Javascript is currently not supported, or is disabled by this browser. Please enable Javascript for full functionality.

Skip to Main Content
University of Pittsburgh    
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 22, 2024
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog

Rehabilitation Science, PhD

Return to School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Return to: School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

The mission of the PhD program in Rehabilitation Science is to advance the frontiers of knowledge underlying the practice of rehabilitation disciplines and professions through research, teaching, and professional development.

This PhD is an interdisciplinary degree. Students enter the program through the following SHRS departments or programs: Counseling and Behavioral Health, Health Information Management, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Rehabilitation Science and Technology, and Sports Medicine and Nutrition. Upon degree completion, you will have mastered a specific area of expertise in rehabilitation science and carry an expansive core of related knowledge.

Contact Information:

Courtney Fleck
Assistant to the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies
4032 Forbes Tower
Phone: 412-624-6538
Fax: 412-383-6535

Program Summary

Program starts in the fall term.

  • Statute of limitation is 8 years (with approved credit transfer) or 10 years (without credit transfer)
  • Minimum of 72 credits required to graduate (some areas of focus may require more credits)

The Primary Goals of the PhD program in Rehabilitation Science are to:

  1. Provide core content in theories and models of rehabilitation, disability and/or assistive technology that underpin rehabilitation science;
  2. Provide in-depth, state of the science, content in basic, clinical, social, medical and/or engineering sciences that support the dissertation research;
  3. Provide mentorship opportunities for immersion in rehabilitation science research laboratories, projects, and/or ongoing studies;
  4. Prepare students to conduct and disseminate original research that will advance rehabilitation science;
  5. Promote interdisciplinary research in preparation for becoming a research team member;
  6. Promote knowledge, behaviors and skills consistent with the responsible conduct of research;
  7. Provide opportunities to teach content in an area of expertise.

The doctoral degree in Rehabilitation Science is an interdisciplinary research degree offered by SHRS and not by individual departments within the school. Graduates of this program will have a specific area of expertise in rehabilitation science as well as a core of interdisciplinary knowledge related to this specific area. They will become the researchers, scholars, teachers, thinkers, and planners in the demanding and changing field of rehabilitation science.

Areas of Study

  • Assistive technology
  • Biomechanics
  • Evidence-based practice and epidemiology of disability
  • Functioning, disability and health
  • Psychosocial, cultural, and behavioral aspects of rehabilitation and disability
  • Health information systems and information technology related to health and rehabilitation sciences
  • Neural basis of sensory and motor function and dysfunction
  • Neuromuscular aspects of sports injuries
  • Health Services Research in Rehabilitation

Admission Requirements/ Application Process

Applicants should have a strong interest in rehabilitation research as well as a master’s degree in an area related to rehabilitation science. The exceptional student with a bachelor’s degree, six or more credits of graduate course work, and compelling clinical/research experience in rehabilitation science will be considered.

Resources, including research mentors, must be available to enable the student to engage in a plan of study in the student’s major area of interest in rehabilitation research. Therefore, it is important that there is a match between the research interests of an applicant and an SHRS graduate faculty member.

Admission Requirements
Successful applicants will have a minimum GPA of 3.0 (based on a 4.0 scale) in all college work.  We do not require the GRE in our admissions applications. Students for whom English is a foreign language must have a minimum Duolingo English Test score of 130,TOEFL score of 100 (internet), 600 (paper); or Band 7.0 on the IELTS (reading and writing modules).

Application Requirements

Applicants are required to submit the following:

  • Completed GradCAS application 
  • An essay stating career goals, specific research interests and experience, and clinical interests and experience
  • Three to five academics or work-related letters of recommendation (at least one academic reference must be included as well as a letter of support from the identified Research Mentor. The Research Mentor’s letter should indicate how the student is known to the Mentor, a description of the student’s potential for success in the program and as a rehabilitation scientist, and how the Mentor will support the student’s dissertation research project (funding/resources))
  • A résumé, including work history, formal education, continuing education, licensing and certification, professional organizations, honors and awards, publications, presentations, and grants
  • Transcripts from all U.S. institutions attended
  • A course-by-course evaluation with GPA conversion for all higher institutions attended outside the U.S. The evaluation may be from World Education Services (WES), Inc. or Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc. (ECE)
  • Verification of English language proficiency. (Duolingo English Test, TOEFL or IELTS scores (for candidates whose native language is not English)
  • At least one example of written work (class project, course assignment, publication for which candidate is first author, etc.)

The application deadline for a fall enrollment start date is May 1. For example, a student wishing to enroll in the Fall of 2024 will have an application deadline of May 1, 2024.

Applicants are evaluated by the PhD Admissions Committee. Admission to the program requires (1) the applicant to meet the standards for a PhD student in SHRS, and (2) that a faculty member of the PhD program has an opening for an additional PhD student and agrees to be the Academic Advisor for that applicant.

For more information about admission to the PhD program contact:

Office of Admissions
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences
4044 Forbes Tower
Fax: 412-383-6535

Financial Aid

Financial assistance is often available from a variety of sources, including graduate student assistantships and teaching assistantships. These assistantships typically require 20 hours per week of research, teaching, or clinical service in exchange for a tuition, health insurance, and an annual stipend. Other forms of financial assistance, including fellowships, may be available through individual faculty grants. Applicants interested in financial support should indicate this on their applications for admission.  Acceptance into the PhD program does not assure that a student will be offered financial aid.  Depending on the availability of financial aid, the offer of financial support to an applicant may be deferred until a later date.  Since financial aid is limited, applicants who desire financial aid are encouraged to apply early.

Transfer Credits

If a student wishes to transfer credits, the student and the student’s Academic Advisor must submit a Credit Transfer Request Form to Student Services during the first year of study. Transcripts verifying the graduate courses and course descriptions must accompany the petition. The student and student’s Academic Advisor will be informed by the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies which courses are acceptable as transfer credits, and this information will be placed in the student’s file. Based on University guidelines, students who transfer any credits from a master’s degree must complete the PhD within 8 years; students who do not transfer credits must complete the PhD within 10 years.

Academic Advisor

Students admitted to the PhD program are assigned an Academic Advisor who is a member of the Graduate Faculty in SHRS. He/she will have research interests similar to the student’s interests and will have agreed to be the student’s Research Mentor.

The Academic Advisor and student will determine the Plan of Study for the student. They will also plan course work or other experiences to enable the student to demonstrate competency in the proposed content supporting the dissertation, as well as statistics/research methodology content in preparation for the Comprehensive Examination and Dissertation Proposal Defense. It is the responsibility of the Academic Advisor to provide advice to the student during the PhD program, especially with the following steps.

  1. Petitioning the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies for transfer of credits
  2. Preparing a Plan of Study outlining course work and dissertation credits leading to the PhD Degree
  3. Locating research opportunities
  4. Revising the Plan of Study as needed as the dissertation topic is formulated
  5. Finding a Primary Research Mentor

Plan of Study

The student and Academic Advisor will prepare a tentative Plan of Study within the first term of enrollment. If a Plan of Study has not been submitted by the end of the first term, the student will not be permitted to enroll in the subsequent term. The Plan of Study Form can be obtained on-line on the SHRS website.  The Plan of Study should include transfer credits, course work to date, future course work, and dissertation credits leading to the PhD degree. A copy of the Plan of Study will be placed in the student’s file. The Plan of Study should be reviewed each term at registration and updated as needed by the student and Academic Advisor. A final updated Plan of Study must be on file in the student’s permanent file in Student Services in the term in which the student graduates, or the student cannot be certified by the Registrar for graduation.

More information regarding the following can be found in the PHD handbook on the SHRS website:

  • SHRS Student Statistical Support
  • Annual Review/Progress Reports
  • Preliminary Examination
  • Primary Research Mentor
  • Comprehensive Examination
  • Dissertation Proposal Defense
  • Admission to Candidacy
  • Dissertation
  • Electronic thesis and Dissertation (ETD)
  • Final Oral Defense of Dissertation
  • Continued Use of Data After Leaving the University of Pittsburgh

Program Requirements

A minimum of 72 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree level is needed for the PhD degree at the University of Pittsburgh. Some areas of focus within the PhD Program may require more than 72 credits. Up to 30 credits taken at the graduate level towards a master’s degree may be accepted for transfer. In recognition of graduate study beyond the master’s degree, no more than 12 additional credits may be accepted at the time of admission to meet the minimum credit requirement. Credit transfer requests are evaluated by the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies after matriculation.

In all cases, at least 36 credits must be completed as a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh. No undergraduate credits (1000 level courses) may be applied towards the doctoral degree.  Please note, credits transferred from another institution may not be used to substitute for credits of courses required in the degree study plan. For example, credits transferred for a statistics course taken at another institution will not count toward the 9 credits of statistics required in the PhD program here at the University of Pittsburgh. The student will still need to take 9 credits of statistics at the University of Pittsburgh.

The overall form and content of each student’s program is the responsibility of the Graduate Faculty of SHRS. To carry out this responsibility, each student has an Academic Advisor who, in consultation with the student, plans a program of study and research in accordance with SHRS guidelines.

Course and Competency Requirements

The following requirements apply to all PhD in Rehabilitation Science students:

HRS 3000  - Doctoral Seminar: 4 credits

Core Areas

There are two Core Areas which are required for all students in the PhD in the Rehabilitation Science Program - Methods of Inquiry for Rehabilitation Sciences and Core Concepts in Disability and Rehabilitation Sciences.

All students pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Rehabilitation Science degree will be required to demonstrate basic competency in designing and appraising research studies and to demonstrate basic competency in understanding the fundamentals of disability and rehabilitation sciences.

CORE: Methods of Inquiry for Rehabilitation Sciences

Upon completion of the courses, students will be able to design a research study to answer a specific research question, including the best design for the question asked, sampling, controls for bias or confounding, and basic statistical analysis. They will be able to critically appraise research and apply it to clinical practice.

CORE: Core Concepts in Disability and Rehabilitation Sciences

Upon completion of the modules, students will be able to describe and discuss core concepts in disability and rehabilitation sciences, and analyze and synthesize multiple perspectives on the current and future state-of-the science.

A grade of B or better for each term of the Methods of Inquiry for Rehabilitation Scientists Core and Core Concepts in Rehabilitation and Disability Core (2 terms, 2 credits)

  • HRS 3002  - Methods of Inquiry I - 1 credit
  • HRS 3003  - Core Concepts I - 2 credits
  • HRS 3004  - Methods of Inquiry II - 1 credits
  • HRS 3005  - Core Concepts II - 2 credits
  • HRS 3001  - Dissertation Research: 18 credits

Preliminary Examination for the Methods of Inquiry Core and the Core Concepts in Rehabilitation and Disability Core requires an unconditional PASS

Comprehensive Written and Oral Examinations in the content area of the dissertation requires an unconditional PASS

Content in the areas of research design and statistics: 9 credits

Participate in the teaching of at least one course

Successful completion of manuscript submission requirement

Manuscript Submission Requirements

Prior to scheduling the dissertation defense, each PhD student will demonstrate a minimum amount of experience in manuscript writing and submission by completing:

  • 1 co-author manuscript accepted for publication
  • 1 first author manuscript submitted and reviewed by a peer-reviewed journal
  • Data-based manuscripts are strongly preferred.

Successful completion of grant application submission requirement

Grant Submission Requirement

Prior to scheduling the dissertation defense, each PhD student will demonstrate a minimum experience with grant writing and submission by completing one of the following:

  • Submission and peer-review of a Doctoral Research or Research Fellowship Grant applications (SHRS Doctoral Scholarship Award or NIH or Private Foundations)
  • Submission and peer-review of Pilot study grant applications (e.g., foundations, professional societies, the UPMC Rehab Institute Pilot Award)
  • Completion of a grant writing course
  • Submission of a provisional and non-provisional patent application
  • Submission and peer-review of an SBIR like applications, or other options to secure funding for technology development (pitching an idea for commercial development, etc.)

Note: The peer-review may be internal or external peer review. A copy of the summary report from the review should be submitted with a copy of the grant application to Courtney Fleck ( to be kept in the student’s file.

Also, note: Submission to the $1,000.00 SHRS scholarship award will NOT qualify for satisfying the grant submission requirement. 

Successful defense of the dissertation research

Note: PhD students are required to maintain a 3.000 Cumulative GPA and receive a grade of C or better in all courses required by their program curriculum.

Students who receive a grade below a C in a required course must repeat that course and attain a grade of C or better to graduate. (Note: University regulations state that a student may repeat any course in which a grade of B- or lower is received if an authorization to repeat the course is given by the student’s adviser/faculty.) Students will not be permitted to register for a course until they attain a C or better in its prerequisites. Failure to receive an acceptable grade after the second opportunity to complete a required course may result in the student being dismissed from the program and SHRS. 


Return to School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Return to: School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Catalog Navigation