Doctor of Philosophy in Occupational Science (Ph.D.)
Why Pursue a Ph.D. in Occupational Science at USC?
Founded in 1989, the USC Ph.D. program in Occupational Science was the first of its kind. Our Ph.D. graduates are heavily recruited for academic positions. To date, more than 45 graduates have filled faculty positions throughout the nation and the world, including appointments as chairs or directors of highly ranked graduate and undergraduate programs of occupational therapy. Beginning in 2004, the program was restructured to create a strong focus on producing scientists equipped to move on to postdoctoral fellowships and eventually to tenure-track positions in research-intensive universities. We therefore intend this next cadre of Ph.D. graduates to be successful in securing external funding for the establishment of a systematic research program. The Ph.D. program capitalizes on the abundance of resources at USC – including the Division’s fellowship programs in Socially Responsive Research and in Translational Research, our interdisciplinary partnerships, our robust and continually growing NIH-funded research portfolio, immersion opportunities within the research infrastructure, our blueprint for translational research and the talents of our internationally recognized faculty — to produce an unparalleled academic preparation for those admitted. Furthermore, tuition for every PhD student is covered by the university.
The Division recognizes that
the composition of faculty in occupational therapy and
occupational science departments nationwide is not
sufficiently representative of the diversity of the health
care consumers whom the profession serves. Consequently, our Division strives to recruit superior applicants for our Ph.D. program from culturally, linguistically and economically diverse populations. Moreover, we strive to provide financial packages that will make it possible for our Ph.D. colleagues to recommend promising students from underserved populations.
A Global Community
Our Ph.D. program has had a significant impact in building an international community of occupational scientists. Of the 60 students who have graduated from the Ph.D. program, 17 have been international students who, for the most part, have gone on to establish occupational science programs at universities in their home countries and now constitute an international network of occupational scientists. We encourage all of our students to become networked in
this larger global community. We are currently developing partnerships with other academic programs internationally which will provide opportunities for our Ph.D. students to participate in international developments in occupational science.
Division-sponsored fellowship programs in Socially Responsive Research and in Translational Research mean that the basic financial needs of doctoral students will be offset through University support. At USC, tuition for every Ph.D. student is currently covered by the university. This means that students who are admitted and enroll receive, on average, approximately $36,000 in tuition support while taking coursework. Further, typically $28,000 per year is awarded for the first 3 years, amounting to a total package exceeding $60,000 per year. For students making exceptional progress, there is potential for an additional grant in the form of a stipend of as much as 2 more years of significant funding. Because Ph.D. students are supported at this level, they are freed from the need to supplement their income through outside employment and are able to devote full time to their Ph.D. studies. Select applicants can also be nominated for prestigious Ph.D. fellowships which are awarded by the Graduate School (see Graduate School website for a
description of the Provost Ph.D. Fellowship Program). The fact that we allocate so much funding for Ph.D. students acknowledges our view that it takes full commitment on the part of all involved – the mentor, the doctoral student and the interdisciplinary research teams in which she or
he is immersed – to produce a career scientist.
The Division also has access to a vast infrastructure that
supports scientific enterprise at the university. For example, through our interdisciplinary partnerships, students are able to perform studies using cutting-edge MRI and attend university seminars offered on topics related to career trajectories or teaching excellence. They receive funding to
attend both national and international scientific meetings related to their area of focus. They can take cognate courses in any of the University’s Schools and Divisions, including, among others, anthropology, education, gerontology, health promotion, neuroscience, policy planning and development, rehabilitation science and sociology.
The Division, which celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2007, has forged numerous interdisciplinary partnerships that can be tapped to strengthen the program of study for each doctoral student. For example, our Ph.D. students are currently participating in activities at USC’s world-class Brain and Creativity Institute and the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center (directed by Antonio and Hanna Damasio), the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, the Childhood Obesity Research Center, the Institute of Preventive Medicine and the Viterbi School of Engineering. They also collaborate in research with extramural interdisciplinary teams affiliated with USC.
NIH and other Federally Funded Research Portfolios and Immersion in Research
The signature element of our Ph.D. program is the student’s immersion in the Division’s externally-funded research programs. Throughout their program, Ph.D. students spend a minimum of 20 hours per week (for which a stipend or course credit is awarded) participating as members of a research team. Becoming a career scientist requires conducting research alongside experienced mentors. In the immersion experience, students are involved in the following: formatting important research questions; applying for and managing extramural funding; data collection, analysis and interpretation; disseminating results in peer-reviewed journals, attending conferences and giving presentations; participating in research lab management; and many other activities that comprise the standard work of scientists. But this work is not done in
isolation, or in class-based simulations; rather, students contribute actively to the productivity of investigative teams. Since 1993, the Division has attracted over $10 million in NIH funding alone, with occupational science faculty as the Principal Investigators on these studies. This is one of the finest track records amongst departments and divisions of occupational therapy and occupational science worldwide. In addition, our extramural funding portfolio has included other grants from the CDC, the NIDRR, the U.S. Department of Education, the American Occupational Therapy Foundation and others.
Our Blueprint for Translational Research
By enrolling in our Ph.D. program, you will be immersed in cutting-edge translational research using a methodology our faculty has been refining over the past 15 years. This blueprint was developed based on research related to well elders and persons with spinal cord injury, and it begins with studying a problem for which one eventually intends to develop an intervention. Results of the qualitative work then inform the intervention design. In the next step, efficacy and cost-effectiveness studies, employing randomized clinical trials and theory, are performed. In the final stages the mechanisms hypothesized to mediate outcomes are tested in order to build theory using sophisticated statistical procedures. Within the USC Ph.D. program, students can explore a rich mix of methodologies, such as measurement of biomarkers, fMRI, utilization of a digital laboratory for analysis of videotape and narrative data, and large randomized trial designs.