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Psychological Sciences: Grad program name change reflects strong research emphasis

  • M.A. to M.S.:
    M.A. to M.S.:  Danielle Dallaire, director of graduate studies in William & Mary’s Department of Psychological Sciences, said the master’s program has emphasized research for a long time.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Fully funded:
    Fully funded:  Josh Burk, chair of William & Mary’s Department of Psychological Sciences, said the master’s students all get a stipend as well as a tuition waiver.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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A marketing person might call it “rebranding,” but the name change to the graduate program in the university’s Department of Psychological Sciences is better understood as recognition of a change in emphasis that was complete years ago.

“It’s to better characterize what our students are doing in our program,” said Josh Burk, chair of the department.

Burk and Danielle Dallaire, the department’s director of graduate studies, both say nothing has changed but the name of the degree. No curricular changes were necessary. All 15 of the current master’s students — first- and second-year alike — will graduate with a Master of Science degree.

The William & Mary Board of Visitors ratified the change from a Master of Arts to a Master of Science degree at its September meeting. The name change reflects the degree of research work done by the grad students. Traditionally, M.A. programs emphasize coursework, Burk said. But like many universities, William & Mary’s program had evolved a strong research orientation years ago.

“Our students are completing a first-year research project and then defending a thesis to a committee,” he said. Dallaire went on to describe how the first-year research project often leads to a more involved project. In any case, the second-year students execute a research project — designing the study, collecting data, performing analysis, forging a conclusion.

She added that the work is done on a mentorship model, in which each student is guided through the stages of research by a faculty member. The name change reflects this emphasis on mentored, yet independent, research and also is congruent with last year’s change of the department name.

“We’ve been offering a master’s program for a long time. When we made our name change from the Department of Psychology to Department of Psychological Sciences, we looked at our program and realized that our students have been doing a Master of Science degree all along,” Dallaire said.

It’s not a large program, as far as enrollment is concerned: Burk said the program accepts about eight new students every year. He pointed out that more than 100 applications come in each year. “And I read every one of them,” Dallaire added.

The demand for the program stems in part from the department’s generous funding model for master’s students.

“We guarantee funding for all of our graduate students,” Burk explained. “They get a stipend during the academic year and they also get a tuition waiver. At other master’s programs, you might find a few students who get that, but others get half the tuition waiver or perhaps a partial stipend.”

There’s no plan — or desire — to expand the enrollment. Both Burk and Dallaire want to be able to continue funding each grad student, for one thing. In addition, the master’s program has a record of producing exemplary graduates.

“We view our program as a Ph.D.-preparatory program. We’ve had a lot of success with students who complete our program get placed in top-notch Ph.D. programs.” Dallaire said. “And an M.S. may give students a slight edge.”