University of Southern California
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Graduate Degrees

Doctor of Philosophy in Gerontology

The purpose of the Ph.D. in Gerontology is to provide research training in the multidisciplinary field of aging. The program is designed to enhance the potential of able students to make scholarly and professional contributions to the field of gerontology through research and teaching. To obtain this goal, the Ph.D. in Gerontology provides (1) high level rigorous research training, (2) the acquisition and application of scientific knowledge in the field of aging and (3) the development of leadership skills.

Admission Requirements

Applicants for admission to the doctoral program must meet the following requirements:

(1) Graduate standing in the University of Southern California.

(2) Academic promise, as evidenced by above average achievement in previous undergraduate and graduate education. A minimum GPA of 3.5 on all prior graduate work is required. In addition, a 3.25 GPA in an appropriate undergraduate major and a baccalaureate degree are required.

(3) Personal qualities compatible with high level performance in gerontology and indicating a potential for leadership in the field. This includes a strong commitment to developing a scientific research program. Applicants to the Ph.D. program must submit a resume of professional and academic experience, three letters of reference (academic and professional), a statement of objectives and examples of written work.

(4) Satisfactory performance on the Graduate Record Examinations — existing test scores may be submitted if the GRE has been completed no more than five years prior to the date of application. A satisfactory score on the Verbal and Quantitative GRE is required. Students should also provide scores from the Analytic exam.

(5) Submission of application materials as required. Instructions for application to the Doctor of Philosophy in Gerontology may be obtained by contacting the School of Gerontology.

Degree Requirements

Course Requirements
Students must complete a minimum of 60 units of course work (with at least 24 of these units being completed in residency at USC), as well as additional dissertation units as required. All students will take courses in three areas:

(1) A basic scientific core area, taught by School of Gerontology faculty, will stress the physiological, psychological, sociological and theoretical dimensions of both individual and population aging. Five required courses include GERO 510 Physiology of Development and Aging, GERO 520 Life Span Developmental Psychology, GERO 530 Life Span Developmental Sociology, GERO 540 Social Policy and Aging, and GERO 628 Theories of Aging.

(2) A second core area will develop appropriate research tools for the students’ area of specialization. All students will learn data analysis skills, including appropriate statistics as well as appropriate laboratory methods. It should be noted that the School of Gerontology requires all graduate students to demonstrate basic competence in statistics as a prerequisite of enrollment.

(3) A third area will involve electives which allow students to concentrate in a substantive or analytic field of inquiry. Areas of concentration include but are not limited to: the biology of aging, social processes and aging, psychology of aging and aging policy; courses may be taken in relevant USC schools or departments. Aging is an inherently interdisciplinary field and each student must develop a set of electives in conjunction with his or her advisory committee that is appropriate for the area of concentration.

Students will be advised about course selection during the first year by the school Ph.D. committee. As soon as they have selected a specialization (e.g., biology, psychology, sociology, policy), an advisory committee of appropriate faculty will be appointed. The purpose of the advisory committee is to help the student in the selection of courses and research; to monitor the student’s progress; and to insure preparation for the qualifying examination.

During the first year, the student is expected to complete two of the three semesters of the core courses in gerontology (GERO 510, GERO 520, GERO 530, GERO 540, GERO 628). Courses in research skills and specialization areas may also be taken in the first year and will be taken in subsequent years.

Foreign Language Requirements

There are no foreign language requirements for the Ph.D. program.

Transfer Credits

Students with master’s degrees or prior graduate course work in gerontology can petition to apply the credit toward required courses. Petition for credit will be based on the Graduate School’s policies and requirements for “transfer of credit” and on approval by the doctoral advisory committee. Transfer credits toward the Ph.D. requirements will be limited to 20 units and must be credits taken within 10 years of entering the program.

Time Limit

The normal time for completing the Ph.D. is four to five years (without a prior master’s degree). The first two years will consist of required and elective courses. The third year will consist of electives, the Ph.D. qualifying exams and completion of the dissertation proposal. The final year(s) will involve the completion of the dissertation. The maximum time to complete all requirements for the Ph.D. degree is eight years from the first course at USC applied toward the degree.

Students who have completed an applicable master’s degree at USC or elsewhere within five years of the proposed enrollment in the Ph.D. program must complete the Ph.D. in six years.

Screening Procedures

When students have completed a minimum of 16 but not more than 24 units of doctoral course work, the doctoral advisory committee assesses their performance through a screening process and makes a decision regarding their ability to continue in the program. If the student is granted permission to continue, a guidance committee is established.

Guidance Committee

The guidance committee is composed of five faculty members, at least three from the School of Gerontology and at least one who holds a primary appointment in another academic unit of the university. The function of the guidance committee is to oversee the development of the student’s academic progress through the qualifying examination, including the preliminary dissertation proposal.

Qualifying Examination

As a prerequisite for candidacy for the Ph.D., students must pass a qualifying examination, which is multidisciplinary and comprehensive in nature and that necessitates independent study beyond course requirements. Students must have completed at least 28 units of course work in the doctoral program with a GPA of at least 3.25 before attempting the qualifying exam. The exam is designed to test mastery of knowledge and scholarly skills and to test readiness to undertake independent research. If the student fails this exam, it may be repeated one time. When the exam is successfully completed, the student then must develop and have a dissertation proposal approved before the student is officially admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.

Doctoral Dissertation

Upon admission to candidacy, a dissertation committee is established which consists of three members of the faculty, some of whom may be from the guidance committee, one of whom must hold his or her primary appointment outside the School of Gerontology.

The dissertation committee has responsibility for providing guidance and consultation during the research process, approving the dissertation, conducting the final oral examination, and recommending the candidate for the Ph.D. degree. The doctoral dissertation should make an original contribution to the development of knowledge and theory in gerontology.

Final Oral Examination

Upon approval of the final draft of the dissertation by all members of the dissertation committee, the candidate must pass a final oral examination. Upon successful completion of this final examination, the committee recommends the candidate to the Graduate School for award of the Ph.D. degree.