Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

Overview: PhD Special Education

The PhD program in Special Education prepares students for careers as university scholars and professors, as well as for leadership positions in educational institutions.  Within the context of urban education, this program emphasizes theory and research on emotional/behavior disorders, language and learning disabilities, developmental and intellectual disabilities, early intervention, transition, and teacher preparation.  Students have the opportunity to be involved in research in a wide range of critical issues in special education using a variety of research methodologies.  Research topics may include parent-child and peer interactions, bilingual special education, social skills in students with disabilities, language and literacy in students with disabilities, inclusion and public policy, early intervention models, and preparation of special education teachers and leaders for urban schools.

Overview of Requirements (Fall 2013) Heading link

This program requires a minimum of 96 semester hours beyond the baccalaureate degree, or a minimum of 64 semester hours beyond the master’s degree.  These requirements include a 6-hour research project and 12 hours of dissertation credit.  You are also required to pass written and oral portions of a preliminary examination and successfully defend your dissertation research.  If you enter the program with an earned master’s degree in a field relevant to special education, the requirements are:

  • COE Doctoral Studies Core —12 hours
  • Methodology Requirement –- 12 hours
  • Special Education Program Core — 22 hours (minimum)
  • Research Project — 6 hours
  • Preliminary Examination — Written Portion
  • Preparation of a Dissertation Research Proposal
  • Preliminary Examination—Oral Portion
  • Dissertation Research — 12 hours (minimum)
  • Dissertation Defense

If you enter with a bachelor’s degree but not a master’s degree, you must take a minimum of 32 hours of additional coursework in an area of specialization approved by your advisor.

Doctoral Studies Core (12 hours) Heading link

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) Heading link

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)

Special Education Program Core (22 hours minimum) Heading link

All students in the Ph.D. in Special Education program must take a minimum of 22 semester hours in coursework related to the field of special education.  At least 16 of those hours must be taken in the College of Education.

All students in the program must take:

  • SPED 564—Proseminar in Special Education (4 hours)
  • Three special education seminars—SPED 592 (4 hours each for a total of 12 hours)

Recent Special Education seminars (SPED 592) have focused on research on literacy, teacher preparation, inclusion policies, and qualitative methods.

You may take your elective courses within the Department of Special Education or in other departments of the College of Education.  While you may take all your courses in the College of Education, you are encouraged to take courses in other departments and units of the University such as Disability Studies, Psychology, and Sociology.  Study outside the College of Education can help you develop additional conceptual and methodological tools for use in the study of educational issues.

You should be aware that 22 semester hours is the minimum number of hours required to establish an area of specialization.  Students typically take more than the minimum number of courses, or may be required to do so by their faculty advisors.

Teaching Internship Heading link

A teaching internship is strongly recommended for those individuals intending to pursue a career in higher education or school leadership.  A teaching internship requires that you register for SPED 538 (up to 8 hours) and co-teach a university course under the direction of a faculty instructor.  The course should be related to your interests and future career objectives.  A faculty member will be the instructor of record and will supervise you closely throughout the internship.  You will assume responsibility for course instruction, student interaction, and evaluation to the extent negotiated with the instructor.  You should complete this requirement prior to being considered for a visiting lecturer position.  In addition to this internship, you are encouraged to seek opportunities to deliver guest lectures in other classes offered by the Department of Special Education.

Research Project (SPED 593, 6 hours) Heading link

The research project is an important initial experience in doing research on actual issues in your chosen area of study.  The research project may also provide an opportunity to explore and pilot ideas for dissertation research.  If you wish, you may collaborate on research projects with program faculty and perhaps with other doctoral students.  Ideally, you would work on such projects with faculty as full research colleagues and be involved in all aspects of the project, from design through implementation, analysis, and writing of results.  Such work may culminate in a presentation at a scholarly conference or in submission of a manuscript to a professional journal for publication.  You should consult your faculty advisor to determine when you are ready to embark on your research project.  As you design your project, you should discuss with your advisor the need for Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for your project.  Information about IRB approval of student research is contained in Section V of this handbook.

Annual Reviews Heading link

To enable you and your faculty advisor to monitor and provide feedback on your progress through the program, you are required to prepare and submit a formal progress report each year.  This involves completing a form called the Professional Development Plan (PDP), which lists courses and experiences needed across different competency domains.  Department faculty review and discuss your performance and give written feedback and recommendations to enhance or sustain your progress in attaining course, teaching, and research goals.  If you do not complete the annual review process you will not be able to register for future semesters until you have submitted a PDP. (Note for Ph.D. students who were admitted after 2010:  in the annual review process, students whose progress raises serious concerns for two consecutive years will be dropped from the program.)

The Preliminary Examination Heading link

The purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine your readiness to undertake dissertation research.  The examination has two parts—a written portion that focuses primarily on your program of study, and an oral portion that focuses primarily on your dissertation proposal.  Both portions are evaluated by a preliminary examination committee.  Passing the preliminary examination constitutes formal admission to candidacy for the Ph.D.

The written portion of the preliminary examination should be taken when you have completed most, though not necessarily all, of your coursework.  The oral portion of the exam should be taken when the dissertation proposal is completed.  You must take and pass the oral portion of the exam before beginning your dissertation research. Also before dissertation research can begin, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) must give approval (see Section V).

Forming a Preliminary Examination Committee Heading link

You should begin making arrangements to take preliminary examinations when you have almost finished your coursework. First, you must find a faculty member to chair your preliminary examination committee.  Faculty program advisors may serve as committee chairs, or may help to identify another special education faculty member whose interests and expertise may align more closely with your program of study and dissertation research.  You should work with your faculty advisor to identify and recruit at least four other members to serve on your examination committee.

At least three members, including the chair, must be UIC faculty who are full members of the Graduate College.  Tenured or tenure-track faculty are usually full members of the Graduate College; clinical and visiting faculty generally are not.  At least two committee members must be tenured faculty in the College of Education faculty (i.e., associate professors or full professors).  Also, at least two members (in addition to the chair) must be in the Department of Special Education.  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 each dissertation committee have a member from outside the program (see Section IV), you may want to ask an outside member to be on your preliminary examination committee as well.

Professors who have emeritus status maintain their same rights to work with doctoral students for at least a three-year term (this term is renewable).  They can serve as doctoral advisors, committee chairs, and committee members.  If they were tenured and full members of the Graduate College at the time of their retirement, these professors emeriti retain these statuses for purposes of composing an exam or dissertation committee.

In order to formally constitute the preliminary examination committee, you must submit to the Graduate College a Committee Recommendation Form.  This 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 (see Section IV).  A list of the courses you have 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.  Before submitting this form, you must be sure that the faculty members identified to serve on the committee have agreed to serve.  If you want to include a committee member who is not on the faculty at UIC or is not a member of the UIC Graduate College, the Graduate College must approve that member.  This approval process is initiated when the Committee Recommendation Form is submitted to the Office of Student Services.  A copy of the potential committee member’s full current curriculum vitae must be submitted with the Committee Recommendation Form.

Written Portion of the Exam Heading link

The chairperson of the preliminary examination committee will convene at least two other committee members (one of whom must be in the Department of Special Education) to develop questions for the written portion of the exam.  The written portion of the preliminary examination consists of a comprehensive take-home exam.  Questions for the take-home exam may address any area that is relevant to your course of study, including topics related to your proposed dissertation.  You will have the opportunity to inform your committee of relevant topics.  The committee will take these topics into consideration and subsequently assign questions that you can address over a ten-day period.  Your preliminary exam committee will read the exam.  Responses should be written in a style typical of scholarly writing and in APA Manual format (6th edition).  You must pass the written portion of the exam to take the oral portion of the exam, which focuses primarily on the dissertation proposal.  After you have passed the written portion of the exam, the chair will submit a form indicating this accomplishment to the Office of Student Services for inclusion in your file.

Preparing a Dissertation Proposal Heading link

Your coursework, research project, and independent readings should give you a good start on planning dissertation research.  It is important for you to decide on a topic, conduct a relevant review of literature, and carry out a pilot study before taking the written portion of the preliminary examination.  Of course, the written portion of the exam will help develop further your ideas for your dissertation research.  After completing the written portion of the preliminary examination, you should prepare to complete your proposal for dissertation research and prepare for the oral portion of the preliminary examination.

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 contributing to our field, as well as creative and personally rewarding work.  You should draw on your studies to date and avail yourself of the advice and support of your committee chair, committee members, and other faculty.  The organization, content, and length of the proposal are issues that you will decide with the chair of your preliminary examination committee, in consultation with other committee members.

When you and the committee chair agree that the dissertation proposal is ready for review and approval, you should work with the chair to distribute the proposal to members of the preliminary examination committee and to schedule the oral portion of the preliminary exam.  The proposal should be distributed to committee members for review at least three weeks before the scheduled exam date.  It is strongly recommended that you include in the proposal a draft of the IRB application.  As a rule, you should not submit your application to the IRB before the oral portion of the examination is completed because committees may make recommendations for changing research protocols during the exam.  (See Section V for more information about IRB requirements and procedures.)

Oral Portion of the Exam Heading link

The oral portion of the preliminary exam is primarily a hearing on the dissertation proposal, although it may also address aspects of the written portion of the exam.  The oral portion of the exam must be taken and passed before dissertation research can begin.  The primary function of the oral portion of the exam is committee review, revision, and approval of the dissertation research proposal.

Evaluation of the Preliminary Exam Heading link

Both written and 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 a portion of the exam, you fail that portion.  If necessary, the entire portion of the exam or some element of that portion can be retaken once.  If you fail the oral portion of the exam you may be asked to do additional work or to revise your dissertation proposal before the committee gives final approval.  Even if a committee does not fail you on the oral portion of the exam, it may require that you make particular changes in the dissertation proposal before the proposal is approved.

Passing the oral portion of the preliminary exam signifies that committee members have given their approval for you to carry out your proposed dissertation research.  Once you have reached this point, you must submit the final version of the IRB application for approval (see Section V).  Before submitting an application to the IRB you must have it reviewed and signed by the committee chair and the chair of the Department of Special Education.

After you pass both the oral and written portions of the preliminary exam, you are considered to have advanced to candidacy.

Dissertation Research (SPED 599, 12 hours minimum) Heading link

After passing the oral portion of the preliminary examination and receiving approval from the IRB, you (now designated a ‘doctoral candidate’) may begin your dissertation research.  You must register for a minimum of 12 hours of dissertation credit during the time that you conduct and write up your research.  After you have registered for the minimum of 12 hours of dissertation credit you may petition the Graduate College to be permitted to register for 0 (zero) hours of dissertation credit.  See Section IV, Registration Guidelines for Doctoral Candidates, for details and exceptions.

Dissertation Defense Heading link

When you near the end of dissertation research, you should begin to plan your dissertation defense with your dissertation committee chair.  See Section IV for specific information about organizing and scheduling a meeting for the dissertation defense and filing all the paperwork required before the defense can be conducted.

According to Graduate College regulations, at least one year must pass between completing the oral portion of the preliminary examination and the dissertation defense.  If you fail to complete all program requirements, including the dissertation defense, within five years of passing the oral portion of the preliminary examination you must retake the preliminary examination.