Guidelines and Timeline for the MAP and Oral Exam

The Major Area Paper (MAP) and oral examination serves as the preliminary examination in the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience. Below is the timetable for completing this part of your graduate training, a description of the expectations for the MAP and oral exam, and some steps you will need to take to prepare for the MAP and oral defense.

The department recommends that students form their MAP committee by the end of their second year and that they defend their MAP by the end of the first semester of their 3rd year. The Graduate School requires that a student registered for full-time study pass the preliminary examination by the end of their third year. A student who has not passed the examination by this time must file a statement with the Dean of the Graduate School, approved by the Director of Graduate Studies in the major department, explaining the delay and setting a date for the examination. Except under unusual circumstances, extensions will not be granted beyond the middle of the fourth year.

In the summer, a preliminary examination may be scheduled only between the opening and closing dates of the summer session. A student must be registered during the term in which he/she takes the preliminary examination.

In order to start working on the MAP students need to have a supervising committee composed of 3 faculty members from the department and 1 faculty member (minor member) in a related but different field. The three P&N members must be primary members of the department (this includes joint members but not secondary faculty). However, in instances in which a P&N secondary faculty member has been approved as the student’s Faculty Mentor they count as one of the three primary P&N members. In most instances, the Administrative Chair of the committee will be selected by the student’s Faculty Mentor but cannot be the Faculty Mentor or the minor member. In these guidelines, 'Administrative Chair' refers to the chair of the examining committee, and 'Faculty Mentor' refers to the student’s intellectual advisor. Because P&N is quite broad, it is (under some circumstances) possible to have a P&N faculty member serve as the minor member of your committee. Students may also have more than 4 members on the committee if their Faculty Mentor feels that additional expertise and advice is needed.

We urge students to include faculty who will provide both depth and breadth of expertise. Student committees should include members who use different approaches, methods, perspectives, and perhaps even a different species. All of the members of the committee must be members of the graduate faculty at Duke University. Students and their Faculty Mentors should discuss who would be the best set of individuals for this role. Students should then provide the DGS with a list of potential committee members along with a written explanation of how both depth and breadth (of topic area, approach, perspective, method) are reflected in the committee membership. Students should provide a rationale for including each member of the committee. This statement will then be used by the DGS to determine if the committee composition meets departmental approval. If it does not then an additional member or a substitute member can be suggested by the DGS.

Once approved, the DGS will nominate this list of individuals to the Dean of the Graduate School who must formally approve the committee. Students must have an approved committee no later than 30 days before the preliminary examination (in this case, the oral defense of the MAP). The formal approval from the Graduate School often takes a few weeks so please submit your committee ahead of time.

The MAP is a research paper in which the student should (a) provide a new integration of an existing body of literature that offers novel ideas, hypotheses, and/or theoretical perspectives, (b) identifies major gaps in the literature, and (c) discusses how those gaps might be filled. The paper cannot be a simple review of the literature; it must provide a synthesis or integration of theory and research on the topic and be issue or idea focused. The student’s goal should be to become a leading expert in the chosen research question and to demonstrate his or her expertise by providing an integrative review of the literature that moves the area forward. The paper should be original and not derivative of another paper already published or unpublished but known to the student.

The MAP should be written in a style that is consistent with articles in journals that publish integrative, non-empirical papers. Indeed, one criterion that the committee should consider in evaluating the paper is whether it is suitable for publication in a target journal such as:

  • Brain Research Reviews
  • Clinical Psychology Review
  • Developmental Review
  • European Journal of Neuroscience
  • Frontiers in Neuroscience
  • Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior
  • Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
  • Personality and Social Psychology Review
  • Psychological Bulletin
  • Psychological Review
  • Review of Educational Research

The minimum length for the MAP text is 8,000 words, and the maximum length of text is 15,000 words. These limits do not include front and back matter (e.g., title page, references and tables and figures). The student and Faculty Mentor should agree upon the intended length of the MAP before writing begins.


Guidelines for grant proposal format for MAP (Updated May 17, 2021)

Students have the option of using the grant proposal format for their MAP defense.  To choose this format, the student must first obtain permission from the graduate mentor, and then inform the DGS and DGSA in an email announcing the intent to defend MAP using the grant format on a specific date (cc’ing the graduate mentor).

The default format is the current NIH NRSA graduate fellowship (F31), which includes a 1-page specific aims and a 6-page research strategy.  However, it is recognized that, for some areas, a different grant mechanism might be more appropriate.  In that case, the student can ask the DGS for permission to use an alternative format.

In addition, to use this format, a different evaluation form will be used.  The new form as well as the traditional MAP evaluation form can be found at the bottom of this page in the tab titled: MAP Evaluation Forms.

Although the MAP is primarily the work of the student, it is expected that the Faculty Mentor will provide advice, instructions, and feedback both before and during the writing process. However, the Faculty Mentor should not edit or rewrite parts of the MAP itself. The Faculty Mentor should serve in the role of an external reviewer who provides feedback about the content and style of the paper without directly collaborating on it.

Students should also consult with their committee members as they consider their MAP topic and the scope of the paper. Students should have a conversation with each committee member after they have developed a plan but before they have started writing. One of the jobs of the committee is to provide feedback and assistance in finding appropriate materials for the project.

During the writing phase of the MAP, students may discuss ideas with their committee members by asking them to read and comment on parts of the paper. However, the committee members must refrain from editing the paper. Instead, they should express concerns and point out weaknesses or strengths without telling students directly how to fix the problem.

The completed paper must be submitted to committee members at least 10 days before the oral defense. Students should ask committee members if they would like a paper copy or an electronic document and provide them with the format preferred. The committee members must email whether they feel the oral defense should proceed to the Administrative Chair and the DGSA no later than 48 hours prior to the scheduled exam. The oral defense proceeds as long as there is no more than one dissent among the committee and that dissent is not from the Faculty Mentor.

The Committee Administrative Chair will compile votes and must notify the student and the other committee members no later than 24 hours prior to the scheduled exam whether the oral defense will proceed. If the paper is not accceptable, the oral exam is cancelled.

Although students may not write collaboratively on the MAP with their Faculty Mentor or committee members prior to the oral exam, they may seek substantive collaborative help from committee members afterwards if they plan to submit the paper for publication.

It is the student’s responsibility to schedule the oral exam. The scheduling process should begin well in advance of the intended exam date (e.g., six weeks).|

At the start of the exam, the student should leave the room to allow the committee members a short discussion period. When the student returns he/she should give a 10-15 minute presentation of the MAP, typically using a small number of slides to illustrate major points.

In the oral exam faculty will ask questions that stem from the MAP document. The MAP defense should be focused on the paper but the student should also be prepared to demonstrate knowledge in the broad field of study. Students are responsible for answering any and all questions.

The oral exam will consist of two rounds of questions. In each round, each committee member will question the student with the Administrative Chair establishing the order of questioning. Each committee member will be allowed up to 15 minutes of time to examine the student during the 1st round, and up to 10 minutes during the 2nd round. The time allocated to each examiner is intended to be used primarily by the examiner; other examiners may ask brief questions of clarification during that period but extensive questioning by other examiners is not appropriate. The Administrative Chair is responsible for monitoring time and for gently enforcing time limits. After the two rounds of questions, the committee may decide to have an optional 10-15 discussion period in which everybody can ask questions.

At the conclusion of the exam, the student will be asked to step out of the room and the committee members will determine whether the candidate has passed or failed the exam. The committee will complete the forms titled “Major Area Written Paper Evaluation Form” and “Major Area Paper Oral Defense Evaluation Form.” These forms ask for specific judgments regarding the student’s accomplishments along several dimensions related to the written paper and oral defense (see attached evaluation form).

The evaluation forms are first completed individually by committee members. Following discussion, individual committee members can change their rating if they wish to do so. The committee members should consider a score of 3 or higher on each of the evaluative dimensions as passing. If there is a shared feeling among committee members that the scores could improve with additional questioning, they may decide to have an additional round of questioning. After the final ratings and questioning, the committee members must vote either “pass” or “fail.” The ratings on both forms are then used to provide the student with feedback regarding the written and oral portions of the examination.

Successful completion of the preliminary examination requires four affirmative votes and no more than one negative vote. However, as per Graduate School regulations, if the single negative vote is registered by the student’s Faculty Mentor, the preliminary examination will be a failure. A student who fails the preliminary examination may apply, with the consent of the full committee and the Dean of the Graduate School, for the privilege of a second examination to be taken no earlier than three months after the date of the first. Successful completion of the second examination requires the affirmative vote of all committee members, and the committee composition must be exactly the same as during the first examination. Failure on the second examination will render a student ineligible to continue a program for the Ph.D. degree at Duke University.

The committee may also decide that no re-examination is possible. This occurs via a second vote taken after a failing vote on the first round. The committee may also recommend awarding a terminal masters degree at this time. Any candidate who fails the preliminary exam twice will be asked to withdraw from the Graduate School and will not be allowed to continue towards the PhD.

A student is not accepted as a candidate for the Ph.D. degree until the MAP and oral examination have been passed. The MAP and oral exam may also be used as the completion exercise for awarding a master's degree en route to the Ph.D. If the MAP is to be used as a master’s completion exercise, the committee must sign a master’s non-thesis examination card along with the preliminary examination report, and both must be submitted to the Graduate School.

The doctoral dissertation should be submitted and accepted within four years after the MAP oral exam although the candidate may, with the approval of the committee and the Director of Graduate Studies, petition the Dean of the Graduate School for an extension of up to one year.