Majoring in Psychology
Here are some essential resources for students interested in majoring in psychology at Whitman College:
- Resources for Researchers (IRB forms and helpful links)
- Psychology Major's Handbook
- Guide to the Psychology Major
The goals of the Psychology Department are as follows:
(Adapted from the American Psychological Association’s 2002 Report on Undergraduate Psychology Major Learning Goals and Outcomes)
- Students will demonstrate familiarity with the major concepts, theoretical perspectives, empirical findings, and historical trends in psychology.
- Students will understand and apply basic research methods in psychology, including research design, data analysis, and interpretation.
- Students will respect and use critical and creative thinking, skeptical inquiry, and, when possible, the scientific approach to solve problems related to behavior and mental processes.
- Students will understand and apply psychological principles to personal, social, and organizational issues.
- Students will be able to weigh evidence, tolerate ambiguity, act ethically, and reflect other values that are the underpinnings of psychology as a discipline.
- Students will demonstrate information competence and the ability to use computers and other technology for many purposes.
- Students will be able to communicate effectively in a variety of formats.
- Students will recognize, understand, and respect sociocultural and international diversity.
- Students will develop insight into their own and others’ behavior and mental processes.
- Students will emerge from the major with realistic ideas about how to implement their psychological knowledge, skills, and values in occupational pursuits in a variety of settings.
Our department emphasizes psychology as a basic and applied science. The discipline is taught from a basic science standpoint inasmuch as students learn to answer questions about behavior and mental life via behavioral research methods, analyze data quantitatively and qualitatively, and weigh evidence against various theoretical perspectives. The discipline is taught from an applied science perspective inasmuch as students learn how scientific results are extended to address real-world problems or to improve the quality of the human condition. By presenting psychology as a basic and applied science, we promote a method of inquiry into human nature that fosters skepticism, analytical reasoning, ethical decision making, and intellectual creativity. Moreover, by teaching psychology from this perspective, we promote capacities to analyze, interpret, criticize, communicate, and engage — all of which are abilities described in Whitman College’s mission statement.
The Department’s major requirements attempt to provide a well-rounded education in Psychology, with the above goals specifically in mind. There are several ways students can fulfill the major requirements, thus allowing for students to tailor a plan to their specific interests. However, the requirements in place also ensure that each of the goals outlined above are part of the curriculum. In particular, Psychology Majors must complete the following:
- Psychology 110 (Introduction to Psychology). Contributes to goal #1 and also sets up the remaining goals.
- Psychology 210 (Psychological Statistics). Contributes in particular to goals 3 and 6.
- Psychology 220 (Research Methods in Psychology). Contributes to goals 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7
- Psychology 420 (Contemporary and Historical Issues in Psychology). This senior capstone course contributes to goals 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9. It is also part of the Senior Assessment (below)
- Psychology 495 and 496/8 (Thesis). Thesis is the culmination of the major, and contributes to goals 2, 6, 7 and 10. It is also part of the Senior Assessment (below)
- One seminar course (Courses 300-349). Seminar courses emphasize interactive discussion, and contribute to goals 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
- One lab course (Courses 350-399). Lab courses emphasize hands-on application of Psychological principles and the scientific method. They contribute in particular to goals 1, 2, 3, and 6.
- 27 total credits in Psychology (including requirements enumerated above). Additional courses allow students to explore the breadth of the field. This contributes to goal 1 (and others, depending on the specific classes elected).
- 3 credits each in Sociology (or Anthropology), Biology, and Philosophy. The external requirements allow students to explore the academic disciplines that are most closely related to psychology, placing their major into a richer intellectual context. This contributes to goals 5 and 8.
Finally, the senior assessment (below) provides students with opportunities to demonstrate mastery of the above goals during their senior year.
The department’s various goals are assessed through several components of our Senior Assessment for the Major (SAM). The SAM involves several components:
- The capstone course, Psychology 420: Contemporary and Historical Issues in Psychology. As part of the course, students complete assignments in which they are required to explore and write about the fundamental unifying themes that tie the major together. Successful completion of Psychology 420 reflects goals 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 above.
- The Major Field Test (MFT). The MFT is a standardized assessment instrument published by ETS. The questions on the test are drawn from courses of study most commonly offered in undergraduate Psychology programs. Students take the MFT in January (typically after they have completed PSYC 420). The MFT provides a quantitative measure of goal #1 above, that can be measured relative to a national sample.
- The senior thesis (Psychology 495, 496/8). The thesis is usually an empirical project, in which the student designs and conducts an experiment, and then analyzes the results and produces a complete research article. Through their thesis, students pursue some of the major questions and issues in the field that are related to their specific thesis topic, and write a thorough literature review where they broadly connect the field to their current research question. Successful completion of the senior thesis is especially relevant to goals 2, 6, 7 and 10.
- An oral defense of the senior thesis. Orals consist of an hour-long interrogative session with 3 faculty members. Questions primarily focus on the student's senior thesis, but may extend into general themes in Psychology. Students are asked to make specific connections between their thesis project and the history, major themes, and important figures in their discipline. They may also be asked to connect their thesis topic to ideas in related disciplines other than psychology. The oral defense places particular emphasis on goals 3 and 7.