Psychology: Toolkit

Prework PSYC E-497 Crafting the Thesis Proposal (CTP) Tutorial in Psychology

Research Advisors (RAs): Dr. Dante Spetter and Dr. Adrienne Tierney

If your Research Advisor is Dr. Spetter, then you can schedule an appointment with her via online services.

If your Research Advisor is Dr. Tierney, then you can reach her at

Who takes the CTP tutorial and when? The tutorial is mandatory for all ALM candidates in the field of Psychology (or the retired field of Clinical Psychology) who have completed at least 32 credits, and are fully prepared to begin the thesis process—moving straight from the CTP tutorial to thesis registration with no extended breaks. Consider your life, work, and academic schedule. Also consider your five-year deadline.

What is the CTP tutorial? The tutorial helps you develop an academically strong thesis proposal. During the semester, you’ll map critical issues of project design such as scope, background, methodology, and expected outcomes. The tutorial is not a course, in the traditional sense. It is structured one-on-one advising with your RA. You’ll participate in 15- to 30-minute individual appointments (by phone, video-conference, or in-person), ordinarily held between 9-5 to discuss your topic, proposal design, and writing progress. In addition, you'll submit multiple thesis proposal drafts for feedback. Upon completion of the CTP, you should have a thesis proposal that is well on its way toward approval and is ready to be vetted by prospective thesis directors. Please note that thesis directors usually request further edits to proposals prior to acceptance.


  • JUNE 1 for fall CTP registration
  • NOVEMBER 1 for spring CTP registration


Please put together a two to three page document addressing the following questions:

1. What is the thesis topic you have in mind? 
Provide a brief general description of your topic. Be as specific as you can. When considering a topic it is important to be mindful that you need to work with a thesis director who is a Harvard faculty member and has expertise in the area; therefore, not all topics of interest can be supported. You should review the FAS/GSAS course catalogue for a list of psychology couses taught by Harvard faculty. You'll learn much about instructors' area of expertise. You may also review the Harvard Graduate School of Education catalogue, as well as other graduate schools, as there are many psychology courses taught across the University.

2. What is/are your research question(s)? (What do you seek to answer?)

This question or questions should be original in the sense that they are ones that you (and others) do not know the answer to already but would like to find out. The ALM thesis is a research thesis with the emphasis on “research” based on genuine curiosity, not advocacy.   Note that a psychology thesis needs to be empirical and verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory.  A proposal for a purely descriptive or literature review project will not be approved.  Your thesis work is expected to raise a specific question, and then evaluate some sort of evidence regarding the answer to that question.


3. Give some background information about your proposed research topic, including an annotated bibliography with at least ten references.

Examining what is already known in your proposed topic area is critical. You need to be aware of the published research on your topic as you propose potential thesis research. When you are doing a review of your topic, you are looking for a balance of prior research. You need to choose a topic where there is enough prior work to support, frame, and ground your research, but not so much that there is very little left to say that is new and interesting. If you have any questions about what is expected for the bibliography, contact Dr. Spetter early on.

4. Provide the rationale for the proposed research.
Answer the “So what?” question by explaining why your research questions are worth asking.  Your purpose in doing the research is to solve a puzzle. Explain what puzzle you are trying to solve and why solving that puzzle is meaningful to the academic field.

SUBMISSION: Send the prework to by the required deadline. Be sure to put “PSYC 497 CTP  prework” in the subject line and include your full name, along with your Harvard ID in the document.

REGISTRATION ALERT! Prework is required to demonstrate your readiness to register for the CTP. You will not be able to register for the CTP until your prework is received and approved by your research advisor.

Advising Tip: The earlier you are able to do the prework, the better! Expect to make some revisions to your document before your prework will be approved and you are allowed to register for the CTP tutorial. Research Advisors would like to meet with each tutorial candidate. Plan on doing this as early as possible, well before the June 1st or Nov. 1st due dates.