Research Problems in Clinical Psychology


PSYC 5423


Spring Semester, 2013


Full syllabus

Latest Course schedule and readings

Sample F31 sections


Instructor: †††† Erik Willcutt, Ph.D.

††††††††††††††††† ††††† Office:† Muenzinger D-313C

††††††††††††††††† ††††† Work phone:† 303-492-3304

††††††††††††††††† ††††† Home phone: 303-926-8844

††††††††††††††††† ††††† Cell phone: 303-916-9148 (it's fine to call or send text messages to my cell)

††††††††††††††††† ††††† Email:


Schedule: ††††† Tuesday 11:30 - 2:00; Muenzinger D318


Website:†† †††††


Course description

Course Goals:

††††† Psyc 5423 is an intensive, upper-level graduate course that provides a survey of research design, research criticism, and proposal writing. The overarching goal of the course is to facilitate the development The first primary aim of the course is to enable students to become proficient with the fundamentals of research design. Primary topics will include methods for systematic literature reviews, hypothesis formulation and operationalization, inference testing, advantages and disadvantages of design alternatives, measurement and assessment strategies for clinical research, and selection and implementation of appropriate statistical procedures. The second overarching goal of the course is to facilitate the development of writing skills that will enable students to write empirical papers and research proposals that will be selected for publication or external funding.


Course Format:

To accomplish these objectives, students will be exposed to information through class lectures, assigned readings, and class discussion.† These sources of information are designed to complement one another. The readings will broadly cover topics related to research design.† The content of the lectures will overlap with the readings to a certain extent, but will also provide specific context and applied examples which will facilitate the learning process. The course will focus heavily on the application of research design and will emphasize class discussion.



††††† There is no textbook. The reading list is maintained online at, and the website also includes a link to the version of each paper. For most class sessions there will be 3 - 5 required readings. In addition, the list also includes a number of supplemental readings for each major content area (the supplemental readings will be clearly indicated bold headers on the reading list).

††††† The supplemental readings are not required for the course. One of my primary goals for this course is to provide you with a list of resources regarding different aspects of research design that you will be useful to you later in graduate school and in your future career as an independent researcher. Therefore, for each topic we cover the reading list includes a range of "classic" papers that provide useful overviews or different perspectives, along with papers that provide a useful discussion of more specific topics that are only relevant for some specific study designs. On a related note, I am always looking for useful new articles to add to the list, so if you find any articles that are especially helpful during the course or later in your training, please forward them to me.



Course Requirements

I. Class attendance and participation:

I.A. Overall attendance and participation (20% of final grade): Although the content of the course requires much of our time to be devoted to presentation of information by lecture (especially early in the semester), I have structured the course to empasize discussion as much as possible. Students are expected to read the assigned materials prior to class and to be prepared to discuss those materials during class. In addition, you will complete several (very) brief assignments to help you to consolidate the information presented in class. These will be announced during class.

I. B. Discussion leader (10% of final grade; can be completed anytime during the semester): Once during the semester each student will lead a discussion of an empirical paper that utilized one of the methods we cover during the course. Ideally, I would like each of you to choose the paper that you would like to present so that you can select a paper that is relevant to your own research interests, but I am also happy to provide suggestions. Once you select a paper please email it to me for final approval, and then I will post it on the website so all of us can read it prior to the discussion.


II. Research reviews:

II.A. Manuscript review #1 (10% of final grade; due January 29th). Read Reynolds & Nicolson (2007) and prepare a "bullet point" critique summarizing your reaction to the paper (positive and negative) for discussion in class. Think about both the specific content / logic of the paper and your more general "gut-level" reactions to the style of presentation. I realize that you don't have detailed knowledge about this area of research - the goal of this assignment is just to get us all thinking about these issues, so please don't let this one stress you out.

II.B. Manuscript review #2 (10% of final grade; due February 26th). You will review an empirical paper that I will distribute in the format that is used for blind reviews for a clinical psychology journal. I will provide several sample reviews as examples before you are required to write your own review.

II.C. Grant review (10% of final grade; due approximately March 19th). You will each write a review of one full application for a National Research Service Award (NRSA) fellowship. We will discuss the NIH review format in detail before this assignment.

II.D. Review of popular press article (10% of final grade; can be completed anytime, due by April 30th). As you read articles in the popular press, watch for articles that make an "error in thinking" that is relevant to the issues covered in this course ("relevant" can be interpreted liberally). Newspapers, magazines, and the internet are all fine - just make a copy of the article or send along the link so I know what you read. In no more than 2 - 3 pages, describe the error that you spotted, and explain why it is an error. Then, in your role as empathic skeptic, discuss why you think the error was made. Things to think about could include:

1. Why does the error matter in the big picture?

2. Why was the author of the article susceptible to the error? Did the original source of the information play a role in the error? (i.e., did the author of the article just misinterpret the source, miss a subtle point, or frame the information from the source in a way that contradicts its content, or was the original source material misleading?)

3. Why might members of the public be susceptible to believe the error?

4. How would you change the story? Is the information in the article simply wrong, or is it a more subtle mistake that could be presented more appropriately by providing adequate context, discussion of caveats, etc.?


III. Foundation of NIH F31 individual fellowship proposal (30% of final grade; due May 7th)

††††† The final assignment is to write the framework for a proposal for an NIH Ruth Kirschtein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship. In a perfect world each of you will use the final product from this course as the foundation for a submitted proposal for the NRSA deadline in December of your second year in the program. We will discuss the specific details of this assignment extensively throughout the semester. For now, this is a summary of the sections you will complete:

Full written draft: Abstract, Specific Aims, Significance

Detailed outline: Approach (including data analyses), Training Plan, Human Subjects




Students with a disability

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to your professor a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner (for exam accommodations provide your letter at least one week prior to the exam) so that your needs can be addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities. Contact Disability Services at 303-492-8671 or by e-mail at


Honor Code

All students of the University of Colorado at Boulder are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution. Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior. All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-735-2273). Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion). Other information on the Honor Code can be found at and at

Classroom behavior policy

Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Those who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, color, culture, religion, creed, politics, veteranís status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and gender expression, age, disability, and nationalities. Class rosters are provided to the instructor with the student's legal name. I will gladly honor your request to address you by an alternate name or gender pronoun. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.


The University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) is committed to maintaining a positive learning, working, and living environment. The University of Colorado does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status in admission and access to, and treatment and employment in, its educational programs and activities. (Regent Law, Article 10, amended 11/8/2001). CU-Boulder will not tolerate acts of discrimination or harassment based upon Protected Classes or related retaliation against or by any employee or student. For purposes of this CU-Boulder policy, "Protected Classes" refers to race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or veteran status. Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against should contact the Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH) at 303-492-2127 or the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) at 303-492-5550. Information about the ODH, the above referenced policies, and the campus resources available to assist individuals regarding discrimination or harassment can be obtained at