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Ph.D. in Psychology – Life-Span Developmental Psychology

WVU’s Psychology Department received the Innovation in Graduate Education Award from the American Psychological Association in recognition of the junior-colleague model used to train graduate students. Students acquire professional skills trough direct participation in classroom instruction. As junior colleagues, students and faculty collaborate in research rather than students serving as research assistants assigned to individual faculty. Contact among faculty and students outside the classroom is frequent and informal.

History

WVU has an illustrious history in life-span development as the first program in this field. Our program continues to provide in-depth training to the next generation of life-span developmental psychologists. Graduates are highly successful in obtaining employment and find positions in academia, government, research institutions, foundations and applied settings.

Training

The Ph.D. in developmental psychology combines breadth of training in perspectives on normal development across the life span with depth and rigor of training in an area of specialization selected by the student. The program produces disciplined researchers who are also skilled classroom instructors. Students are funded via teaching and research assistantships.

Research Training

Students are trained to use state-of-the-art research methods to conduct cutting-edge research. Research training occurs in laboratory and community settings with a variety of age ranges. As junior colleagues, students conduct research supervised by and in collaboration with one or more faculty mentors. Initially, mentors provide a high degree of structure and guidance tailored to the students’ entry-level research design and data analysis skills. By the end of training, students have developed a research specialty and can successfully design and execute all stages of a research project (e.g., data collection, analysis, dissemination of findings) as independent researchers.

Students attend professional conferences and present their research to regional, national, and international audiences. At conferences, mentors facilitate professional networking of graduate students. Students submit their work for publication in scholarly journals and books, and nearly all students publish their research prior to graduation. The department and college provide funds to support student research and travel to conferences.

Most students specialize in a selected age period – infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, aging, or some combination of these periods. Within the selected period, most students specialize in a topical area, such as health, personality, gender, civic engagement, decision making or emotion regulation, among other options.

Teaching Training

All students receive teaching training to become competent classroom instructors. We use novel methods to ensure that students rapidly develop high-quality teaching skills within a single semester. Students receive highly structured, hands-on teaching experience supported by intense faculty supervision. Faculty supervisors provide individualized feedback to develop student’s teaching skills. Students become proficient in the use of multiple teaching technologies.

The depth of teaching training provided to our graduate students goes beyond that of many institutions. Some graduate programs allow students to teach their own courses, but provide little support or supervision. Others allow only minimal involvement (e.g., serving as a teaching assistant). In our program, the vast majority of first-year students teach an introductory-level undergraduate course under the direct supervision of a faculty member.

Upon graduation, most graduate students have taught one or more courses as the instructor of record. This experience provides our graduates with a competitive edge when they enter the job market. Many have obtained jobs at teaching-oriented universities immediately upon graduation.

Students whose career plans emphasize college teaching may elect to earn the 15-credit Certificate in University Teaching. In addition, the developmental area offers a specialization in college teaching. Students choose activities for the specialization such as conducting and publishing research on student learning, or designing and teaching an undergraduate class in one’s specialty area. Such experiences culminate in a comprehensive teaching portfolio.

Curriculum

The curriculum offers breadth and depth of training in life-span developmental psychology. Breadth is obtained through courses in infancy, childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, adulthood and aging and conceptual and methodological issues. Depth of training is obtained through conducting research in an area of specialization, elective courses and topical seminars in life-span developmental psychology.

Professional development is facilitated through seminars that target issues relevant to new and advanced students. Developmental faculty and graduate students share their research through informal presentations in a bi-weekly lunch research group.

Applied Practicum Experiences and Internships

To supplement their training in teaching and research, some students complete practicum experiences to prepare themselves for applied careers. Practicum placement is not required and is selective, pending approval by site personnel and departmental faculty. Students who complete practicum experiences gain skills useful for careers as program directors or service providers. Others complete practicum experiences to “put research to work” by addressing issues pertaining to social policy and practices and adult education.

Specific practicum opportunities vary from year to year as a function of availability, permission, and student interest. They have included placements in the WVU Health Sciences Center, the WVU Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, Early Intervention Programs at Valley Health Care Center and at the Osher Life-Long Learning Institute (OLLI). Students have also held positions as graduate assistants in the Department of Pediatrics, Department of Community Medicine, and other units. Students may enroll in PSYC 740, Developmental Practicum, to receive course credit for their practicum experiences. In addition to already-established practicum experiences, students and faculty may develop new experiences customized to student’s interests.

Degree Requirements

A description of the degree requirements for the Ph.D. in the Life-Span Developmental Psychology program area can be found in the Graduate Catalog.

Faculty Research Teams

Adolescent Development Lab (A. Metzger, Ph.D.)

Gender Development Lab (J. Strough, Ph.D.)

Decision Making and Problem Solving Lab (J. Strough, Ph.D.)

Healthy Aging Research Lab (J. H. Patrick, Ph.D)

Individual Differences in Emotions and Adjustment Lab (A. Gentzler, Ph.D.)

Personality Health and Development Lab

Research Training

The Ph.D. in developmental psychology combines breadth of conceptual training in a variety of perspectives on normal development across the life span with depth and rigor of research training in an area of life-span development selected by the student. The program is designed to train disciplined researchers. This goal is met through early and continued student involvement in independent research. The research experience can occur in a variety of laboratory or applied settings with a variety of age ranges. The research is conducted on a topic of the student’s choice, supervised by and in collaboration with one or more faculty mentors. Graduate students work with faculty mentors as junior colleagues. Mentors serve as a guide to the intricacies of graduate training inside and outside the classroom.

The developmental curriculum is organized so that breadth of training in life span developmental psychology is obtained through courses in infancy, childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, adulthood and aging and conceptual and methodological issues in developmental psychology. Research specialization in age periods and topical areas occurs through research, elective courses and topical seminars in developmental psychology.

Most students specialize in a selected age period—infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, aging or some combination of these periods—and within the selected age period most students specialize in a topical area such as gender development, stress and coping, family caregiving, sleep or emotion regulation, among other options. Life span specialization in a topical area is also available.

Training in Teaching

We offer comprehensive training for students preparing for careers as college teachers. All students receive teaching training that allows them to become competent classroom instructors. Some combine their interests in research and teaching by conducting research on teaching (see bottom of this page for a representative list). Students whose career plans emphasize college teaching can earn a graduate certificate in university teaching and/or pursue a specialization in college teaching when designing their plan of study (details below). Students teaching experiences culminate in a comprehensive teaching portfolio.

We use a novel method to train teachers. Some graduate programs allow students to teach their own courses but provide relatively little support or supervision. Others allow only minimal involvement (e.g.,serving as a teaching assistant). In our program, the vast majority of first-year students teach an introductory level undergraduate course under the direct supervision of a faculty member. Students who are teaching for the first time enroll in a one credit teaching seminar taught by a faculty member who guides and supports their first semester of college teaching.

Graduate student instructors receive highly structured, hands-on teaching experience supported by intense supervision. A faculty supervisor designs the course and develops multimedia lectures. Lectures are delivered by graduate students. This inventive method of instruction allows graduate students, most of whom are teaching for the first time, to focus on how to teach rather than on what to teach. Faculty supervisors observe classes, meet with instructors weekly, and provide instructors with individualized feedback to develop their teaching skills. Not only do students develop their instructional presentation skills, they also become proficient in the use of multiple methods of presentation (e.g. PowerPoint, video, document cameras) and online course management instruction systems (e.g. WVU eCampus, WebCT).

The depth of teaching opportunities available to our graduate students goes beyond that of many institutions. As a result of these many opportunities, students often complete the program with direct teaching experience in as many as three or four courses. Students have highly developed teaching skills and knowledge, placing them at an advantage in their search for an academic position involving teaching.

In addition to this training that all students receive, there are two ways in which interested students may further develop and refine their teaching skills:

Graduate Certificate in University Teaching

WVU’s Office of Graduate Education and Life offers a Certificate in University Teaching. This 15-credit certificate provides comprehensive training in college teaching and offers a competitive edge when entering the academic job market.

Specialization in College Teaching

Developmental students may also develop their teaching repertoire by engaging in some combination of the activities listed below (some of which also are applicable to the 15-credit certificate offered through the Office of Graduate Education and Life). These activities are in addition to the comprehensive training that all students receive.

Engaging in some combination of these activities provides specialized teaching expertise above and beyond the teaching training all graduate student instructors receive.