Lately, we’ve been getting an increasing number of questions from people who want to pursue a Ph.D. program in positive psychology (mostly after having finished a MAPP program or one of the other courses in positive psychology) and are looking for a university or institution with specific positive psychology graduate programs for this.
In order to find a satisfactory answer to this question, we asked:
- this question in our positive psychology Facebook community
- all the people whom we know and are currently doing a Ph.d. within the field of positive psychology
- Dr. Martin Seligman, Lisa Sansom, and Louis Alloro
After putting all of their responses to this question together, we feel like we’re in a good position to give you a satisfactory answer to this question.
Doctoral Programs in Positive Psychology
Option 1: Claremont Graduate University (CGU)
The Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont Graduate University offers two streams of Ph.D. positions:
- one in Positive Developmental Psychology
- one in Positive Organizational Psychology
Please visit their website or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to find out more.
Option 2: University of East London (UEL)
Although it’s not as clear as CGU’s program, apparently there is a possibility of doing a Ph.D. at the University of East London as well. You can follow the link and fill in the form for further inquiry.
I will ask the current lecturers of the MAPP program at the UEL for more information and update this page accordingly.
Option 3: Get the Ph.D. position in a field of your own choice
Lisa Sansom remarked that “at the Ph.D. level, it’s more about your supervisor than the actual name of the program. Marty’s Ph.D. students at Penn don’t, as far as I know, get a Ph.D. in positive psychology but that is what they are studying effectively. Same with Barb and Sonja and most of the big names. Find the supervisor who is working and researching in the field you want to spend several years of your life and go there.”
Martin Seligman confirmed this by saying: “at most places you specialize in PP and work with a PP researcher. Not any real difference.”
This means that if you know which branch of positive psychology (e.g. subjective well-being, mindfulness, resilience, positive psychotherapy etc.) you like to do research into, you should find a positive psychology researcher who is active in that field by using this list and then contact him or her about the possibilities for doing a Ph.D. under their guidance.
What is a Ph.D. exactly?
A Ph.D. is a research degree while BSc and MSc (or BA and MA) are taught degrees. In a research degree, students learn through research and take full responsibility for their learning. In other words, a Ph.D. is a relatively big research project that the research student conducts independently with only the supervision of a senior research professor at the university.
Such research projects lead to a thesis of publishable quality of roughly about 80,000 words. The research and hence the thesis should make an original scientific contribution to the field of its study.
What does a Ph.D. in psychology look like?
A Ph.D. in psychology usually takes three years full-time, and up to six years when studied part-time. What you need to consider about a Ph.D. in positive psychology, is that at the Ph.D. level, positive psychology merges with psychology in general. So, you do not need to find a university specializing in positive psychology. In fact, even universities that do not teach positive psychology at BSc or MSc level, conduct some research on various topics that are directly related to positive psychology.
Know your outcome
However, before you make a final decision, think carefully about the topic of your research. It would be hard to spend three years researching a topic that you’re not truly passionate about.
Ask yourself: “Do I really want to spend at least three years, researching this particular topic?” Additionally, think about what you want to do with your Ph.D. What is your main motivation and what do you expect to achieve through that Ph.D.?
Choosing a university
Make sure that you choose a university that is suitable for you in all respects. Gather as much information as possible beforehand. Find out about their facilities, accommodation (if required) and most importantly about their research culture.
Also, learn about your potential supervisor (e.g. about his/her research experience, publications and methods) and arrange to meet your supervisor (or at least contact him/her by email) even before applying for the course, to see if they are willing to supervise your proposed topic. Be aware of miscalculating what is required of you.
How to get funding or a scholarship?
Securing the necessary funding for your Ph.D. is another vital step in achieving your research ambitions and there are various funding systems.
Obviously, one method is raising your own private funds (self-funding), but most people rely on studentships granted by the university or a research body (e.g. Medical Research Council in the UK) that supports the university. Your chosen university can provide details of such grants.
Make sure that you understand the available funding systems, the eligibility criteria for each scheme and the extent of the support provided by each arrangement, before applying for the course.
An important point to remember is the fact that Ph.D.’s supported by studentships, grants or scholarships usually relate to a specific topic. Such subject matters could cover a wide spectrum or can be associated with a narrowly defined area. This will limit your choices, so you need to search far and wide to find the studentship that supports your favorite topic.
Visit the following two websites to see a selection of advertised studentships and a range of additional information about Ph.D. places.
That’s all there is to it!
We wish you the best of luck in finding a Ph.D. position within the field of positive psychology! If there’s anything that we can help you with please don’t hesitate to ask.
All the best!