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Preliminary and Specialty Review

A portfolio system is used to document student progress throughout the program. Students should begin developing the portfolio during the first quarter and use it to organize their program and plans. As students progress through the program, preparation and experiences are reviewed periodically by the DAPS faculty. Normally, formal review occurs at two points in a student’s career: (1) a Preliminary Review conducted at the conclusion of the first year (third quarter); and (2) a Specialty Review conducted at the conclusion of the second year (sixth quarter). See below for a description of Preliminary Review portfolio contents.

The Preliminary Review (First-Year Review)

The Preliminary Review is a comprehensive review of all aspects of a student’s graduate work. The review allows the faculty to consider the breadth and depth of the student’s preparation to date and the adequacy of future plans for coursework, research experience and professional training. The intent of the Preliminary Review is to facilitate progress by providing informative and constructive feedback about academic and research accomplishments and plans. Most students complete the Preliminary Review satisfactorily, usually with some recommendations or requirements for additional and/or change in coursework. Once these are satisfactorily addressed, as determined by the DAPS Area Chair in consultation with the student’s Academic Advisor, results are posted on the students’ record on Axess.

DAPS faculty have shared that the first-year review is one of their favorite annual experiences –– a chance to connect with younger minds, share advice and perspectives, and support students in the early phase of their doctoral journeys. The first-year review is intended to be a constructively supportive and celebratory, rather than an evaluatory, event. Indeed, many faculty have remarked that it is more accurately described as a discussion than a formal review. This meeting is intended as a chance for students to reflect on the evolution of their research interests during their first year of the program, attempt to articulate those interests informally in writing to their faculty mentors, and ask questions of their faculty mentors about their strategic direction going forward. 

The standard DAPS preliminary review lasts 60 minutes. Towards the end of the review, students can expect to be asked to step out briefly while faculty converse, and then invited to rejoin the meeting for final takeaways. 

See the Degree Milestones section for general First-Year Review requirements that apply to students in all GSE Areas.

The Portfolio

The portfolio should contain the following materials, in the order specified below. Students may assemble hard copies of the portfolio or distribute electronic copies of the portfolio depending on the faculty member’s choice. A copy of the portfolio should be delivered to each member of his or her First-Year Review Committee at least two weeks before the Review date.

Portfolio Contents

  • A one-page cover letter, addressed to the preliminary review committee, that articulates the 3-5 most pressing questions that the student would like to discuss during their review. Example cover letters (as well as samples of all other portfolio materials) can be found in the DAPS doctoral students’ shared Google Drive, which is made available to all DAPS students upon program entry. 
  • A copy of the original Statement of Purpose from the admissions application, which can be obtained from the Doctoral Programs Officer.
  • An unofficial Stanford transcript printed from AXESS.
  • An explanation for any incomplete grades and a plan for fulfilling of incompletes.
  • A preliminary Graduate Study Program (GSP). The GSP should include the courses required of all DAPS students as outlined in the above sections. Both the first and second advisors must sign the original copy of the GSP during the Review.
  • A description of previous and current professional activities. This statement, typically 2-3 pages long, should describe developing capabilities as a researcher and as a teacher. It should cover (1) experiences to date, (2) priorities for further development, and (3) future plans.
  • Curriculum vitae. This will include post-secondary degrees earned and in progress, professional experiences, professional honors or awards received, publications and/or presentations, professional memberships, significant professional services and other relevant information.
  • Major course papers and exams including, but not restricted to, all such products from courses offered by the DAPS faculty. When possible, submit copies with original comments from the course instructor.
  • Accompany the set of writing samples with a brief statement explaining why each one was chosen for inclusion. Explanations might refer to the kinds of writing proficiencies each piece illustrates, specific areas of interest or competence the piece addresses, or perhaps particular problems students would like to discuss with the Preliminary Review committee. A minimum of three writing samples should be included. There is no maximum, but it is not helpful to submit an excessive amount of material. The set of writing samples as a whole should be chosen to give a good picture of the student’s developing professional competencies, especially proficiency in academic writing.
  • Research reports, for example, including publications, conference presentations, technical reports, and any other papers on which you are an author or co-author.
  • Any other relevant scholarly or professional documents (e.g., certificates from professional workshops attended).

Work Statements

In addition to the materials outlined above, the student may also arrange up to two work statements (evaluation letters) from faculty or other staff who will not be present at their preliminary review, but with whom the student has done substantive research or other relevant work. These work statements should address the nature and caliber of their work.  Work statements typically have two parts: one paragraph describing the student’s strengths and the nature of their experiences to date, and a second describing areas where further growth or improvement is desirable. Work statements can be given directly to the student; they are not confidential. Email is acceptable. 

If requesting statements from faculty outside of DAPS, some suggested wording for a statement request might be:

This is a request for a brief statement regarding my work with you. This statement will be reviewed by faculty in the Developmental and Psychological Studies (DAPS) Program for the purposes of the Preliminary Review and will be included in my review portfolio. The Preliminary Review in DAPS is a collaborative process involving students as well as faculty, and so I will also read the statement you provide. Work statements typically have two parts: one paragraph describing my strengths and the nature of my experiences to date, and the other describing areas where further growth or improvement is desirable. It would be helpful if your comments documented the nature of the work I have done with you and the qualifications and skills involved. An email response is all that is required.

Student Procedures

  • Obtain advisor approvals and sign the GSP.
  • Assemble Preliminary Review materials during the third quarter and review it with the primary and secondary advisors before submitting it to the Preliminary Review Committee.
  • Schedule the review date and communicate the date and committee composition to the Doctoral Programs Officer.
  • The committee should include the primary and secondary advisors as well as one additional faculty member chosen in collaboration with the primary advisor. Committee composition rules are outlined in the Dissertation Reading Committee section.
  • Provide each member of the Review Committee with a copy of the portfolio at least two weeks before the Review date.
  • On the scheduled date, meet with your three-member committee to discuss your progress in the program. The portfolio is the central focus of this meeting.
  • Recommendations and requirements are formulated based on discussion and recorded on the Preliminary Review Summary Sheet and signed by all faculty attending. Unless otherwise agreed upon, the student’s primary advisor is the default person responsible for filling out the Preliminary Review Summary Sheet.
  • Submit the signed Preliminary Review Summary Sheet and preliminary GSP to the Doctoral Programs Officer.

Students should retain a complete copy of their portfolios. It will be necessary to update and submit the Preliminary Review portfolio as part of the sixth quarter Specialty Review.

First Year Research Project and Poster Presentation

Because DAPS follows an apprentice research training model students are expected to become engaged in a research project during their first year in the program. This can be research carried out with the student’s advisor or with another member of the faculty. The research can take several different forms, for example, original data collection on a project the advisor is conducting, becoming a member of a research team and taking responsibility for some part of a research project, doing secondary analysis on a data set provided by a faculty member.

As a continuation of their first year program, all DAPS/LSTD students in the autumn of their second-year will participate in a poster session presentation attended by faculty and students. Posters are intended to summarize students’ first year research project. Ideally the student poster will summarize empirical findings from a study conducted by the student, but may also include original data obtained from the advisor or another source. The poster will be prepared in consultation with the student’s advisor and will be similar to a poster presentation at a professional conference. Students will make a 5-7 minute oral presentation of the research summarized on the poster. This will be followed by individual discussions of their work with faculty and others in attendance at the DAPS/LSTD poster session. 

The final part of the research requirement is the writing up of a First Year research report that should be done in consultation with your advisor. The First Year research report becomes a part of the Specialty Review – Part I. 

DAPS faculty and students have also collaborated to create this preliminary (first-year) review FAQ document, which further explains the preliminary (first-year) review and answers commonly held questions. 

Specialty Review (Second-Year Review)

The purpose of the 6th quarter Specialty Review is to enable the faculty to determine whether students are prepared to move on to dissertation research. The review includes assessment of all coursework, grades, research activities and research documents, especially the final write-up of the student's First-Year Project and the Qualifying Paper. The successful completion of the sixth quarter Specialty Review is intended to reflect a judgment that the student is capable of doing dissertation-level work, not only in his/her area of specialization, but also in DAPS more generally. Upon successful completion of the Specialty Review, students must apply for Advancement to Candidacy. See the Second-Year Review section for general requirements that apply to Second-Year Reviews for all Areas. 

The standard DAPS speciality review lasts 90 minutes. Towards the end of the review, students will be asked to step out while faculty discuss their progress, and then invited to rejoin the meeting for further discussion and final takeaways. The Specialty Review is made up of two parts: I and II. 

Part I of the Specialty Review is an update of the Preliminary Review Portfolio, with particular emphasis on the report of the First-Year Research Project. The primary and secondary advisor and one additional faculty member chosen by the primary advisor in collaboration with the student, to determine that his/her research competence is at a level sufficient to begin a dissertation study, evaluate each student’s progress. Specific committee composition requirements are outlined in the Dissertation Reading Committee section. The particular competencies expected might depend upon the modes of inquiry that a student anticipates using in her/his dissertation research. Also considered is the student’s ability to integrate, evaluate and communicate the research literature on a substantive topic. On occasion, recent research reports done for other classes or an integrative literature review within the student’s area of concentration may also be included to document developing competencies.

To prepare for the first part of the Specialty Review, the student will update the Preliminary Review Portfolio to include the following:

  • A one-page cover letter, addressed to the preliminary review committee, that articulates the 3-5 most pressing questions that the student would like to discuss during their review. Compared to the questions that students prepared for their first-year review, questions for the second-year review tend to be more explicitly research-focused. It is typical for some questions to be specific to the student’s Qualifying Paper –– for example, where and when to submit it for publication –– and others to pertain to the student’s broader future research directions. 
  • A summary statement of evidence that any outstanding requirements (e.g., completion of Incompletes, recommended course work) of the Preliminary Review have been satisfied. This statement should be co-signed by the advisor.
  • A schedule for completing remaining degree work (e.g., remaining coursework, other research, dissertation, oral examination).
  • Suggestions of possible faculty for a dissertation reading committee.
  • An update of the Preliminary Review statement of previous and current research activities, providing specific information about the experiences that have prepared the student to undertake the research tasks involved in a dissertation study.
  • Updated Curriculum Vitae.
  • A copy of the proposed final Graduate Study Program (GSP).
  • An unofficial Stanford transcript from AXESS.
  • A copy of the first-year project research report.
  • A copy of the DAPS Specialty Review Summary Sheet, available online from the GSE Intranet.

Part II. The primary goals of Part II of the Specialty Review are threefold: (1) provide the student with an opportunity to develop early expertise about a domain of research and carefully organize his/her expertise into an informative Qualifying Paper; (2) facilitate the student’s exploration of possible dissertation trajectories; and, (3) generate a document that reflects a sustained effort and provides an evaluation point for advancement to candidacy. The Specialty Review meeting itself provides the student with the opportunity to gain feedback and guidance from the faculty readers regarding his/her research direction and plans for the future.

Students will write a Qualifying Paper that builds on the past and present empirical and theoretical literature. In developing the Qualifying Paper the student will present a thesis and an argument, rather than a general overview. The specific content and the format of the paper will be determined by each student in collaboration with their primary advisor. There is some margin of flexibility in how a student approaches the preparation of the Qualifying Paper. Some possible alternatives include: A major literature review around an unresolved debate; a largely empirical paper describing the students’ own research and findings; a single authored manuscript that has been prepared for journal submission; or a focused paper that presents a potential research direction and methodology for study. The Specialty Review Qualifying Paper will be approximately 6,000 words in length (excluding references) and, if appropriate, contains figures and tables.

All students should prepare a brief (roughly 20 minute) PowerPoint presentation of their Qualifying Paper and be prepared to present these slides at the start of the discussion of their Qualifying Paper during their second-year review. 


The Specialty Review should be completed in the Spring Quarter of the second year. Please refer to the Second Year Review section for more information on this requirement.

Specialty Review Meeting- Procedures for the Student

  • Schedule a joint appointment with the primary and second advisors and one additional faculty member chosen by the primary advisor. Provide the date and committee composition to the Doctoral Programs Officer. See the Committee Composition section on p. 18 for more information.
  • Portfolio materials should be distributed to Review Committee members at least two weeks in advance of the Review date. The appropriate form for Specialty Review evaluation from the Specialty Review meeting, the student and committee will evaluate the Specialty Review materials, discuss any necessary revisions to the final Graduate Study Program (GSP), and consider recommendations for future work.
  • The committee will conduct an oral assessment based on the Specialty Review Qualifying Paper. Students can expect to be asked to step out for 10-15 minutes while faculty discuss their progress, and then invited to rejoin the meeting for further discussion and final takeaways.
  • If the committee is satisfied with the student’s progress toward degree completion and preparation to begin dissertation-level work, the committee will indicate this on the Specialty Review Summary form. If the committee determines that the student’s progress does not meet all of the requirements for the Specialty Review, the advisor on behalf of the committee will describe what actions must be taken before the student can fully pass the Specialty Review and advance to doctoral candidacy. In either case, all committee members sign the Specialty Review Summary form that the student then submits to the Doctoral Programs Officer along with a signed final GSP.
  • The results of the Specialty Review will be posted on the students’ record on AXESS. When appropriate, the advisor will further discuss the results of the final review with the student.

Satisfactory completion of the Specialty Review is required before a dissertation proposal may be submitted for oral review or a student advances to candidacy. The Specialty Review and Proposal Hearing may NOT happen at the same time. If students pass the Specialty Review subject to requirements (e.g., subject to the removal of incompletes or satisfactory completion of work required), then they may submit a dissertation proposal for oral review as soon as these requirements have been met.

DAPS faculty and students have also collaborated to create this specialty (second-year) review FAQ document, which further explains the preliminary (first-year) review and answers commonly held questions. 

Planning the Dissertation Research

The Dissertation Proposal may be developed and submitted any time after successful completion of the Specialty Review. The proposal should be conceptually concise, methodologically detailed, and clearly written. It may include the results of pilot work and prior data on measuring instruments where appropriate. The proposal should demonstrate its theoretical grounding and relation to educational practice.

There should be a review of the relevant literature (although this does not need to be an exhaustive review), and the review may be presented as an appendix. It may also be that the student has prepared a previous paper that consists of an exhaustive review of literature in which case the student may cite this paper as an indication of knowledge of the research area. There should also be discussion if appropriate of probable uses of the results expected and potential pitfalls in the approach taken. The main body of the proposal (excluding references and appendices) should not exceed 25 double-spaced typewritten pages. Liberal use of appendices (e.g., for pilot studies or literature reviews) is encouraged.

The dissertation proposal should conclude with an estimated budget that the student might prepare with the consultation of their advisor. The budget should offer a realistic estimate of the costs (e.g., travel, copying, transcription of interviews, etc.) associated with carrying out the study to completion. If possible, sources of funding to assist the student with the dissertation should be provided.

Beyond these guidelines, a formula for good proposals cannot be given. Form follows function, and the variety of investigative approaches and styles in psychological research is substantial. For ideas, students should look to discussion with advisors and examples from relevant literature (e.g., Psychological Bulletin). Examples of previously approved Dissertation Proposals may be available from your advisor, the Area Chair, or in Cubberley Library.

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