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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
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The PhD program provides intensive training in the clinical practice and science of psychology, along with the specific training that makes our students competitive for careers as clinical psychologists conducting research and/or clinical work in academic healthcare systems, VA medical centers, children's hospitals and similar healthcare settings. As students progress through the program, they are expected to take on greater responsibilities and to be more autonomous, independent and productive.

View a graphical representation of the program timeline (PDF).

Students typically complete the program in five or six years. The length of time required to complete our program depends on several factors: the student’s career and personal goals, the demands of the student’s lab, the expectations of the student’s primary mentor, the student’s desired clinical training and the complexity of the student’s research qualifying paper and dissertation. Although some labs expect that all of their students will take six years to complete the program, other labs have a mix of students who complete in five or six years. The description below provides general guidelines for what is expected at each of the years in the program.

 Year 1

The first year of training provides foundational knowledge in the science of psychology and clinical practice. Students are also active members of a research lab, receiving mentoring from the time they enter the program.

 Year 2

The second year builds upon these foundational skills through advanced coursework, participation in a research lab and progress on clinical and research milestones. Students begin their first clinical practicum at the start of the second year.

 Year 3

The third year continues with advanced coursework, research progress and clinical practicum. By the end of the third year, students must complete two major milestones:

  • The Research Qualifying Paper: An original empirical study that is modest in scope, often uses existing data within the research lab and is conducted with substantial support from the student’s primary mentor.
  • Clinical Qualifying Examination: Designed to demonstrate competence in fundamental clinical skills, theory and judgment.

 Years 4 & 5

The fourth/fifth year is focused on completion of the final research milestone, the dissertation. The dissertation is an original empirical study that is more ambitious in scope and requires a greater level of independent functioning than the Research Qualifying Paper. The dissertation proposal or prospectus must be defended by the end of the fourth year. Read more about TGS deadlines.

In addition to the dissertation, students in their fourth/fifth year of training are required to take an advanced practica placement that requires greater independence and higher-level assessment, case formulation and treatment skills.

Fourth-year students are also required to complete one academic quarter as a teaching assistant for instructors teaching courses to first-year doctoral students in the program. Read more about this requirement (PDF).

 Years 5 & 6

The fifth/sixth year involves a full-time clinical internship at an APA-accredited site. It is strongly recommended that students have either fully defended their dissertation or have their dissertation nearly complete by the time that they begin their clinical internship. To assist in this process, we require that students have their dissertation proposal/prospectus defended before Sept. 30 of the year they apply to internship.

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