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2020-2021 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog
University of Pittsburgh
2020-2021 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 30, 2022
2020-2021 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Education of Mental and Physical Disabilities, PhD

The University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs prepare students to be nationally competitive and highly qualified for research careers in both academic and non-academic institutions. Our full-time, research-intensive PhDs produce scholars who demonstrate excellent writing and research skills, independent scholarship and productivity, and proficiency in teaching. Under the guidance of our distinguished graduate faculty, students will have the opportunity to produce peer-reviewed publications, present at professional conferences, and collaborate on grant-writing and review, positioning them to excel in their careers as researchers and faculty. Because the PhDs are full-time, students can be fully immersed in their coursework and research in preparation for an impactful scholarly career.


Special Education - Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The goal of the Special Education PhD degree is the preparation of leadership personnel to assume academic faculty positions at the university level. The focus of preparation for the PhD program is on teaching graduate and undergraduate courses, mentoring graduate students, developing a research agenda that will result in funded and published research and translating research outcomes for the improvement of educational and related service programs for children and youth with disabilities. PhD candidates are mentored by a faculty adviser who shares their research interests and are supported by graduate faculty in Special Education. Students may focus their studies in one or more of the following areas: applied behavior analysis, autism, emotional and behavior disorders, learning disabilities, or severe disabilities. The PhD program is writing and research-intensive and PhD candidates will have multiple opportunities to learn and participate in the review of research literature, the preparation and submission of research grant proposals, the design and implementation of research studies, and the preparation and dissemination of research reports. A limited amount of financial assistance in the form of doctoral fellowships is available for full time students on a competitive basis.

PhD Core Curriculum


    Methods Courses Credits / Units: 15


    Preparing students to tackle problems of practice and policy, and create innovative research agendas, requires intentionality in the mentods coursework that supports students’ development of independent projects, meaningful contributions to advisors’ research, and critical analysis of past research. To help ensure that students develop the necessary analytic competencies, students across the areas of concentration (ARCOs) for the PhD in the School of Education are required to complete a minimum of 5 methods courses: Quantitative 1 (EDUC 2100) and 2 (EDUC 3100); Qualitative 1 (EDUC 3104); and 2 seminars in advanced quantitative or qualitative methods, determined by the student and their advisor.



    First Year Seminar Credits / Units: 3


    To further support students’ research competencies, PhD students also participate in a school wide first year seminar (EDUC 3102) and EDUC 3105). This seminar meets every other week (1 credit in fall and 2 credits in spring, taken over and above the typical 9 credit course load) and focuses on familiarizing students with practical and ethical issues in research (e.g., necessary clearances for working in schools, resolving questions of authorship and authorship order, human subjects guidelines), and supporting students work on their pre-dissertation proposal (e.g., developing innovative research questions, conducting a literaature review).



    Additionally, PhD students enroll in writing seminar courses taken over and above the typical 9-credit course load beginning in the second year of study. These credits are above and beyond the 90 credits required for graduation.

Education of Mental and Physical Disabilities Requirements

The major goal of the Special Education PhD and Ed.D degrees is the preparation of leadership personnel. Graduates must have leadership skills to identify the significant issues of the day and the ability to make decisions about the most effective use of new technologies and information to serve the nation’s disabled population. They will also become researchers and scholars committed to furthering the knowledge and empirical base needed for enhancement of special education practice and of the training of special education personnel. Graduates will serve infants, children, youth, and adults with disabilities through roles as teacher educators, researchers, administrators, consultants, and supervisors.

Students complete either a PhD or Ed.D in Special Education with a particular emphasis in learning disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing, vision studies, orientation and mobility, or early intervention. As they have in the past, it is expected that graduates of this program will have a significant impact on the quality of educational opportunities for persons with disabilities by providing leadership for local education agencies, state educational agencies, private foundations and agencies, colleges, and universities.

This option is available for students with at least three years experience in teaching children with Mental and Physical Disabilities. (i.e., learning disabilities, mental retardation, etc.). Students may choose between the Ph.D. or Ed.D. Both programs require a minimum of 90 credits of course work including dissertation research. The Ph.D. requires a one year research residency on campus.

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