Psychology Ph.D. Program

Guide to the Portfolio System

The portfolio approach allows students to demonstrate qualifying status for the doctoral dissertation by developing a balanced set of scholarly achievements. Portfolios help students learn a broader range of professional scholarly skills that result in competitive Ph.D.s; capitalize on strengths by allowing students to build focused programs of research; and remediate weaknesses by helping students develop needed skills.

What Goes into a Portfolio?

The portfolio consists of various elements. Each element is awarded points according to the extent of the student’s involvement. By the end of the third year, the portfolio must total 6 points.

Portfolio Elements can include:

  • traditional papers written for an internal audience
  • first- or second-authored posters or conference presentations
  • journal articles
  • book chapters
  • grant applications
  • reviews

How are Points Awarded?

The majority of elements will count as one point except for the following: a first-authored journal article will count as one or two elements, depending on the extent of student involvement; or, a second- or third-authored poster or conference presentation will count as half an element.

Journal articles and book chapters must be submitted for publication in order to count as portfolio elements. Conference presentations must be accepted in order to count as portfolio elements. Several posters or several papers on the same piece of research can count as only one element. However, one poster and one journal article on the same research will count as two elements because writing a journal article requires different skills and is more extensive than the poster. The first-year or second-year project does not count as a portfolio element until it is submitted for publication.

Who Decides What Goes into My Portfolio?

A committee works with the student in assembling a portfolio at the beginning of the student’s first semester.

Portfolio Committee

The portfolio committee consists of the student’s advisor and two other faculty members from the Psychology Department. The student’s primary research advisor will be the chair of the portfolio committee. The departmental administrator will randomly assign two other faculty members to serve as advisory members of each student’s portfolio committee. These two members will remain on the committee in the event that the student switches primary research advisors. Students must go to the office to initiate this process.

The committee does not make "quality judgments" during the process of the creation of an element (e.g. requiring more drafts, changing content, etc.). Rather, the committee monitors the student’s progress to insure that the portfolio is diversified and to agree on number of points per element.

How Does All This Work?

A supervising faculty member will work with the student on each element. This faculty member need not be part of the portfolio committee. Supervision is required for all elements. It is the supervisor’s responsibility, not the committee’s, to oversee the portfolio element from beginning to completion. Students submit a proposal to each committee member, in writing, for each portfolio element before it is completed. The proposal should include sufficient detail to enable the committee to evaluate the appropriateness of the element in the overall academic life of the student and the accuracy of the point assignment.

Sample proposal

I propose to collaborate with Martha Stewart and Jaan Valsiner on an article, "Lovely Little Methods of Stacking Rubber Bands," which we will submit to The Psychological Bulletin: Home Supplement. I will be analyzing data that I helped collect. I will be second author and plan to count this project as one portfolio point.

Faculty who supervise a portfolio element will document, in writing, that the proposal is acceptable. Upon completion of the project, the faculty supervisor will document, in writing, whether or not they support the element as part of the student’s portfolio. If changes have taken place during the project that necessitate reconfiguring how many points the work is worth, the supervisor should note this.

Sample Support

The original proposal was for the student to be second author, but Stewart and Valsiner became more interested in stringing paperclips, so the student was first author on the rubber band project. The project is now worth two points instead of one.

The Portfolio Committee will negotiate with the student and faculty supervisor if there is a disagreement regarding the number of points to be awarded for the element. Portfolio committee chairs should sign each proposal accepted by the committee, and copies of this document should be kept by the student, portfolio chair, and departmental administrator. As each element is successfully completed, a signed copy of the faculty supervisor’s approval should be kept by the student, portfolio chair, and departmental administrator.


The student, advisor, and committee members are jointly responsible for ensuring a reasonable degree of breadth in the portfolio. Breadth can be theoretical, methodological, across content areas, and across professional activities. Breadth may be defined differently in clinical, developmental, and social areas. Ultimately, what is appropriate for each student will be determined by the student, the advisor, and the committee, with the advisor making the final decision.

The Portfolio Committee will meet with the student at least once a year for a face-to-face meeting. For first-year students, this meeting should take place in September. Each year, the student’s portfolio will be reviewed by his/her advisor and committee. Written feedback will be provided to both the student and the department prior to the graduate student evaluation meeting in May. Advisors will also discuss any feedback from the spring evaluation directly with the student.


I want to submit a paper for publication. Who decides when it is ready?

It is the faculty supervisor's responsibility to help the student determine when a manuscript is ready to be submitted. Generally, an approaching deadline for completion of the portfolio will not be a consideration in determining whether a paper is ready for submission. In other words, a student should not submit a paper prematurely as a means of completing requirements.

I think I should be first author of my paper and that it should be counted as two points. My collaborator thinks I should be first author, but my portfolio committee thinks the paper should only count as one point.

Authorship of papers is often a difficult issue to resolve, and is something for you and your collaborator to decide. It is best decided at the point when the element is proposed to the portfolio committee, although sometimes in the course of completion of a paper one author may end up contributing more or less than was first expected, and authorship may change. First authors who deserve two elements for their contribution are generally those who contribute the majority of ideas to the paper, and have actually written most of the paper, with little assistance from their collaborator. First authors who deserve one element are generally those who contribute less work and should probably be second authors, but have generous collaborators! If authors are unable to resolve the issues among themselves, disputes may be brought to a department meeting for discussion and resolution.

When I arrive here in first year I’m assigned an advisor. Then I later decide to work with someone else. Who is the chair of my portfolio committee?

The portfolio advisor will change if your dissertation advisor changes.

What happens when my advisor is on sabbatical?

Faculty sabbaticals will be handled as they are with other aspects of graduate education. Faculty may agree to advise over email, phone, or other avenues. If a faculty member plans to be out of touch for a long period of time, a temporary replacement advisor may be agreed upon by the student, the current advisor, and the committee.

What happens if I don’t complete my portfolio by the end of my third year?

Students who are not on track to complete their portfolio by the end of the third year must submit a written plan to be approved by the advisor and committee prior to the end of the spring semester of that year. The plan should propose in detail how the remaining elements will be completed in either of the following ways (each qualifying paper or exam counts as one element):

  1. A traditional qualifying paper may be written for each remaining element.
  2. The committee has the option to recommend a written exam. A proposed topic and reading list will be submitted to the committee prior to the exam.

What if I still haven’t completed all my requirements by the extended deadline?

Students who have not completed their portfolio by the end of the fall semester of their 4th year will be placed on Special Resident Status.