PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences
The goal of our rehabilitation sciences program is to prepare graduates with the skills needed to become successful educators, researchers, and innovators in the field of rehabilitation sciences. Our graduates develop the strong research, teaching, and leadership skills necessary for a successful academic career focused on research and teaching. Through didactic training and mentored research activities, we prepare students to teach in higher education, conduct research, and disseminate scholarly work to peers, colleagues, and consumers.
Rehabilitation sciences is a highly interdisciplinary field of study aimed at enhancing activity, function, and participation in daily life and promoting health and wellness among persons with or at risk of developing disabilities. Rehabilitation sciences spans the entire life course, from infancy to older adulthood, and addresses a wide variety of acute and chronic physical and psychological conditions that may negatively impact people’s abilities to perform daily activities and participate in their lives fully. Rehabilitation sciences integrates knowledge from diverse fields such as psychology, social sciences, movement sciences, engineering, community and family systems, health services, and epidemiology with the foundational sciences of rehabilitation clinical practice.
Our rehabilitation sciences program is located in a modern facility with state-of-the-art research centers and labs. Our accomplished faculty collaborate extensively with other experts within and outside Boston University, including internationally renowned research centers such as the Health & Disability Research Institute, the Clinical Epidemiology Research & Training Unit, the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, the Center for Enhancing Activity & Participation among Persons with Arthritis (ENACT), and the Center for Neurorehabilitation. Faculty also collaborate with colleagues at other Boston University schools and colleges such as the College of Engineering, the School of Medicine, and the School of Public Health, and with community programs including schools, residential programs, community wellness programs, and centers for independent living.
The PhD Program in Rehabilitation Sciences seeks outstanding applicants interested in preparing for a career in rehabilitation sciences. Applicants will be considered with and without a clinical professional degree. Current students come from varied backgrounds and include BS and MS graduates in biology, health sciences, psychology, and engineering, as well as experienced professionals with licensure or certification in fields such as athletic training, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and psychiatric rehabilitation.
The doctoral program prepares students for research and teaching careers in the rehabilitation sciences field. The degree awarded is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Prerequisites for entering the program depend on the area of research that the student chooses (see Admission Requirements below). The program beyond the core requirements is flexible, and necessary coursework is determined on an individual basis by the student’s area of concentration.
Students take a common core curriculum designed to provide a strong foundation in rehabilitation sciences and research methods for a broad array of research questions in rehabilitation sciences and academic teaching skills. In addition, students participate in doctoral seminars with faculty and their peers to explore professional aspects of their future careers (e.g., publishing, manuscript review, grant review, project management) as well as share the development of their line of research as it advances in the program. Beyond the core coursework, students complete the required work designated in an area of concentration.
The number of credits required will depend on the student’s area of concentration and extent of previous education, including a completed master’s degree or completed prerequisites. The exact sequence of courses, comprehensive examination, and dissertation research is determined by the mentor, in consultation with the individual student.
The requirements for the degree must be completed within five years of initial matriculation.
Common Core Coursework
All courses are 4 credits unless otherwise specified.
- SAR RS 650 Foundations of Rehabilitation Sciences (2 cr)
- SAR RS 890 Doctoral Seminar in Rehabilitation Sciences (1 cr/sem)
- CAS MA 614 Statistical Methods I OR BS 703 Biostatistics
- CAS MA 684 Multivariate Statistics
- SAR RS 750 Research Design
- SAR RS 790 Teaching Skills (2 cr)
- SAR RS 870 Emerging Topics in Rehabilitation Sciences (2 cr)
- SAR RS 920 Comprehensive Examination (1 cr)
- SAR RS 930 Dissertation Proposal Development (1 cr)
- SAR RS 940 Dissertation Research (3 cr)
Doctoral students may take courses in various schools and colleges at Boston University, and they also benefit from the unique partnerships with many other universities and training programs in the surrounding area. Electives are selected in consultation with the student’s mentor. Students take a variety of elective courses, such as health care management, administration, psychology, statistics, computer science, engineering, disability law, and public health.
The PhD Program in Rehabilitation Sciences is carefully designed to prepare individuals for careers in research. The program is built around a mentorship model, reflecting our belief that preparation for independent research and scholarship can best be achieved by participating in ongoing research with guidance from the conducting faculty member. The student begins by assisting the faculty mentor with a specific inquiry, and gradually, as expertise builds, identifies a related line of investigation that the student will pursue for the dissertation. The work of the doctoral student contributes to and is enriched by the larger research program that the faculty member has initiated. Students must commit to a full-time, consistent involvement in their mentor’s research program. To the extent that research programs of faculty members differ in focus and methodology, research activities of students may vary. The mentor serves as a professional role model throughout the program and guides the student in developing and achieving individualized professional and academic goals.
Students are accepted into the doctoral program to work with a particular faculty member in an identified area of research. While students may choose to switch research focus after a period of time in the program, the ability to do so will depend first, on the identification of another line of ongoing research in which they will now participate and, second, on the ability and willingness of the identified faculty member to accept another student into his/her current load. Early in the student’s first semester, a mentorship plan is developed with the mentor for the first year, which specifies learning goals, performance expectations, and required tasks. For example, the mentorship relationship is likely to involve the student working on the mentor’s research project; and the mentorship plan would indicate work schedule, responsibilities, and supervision format. Typically, the first two years of mentorship experience will include collaboration on a publication.
Mentor-Based Concentration Areas
Activity, Participation & Environment
Research in the Activity, Participation & Environment concentration focuses on clarifying the dynamic transactions between persons and their environment that influence activity performance and home and community participation. The overall goal is to identify pathways to successful participation and to apply this understanding to enable persons with and without disabilities to achieve this goal. Research in this concentration includes development of new measures of activity, participation, and environment; exploration of the participation experience of persons of different ages and disabilities; needs assessment; and investigation of the relationship between individuals, environments, activities, and participation outcomes. The research faculty seek students with a strong background in the social and behavioral sciences as well as students with relevant clinical preparation as occupational or physical therapists.
A clinical degree and experience are desirable, but not required. However, a strong interest in health-related research is essential.
Applicants must document prior coursework providing a foundation in the following three areas:
- Basic research methods and introductory statistics
- Developmental theory and/or adaptive processes
- Understanding health and disability
In addition to the common core coursework required of all students in the PhD Program in Rehabilitation Sciences, and dependent on the student’s area of research, some or all of the following courses may need to be taken during the doctoral program. Electives are selected in consultation with the mentor to build knowledge of theory and methodology in the area of planned research. Courses may be taken at BU Sargent College, other graduate programs at Boston University, or at Consortium schools (Boston College, Brandeis, or Tufts). All courses listed are 4 credits, unless otherwise specified.
- SAR HP 804 Teaching Practicum (2 cr)
- SAR HP 870 Emerging Topics in Rehabilitation Sciences (2 cr/sem)
- SED RS 652 Qualitative Research Methods
Minimum of 16 elective credits should be taken.
Sample elective topics include:
- Cognition and Language
- Contemporary Issues in Maternal and Child Health
- Developmental Science
- Human Neuropsychology
- Psychometric Theory
- Research Methods, including survey research and clinical trials
- Social Perspectives on Aging and Old Age
- Work and Society
Intervention, Processes & Outcomes
Research in the Intervention, Processes & Outcomes concentration focuses on developing and evaluating theoretically informed rehabilitation interventions and programs aimed at minimizing disability and optimizing functioning and participation in daily life activities among persons with or at risk for disability. Research in this concentration includes developing and testing novel rehabilitation approaches, physical activity and exercise interventions, and self-management and educational programs delivered in the clinic and community. Research faculty look for students with a strong background in clinical rehabilitation sciences (e.g., physical and occupational therapy) as well as behavioral and social sciences.
A clinical degree and experience are desirable, but not required. However, a strong interest in health-related research is essential. Students must enter this concentration with a master’s degree.
Applicants must document prior coursework providing a foundation in the following two areas:
- Basic research methods and introductory statistics
- Understanding health and disability
In addition to the common core coursework required of all students in the PhD Program in Rehabilitation Sciences, students must take concentration area courses and electives dependent on their area of research. The courses are selected in consultation with the mentor to build knowledge of theory and methodology in the area of planned research. The electives may be taken at BU Sargent College, other graduate programs at Boston University, or at Consortium schools (Boston College, Brandeis, or Tufts). For example, students participating in the ENACT training program have the following required concentration area courses (11 credits). All courses listed are 4 credits, unless otherwise specified.
Required concentration area courses (11 credits)*
- SPH EP 713 Introduction to Epidemiology Methods (3 cr)
- SPH EP 813 Intermediate Epidemiology or Clinical Trials Research
- SAR RS 870 Emerging Topics in Rehabilitation Sciences: Disablement, Enablement, and Participation: Conceptual Frameworks (2 cr)
- SAR RS 870 Emerging Topics in Rehabilitation Sciences: Activity and Participation Measurement Considerations (2 cr)
*May substitute other research methods courses for epidemiology courses
A minimum of 8 elective credits should be taken. More electives may be needed dependent on prior completed coursework.
- Applied Epidemiology of Aging
- Clinical Epidemiology
- Health, Illness, and Health Service Utilization
- Survey Research
- Clinical Trials
- Advanced Human Movement
- Foundations of Motor Control
- Qualitative Research Methods
- ENACT Readings Seminar
Human Movement & Adaptation
Research in the Human Movement & Adaptation concentration is concerned with the biomechanics of movement, the dynamics of coordination and control, and the processes of development, adaptation, and learning. The overall goal is to increase our understanding of human movement and motor development and to apply this knowledge to improve the diagnosis and treatment of movement disorders in individuals with musculoskeletal and neurological impairments. Research in this concentration also includes the development of new rehabilitation technologies such as inertial and gyroscopic activity sensors, powered exoskeletal devices, and foot orthoses. Research faculty seek students with a strong background in engineering, mathematics, physics, and human development, as well as experienced clinical scientists, such as occupational or physical therapists.
Must be taken during doctoral program if not completed previously.
- Calculus I & II
- Human Anatomy
- Functional Anatomy
In addition to the common core coursework required of all students in the PhD Program in Rehabilitation Sciences, and dependent on the student’s selected area of research, some or all of the following courses may need to be taken during the doctoral program. All courses listed are 4 credits unless otherwise specified.
- SAR HP 550 Scientific Basis of Human Movement (2 cr)
- SAR HP 565 Biomechanics of Human Movement
- SAR HP 737 Instrumentation for Analysis of Motion
- ENG EN 124 Introduction to Engineering Computation
- SAR HP 741 Time Series Analysis
- SAR HP 771 Foundations of Motor Control
- SAR HP 782 Advanced Human Movement
- SAR RS 870 Emerging Topics in Rehabilitation Sciences (2 cr/sem)
Comprehensive Examination and Dissertation
The comprehensive examination process occurs during the summer following the student’s second year. Students write a literature synthesis over the course of three months. During the following Fall Semester, the committee will read the student’s comprehensive examination and pose an additional question or two, for which the student has to supply a written response within two weeks. An oral defense completes the comprehensive examination process. A single comprehensive examination is required.
Additional tasks for all students in the PhD Program in Rehabilitation Sciences include a professional presentation and a grant proposal. The dissertation takes the form of two journal manuscripts, one of which has to be submitted before the degree is granted.
Acceptance into the program is dependent upon applicant qualifications and availability of the mentor to accept a student into the program. Applicants should review the available faculty mentor list and contact the program director for assistance in determining which faculty mentors might be the most appropriate given the applicant’s interests.
Applicants must have completed at least an undergraduate degree in a related field at an accredited college or university. Students who have completed a master’s degree in a related field also may enter the program. While professional experience is not an explicit requirement, applicants with relevant experience may be given priority for admission. Applicants are required to submit their test scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test, which must have been taken within the previous five years.
Applicants also must submit official academic transcripts, three letters of reference, and an essay. In the essay, PhD applicants must describe their professional interests as well as short-term and long-term career goals, identify a potential mentor from among the faculty participating in the PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences program, and explain the reason for the selection of that mentor. Admission into the program considers the compatibility of the applicant’s interests and goals with the interests and research activities of the faculty who would be the applicant’s mentor. Information concerning faculty research interests and current projects is available on the PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences website.
International students whose first language is not English are required to submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). If the student’s prior degree was not from a college or university in the United States, academic transcripts from foreign colleges or universities should be verified by institutions with appropriate credentials (e.g., World Education Services (WES), including class by class grade equivalents). Plan for extra time to complete this process in time for the application due date. Additional information for international applicants is available on the website for the Boston University International Students & Scholars Office.
The PhD program is designed for students to begin study in the Fall Semester. Applicants who wish to begin their program of study in January will be considered on an individual basis.
Application Deadline & Financial Support
Applications and all supporting documents must be submitted by January 15. Applicants must apply online using the BU Online Application for Graduate Admissions.
All newly admitted PhD students will receive a five-year offer of support, which may be for work as a teaching fellow or as a research assistant, or a combination of these depending on the program and mentor. The fellowship will consist of a scholarship to cover tuition and academic fees, and a stipend of at least $21,000 per academic year. As part of the fellowship award, the University will cover individual participation in the Boston University Basic Medical Insurance Plan.