University of Southern California
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Doctor of Philosophy

The Ph.D. in Occupational Science educates individuals to engage in the scientific study of human occupation, the purposeful activities that constitute our life experiences. This important new science is chiefly concerned with the unique capacity of humans to develop adaptive skills, such as tool use and related occupational behaviors, and to choose and orchestrate daily occupations. It also seeks to understand the function, structure and interrelationship of these occupations and their impact on individuals and institutions.

The focus on occupation distinguishes this program from closely-related disciplines such as psychology, sociology and anthropology. The program emphasizes the development of research skills and encourages students to organize and synthesize knowledge to contribute to occupational science theory, as opposed to therapeutic application.

Admission Requirements

Applicants for admission to the Ph.D. program are expected to have a baccalaureate degree in an appropriate field, such as one of the biological or social sciences or occupational therapy, with a minimum GPA of 3.0 (A = 4.0) and a minimum score of 1100 on the verbal and quantitative sections of the Graduate Record Examinations. At least three letters of reference must also be submitted. Other considerations include evidence of academic potential based on master's level study (if relevant), research skills and interest, and a statement of purpose. International students must demonstrate competency in English, as measured by the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination.

Degree Requirements

This degree is awarded under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Requirements for Graduation section and the Graduate School section of this catalogue for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degree must be courses accepted by the USC Graduate School.

Course Requirements

Satisfactory completion of 60 units beyond the baccalaureate degree is required, including the following courses:

Required coursesUnits
OT 506History of Occupational Therapy Practice4
OT 510Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis of Occupational Data4
OT 550Occupational Behavior Model4
OT 588Research Methods4
OT 604Temporal Adaptation: Organization and Use of Time4
OT 612Information Processing and Occupation4
OT 650Development of Adaptive Skills4
OT 651Adaptation and Disability4
OT 653Play and Occupation4
OT 655Work and Leisure4

Upon departmental approval, an elective may be substituted for a 500-level course if the student has previously completed graduate work encompassing similar content.

Those students who also wish to participate in clinical practice in occupational therapy may opt to complete a master's degree in occupational therapy. Such students are required to complete the requirements for that degree as well as the occupational therapy undergraduate major courses if they are not registered occupational therapists or eligible for registration prior to study.

Cognate Requirement
Completion of 12 units in a topic area such as one of the following is required: quantitative research approaches, qualitative research approaches, neuroscience, social development, life span development or gerontology.

Research Practicum
Each student will enroll in 1 unit of OT 660 Research Practicum in Occupation per semester during the first two years of doctoral level study. In this practicum the student will develop research skills by working as part of a research team under the direction of a faculty member.

Screening Procedures
Departmental screening will be required. Passing this procedure is prerequisite to continuation in the doctoral program. Directions for obtaining and filing the Report on Ph.D. Screening Procedures are found in the Graduate School section of this catalogue.

Dissertation Enrollment
Doctoral students must submit a dissertation according to the policies and procedures described in the Graduate School section of this catalogue. Registration in OT 794 Doctoral Dissertation for a minimum of 4 units (2 units in each of two consecutive semesters) is required.

Foreign Language or Research Skills

The Ph.D. in Occupational Science does not require the demonstration of competence in a foreign language. However, each student is expected to achieve expertise, as defined by the student's guidance committee, in either qualitative or quantitative research techniques through participation in course work and the research practicum.

Guidance Committee

The guidance committee is composed of five faculty members. Three members of the committee must be regular faculty from the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Two additional members should be faculty from outside the department, one of whom must be a member of the faculty in the student's cognate area. Complete regulations for establishing a guidance committee are found in the Graduate School section of this catalogue.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination is comprehensive in nature and requires the student to demonstrate a grasp of content from the core courses and the cognate area. The examination is both written and oral and is set and administered by the student's guidance committee. Refer to the Graduate School section of this catalogue for specific directions for filing a request to take the examination.


Doctoral students must submit a dissertation according to the policies and procedures of the Graduate School section of this catalogue. Upon approval of the preliminary copy of the dissertation by all members of the dissertation committee, the candidate must pass an oral defense of the dissertation. Upon successful completion of the oral defense and revisions, approval for final typing is granted and the committee recommends the candidate to the Graduate School for the Ph.D.


To prepare students for anticipated roles as faculty members, a teaching component is incorporated into the program. Students who receive teaching assistantships will be required to assist in relevant teaching assignments for a minimum of one academic year. Those who do not receive teaching assistantships are required to present a minimum of six lectures or laboratory sessions.

Additional Information

Further information about the baccalaureate, master's and doctoral programs can be obtained by writing or calling the USC Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, 1540 Alcazar Street (CHP 133), Los Angeles, CA 90089-9003; (323) 442-2850, toll free (866) 385-4250, or by sending email to Information regarding the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is available on the Web at