About Our Department

Introduction to the Department

Psychology is the science of mental life and behavior.  Psychologists study humans and other animals from a variety of perspectives, seeking knowledge about how we perceive, think, remember, decide, feel, act, create, and relate to the physical and social world around us.  The focus of psychological research ranges from the biological substrates of mind to environmental and social influences on behavior.  Psychology is a very broad field that overlaps with many other disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics, speech and hearing sciences and computer science on one side; physiology, psychiatry, neurology, pharmacology, neuroscience and biology on another; family studies, sociology and communication on a third, and management, marketing, economics and policy planning as well.  It is no surprise that Psychology is always among the most popular fields of study at undergraduate and graduate levels.  In 2009-2010, Psychology at The University of Arizona had the largest number of majors (1,998) in its history, and in comparison to any other department at the university.

The Psychology Department offers an undergraduate major leading to either a B.A. or a B.S. degree, plays a major role in both Tier I and Tier II of the university General Education curriculum, and provides a graduate program leading to the Ph.D. with a concentration in one of four distinct program areas and two sub-program specializations.

Because human behavior is multiply determined, the study of psychology necessarily draws on many disciplines and on many levels of explanation to achieve an understanding of its content.  Our undergraduate curriculum reflects this multidisciplinary focus at all levels.  The Psychology department holds the view that the discipline of psychology includes knowledge about ourselves and others, and methods for deciding upon effective approaches to solving human problems that every educated person should understand, regardless of his or her chosen career path.  To this end we have also taken an active and leading role in the General Education curriculum.

Our undergraduate major focuses on providing students with a solid grounding in research methods, and broad exposure to three domains: (1) Cognition and Neural Systems (2) Social Psychology, and (3) Clinical Psychology.

Students can pursue either a B.A. or a B.S. degree in Psychology.  The two programs are identical with respect to their psychology requirements.  After completing the lower-division requirements, students take eight additional psychology courses while meeting the distributional requirements noted above.  The department also offers a minor in psychology, in which students take four courses in addition to the introductory and statistics courses.

Our graduate Ph.D. program provides concentrations of study in four distinct (although interacting) program areas: Clinical Psychology; Cognition and Neural Systems (CNS); Ethology and Evolutionary Psychology (EEP); and Social Psychology.   These graduate programs vary in specific contents and research methods, but all share basic goals that are compatible with our philosophy of training and the mission of our University as a Research I institution.

Our faculty members are engaged in leading edge research in a large number of areas, as indicated by the volume and impact of their publications and their prominence in other ways.  Our research activities are fully integrated with our instructional activities, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Psychology has a long history at The University of Arizona, with the first psychology course having been taught (by university President Theodore Comstock, a mining engineer and geologist!) in the Fall Term of 1894. Psychology was taught almost every year after 1898, justified for its relevance to teaching.  Around 1914, the Department of Philosophy and Psychology was established, and after 1925 there were three faculty members in this department, offering primarily undergraduate classes.  A Master’s Program was added, which during the 1930s produced eight psychology theses.  Class enrollments increased, particularly with more advanced students yearning to become psychologists.  From 1945 through 1958, 275 bachelor’s and 20 master’s degrees in psychology were awarded.  During this time, there was little space or support for research, and no one had any external grants.  Authority to grant the doctoral degree was added in 1958, and Psychology split away from Philosophy, each becoming separate departments. Neil Bartlett served as the Chairman of Psychology from 1958 to 1974, to be succeeded by Lawrence Wheeler (1975-1982), Lee Sechrest (1984-1989), Lynn Nadel (1989-2002), Alfred Kaszniak (2002-2010 ) and Elizabeth Glisky (2010-present).  Throughout these years, the Department of Psychology continued to grow and increase its reputation as a center for excellent undergraduate and graduate education, and increasingly, for cutting-edge psychological research.

Of the 31 faculty members, whose primary appointments are in the Department  of Psychology 17 are Full Professors, 11 are Associate Professors, 2 are Assistant Professors and 1 is a Lecturer.  All of our ranked faculty members are actively engaged in research and scholarship, and more than half currently hold external grants.  Our faculty members are also thoroughly engaged in instructional activities, at all levels of the curriculum.

(1) Much of the information here on the early history of Psychology at The University of Arizona comes from: Bartlett, N.R. (1988). Unplanned birth: Psychology at The University of Arizona. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 24, 57-63.

Department Head’s Welcome

Welcome to the University of Arizona’s Department of Psychology.   Our Department is part of the School of Mind, Brain, and Behavior (MBB), and is housed within the College of Science, in keeping with its strong research-oriented approach and scientifically-derived knowledge base. Psychology is by its very nature interdisciplinary, and its faculty and students interact and collaborate naturally with other MBB programs and departments—Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, and Speech, Language and Hearing Science—as well as with other academic units across campus.  The Psychology Department offers an exciting array of courses and research experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students and also provides many opportunities for students to serve in the broader University and Tucson community.  Our website is designed to provide an introduction to the people, places, and events that constitute the life of our department, and to help you select among the many options available to you as you embark on your academic career.  Again, welcome to the department. I wish you every success in the coming year.

Best regards,

Lee Ryan
Professor and Head
Department of Psychology