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ALM Psychology Track at Harvard Extension School - Thesis vs. Capstone

The Harvard Extension School Psychology Student Society recently hosted an exclusive panel discussion on ALM Psychology tracks. The event, which featured a panel of students and alumni as well as leading experts, aimed to shed light on the differences between the Capstone and Thesis tracks in the ALM Psychology program. The discussion also covered the various stages of both tracks, providing valuable insights for those who are considering pursuing Psychology education or are already enrolled in the program.

We would like to take a moment to extend our gratitude to all the attendees, panelists, and experts who joined us for our first-ever webinar on "Capstone vs. Thesis: Which Track to Choose" on April 10th. It was a great pleasure to have Dr. Max Krasnow, Dr. Adrienne L. Tierney, and Chuck Houston, leading experts in Psychology education at the Harvard Extension School, share their valuable insights and knowledge with us. We also want to thank our student & alumni panelists, Alison Warren, Emma Corbett, Cole Fisher, and Timothy Richardson, who provided their personal experiences and thoughts on the Capstone and Thesis tracks.

The panel discussion provided valuable insights for those who are considering pursuing Psychology education or are already enrolled in the program. By watching the recorded video, students can gain access to the guidance and insights that were shared during the panel discussion, even if they missed the live event. However, it is important to note that the information provided is intended to supplement your knowledge and understanding, and is not a substitute for consulting with your academic advisor. Students should discuss their academic plans and decisions with their advisor to ensure that they align with their academic goals and requirements.

Event Recap

Dr. Krasnow spoke on the difference between the two tracks and how one can choose between them depending on their future interests. He suggested that Capstone typically involve working on a specific problem or issue, using existing research and knowledge to develop practical solutions. On the other hand, Dr. Tierney provided a comprehensive overview of the Thesis track and explained the pre-thesis advising period, pre-work deadlines, and how to find a thesis director.

The panel discussion was an open and engaging conversation, where panellists shared their experiences of choosing between the Capstone and Thesis tracks. They emphasized that Capstone is more applied, while Thesis is more focused on discovering questions that still need to be answered.

We are also happy to announce that the webinar recording is now available on our YouTube Channel (and linked on this page). If you missed the live event or want to re-watch the discussion, you can now access it at your convenience. We hope this recording will be a helpful resource for those considering pursuing a master's degree in Psychology from the Harvard Extension School.

Overall, it was a great webinar, and we are grateful to our experts and panelists who took the time to give shape to this event. Whether you are currently enrolled or considering pursuing a master's degree in Psychology from the Harvard Extension School, this webinar was an excellent opportunity to gain insights and clarity on the Capstone and Thesis tracks. We look forward to organizing more events in the future and supporting you on your educational journey.

Insights into the Capstone Track: Applying Psychology to Real-World Problems

  • The Capstone track in the Psychology program at the Harvard Extension School focuses on applying existing psychology knowledge to real-world problems.

  • Capstone projects involve working on a specific problem or issue, using existing research and knowledge to develop practical solutions.

  • The Capstone track offers four different areas of concentration: Human Development, Identity, Psychometrics, and Applied Educational Psychology.

  • During the Capstone track, students take a pre-capstone course in Fall (the project's design phase), and a capstone course in Spring (the project’s execution phase).

  • At the end of the pre-capstone term students will have produced a capstone proposal. This proposal reviews relevant literature for understanding the problem and the way it can be solved, what the student proposes for the solution, and a provisional plan for executing that during the Spring capstone term.

  • Students will have ample opportunity to work with their instructor and produce a quality proposal that can qualify them to continue into the capstone term. Rarely students have been unable to proceed to the capstone term when their proposal did not meet requirements.

  • In the capstone term students will produce a capstone report and a capstone prototype. The report is an academic paper that presents the problem addressed and explains the solution. The prototype is work towards the solution (details vary by capstone track).

  • The Capstone track allows students to apply their knowledge of psychology to real-world problems, developing practical solutions that can impact people's lives.

Insights into the Thesis Track: Discovering New Questions and Contributing to Knowledge

  • The Thesis track in the Psychology program at the Harvard Extension School is focused on asking new questions and contributing to the knowledge of the field.

  • The pre-thesis advising period is the first formal step in the Thesis process, with two pre-work deadlines on November 1st and June 1st of each year.

  • The pre-work guidelines are structured and involve submitting a proposal that is reviewed by the research advisor. Students are asked to revise the prework based on that feedback. If the prework is not approved after three submissions, the student is asked to submit new prework in the following term.

  • Things to consider in the pre-work stage include a research question that is motivated by existing literature, the feasibility of the project, access to participants, and background knowledge.

  • The next step is to enroll in the “Crafting the Thesis Proposal” course taught by their research advisor, where students write a research proposal including an in-depth literature review.

  • During the thesis course, the thesis director will guide them through the research process and provide feedback on the final product.

  • The final product is a thesis that contributes new knowledge to the field and is based on original research.

  • The Thesis track allows students to explore a research question in depth and make a significant contribution to the field of psychology.

Note from Dr. From Dr. Tierney:

"The website I was referring to is the Thesis Process website. It has a cumbersome URL:

It has a lot of good information about process, policies etc. So I encourage students to read is careful and return to it frequently as they move through the stages of the program. Another thing to note—the hyperlinks are a little hard to see. They are bolded and underlined, but can easily be missed since the color of the font is the same."

About Our Distinguished Speakers & Panelists



Dr. Max Krasnow is an instructor at Harvard Extension School and was associate professor of psychology at Harvard University. He received his PhD in psychology from the University of California at Santa Barbara in the area of developmental and evolutionary psychology. His research primarily focuses on the evolutionary origins and computational design of the mechanisms underlying human cooperation and social behavior. Highlighted in brief in his TEDx talk (Link:, Dr. Krasnow’s work has shown how simple facets of human natural history have shaped our social psychology to be more trusting, kind and cooperative, while also more retributive, aggressive and punitive than a ‘rational’ analysis would suggest. Other lines of research have revealed the origins of human musical psychology in the ancestral conflict between parents and infants over attention, and specializations within human spatial cognition for plant-food gathering. Interested in this research? PDFs of these papers are available at:

At Harvard Extension Dr. Krasnow teaches Evolutionary Psychology (Psych E-1356), Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences (Psych E-1900), capstone sequences in Psychometrics (Psych E-597c & E-599c) and Applied Educational Psychology (Psych E-597d & E-599d), and supervises ALM thesis student research. He is developing a new course on Sex, Gender & Evolution for Fall 2023.


Dr. Adrienne L. Tierney is a research advisor and instructor in the psychology master’s program at the Harvard Extension School. She spent 10 years in the Harvard College Writing Program where she taught analytical writing classes that dealt with psychology and cognitive neuroscience, as well as the fundamentals of argumentation. She also created the curriculum for Effective Writing for Health Care, a course at in the Post Graduate Medical Education program at the Harvard Medical School.

She received her EdD in human development and education and EdM in mind, brain, and education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, her MS in neuroscience from the Université Pierre and Marie Curie, and her BA in neuroscience from Wesleyan University. Her dissertation research examined developmental trajectories in brain and cognitive development of infants at risk for autism. Adrienne’s interests are primarily in teaching analytical writing as a means to help students develop critical thinking and reasoning skills. Since 2006, she has taught many graduate- and undergraduate-level classes at Harvard on writing, human development, emotion, applied cognitive and learning sciences, the psychology of risk, and social and cognitive neuroscience.



We are delighted to announce that Chuck Houston will be joining our esteemed panel of experts for this event. Chuck graduated from the Master of Liberal Arts degree program at Harvard Extension School in 2010, completing the program on the thesis track.

Currently, he serves as an Academic Advisor at Harvard Extension School and is the Primary Advisor for the field of psychology. Chuck plays a critical role in supporting and guiding students pursuing this discipline on their educational journey. We are honored to have him join us and share his insights to help address any questions you may have.


Alison is a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and Adjunct Assistant Professor at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, in the Department of Clinical Research and Leadership. There, she teaches classes in the Integrative Medicine program and Nutrition program. During her time in the ALM in Psychology at HES, she devoted her studies to Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, and published four papers on this topic.

She opted for the thesis track and her thesis topic is "The Relationship between Perceived Stigma and Perceived Stress in Cognitive Decline: A survey of Persons with Mild Cognitive Impairment and Their Caregivers". She ran her study at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ and Jacksonville, FL. She just completed a mini-defense of her thesis and she expects to complete her paper shortly.


Having had a deep interest in both the fields of Psychology and Higher Education, Emma found the ALM in Psychology at HES to be a perfect fit for her academic interests, professional goals and busy lifestyle.

She began taking classes toward admission in the Fall 2018 and became an admitted degree candidate in the Spring 2020. Over the past several years Emma had developed an interest in the impact of lifestyle habits on mental health, such as meditation and physical exercise. At HES, she was able to pick courses to meet the degree requirements that also expanded upon her own interests in such topics.

Emma opted for the capstone track and her capstone topic was: “Personal Growth Beyond Therapy: Mindfulness for Young Adults Impacted by Mental Health Disorders.” Her degree coursework helped Emma identify the areas within the field of Psychology she was most passionate about and wanted to focus her energy on.

HES has been a life changing experience for Emma. The admissions process and flexibility of the program really changed how she viewed myself as a learner, and she am incredibly grateful!


Cole is a marketing technology consultant based out of Indianapolis, IN. He began his HES curriculum in 2017 and was officially admitted into the ALM program in 2018. Cole was very deliberate in his selection of the capstone experience and in aligning his project with his industry and passion.

For his project, Cole developed a business concept, website, and theoretical product offering based on a new way for marketers to interpret online consumer behavior. Most marketers today build, segment, and personalize content around customer personas and affinities that are based on products. In his capstone, Cole reengineered how marketers view the behaviors with which they construct these practices. Rather than looking through a product-specific lens at the customer, his project (branded “Iceberg Analytics”) aimed to break down the behaviors exhibited by the customers (how they browsed, referring traffic sources, time on site, etc.) to define how marketers can provide a higher quality and more informed end-to-end experience for their consumers.


Timothy started his Masters’ degree in Psychology at HES after finding himself deeply uninspired by the Social Work program he had just started. At HES, Timothy has gotten a chance to take a more analytical approach to psychology, applying game theory to understand social behavior and studying psychology through an evolutionary lens – a class which he is now teaching with the wonderful Dr. Krasnow!

Timothy opted for the thesis track. Though the exact details are not finalized, he is studying salience in his project, a concept he hopes to pursue into doctoral work with the intent of focusing on its clinical applications.


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