Doctor of Philosophy Degree Program

Overview

The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) at Penn State has a long history and tradition of excellence. It was founded in 1933, making it one of the oldest programs in the country. It was the birthplace of what is now the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is recognized as a national leader in undergraduate and graduate education. The CSD program is accredited by the Council of Academic Affairs of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Graduates of the Department are well known as outstanding researchers, teachers, scholars, authors, clinicians, and editors of many prestigious journals. Graduates of the Penn State program are recognized nationally and internationally as leaders in the field.

The Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Penn State is an integral part of the College of Health and Human Development. The CSD program enjoys productive scholarly and research collaborations with other programs in the College, including Human Development and Family Studies, Biobehavioral Health, Nursing, and Nutritional Sciences, as well as with programs in other colleges at Penn State (Special Education, Psychology, Linguistics, Acoustics, etc.), and has faculty affiliations with the Gerontology Center and the Children, Youth and Family Center.

Purpose of the Doctoral Program

The purpose of the doctoral program at Penn State is to prepare high-quality researchers to serve as leaders in the field of communication sciences and disorders. Graduates of the program will be prepared to assume careers as researchers and scholars at colleges, universities, and research institutes. The Ph.D. program is not designed as an advanced clinical degree. A Ph.D. degree is conferred in recognition of the attainment of the highest academic excellence and productive scholarship.

The doctoral program should be viewed as an important step on a life-long journey of learning and scholarship. Thus, the Ph.D. program is designed to support students in developing knowledge, judgment, skills, and attitudes to facilitate their development and learning throughout their careers as researchers, scholars, and teachers.

Admission Requirements

Students who enter the Ph.D. program in Communication Sciences and Disorders should have already obtained a Master's degree. Some students will have obtained a Master's degree in CSD prior to entering the Ph.D. Program at Penn State. Some students will enter the Ph.D. program with a Master's degree in another field. These students may choose to seek the Master's degree in CSD along the way to earning a Ph.D., but this is not a requirement.

Regardless of the method of entry, all students will complete, at a minimum, three projects: a first, second, and third doctoral project.

Since the intent of the doctoral program is to prepare outstanding researchers and scholars to assume leadership roles within the field of communication sciences and disorders, only high-caliber students who demonstrate strong academic performance and research potential are accepted into the doctoral program. Admission to the Ph.D. program in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Penn State is very competitive.

Students accepted into the doctoral program have:

  1. a cumulative GPA in their Masters program of well above a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  2. outstanding letters of recommendation documenting their performance and their potential as researchers and scholars
  3. a written statement of scholarly interests and research career goals
  4. completed the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

It is recommended that applicants have scores greater than the fiftieth percentile on the verbal and quantitative sections and a 4.5 or above on the writing section.

According to the practices of the Graduate School at Penn State, admission to the Ph.D. program is a two-stage process. First, the initial application to the Department for permission to enter the graduate program; and second, the Candidacy Examination to enter the doctoral program as a doctoral candidate.

It is important to note that students admitted to the graduate program are not doctoral candidates until they pass the Candidacy Examination and have been admitted to the doctoral program. Completion of the Ph.D. program is dependent upon the student's successful completion of all academic course work and degree requirements (e.g., comprehensive examination, dissertation).

Application to the Department to Enter the Graduate Program

The first step of the admission process for those interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Penn State is to complete the Graduate School’s electronic application. The electronic application can be accessed from the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders Web site (cmdis.hhdev.psu.edu) under “Graduate Admission Procedures.”

For full consideration for funding, all application materials must be received by February 2.

Applicants are encouraged to take the GRE well before the application deadline since there is sometimes as much as a three-month delay between the time the GREs are taken and the time the scores are received by the Department. Applicants who wish to be considered for graduate fellowships are encouraged to submit their materials as early as possible.

For further information concerning the application materials, Ph.D. applicants should contact:

Carol Walizer
Staff Assistant for the CSD Graduate Program
814-865-0971
cyw2@psu.edu
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
Penn State University
308E Ford Building
University Park, PA 16802

Applications are reviewed by the Graduate Admissions Committee in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. An oral interview with members of the graduate faculty is required of all doctoral applicants either in person or via telephone conference call. Applicants will be notified of admission decisions in writing.

Retention in the Program

Students admitted to the doctoral program in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Penn State must meet the following criteria to maintain their status as graduate students in the Department:

  1. Maintain at least a 3.00 GPA within their Ph.D. program overall
  2. Earn at least a 3.33 grade or better in CSD courses overall
  3. Earn at least a B or better in all courses taken for the language and communication requirements
  4. Conform to the standards of conduct and academic integrity as defined by the Graduate School (see the Graduate Degree Bulletin).

Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. program in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders provides the opportunity for students to develop expertise as researchers in the field of communication sciences and disorders. The program will prepare doctoral students to fulfill faculty positions or research positions at universities or research institutes, and to assume leadership roles within the field of communication sciences and disorders.

All Ph.D. students are expected to graduate with:

  1. a broad understanding of the field of communication sciences and disorders
  2. extensive expertise in a scholarly area of specialization
  3. significant expertise in at least two related areas of study within the field of communication sciences and disorders
  4. significant expertise in a related area of study outside the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
  5. significant competence in research methods for knowledge generation and dissemination

The Ph.D. degree program provides:

  1. academic course work in communication sciences and disorders and related content areas
  2. research training and experiences
  3. opportunities to work with nationally- and internationally-recognized faculty on basic and applied research projects
  4. training in state-of-the-art research methods and technology
  5. experience in reading, critically reviewing, and synthesizing the research literature in communication sciences and disorders, as well as in areas of related and general interest
  6. experiences in scholarly writing
  7. opportunities to develop high quality academic and clinical teaching skills

The doctoral program consists of far more than simply taking academic courses and meeting the formal requirements for the degree. Rather, pursuing a doctoral degree provides the opportunity for students to participate in a wide range of faculty research, colloquia, informal seminars, discussion groups, conferences, etc. Pursuing a doctoral degree sets the stage for lifelong learning and scholarship.

Each doctoral student has the opportunity to develop an individualized program of study approved by the student's doctoral committee. Typically, this program of study involves:

  • an area of specialization within the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (the major content area)
  • at least two related areas of study in the field of communication sciences and disorders
  • at least one related area of study outside the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • methodology and statistics requirements
  • language/communication requirements

Each of these requirements is discussed in greater detail below.

Major Content Area and Related Areas of Study

Each student will have the opportunity to develop substantial expertise in at least one area of specialization (the major content area) and the opportunity to develop significant expertise in at least three related areas of study (two within the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and one outside the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders).

For example, previous doctoral students within the Department have identified major content areas and related areas of study such as the following:

  • Major content area: stuttering; Related content areas: speech science, audiology, and rehabilitation counseling
  • Major content area: augmentative and alternative communication (AAC); Related content areas: child language development, child language disorders, and cognitive development
  • Major content area: child language disorders; Related content areas: phonology, voice, and language development

Doctoral students develop expertise in their major content area and related content areas through graduate courses, seminars, and independent study courses offered within the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and other departments (e.g., Human Development and Family Studies, Psychology, Acoustics, Special Education) as well as through independent reading and research. Typically, students pursue a minimum of 12–15 credits of course work in their major area(s) of study and a minimum of 12–15 credits of course work in their related area(s) of study.

If students entering the doctoral program have gaps in their general knowledge of the field (e.g., dysphagia, AAC), these students may be encouraged by their committee to pursue additional academic course work to address these limitations in background knowledge or to update knowledge in particular areas.

Methodology and Statistics

Students within the doctoral program must also develop significant expertise in research methods and statistics so that they have the tools to conduct high quality research and advance the field. Students who enter the program without a strong background in research methods are advised to take CSD 500, Research Methods in Communication Sciences and Disorders, during their first semester of study. This graduate course provides an overview of research methods.

Each doctoral student is required to complete a sequence of courses in statistics designed to provide the student with the tools for statistical analysis. Typically, this sequence includes the following courses: STAT 500 (Applied Statistics), STAT 501 (Regression Methods), and STAT 502 (Analysis of Variance and Design of Experiments). Typically, students also take additional statistics courses as determined by their committees depending on their area of research (e.g., STAT 480 Introduction to Statistical Program Packages, HDFS 519 Methods of Statistical Analysis in Human Development, and a course in nonparametric statistics).

All doctoral students are also required to take courses to prepare them in design and research methods (e.g., courses in qualitative research, single subject designs, grant writing, survey, group designs, etc.). The specific requirements will be determined by the student and his/her doctoral committee. The student may develop expertise in research methods through the independent studies, doctoral seminars, or through methods courses in other departments. The topics are designed to prepare doctoral students for their research careers in communication sciences and disorders (e.g., overview of research designs in communication sciences and disorders, single subject research designs in communication sciences and disorders, grant writing, qualitative research methods, specific areas of faculty expertise).

Typically, students take a minimum of 9 credits of statistics and 9–12 credits of research and scholarly methods. Students are encouraged to be actively engaged in research throughout their doctoral program in order to develop competence applying the theory of research design and statistics to conduct high quality research.

Language and Communication Requirements

Each doctoral student must complete a total of 15 graduate credits to meet the language and communication requirements of the graduate school. These requirements must be approved by the student's doctoral committee.

The language and communication requirements should cover at least two of the following areas:

  • Statistics (e.g., STAT 500, STAT 501, and STAT 502)
  • Technical writing
  • Computer science
  • Research design (including doctoral seminars or independent studies that address issues of research design)

Each student's doctoral committee will determine competency and course credit equivalence (when necessary). For example, if the student submits a paper that is accepted for publication in a respected refereed professional journal, this may fulfill a 3-credit technical writing equivalency.

The following is the sequence of major events in the Ph. D. Program:

Year 1

Assignment of adviser

When a student is admitted to the graduate program, the department head will assign the student a temporary adviser to assist the student with initial program planning and with orientation to the program and the University. This adviser is a member of the graduate faculty in CSD, usually a faculty member with expertise in the student's proposed area of interest. Students who are planning to apply for a doctoral program are encouraged to contact the faculty member(s) in their area of study prior to application.

Formation of the Academic Advisory Committee

Early in their program, during their first semester of study, students should meet individually with each member of the faculty in the Department to discuss research interests and goals. The purpose of the meetings is twofold: to acquaint students with faculty expertise and research interests; and to inform faculty of student interests, background, and goals. By the end of the first semester of study, the student should form an academic advisory committee that consists of a committee chairperson (a member of the graduate faculty in CSD) and two additional graduate faculty members in CSD. This committee assists the student in planning a preliminary program of study. The academic advising committee may or may not include the temporary adviser that was assigned to the student. It is the duty of the academic advisory committee to review and monitor the student's academic progress on a regular basis.

Candidacy Examination (First Doctoral Project)

The purpose of the Candidacy Examination is to evaluate the student’s performance within the program to date and to evaluate the student’s potential as a scholar and researcher.

The first doctoral project consists of a written portion and an oral defense. Students will complete the written portion of the first doctoral project prior to participating in the oral defense for the Candidacy Examination. The Candidacy project will be a new project initiated within the first year of the student's Ph.D. program.

The oral portion of the Candidacy Examination will take place after the written portion has been completed, no sooner than after the completion of at least 18 credits of coursework, and no later than the end of the third semester of study in the doctoral program (excluding summer). For students entering the Ph.D. program with a Master’s degree, this will typically be in the beginning of the second year of the program. Students entering the program without a Master’s degree who wish to complete one will complete the first doctoral project after completing the requirements for the Master’s degree.

The written project would be approved by the student's Academic Advisory Committee. The student will be responsible for the written project, with guidance and mentoring by at least the student’s primary advisor and potentially other committee members. It may take a variety of forms, including a data-based empirical research project, a synthesis of the literature in a concise area, a position paper, or any other project with the expectation that it is to be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The written project should also represent a significant contribution to the field of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Upon completion of the first doctoral project, the student will distribute copies to the Academic Advisory Committee, with the following timeline:

• The written paper must be submitted to each member of the Academic Advisory Committee for their initial review.

• Each member of the Committee will provide the student with written feedback/critique of the first year project within two weeks of receipt of the submitted paper.

• Committee members will distribute copies of their written feedback/critique to all members of the Committee.

• Upon receipt of the written feedback/critique, students will revise their paper as appropriate and resubmit within two weeks to the Academic Advisory Committee.

• The second component of the Candidacy Examination is the oral examination which should be scheduled at least one week after the resubmission of the candidacy paper.

• It is the student's responsibility to schedule this oral examination prior to the end of his/her third semester of study, at a time that is convenient with all members of the Academic Advisory Committee.

• The oral section of the Candidacy Examination will be presented to the Academic Advisory Committee

The oral examination consists of two parts: (1) a 15-20 minute oral presentation by the student that summarizes the key issues presented in the written paper; and (2) a 90-minute question and answer period. The student's oral presentation and oral responses to questions must demonstrate: (1) significant knowledge of the literature related to the topic; (2) understanding of current research and practice in the topic area; (3) understanding and application of basic principles of research methods; and, (4) logical organization of oral responses and clear articulation of important points. Students are encouraged to develop their ability to respond to oral questions in a clear, well organized manner during their academic courses, independent reading courses, research colloquia, meetings, informal discussion groups with their peers, and so forth. This exam is attended only by the student and the members of his/her Academic Advisory Committee.

At the close of the question and answer period, the student should present a summary statement indicating his/her scholarly interests, reasons for pursuing a doctoral program, career goals, progress toward these goals, and future plans.

At the close of the oral examination, the Academic Advisory Committee will meet to evaluate the student's resubmitted version of the paper and oral performance (see above for evaluation criteria). After each member of the Academic Advisory Committee evaluates the student, the faculty votes on whether or not to admit the student to candidacy. Faculty may vote: (1) pass (i.e., the student passed the candidacy examination and should now be considered an official doctoral student); (2) fail, but given the opportunity to retake the candidacy examination; or (3) fail, without the opportunity to retake the examination resulting in termination of the student's program. To pass Candidacy, the student must receive a favorable vote of at least two thirds of the Academic Advisory Committee members. In some cases the student may pass the Candidacy Examination but the Academic Advisory Committee may indicate the need for remediation in a specific area (i.e., the student performs satisfactorily with respect to most of the evaluation criteria but requires remediation efforts in technical writing or oral communication skills).

Doctoral Committee

If the student passes Candidacy and is formally accepted as a doctoral candidate, he/she must then form a doctoral committee. The doctoral committee consists of a chairperson (a member of the graduate faculty in CSD), at least two additional graduate faculty in CSD, and at least one graduate faculty member outside the CSD Department. The doctoral committee must be formally appointed by the dean of the Graduate School upon recommendation of the department head. The doctoral committee replaces the academic advising committee; it may or may not include the same faculty members. The function of the doctoral committee is to work with the student to design the program of study, review and monitor academic progress on a regular basis, develop a time line for completion of the major milestones in this program, monitor progress in achieving these milestones, and administer the comprehensive examinations.

Year 2

Preparation for the Comprehensive Examination

During the second year of study, the student prepares for the Comprehensive Examination, typically scheduled at the beginning of a semester, usually the beginning of the third year. The goal of the Comprehensive Examination is to evaluate the candidate's knowledge of his/her major and minor content areas and the integration of these areas within the larger discipline of communication sciences and disorders.

Year 3

Comprehensive Examination (Second Doctoral Project)

The second milestone in the doctoral program is the Comprehensive Examination. The Comprehensive Examination occurs when the doctoral candidate has completed the course work requirements for the program and when he/she has developed significant expertise in his/her major content area(s), minor content area(s), and research methods and analytical techniques including statistics The goal of the Comprehensive Examination is to evaluate the candidate's knowledge of his/her major and minor content areas and the integration of these areas within the larger discipline of communication sciences and disorders. The comprehensive examination involves a written project and an oral examination.

Students are encouraged to begin work on the second doctoral project as soon as feasible after successfully passing the Candidacy Examination. This second doctoral project and course work requirements will be completed before the student will defend the oral portion of the Comprehensive Examination. This written project may take a variety of forms, including a data-based empirical research project, a synthesis of the literature in a concise area, or a position paper. If the first doctoral project was not data-based, the second doctoral project must be. The second doctoral project also carries the expectation that it is to be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. It should also represent a significant contribution to the field of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Students take primary responsibility, with the consultation of their Committee members, for the nature and content of the project. Committee members may give guidance and mentoring throughout the duration of the project.

When completed, copies of the second doctoral project should be distributed to the Doctoral Committee. The Committee will have two weeks to read the written project and provide written and/or oral feedback to the student prior to the oral examination.

The student’s written project must provide evidence that the student (1) has a thorough knowledge of the relevant literature; (2) demonstrates strong skills in critical analysis; (3) demonstrates a clear understanding of research methods; (4) organizes written arguments in a clear, logical manner; and (5) demonstrates a writing style that is free from typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors. Each committee member reviews all written responses to the second doctoral project.

The oral comprehensive examination is not public and is attended only by the student and the members of his/her doctoral committee. The Staff Assistant for the Graduate Program must have at least three weeks to notify the Graduate School of the time and date of this examination. Ideally, the student will inform the Staff Assistant for the Graduate Program as soon as the time, date, and location of the oral examination have been determined.

The oral examination will take place one week after receipt of feedback from the Committee members. The oral examination is two hours in length and will consist of a presentation by the student followed by questions and discussion. The student’s four content areas will serve as a departure point for questions and discussion but further discussion may evolve to include the integrated role these areas play in the discipline of communication sciences and disorders.

The student's oral responses to questions must demonstrate: (1) significant knowledge of the literature; (2) understanding of current research and/or practice; (3) understanding and application of advanced principles of research methods; and, (4) logical organization of oral responses and clear articulation of important points. As with the oral portion of the Candidacy Examination, students are encouraged to practice their skills responding to oral questions in a clear, well organized manner through active participation in academic classes, independent reading courses, research colloquia, meetings, informal discussion groups with their peers, and so forth.

At the close of the oral examination, the committee meets to evaluate the student's written performance and oral performance in the Comprehensive Examination (see above for evaluation criteria). After discussion of the student's performance, each faculty member votes to pass or to fail the student. Faculty may vote: (1) pass (i.e., the student meets all evaluation criteria satisfactorily) or (2) fail (i.e., the student does not meet the evaluation criteria satisfactorily). In some cases, the student may pass the Comprehensive Examination, but the faculty may indicate the need for remediation in a specific area (i.e., the student performs satisfactorily with respect to most of the evaluation criteria but requires remediation efforts in technical writing or oral communication skills).

To pass the Comprehensive Examination, the student must receive a favorable vote of at least two thirds of the Doctoral Committee. Failure of the Comprehensive Examination will result in termination of the student's program. The Chair of the Doctoral Committee will inform the student of the faculty's vote following the examination and will review the Committee's evaluations with the student.

The Comprehensive Examination is intended to reflect the culmination of significant study and the acquisition of significant expertise by the student. It is intended as a demonstration of the student's breadth of knowledge as well as depth of knowledge. Preparation for the Comprehensive Examination requires significant effort and study by the student. This preparation will include academic course work, independent reading courses, research colloquia, informal discussion groups with peers and faculty, conferences, independent reading and study organized by the student, and so forth. Students are encouraged to begin preparation for their Comprehensive Examination well in advance of the actual examination date as acquisition of the necessary knowledge and expertise requires a significant time commitment.

When a period of more than six years has elapsed between passing the Comprehensive Examination and completing the doctoral program, the Graduate School requires the student to pass a second Comprehensive Examination. The intent of this second examination is to ensure that the student has continued to keep pace with the research and clinical developments in the field and to ensure that his/her knowledge is current and comprehensive.

Dissertation Committee

After the student passes the Comprehensive Examination, he/she begins work on the doctoral dissertation. The student must form a dissertation committee, consisting of a chairperson (a member of the CSD graduate faculty), at least two other members of the graduate faculty in CSD, and at least one faculty member outside CSD. The dissertation committee may or may not include the same members as the doctoral committee. The dissertation committee must be formally appointed by the dean of the Graduate School upon recommendation of the department head. The dissertation committee should include faculty who have the knowledge and skills required to mentor the student in the dissertation research.

Dissertation (Third Doctoral Project)

The intent of the dissertation is to evaluate the candidate's ability to conceptualize a research study that contributes substantially to the field, to conduct the study in a rigorous scientific manner, to critically analyze and interpret results, and to present the dissertation in writing in a scholarly manner. The dissertation represents the culmination of the student's doctoral studies. It is the gateway that marks the transition from a doctoral candidate to a high quality, independent researcher who demonstrates substantial expertise in his/her area of scholarship.

To fulfill the requirements of the doctoral dissertation, the candidate must:

  1. identify an important research question
  2. design an empirical study to address this question
  3. conduct the study
  4. analyze the results and discuss theoretical and clinical implications
  5. prepare a written report of the study in the form of a dissertation

The study must represent original research by the student. The project must be of sufficient scope to make a significant contribution to the field. It must be of the highest quality, demonstrating

  1. important research questions
  2. comprehensive literature review
  3. an appropriate, empirically sound research design
  4. appropriate data collection and analysis techniques
  5. strong skills in critical analysis
  6. significant knowledge of theory and practice in the interpretation of the results
  7. logical organization and clear writing style, free from typographical, grammatical, and spelling errors.

During the development of the dissertation, the student must demonstrate independence in formulating a research question, designing an appropriate study, conducting the study, analyzing the data, interpreting the results, and preparing the written paper. The dissertation committee will provide formative evaluation of the dissertation as it progresses, identifying strengths and weaknesses and suggesting revisions to improve the project. Students are encouraged to discuss their research with their peers and other faculty members as appropriate during classes, research colloquia, meetings, or informal discussion groups.

Prior to embarking on the study, candidates must prepare a dissertation proposal (prospectus) describing the proposed research project, including a problem statement, review of the literature, research questions, design/methods, and the significance of the project. The student will then defend the research proposal during a formal meeting for the oral defense of the prospectus. The oral defense includes a 10–15 minute presentation of the proposal followed by a question and answer period in which members of the dissertation committee will pose questions about the theoretical, methodological, and empirical bases for the study, the potential contribution to the field, and the appropriateness and quality of the research design. During the prospectus meeting, it is common for the dissertation committee to provide suggestions and recommendations to strengthen the research project. Faculty contributions at this stage of the process are intended to assist the student in developing a research project that will contribute significantly to the field.

The student should maintain close contact with all committee members during the implementation of the study to discuss progress and to problem solve as required. Once the study is complete, the candidate must document the research in a written dissertation. Students must adhere to the guidelines for dissertations provided by the Graduate School. Once the dissertation is complete, it must be submitted to the dissertation committee for review at least two weeks prior to the final oral examination. The dissertation submitted to the committee must be in completed form with all references, tables, figures, and appendices included. The content and style should be carefully checked for accuracy and clarity prior to submission.

The final oral examination is administered by the dissertation committee. It consists of an oral presentation of the dissertation by the student followed by a question and answer period during which each member of the committee will pose questions. All final examinations are public and may be attended by any member of the university community. Members of the student's dissertation committee have the first opportunity to ask questions; at the close of the committee's questions, members of the public are invited to ask questions as well.

The process of conceptualizing, implementing, and documenting a high-quality research study requires substantial time and effort. All students must abide by the deadlines for final oral examinations and final dissertation submission set by the Graduate School.

The dissertation process should not end with the writing of the dissertation and the oral examination. Rather, candidates should commit themselves to prompt dissemination of the results of their research to the broader academic and clinical community through peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations. These final steps, although outside the strict confines of the doctoral program, are critical ones, for it is only through a commitment to dissemination that the research will truly advance the knowledge base in the field.