September 12, 2011

New Dual Degree Prepares Students for Legal Psychology

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The Department of Human Development in the College of Human Ecology and the Cornell Law School are teaming up to offer a Ph.D./J.D. dual degree in developmental psychology and law, the University announced Sept. 6.

The program will allow students to pursue the rapidly-growing field of legal psychology, which includes witness prejudice, judgment, mental health and lie detection, according to a press release. The first class will enter the new program in fall 2012.

“The joint degree will prepare psychology students with legal training necessary for research and teaching in this field and will provide law students with the research and training skills that are essential to practice and teach scientifically-based law,” the program’s new website stated.

The six-year program combines a research-based Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the Department of Human Development with a J.D. from Cornell Law School. Before the dual degree program, it would have taken a student eight years to complete both degrees.

To be admitted into the dual degree program, students must apply and be accepted into both the graduate program in the Department of Human Development and the Law School. Applications are rolling, with final deadlines of Jan. 1 for Human Development and Feb. 1 for law.

It has not been determined how many students will be invited to join the inaugural class, Prof. Valerie Hans, law, said.

“We are waiting for the applications to come in to see what kinds of students are interested,” Hans said. “We are really eager to see what the country has to offer.”

Hans, who has been involved in the field of psychology and law for about thirty years, said that the faculty involved have been working to integrate and streamline the two degrees to make it possible for students to pursue both fields in a more manageable time period.

“Many people are training in only one area of psychology and have limited knowledge of law,” Hans said. “The major strength of this program is that it provides the opportunity to integrate both.”

Cornell’s Law, Psychology and Human Development graduate program, located in the College of Human Ecology, was established in 2007 and remains the only program of its kind among Ivy League institutions, according to the program website. However, under this program, students did not receive a J.D.

Each student in the program will be assigned a three-member supervisory committee composed of both human development and law faculty at the beginning of their studies, according to the program’s website.

The six-year, or 12-semester, program will be divided between courses in human development, experimental psychology, and law, totaling approximately 167 credits.

According to a sample schedule, students will spend their first two years taking psychology and human development credits only, while conducting research for a master’s thesis to be completed by the end of the year two.

Years three and four will be dedicated exclusively to law courses and preparation for the A Exams, or Admission to Candidacy evaluations — which graduate students take upon completion of required coursework and after selecting a dissertation topic.

Students in the program will spend the fifth year studying primarily human development while conducting doctoral research.

The sixth and final year will be divided into a human development semester and a law semester. Students will spend this year completing and defending their doctoral dissertation.

While full tuition support will be available for the three and a half years spent in Human Ecology, students will be expected to pay full law school tuition for years three and four and the second semester of year six, according to the website. Grant funding is a possibility but not a guarantee for the law school portion.

According to Hans, the program will be drawing upon existing resources rather than bringing in new faculty members from outside Cornell. Other faculty members involved in the program include human development professors Stephen Ceci, John Eckenrode, Wendy Williams and Valerie Reyna; psychology professor David Dunning; and law professors John Blume, Sheri Johnson and Jeffrey Rachlinski.

“We have some of the top people in the world in the field of psychology and law,” Hans said. “It is wonderful to think how students will be able to work with such nationally known figures.”

Hans also said that she believes people with advanced degrees in both law and psychology will be highly competitive entrants into the job market.

“Graduates from this program are going to be cutting edge,” Hans said. “I really think this program has the potential to become one of the top in the country.”

Original Author: Rebecca Harris