Davis School of Gerontology
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.
Applicants for admission to the doctoral program must meet the following requirements:
(1) Recipient of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university by anticipated enrollment date.
(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 Davis School of Gerontology.
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 (at least 4 units) as required. All students will take courses in three areas: a set of required core courses, research courses and elective courses.
There are two tracks in the gerontology Ph.D. program: the social, behavioral, and policy track and the biology of aging track.
Students will be advised about course selection during the first year by the Ph.D. committee. As soon as a student has selected a specialization (e.g., biology, psychology, sociology/demography, 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 a research agenda; to monitor the student’s progress; and to insure preparation for the qualifying examination.
Basic Scientific Core
Each track has a basic scientific core. The core for the social, behavioral and policy track stresses the physiological, psychological, sociological and policy dimensions of individual and population aging. The scientific core for the biology of aging track emphasizes the understanding in the molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms of aging and age-related disease. Special emphases include mechanisms associated with chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons disease, and the interplay between genetic and environmental influences.
|Social, Behavioral and Policy track required core courses||units|
|GERO 610||The Aging Society||4|
|GERO 613||Health and Aging||4|
|GERO 620||Psychology and Aging||4|
|GERO 645||Politics and Policy in an Aging Society||4|
|Biology of Aging track required core courses||units|
|BISC 502ab||Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, or||8|
|BISC 502ab||Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, and||8|
|BISC 505||Genomics and Molecular Genetics, or||4|
|NEUR 524||Advanced Overview of Neurosciences, and||4|
|NEUR 531||Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology, and||4|
|NEUR 532||Systems and Behavioral Neurobiology||3|
A second core area focuses on development of research skills. For social scientists this includes research design, methods and statistics. Biologists will learn methods appropriate to biological sciences as well as research design and statistics. Students in the social, behavioral and policy track are required to take GERO 593 and GERO 640 and at least one additional statistics course — generally from another department — on the student’s research focus. Students in the biology of aging track are required to take GERO 593 and GERO 590 (2 semesters of 4 units).
Students in both tracks are also required to take two semesters of GERO 592, a research seminar in which participants will develop and carry out their own research. This course is generally taken after the first year.
A third core involves electives that allow students to create a concentration in a particular area of focus or analytic field of inquiry. Students should select courses in consultation with their adviser. Courses should be selected to provide in depth knowledge in the specialized area or general knowledge in the field of gerontology. A number of gerontology courses can be taken as electives.
Students should note that Gerontology courses at the 600 level are usually offered only every second year. Students are encouraged to review the course schedule to determine how to best complete these courses in a timely manner. Successful completion of the required course work does not complete the educational experience of the student. Students are expected to enhance their exposure to research by attending the colloquium lecture series, working on research with a faculty member and presenting original research at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America and other professional meetings.
Foreign Language Requirements
There are no foreign language requirements for the Ph.D. program.
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.
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.
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.
Qualifying Exam Committee
The qualifying exam committee is composed of five faculty members, at least three from the School of Gerontology. The function of the qualifying exam committee is to oversee the development of the student’s academic progress through the qualifying examination, including the preliminary dissertation proposal.
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.
Upon admission to candidacy, a dissertation committee is established which consists of three members of the faculty, some of whom may be from the qualifying committee.
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.
Doctor of Philosophy Biology of Aging
Application deadline: December 1
The purpose of the Ph.D. in the Biology of Aging is to provide interdisciplinary research training in an age-centric environment. Students will focus on basic mechanisms of aging as well as translational research related to medical applications. Students will approach aging as a major risk factor for disease.
Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year college or university preferably in one of the biological sciences. Applicants are evaluated by their transcripts and GPA; scores on the GRE General Test, three letters of recommendation and a statement of interest.
The Ph.D. in the Biology of Aging will provide each student with detailed knowledge and expertise in the biology of aging. The Ph.D. in the Biology of Aging requires the following courses (GERO 519, GERO 600, GERO 601, GERO 602, GERO 603, plus 8-10 units from the list of suggested electives or other department approved courses). A minimum of 60 units is required, consisting of formal courses, seminars and research credit. At least 24 of the minimum 60 total units required are to be formal graduate course work (lecture or seminar courses).
After completion of the core Biology of Aging course work (GERO 519, GERO 600, GERO 601, GERO 602 and GERO 603) during the first year, the student’s degree progress is discussed and evaluated by a screening committee composed of members of the gerontology faculty and the Buck Institute as well as the student’s faculty adviser. The purpose of this written and oral evaluation is to determine competence to continue graduate study and identify areas to be strengthened prior to the qualifying examination.
By the end of the third semester, students should choose a guidance committee consistent with the requirements of the graduate school composed of gerontology faculty, Buck Institute faculty and one outside member. This committee will conduct the qualifying exam and provide guidance during dissertation research. The chair of the committee will serve as the principal adviser. Students should consult extensively with each committee member regarding subjects to be covered in the exam.
The qualifying exam consists of written and oral parts. Both parts must be finished before the end of the fifth semester. For the written exam, the adviser will consult with each of the members of the qualifying exam committee. The written part will incorporate evaluation and synthesis of existing knowledge related to the topic areas, creation of a set of experiments to test a relevant hypothesis, and interpretation of anticipated results. The oral exam consists of an oral defense of the written part and will be conducted with a month of the written part of the qualifying exam.
The dissertation is based on original, publishable and significant research conducted independently by the student under the guidance of the dissertation committee. 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 of the Davis School of Gerontology.
The dissertation committee is responsible 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.
Foreign Language Requirements
There are no foreign language requirements for the Ph.D. in the Biology of Aging program.
Students with a master’s degree of prior graduate course work in biology 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 taken within 10 years of entering the program.