality Psychology, and Clinical Psychology
The third floor of Bass Hall contains extensive laboratories for research in social psychology, personality and clinical psychology.
Equipment includes: Brightfield, Darkfield, Differential Interference Contrast (DIC), Phase Contrast and Fluorescent Microscope, Laser Scanning Confocal Microscope (LSCM), Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).
On the first floor of Bass Hall, the Young Library is richly equipped for students of psychology, including an excellent collection of both books and journals. Computerized literature searching is also available.
On the fourth floor there is a comfortable seminar room/lounge named in memory of alumna Gale Curtis.
Science Center Animal Quarters
The Science Center Animal Quarters is located in the basement of Sabin-Reed. Several species of small laboratory animals are maintained there, and laboratory space for behavioral experiments adjoins that space.
Smith College Campus School
Students of child development and language acquisition will have the opportunity to observe and conduct approved studies with children in the preschool (Fort Hill) and the Smith College Campus School.
A major goal of the department is to provide a number of opportunities for all Smith students to work one-on-one or in small groups with members of the faculty. In addition to various research opportunities, there are a number of other opportunities available to Smith students during the course of the academic year. Here are just a few:
The success of our introductory course (PSY 100) depends on the contribution of paid student assistants or proctors. Teaching assistants may participate in and lead small group discussion, advise students on the selection and development of paper topics, do interview testing and work with students on their oral presentations. By participating in a general review of psychology, senior majors develop a coherent overview of the diverse areas that constitute psychology today. For those who are planning to apply to graduate school, teaching assistantships provides an excellent review for the Graduate Record Examinations.
Membership in Psi Chi
The psychology department at Smith has established, nurtured and grown a large and active chapter of Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. Founded in 1929 for the purpose of "encouraging, stimulating, and maintaining excellence in scholarship of the individual members in all fields, particularly psychology, and advancing the science of psychology," Psi Chi is a national organization comprised of local chapters on more than 600 college and university campuses.
Psi Chi provides academic recognition to its initiates by fact of membership. On a larger scale, local chapters of Psi Chi offer a nurturing climate towards creative development. These local chapters provide programs designed to stimulate and nourish professional growth. Annual national and regional conventions are held in conjunction with other psychological associations. Psi Chi also offers research award competitions, certificate recognition programs and a quarterly newsletter. Psychology majors wishing to apply for membership in Psi Chi at Smith College should visit the organization's website. All applications must be received by mid-February.
Psychology majors are selected as representatives who attend psychology department meetings, cast a vote on departmental decisions, and are asked to represent student interests on a wide variety of matters, such as the structure and contents of the curriculum and new faculty hiring. We see our students as participants in the governance of the department. Applications to be selected as a student liaison are sent to all psychology majors in January.
How Research Can Make a Difference
The Society for Research in Child Development has created a series of videos called “Hidden Figures” in Developmental Science to increase the visibility of leading developmental scientists of color who have made critical research contributions. To learn more, start by watching this video on “Increasing Awareness of Developmental Science.”
Hands-On Research Opportunities
Smith psychology majors often have an opportunity to present their research projects, such as these students showcasing a poster at the Society for Research in Child Development convention with professors Jill and Peter de Villiers.
Bass Hall 417
Northampton, MA 01063