Overview: PhD Educational Psychology

The PhD in Educational Psychology prepares students to conduct research on psychological processes as they affect student learning and successful teaching in urban settings.  Graduates become research experts and innovators in one of two focus areas; Human Development and Learning or Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment.  Nevertheless, all graduates are expected to have knowledge of the main areas of research found in the field of Educational Psychology.  In addition to accepting traditional academic research positions, our graduates work for private and not-for-profit organizations, national and state licensing and certification boards, state and federal agencies, and testing companies.

Overview of Requirements (Fall 2013)

The PhD in Educational Psychology requires a minimum of 96 semester hours beyond the baccalaureate degree, and a minimum of 64 semester hours beyond the master’s degree.  These requirements include completion of a 12-hour Doctoral Studies Core, a 12-hour Methodology Requirement, a 4-hour research project, and 12 semester hours of dissertation research.  You are also required to pass written and oral portions of a preliminary examination and successfully defend your dissertation research.  Specific requirements are as follows for students who enter the program with an earned master’s degree.

  • COE Doctoral Studies Core —12 hours
  • Methodology Requirement –– 12 hours
  • Educational Psychology Program Core — 8 hours
  • Area of Specialization —16 hours
  • Research Project — 4 hours
  • Preliminary Examination — Written Portion
  • Preparation of a Dissertation Research Proposal
  • Preliminary Examination — Oral Portion
  • Dissertation Research — 12 hours (minimum)
  • Dissertation Defense

Earning a Masters degree while enrolled in the doctoral program.  If you enter with a bachelor’s degree but not a master’s degree you are required to take up to 32 hours of additional coursework (the equivalent of a master’s degree) in an area of specialization.  Any student who chooses to do so may earn a master’s degree while enrolled in the Ph.D. program, but should be alerted to the fact that those courses that are aligned with an M.Ed. degree cannot simultaneously be applied toward the Ph.D.

You are free to substitute a more advanced course for any of the required core courses that are normally associated with the Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.  Decisions about which courses to substitute are normally made in consultation with your program advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies for the Educational Psychology Department, and the Graduate College.

Doctoral Studies Core (12 hours)

All doctoral degrees in the College of Education require a core of courses that focuses on different types of research in educational settings, research design, and the analysis of educational data.  These core courses will help you develop the minimum skills needed to evaluate research literature and to begin your own independent research.  You are encouraged to take these core courses early in your program; however, you may take other courses in the program before completing this set of courses.

The requirements of the Doctoral Studies Core are:

  • ED 504—Urban Contexts and Educational Research (4 hours)
  • ED 505—Introduction to Educational Research: Paradigms and Processes (4 hours)
  • ED 506—Introduction to Educational Research: Designs and Analyses (4 hours)

Methodology Requirement (12 hours)

In addition to the Doctoral Studies Core above, you must take a minimum of three research methodology courses as described below.  Note also that you may choose or be encouraged by your faculty advisor to take additional courses in research methodology beyond these minimums in order to meet your personal scholarly and professional goals.

The Methodology Requirement includes:

  • ED 502—Essentials of Qualitative Inquiry in Education (4 hours)
  • ED 503/EPSY 503—Essentials of Quantitative Inquiry in Education (4 hours)
  • A third methodology course selected in consultation with your advisor (4 hours)

Educational Psychology Program Core (8 hours)

To explore breadth in the field of Educational Psychology, all students, regardless of their focus area, enroll in three program core courses, totaling 10 semester hours.

  • EPSY 500 — Proseminar in Educational Psychology I: Socialization into the Field (2 hrs)
  • EPSY 501 — Theories of Educational Psychology (4 hours)
  • EPSY 508 — Proseminar in Educational Psychology II: Discourses in the Field (2 hours)

Area of Emphasis (16 hours minimum)

This PhD program requires that you take courses in both the College of Education and the Department of Psychology.   All students enroll in a breadth core that involves exposure to the range of topics typically associated with a degree in Educational Psychology.  Nevertheless, you are typically admitted into one of the following two focus areas.

Human Development and Learning

This concentration includes most of the school-based research that is salient in the field of Educational Psychology.  Individuals who focus primarily on human development usually specialize in issues that pertain to early childhood, middle childhood, adolescence, or adulthood as well as a substantive area of emphasis salient in the field of human development.  Individuals who focus on learning typically specialize in processes of cognition and how knowledge of cognitive processes can be used to shape instruction and the learning environment.  Available areas of expertise change as the composition of the faculty and the field change.  You are advised to look at the research interests of current faculty to determine which topical interests to focus on during your program of study.  Our current faculty members specialize in the following three areas.

Cognition and instruction.  This research area involves a multidisciplinary group of faculty members and students interested in Learning Sciences.  Specific areas of study within this concentration include cognitive development, metacognition and self-regulated learning, reading comprehension and text processing, learning from multimedia materials, design of learning environments, and the use of cognitive models in assessment.

Early childhood educationThis research area focuses on the cognitive and social development of young children. Specific areas of study include social and cognitive development, cultural differences in parent-child interaction, children’s play, and the development of children with learning disabilities.

Social developmentThis research area focuses on processes of social growth and cultural factors that affect individuals’ development and educational processes. Specific areas of study include cultural factors in students’ development and learning, emotional and other forms of socio-moral development, gender roles and gender identity, legitimate parent and teacher authority in relation to student autonomy, motivation, peer relations, play, and social competence.

Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment

This focus area combines training in measurement, evaluation, statistics, and assessment with research experiences gained from participation in research projects. In Measurement and Evaluation, specific areas of study include measurement theory, Rasch measurement, Item Response Theory, true score theory, generalizability theory, test score equating, standard setting, instrument design, and program evaluation. In Statistics, areas of study include statistical theory, hierarchical linear modeling, nonparametric modeling, regression analysis, multivariate analysis, structural equation modeling, factor analysis, causal analysis, categorical data analysis, research synthesis and meta-analysis, exploratory data analysis, model estimation, model goodness-of-fit analysis, model selection, robust analysis, missing-data analysis, and research methods. In Assessment, study areas include qualitative methods, testing for licensure and certification, computer adaptive testing, large-scale testing, and classroom-based assessment.

You  can specialize in a particular focus area, yet everyone is encouraged to take courses in each of four areas.  Available areas of expertise change as the composition of the faculty and the field change.  You are advised to look at the research interests of current faculty and determine your own topical interests as early in their program of study as possible.  Our current faculty members specialize in the following four areas.

Measurement.  Measurement courses cover a range of theories, models, and methods for measuring variables of aptitude, achievement, and attitudes. They include test, questionnaire, rating scale, and survey construction for data collection, and include contemporary measurement models for data analysis. These courses are designed to prepare researchers and practitioners to meet measurement challenges they will encounter when conducting research and applying measurement models in a variety of settings.

Evaluation.  Evaluation courses deal with the systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of programs and how this information can be used to make judgments about program quality, improve program effectiveness, and/or inform decisions about future program development.  Students learn about evaluation theory and methods in coursework emphasizing the processes associated with planning and conducting evaluations. They become informed, critical consumers of standards-based assessment procedures and program evaluation.

Statistics.  This concentration enables students to conduct evidence-based research, to rigorously answer questions that are important to the educational and social sciences.  Statistics courses cover a broad range of statistical models that are useful for the analysis of many types of data sets. They include models that discover the relationship between one variable with and a set of other variables, and models that describe causal relationships between variables (for example, the causal effects of educational treatments on academic achievement). Students who take statistics courses will gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities to analyze, interpret, and draw accurate conclusions from data.

Assessment.  Assessment courses focus on the process of collecting, synthesizing, analyzing, and interpreting quantitative and qualitative information to aid in decision-making.  Assessment training allows students to design, administer, score, and interpret results from various types of assessments that measure simple and complex learning outcomes.  Students learn how to design paper-and-pencil tests, performance assessments, and product assessments that are aligned with those standards that are to be evaluated as well as how to interpret various statistical findings.  These skills can be used for a variety of purposes including the interpretation of score reports, determining appropriate modifications or accommodations when using a tool to assess the performance of students with disabilities or language limitations, the development and defense of grading procedures, and important legal purposes associated with education and employment.

Selecting an area of emphasis.  Within each focus area, you may select the remaining courses to form your own area of emphasis (minimum of 16 hours).  These courses are usually chosen in consultation with your faculty advisor.  A minimum of 8 hours should be Educational Psychology or Psychology courses.  At least 3 of these 8 hours should focus on Psychology.  Note that the required course hours are the minimum number required. You may wish to take more than the minimum number of courses or may be required to do so by your advisor.

Although you may take all your courses in the College of Education and the Psychology Department, you are strongly encouraged to take courses in other UIC departments as well.  Such courses can strengthen your conceptual and methodological knowledge (needed for independent research) and broaden your exposure to the range of research perspectives of faculty members in your specific area of interest.

Research Project (EPSY 593, 4 hours)

The research project is an important beginning experience in doing research on actual problems in your chosen area of study.  The research project usually offers you an opportunity to explore and pilot test ideas for your dissertation research.  You may seek out a program faculty member to collaborate with on a research project and perhaps collaborate with other doctoral students.  Ideally, you will work on such projects as a full research colleague and be involved in all aspects of the project from design through execution, analysis, and writing of results.  Such work may lead to a presentation at a scholarly conference or to submission of a manuscript to a professional journal for publication.  (See Section V on the need for IRB approval of a proposed research project.)

You should consult with your faculty advisor to determine when you are ready to embark on this research project.  You are responsible for obtaining the assistance of a faculty member when designing and completing a research project.  You are also responsible for taking the initiative needed to fully complete the research project and this step indicates a readiness to complete a dissertation (see below). The sponsoring faculty member may be either a your program advisor or another faculty member who will bring particular expertise and experience to support the project.

Annual Reviews

You are required to submit a formal progress report each year.  These reports provide you with an opportunity to reflect on whether you are meeting your goals while allowing faculty to assess whether adequate progress is being made.  Program faculty review and discuss these reports and provide written feedback to you about whether you are meeting expectations.  Recommendations for ways to enhance or sustain your progress are a likely result of this process.  If you are not making adequate progress you may be placed on probation and given directive feedback on how to proceed.

The Preliminary Examination Process

You are required to complete a dissertation to earn your Ph.D., and to verify your readiness for such research, you will proceed through a preliminary examination process.  This process is complex and involves the formation of at least one committee of 5 faculty members, comprised of at least two faculty members from the UIC College of Education.  It is common for a student to establish one committee of 5 faculty members who serve both as the members of the Preliminary Examination Committee and who serve as members of the Dissertation Committee.  It is also common for the Chair of each committee to be the same person.  Nevertheless, for a wide range of reasons, you may need to form two different committees, replace individual members on a committee, or to otherwise adjust this process.  Below is a detailed outline of the requirements for both committees and how these committees guide you through the final, and often most difficult, portions of the doctoral program.  More information on the steps that occur after the Preliminary Examination and requirements for doctoral candidates can be found in Section IV.

Steps for the Preliminary Examination

The purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine your readiness to undertake dissertation research.  The examination has three steps—a written portion demonstrates expertise in a specific focus area, a dissertation proposal outlines the dissertation project, and an oral examination is a review of both the dissertation proposal and your readiness to execute the project being proposed.  All three steps are evaluated by members of a Preliminary Examination Committee; the written examination is evaluated by at least three members of the Preliminary Examination Committee and the dissertation proposal review and oral examination includes all 5 committee members.  Once you have completed all three steps, you are formally admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D, and may be referred to as a ‘Doctoral Candidate’.

The written examination.  The written portion of the preliminary examination should be taken when you have completed most, though not necessarily all, of your coursework.  This step offers evidence that you have the necessary expertise to undertake dissertation research.  You will pass this step after at least 3 members of your Preliminary Examination Committee read the written exam and agree that you have demonstrated a readiness to proceed to the design of a proposal.  This is noted in your academic record by completing a form indicating that you have passed the written examination and filing that with the Office of Student Services in the College of Education.

The dissertation proposal.  After successfully passing the written examination, you will be asked to write a dissertation proposal.  It is likely you and the Chair of your Preliminary Examination Committee will first work through the process of designing a proposal and the related application for approval by UIC’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) before submitting a full draft of the proposal to the committee.  Once you and your Chair are satisfied that the proposal is ready for full committee review, the proposal is then disseminated to the full committee.  Nevertheless, it is also common for a student to seek the advice of all of his or her committee members at some point during the design of the dissertation proposal.  The formal committee is noted in your record by completing the Committee Recommendation Form and sending that to the Office of Student Services which then sends that on to the Graduate College where your record undergoes a formal transcript review to ensure that all the program requirements necessary to proceed to the oral defense have been met.

Oral defense of the dissertation proposal.  The final step of the Preliminary Examination Process involves an oral defense of the dissertation proposal and the committee’s recommendation that you are ready to move to Candidacy and complete the dissertation.  Once the proposal is complete and sent to the full Preliminary Examination Committee, an oral defense is scheduled to include the full members of the Preliminary Examination Committee.  You are required to take and pass the oral portion of the exam before beginning your dissertation research.  In addition, you should also receive approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) (see Section V), even if it reflects a declaration that the project is exempt from IRB review.  Movement to candidacy is noted in your record by having all faculty members indicate that the student has passed the entire Preliminary Examination process using the signature form generated by the Graduate College.  Once that form has been processed, you are designated as a Doctoral Candidate (ABD in casual conversation).

Forming a Preliminary Examination Committee

You should begin making arrangements to take the preliminary examination when your coursework is nearly completed.  First, you should find a faculty member to chair the Preliminary Examination Committee.  Typically, this person is your faculty program advisor, but if interests migrate it may be necessary to identify another faculty member whose interests and expertise may align more closely with your program of study and dissertation research.  You are required to have a committee chair who is a member of the Educational Psychology faculty although you may choose a faculty member outside Educational Psychology to serve as co-chair of your committee.  The Graduate College now officially acknowledges the roles of chair and advisor to indicate such collaborations.  You will work with your committee chair(s) to build a committee of 5 members who are willing to serve.  At least three members, including the chair, should be UIC faculty who are Full Members of the Graduate College.  Tenured or tenure-track faculty members are generally Full Members of the Graduate College; clinical and visiting faculty members generally are not.  At least two committee members should be tenured faculty in the College of Education (i.e., Associate Professors or Full Professors).  The Graduate College does not require that the Preliminary Examination Committee include a member from outside the Department.  However, since the Graduate College does require that all Dissertation Committees have a member from outside the program (see Section IV), and we prefer that you work with the same individuals as members of your Preliminary Examination Committee and as members of the Dissertation Committee, you should ask an outside member to serve in both capacities.

Once you are ready to defend your proposal, your Preliminary Examination Committee is formally constituted by submitting a Committee Recommendation Form to the Office of Student Services and the Graduate College.  This step typically occurs after you have successfully passed the Written Examination and have prepared a dissertation proposal that you and your Preliminary Examination Committee Chair agree is ready for a defense.  Before submitting the Committee Recommendation Form,you should be sure that all potential committee members have agreed to serve.  To include a member who is not on the UIC faculty or is not a member of the UIC Graduate College, approval from the Graduate College is required.  This approval process is initiated by submitting, along with the Committee Recommendation Form, a copy of that outside person’s full current curriculum vitae to the Office of Student Services.

Step 1: The Written Examination

The written portion of the preliminary examination will focus on your area of expertise and interest within Educational Psychology.  This document will be reviewed by at least 3 UIC faculty members who are also members of the Preliminary Examination Committee, one of whom is a member of the Educational Psychology Program Faculty (often the committee Chair or Co-chair).  There are three options for the written portion of the exam.  You may indicate a preferred option, but the Preliminary Examination Committee will make the final decision concerning the form of your examination.

Options 1 and 2:  The Chair, in conjunction with other committee members, will write an examination consisting of three to five questions.  These questions will tap your knowledge of the following areas as the areas relate to your specific area of interest: (a) research design and methodology; (b) theoretical constructs and systems; (c) empirical research; and (d) implications for teaching and learning, where applicable.  In Option 1, the questions are administered as a take-home exam with a deadline negotiated between you and your committee members.  Appropriate response length may vary for each question, but in no case should a response to a question exceed 20 double-spaced typewritten pages.  In Option 2, the questions are administered as a proctored exam at the College.  If the first version of either of these options is not of passing quality, you will have one opportunity to retake the exam.

Option 3:  You may review the literature on a topic related to your area of specialization and write a critical review in a form that would be suitable for publication.  After receiving evaluations from members of the Preliminary Examination Committee, you will have the opportunity to submit one revision.

You indicate your preferred option by submitting to your committee chair a one- to two-page statement of the problem outlining the topic of investigation for the preliminary examination.  If  you prefer Options 1 or 2, this statement should indicate your particular area(s) of interest and specialization within Educational Psychology.  If you prefer Option 3, this statement should indicate your intended paper topic and a beginning list of references.  After consulting with both you and the members of your Preliminary Examination Committee, the chair will indicate whether this problem statement has been approved.  You may be asked  to revise your proposed statement of intent or to select a different option.  Therefore, you should factor time for such revisions into the overall project timeline.

This written examination step is completed once at least three members of the Preliminary Examination Committee have agreed that your work indicates that you are ready to proceed to the design of a dissertation proposal.  This step is recorded when the three committee members who participated in this step sign and submit to the Office of Student Services the Written Examination Form.

Step 2: Preparing a Dissertation Proposal

Your coursework, research project, and independent readings should give you a good start on planning your dissertation research.  Ideally, you will have decided on your research topic, conducted a relevant review of literature, and/or carried out a pilot study before starting the written portion of the preliminary examination.  It is expected that the written portion of the preliminary exam helps you further develop your dissertation project.  After passing the Written Examination, you will write a dissertation proposal and prepare to defend your work before your Preliminary Examination Committee.

Dissertation research may be developed from the many possibilities related to your area of study and from a variety of research traditions.  The process of writing a dissertation proposal is challenging, but it provides unprecedented opportunities for creative and personally rewarding work.  In the past, students have found it helpful to draw on their studies to date and avail themselves of the advice and support of their committee chair and members, other faculty, and fellow students whenever possible. They have also joined a course in research design (e.g., EPSY 509) or one that offers specialized information necessary for their dissertation project (e.g., advanced statistics).

Dissertation proposals may take many forms and be of varying lengths.  The organization, content, and length of your proposal will be decided in collaboration with the Chair of your Preliminary Examination Committee.  We assume that these decisions reflect your involvement in a public discourse community and that you will follow the conventions within that research network. We can recommend a book such as Making the Implicit Explicit: Creating Performance Expectations for the Dissertation (by Barbara E. Lovitts), which fully describes the performance expectations of a quality dissertation, specifically, a dissertation that makes important new intellectual contributions to the given field of study. Of course, the writing style of a dissertation also needs to comply with the latest Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

When you and your committee chair(s) agree that the dissertation proposal is ready for review and approval, you will work with the Chair to distribute the proposal to members of your Preliminary Examination Committee and schedule the oral portion of the preliminary exam.  You should distribute this proposal to committee members for review at least three weeks before the scheduled exam date.  It is strongly recommended that you include a draft of the IRB application with the proposal.  As a rule, you should not submit the IRB application until after the oral portion of the examination is completed since a committee may make recommendations for changing research protocols during the exam.  See Section V for information about IRB requirements and procedures.

The readiness to defend a proposal is typically recorded when you initiate a formal Committee Recommendation Form with the Graduate College.  The Committee Recommendation Form may be obtained from the Graduate College’s website.  At the same time, you should ask the Office of Student Services (3145 ETMSW) for a degree checklist.  A list of the courses taken is available through the my.UIC portal. You must return the completed degree checklist with the signed Committee Recommendation Form to the Office of Student Services.  The completed form must be signed by the committee chairperson and submitted to the Office of Student Services at least three weeks before the date of the examination.

Step 3: Oral Portion of the Exam

The oral portion of the preliminary exam is primarily a hearing on your dissertation proposal, although it may also address aspects of the written examination and your readiness to complete dissertation research.  You are required to complete and pass the oral portion of the exam before beginning your dissertation research.  A primary function of the oral portion of the exam is committee approval of the dissertation research proposal.  It is highly recommended, but not required, that your Preliminary Examination Committee include the same members as the Dissertation Committee.  Evidence that you have moved to candidacy is obtained when all Preliminary Examination Committee members sign the document generated by the Graduate College for the oral examination and at least 3 of the 5 members indicate that you have passed the oral defense.

Guidelines for Evaluating the Preliminary Examination Process

The two written steps and the oral portions of the preliminary examination are each evaluated on a pass-fail basis.  It is common for students to be asked to make at least minor revisions in this process.  Yet, if two or more members of the Preliminary Examination Committee assign a failing grade to any portion of the exam, you will fail that portion.  If necessary, the entire portion of the exam or some element of that portion can be retaken once.  If you fail any portion of the exam you may be asked to do additional work or to revise your dissertation research plan before the committee gives final approval.  Even if a committee does not fail you on the oral portion of the exam, committee members may require you to make particular changes in the dissertation proposal before the proposal is approved.

Passing the oral portion of the preliminary exam and addressing all requests for revisions signifies that your committee members have given their approval for you to carry out your proposed dissertation research.  At this point, you become a doctoral candidate.  After reaching this point, you should be sure to submit the final version of the IRB application for approval (see Section V).  Before submitting this application to the IRB it is to be reviewed and signed by your committee chair and the chair of the Educational Psychology Department.

Proceeding to Dissertation Research (EPSY 599, 12 hours minimum)

After passing the oral portion of the preliminary examination and receiving approval from the IRB, you may begin your dissertation research.  The process of registering for courses and completing steps in the dissertation process are the same for all students in the College of Education, regardless of their program.  As noted in Section IV doctoral candidates face a number of new registration requirements and must adhere to the same professional standards required of all individuals conducting research (see Section V).  In addition to following all the guidelines in Section IV, the Educational Psychology program requires that you register for a minimum of 12 hours of dissertation credit during the time that you conduct and write up your research.