Psychology Major Undergoes Changes

Daniel Kim

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The psychology department at Whitman College will be implementing new changes to the requirements for a major in psychology. The changes, which will take place in the upcoming academic year, were a response to recommendations from an external review by psychology faculty from other institutions.

“The external review team examined our department and curriculum to see how we compare with other contemporary psychology departments. Their goal was to make recommendations for how we might improve our offerings to students while also retaining our existing strengths,” said Associate Professor of Psychology & Ladley Endowed Chair Walter Herbranson.

These recommendations, particularly two of them, questioned the requirements for a psychology major. The current changes in the psychology major derived from these recommendations.

“One of those recommendations was to consider our senior assessment and whether all the aspects of it were really necessary. The other thing they recommended was that we consider putting a little more structure into the major to make sure everybody saw the entire field of psychology,” said Herbranson.

The purpose of these changes is to broaden the requirements that students need to complete. The aim is to require psychology majors to understand fully the psychology sphere and not focus on one area of psychology.

“We figured if we reallocated some of those departmental resources that were going exclusively to the senior class to other levels of the curriculum that we would have a better rounded balanced major,” said Herbranson.

The first of two changes is the option to complete a thesis. Psychology majors will no longer have to write a thesis, but will still have that option if they desire.

“Previously we had a required thesis, so every senior would complete his or her thesis. That’s still an option but no longer required. So anyone that wants to do a thesis can, but you can complete the major now without doing the senior thesis,” said Herbranson.

The other change affects the structure of the department. Rather than allowing students to load up on courses in one area of psychology, the three foundation areas will now require students to explore the different fields of psychology.

These foundation areas are in social or developmental psychology, personality or abnormal psychology and cognitive, physiology behaviors or psychology of learning.

“The idea there is that it ensures that everybody gets a fairly complete picture of the landscape in psychology,” said Herbranson.

Students will be able to continue on with their majors without much change. Next year seniors will by default be under the old requirements because that was when they declared their major, but if they want to, they can switch to the new requirements.

“So if they’re not keen on doing a thesis, or maybe it conflicts with classes that they need for a double major, they can switch to the new requirements where they wouldn’t have to do a thesis but they would need to make sure that they got in those foundation courses,” said Herbranson.

Sophomore Josh Debacker feels that the alterations to the psychology major will not change his perspective about the field. He still plans on writing a thesis, though he will now likely have to take more classes than before.

“I would enjoy taking more psychology courses. I do not see any detriment from the changes that are being made, and it seems very beneficial that they are requiring more courses,” said Debacker. “I’m going to continue on the thesis way as well because, for me, the notion of the thesis is excellent research experience and not doing the thesis would be the real detriment.”

It seems that the new changes to the requirements for a psychology major are strengthening the experience for the students.

“I think having this option is great for psychology majors. First off, by making the thesis optional it makes students’ decision to do it that much more impressive. Another pro is that the optional thesis makes double majoring with psychology much more feasible,” said sophomore psychology major Ben Woletz.

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