PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences

The goal of the rehabilitation sciences program is to prepare graduates with the skills needed to become successful educators, researchers, and innovators in the field of rehabilitation sciences. 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.

The rehabilitation sciences program is located in a modern facility with state-of-the-art research centers and labs. Accomplished faculty collaborate extensively with other experts within and outside Boston University, including internationally renowned research centers such as the Arthritis & Autoimmune Diseases Research Center, the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, and the Center for Neurorehabilitation. Faculty also collaborate with colleagues at other Boston University schools and colleges such as the College of Engineering, the Chobanian & Avedisian 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). The program beyond the core requirements is flexible, and necessary coursework is determined on an individual basis by the student’s area of concentration.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • Demonstrate the ability to design, conduct, and evaluate research in rehabilitation science.
  • Demonstrate advanced knowledge of theory and existing research in rehabilitation sciences.
  • Demonstrate the ability to effectively disseminate original research findings to peers/colleagues.
  • Be able to articulate appropriate professional skills and ethical behaviors needed for successful academic and/or research careers.


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.

Degree Requirements

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.

  • CAS MA 614 Statistical Methods I
  • CAS MA 684 Multivariate Statistics
  • SAR RS 650 Foundations of Rehabilitation Sciences (2 cr)
  • SAR RS 750 Research Design
  • SAR RS 790 Teaching Skills (2 cr)
  • SAR RS 870 Emerging Topics in Rehabilitation Sciences (2 cr)
  • SAR RS 890 Doctoral Seminar in Rehabilitation Sciences (1 cr/sem)
  • SAR RS 920 Comprehensive Examination (1 cr)
  • SAR RS 930 Dissertation Proposal Development (1 cr)
  • SAR RS 940 Dissertation Research (3 cr)

Elective Courses

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

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 one month. 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 dissertation is defended.

Admission Requirements

Applicants should refer to the program website for the most up-to-date admission requirements and application deadlines.

Financial Support

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 $38,253 per academic year. As part of the fellowship award, the University will cover individual participation in the Boston University Basic Medical Insurance Plan.