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PhD Educational Psychology – MESA: Degree Requirements

Requirements for students with a master’s degree:

  • College and Research Core - 24 hours
  • Educational Psychology Program Core – 9 hours minimum
  • Area of Emphasis - 16 hours
  • Research Project - 4 hours
  • Written Examination
  • Preparation of a Dissertation Research Proposal
  • Oral Portion of the Preliminary Examination
  • Dissertation Research - 12 hours (minimum)
  • Dissertation Defense

Requirements for students with a bachelor’s degree, but without a master’s degree:

Students must 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 PhD program, but should know that courses aligned with a MEd degree cannot simultaneously be applied toward the PhD. Students are free to substitute a more advanced course for any of the required core courses that are normally associated with the PhD in Educational Psychology. Decisions about which courses to substitute are normally made in consultation with the student’s program advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies for the Educational Psychology Department, and the Graduate College.

Program Coordinator Heading link

College and Research Methodology Core (24 hours) Heading link

The PhD in Educational Psychology requires 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 help students develop the minimum skills needed to evaluate research literature and to begin independent research. Everyone is encouraged to take these core courses early in their program, especially ED 500; however, it is possible to enroll in other courses before completing this set of courses. Students may want to take additional courses in research methodology to meet personal scholarly and professional goals. It is also possible to substitute an advanced course for one of these core requirements as long as the overall distribution of topics is addressed in the final approved program of study. These substitutions are usually negotiated with a student’s program advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies for the Educational Psychology Department, and the Graduate College’s representative in the College’s Office for Student Services.

Required College and Research Methodology Core Courses (24 hours):

  • 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
  • ED 502  Essentials of Qualitative Inquiry in Education – 4 hours
  • EPSY 503  Essentials of Quantitative Inquiry in Education – 4 hours
  • One additional (qualitative or quantitative) course to be selected in consultation with faculty advisor

Topical Core for Educational Psychology (9 hours minimum)

  • To explore breadth in the field of Educational Psychology, all students, regardless of their focus area, enroll in 3 program core courses, totaling 8 semester hours:
  • Proseminar in Educational Psychology I: Socialization into The Field (EPSY 500, 2 hours)
  • Theories of Educational Psychology (EPSY 501 4 hours)
  • Proseminar in Educational Psychology II: Discourses in The Field (EPSY 508, 3-4 hours)

Area of Emphasis (16 hours minimum) Heading link

At least 16 semester hours of approved courses, selected in consultation with the faculty advisor, are required. A minimum of 16 hours is taken if the student has a master’s degree and 52 hours if admitted without a master’s degree. Everyone enrolls in a breadth core that involves exposure to the range of topics typically associated with a degree in Educational Psychology. Nevertheless, students are typically admitted into one of the following 2 focus areas: Human Development and Learning (HDL) or Measurement, Assessment, Statistics, and Evaluation (MESA) .

Within each focus area, students may select the remaining courses to form their own area of specialization (minimum of 14 hours). These courses are usually chosen in consultation with a faculty advisor. A minimum of 8 hours should be Educational Psychology or Psychology courses. At least 3 of these 8 hours should be taken in the Psychology Department. Note that the required course hours are the minimum number required. Many students will wish to take more than the minimum number of courses or may be required to do so by their advisors.

Although students may take all their courses in the College of Education and the Psychology Department, they are strongly encouraged to take courses in other UIC departments or at other universities through the Traveling Scholar Program (see the introduction to this section). Such courses can strengthen students’ conceptual and methodological knowledge needed for independent research and broaden the range of research perspectives of faculty members in a specific area of interest.

Research Project (EPSY 593, 4 hours) Heading link

The research project is an important beginning experience in doing research on actual problems in a student’s chosen area of study. The research project usually offers the student an opportunity to explore and pilot test ideas for his or her dissertation research. Students may seek out a program faculty member to collaborate with on a research project and perhaps collaborate with other doctoral students. Ideally, students who work on such projects accept responsibilities of full research colleagues and are 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 possible need for IRB approval of a proposed research project.)

Students should consult with their faculty advisers to determine when they are ready to embark on this research project. Each student is responsible for obtaining the assistance of a faculty member when designing and completing a research project. Students 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 a student’s program adviser or it may be a faculty member who will bring particular expertise and experience to support the project.

Annual Reviews Heading link

Students are required to submit a formal progress report each year. These reports provide students with an opportunity to reflect on whether their goals are being met while allowing faculty to assess whether adequate progress is being made. Program faculty review and discuss these reports and provide written feedback to students about whether they are meeting expectations. Recommendations for ways to enhance or sustain the student’s progress may be made.

The Dissertation Process Heading link

All students are required to complete a dissertation to earn their PhD. This process is complex and involves the formation of at least one committee of 5 faculty members, composed of at least 2 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, a student sometimes needs to form 2 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 students through the final, but often most difficult portions of the doctoral program.

The Preliminary Examination Heading link

The purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine a student’s 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 the student’s readiness to execute the project being proposed. All 3 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. Passing the preliminary examination constitutes formal admission to candidacy for the PhD.

  • The written examination
  • The dissertation proposal
  • Oral defense of the dissertation proposal

Forming a Preliminary Examination Committee Heading link

Students should begin making arrangements to take the preliminary examination when their coursework is nearly completed. First, a student finds a faculty member to chair the Preliminary Examination Committee. Typically, this person is the student’s faculty program adviser, but if interests migrate, it may be necessary to identify another faculty member whose interests and expertise may align more closely with the student’s program of study and dissertation research. Each student in the Educational Psychology program is required to have a committee chair who is a member of the Educational Psychology faculty although a student may choose a faculty member outside Educational Psychology to serve as co-chair of this committee. The Graduate College now officially acknowledges the roles of chair and adviser to indicate such collaborations. Each student works with the committee chair(s) to build a committee of 5 members who are willing to serve. At least 3 members, including the chair, should be UIC faculty who are members of the Graduate College. Tenured or tenure-track faculty members are also members of the Graduate College; clinical and visiting faculty members generally are Associate Members rather than Full Members of the Graduate College, but can still serve on doctoral committees. At least 2 committee members should be tenured faculty in the College of Education (i.e., associate professors or full professors). Also, at least one member of the committee should be from Educational Psychology, and that member may be the committee chair. The Graduate College does not require that the Preliminary Examination Committee include a member from outside the College of Education. However, since the Graduate College requires that all Dissertation Committees have a member from outside the College (see Section IV), and we prefer that a student work with the same individuals as members of their Preliminary Examination Committee and as members of the Dissertation Committee, a student may want to ask an outside member to serve in both capacities.

To formally constitute the Preliminary Examination Committee, the student should submit to the Graduate College a Committee Recommendation Form. This step typically occurs after someone has completed the Written Examination and has prepared a dissertation proposal. Before submitting this form, a student 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.

The Written Examination Heading link

The written portion of the preliminary examination will focus on a student’s 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 a committee Chair or Co-chair). There are 3 options for the written portion of the exam. A student may indicate a preferred option, but the Preliminary Examination Committee will make the final decision concerning the form of this examination.

Options 1 and 2: The chair, in conjunction with other committee members, will write an examination consisting of 3 to 5 questions. These questions will tap a student’s knowledge of the following areas as the areas relate to the student’s 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 one-week take-home exam. 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, the student will have one opportunity to retake the exam.

Option 3: A student may review the literature on a topic related to his or her 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, the student will have the opportunity to submit one revision.

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

This written examination step is completed once at least three members of the Preliminary Examination Committee has agreed that the student’s work indicates that he or she is ready to proceed to the design of a dissertation proposal. This step is recorded when the 3 committee members who participated in this step sign and submit to the Office of Student Services the Written Examination Form.

Preparing a Dissertation Proposal Heading link

Students’ coursework, research project, and independent readings should give them a good start on planning the dissertation research. Ideally a student will have decided on a topic, conducted a relevant review of literature, or carried out a pilot study before starting the written portion of the preliminary examination. Indeed, the written portion of the preliminary exam may help a student further develop a dissertation project. Nevertheless, the dissertation proposal and preparation for the oral portion of the preliminary examination is to be completed only after the written portion of the preliminary examination has been successfully passed.

Dissertation research may be developed from the many possibilities related to a student’s 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 a student’s proposal are decided in collaboration with the chair of the Preliminary Examination Committee. We assume that these decisions reflect a student’s involvement in a public discourse community and that the student 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 Statistical Association.

When a student and committee chair(s) agree that the dissertation proposal is ready for review and approval, the student works with the chair to distribute the proposal to members of the Preliminary Examination Committee and schedule the oral portion of the preliminary exam. The student should distribute this proposal to committee members for review at least 3 weeks before the scheduled exam date. It is strongly recommended that each student include a draft of the IRB application with the proposal. As a rule, a student should not submit the IRB application until after the oral portion of the examination is completed. A committee may make recommendations for changing research protocols during the exam. See Section V for information about IRB requirements and procedures.

This step is typically recorded when the student initiates 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, the student should ask the Office of Student Services (3145 EPASW) for a degree checklist form. A list of the courses is available through Web for Students. The student should return the completed degree checklist with the signed Committee Recommendation Form to the Office of Student Services. The completed Committee Recommendation Form is to be signed by the committee chairperson and submitted to the Office of Student Services at least three weeks before the date of the oral examination.

Oral Portion of the Exam

The oral portion of the preliminary exam is primarily a hearing on the dissertation proposal, although it may also address aspects of the written examination and the student’s readiness to complete dissertation research. The student is required to complete and pass the oral portion of the exam before beginning their 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 the student’s Preliminary Examination Committee include the same members as the Dissertation Committee.

Evaluation of the Preliminary Exam

The 2 written steps and the oral portions of the preliminary examination are evaluated on a pass-fail basis. If two or more members of the Preliminary Examination Committee assign a failing grade to any portion of the exam, the student fails that portion. If necessary, the entire portion of the exam or some element of that portion can be retaken once. A student who fails the oral portion of the exam is sometimes asked to do additional work or to revise their dissertation proposal before the committee gives final approval. Even if a committee does not fail a student on the oral portion of the exam, committee members may require the student to make particular changes in the dissertation proposal before the proposal is approved.

Passing the oral portion of the preliminary exam signifies that the student’s committee members have given their approval for the student to carry out the proposed dissertation research. After reaching this point, the student should be sure to submit the final version of their IRB application for approval (see Section V). Before submitting this application to the IRB it is to be reviewed and signed by the student’s committee chair and the chair of the Educational Psychology Department.

Dissertation Research (EPSY 599 12 hours minimum)

After passing the oral portion of the preliminary examination and receiving approval from the IRB, students may begin their dissertation research. Students are required to register for a minimum of 12 hours of dissertation credit during the time that they conduct and write up their research. After this requirement has been met and after all three steps in the preliminary examination process have been passed, students may petition the Graduate College to be permitted to register for 0 (zero) hours of dissertation credit. If permission is granted, students may continue to register for 0 hours if they continue to make satisfactory progress and are within the time limits for completion of the degree. Note that even if a student is eligible and successfully petitions the Graduate College to register for 0 hours, that student is required to register for 0 hours each semester until the dissertation has been successfully defended (although individuals do not need to register for 0 credits for the summer session unless the final defense will be held during the summer). Failure to register continuously may result in being administratively dropped from the program. Please refer to Section IV for important information about constituting this Dissertation Committee and conducting dissertation research.

Dissertation Defense

Near the end of the dissertation process, a student should begin to plan for the dissertation defense with their Dissertation Committee chair. Whereas many program requirements are specific to the PhD in Educational Psychology, the final steps in submitting and defending a dissertation are the same for everyone in the College of Education and are governed by the Graduate College. See Section IV for specific information about organizing and scheduling a dissertation defense and filing all the paperwork required before the defense can be conducted.

According to Graduate College regulations, at least one year should pass between completing the oral portion of the preliminary examination and the dissertation defense, although petitions are sometimes approved to support a shorter timeline. Any student who fails to complete all program requirements, including the dissertation defense, within five years of passing the oral portion of the preliminary examination is required to retake the preliminary examination.