PhD in Educational Studies

The PhD degree program in Educational Studies at Boston University is designed for students who wish to contribute to the field’s understanding of teaching and learning through research.

The program will expand and deepen the knowledge and skills of enrolled graduate students in ways that will support their progress in pursuing teaching, research, and policymaking positions in public or private institutions of higher education. To do this, the program provides a deliberate course of study, including coursework in a specific content area, research, and active immersion in the community of student and faculty scholars within the program and throughout the college, the University, and the profession.

Doctoral students enrolled in the PhD in Educational Studies pursue one of four specializations:

  • Educational Policy Studies
  • Language and Literacy Education
  • Mathematics and Science Education
  • Special Education

Students work closely with Wheelock faculty as research, teaching, and/or graduate assistants as they work to augment their knowledge and skills through their coursework, residency, and research.

The minimum credit requirement for the PhD is 66 credits.

Learning Outcomes  

PhD students in Educational Studies will:

  • Demonstrate both deep knowledge and understanding of a specific area in their field and the ability to use the knowledge to seek and find solutions to important educational problems.
  • Demonstrate the research capacities (qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods) needed to conduct original research while also demonstrating sufficient familiarity with other research methodologies to be able to critically read relevant literature in the field.
  • Through research and scholarship, expand the theoretical and empirical knowledge base in their field to inform researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.
  • Contribute to their field as highly effective teachers in a variety of educational contexts (e.g., colleges, universities, conferences, community meetings).
  • Contribute to their field through service to educational and civic organizations that inform or implement policy, research, and practice.

Coursework and Other Requirements

Pro-Seminars (8 credits across two semesters; completed in Year 1) 

Students take a two-semester pro-seminar (SED ED 800 and SED ED 801; each 4 credits) designed to develop a common conceptual understanding of Schools, Educational Institutions, Communities, Educational Foundations, and Systems and Theories of Learning and Teaching, with Social Justice as a unifying theme throughout.

Research and Teaching Apprenticeships 

  • Each semester, PhD students are required to engage in some combination of research and teaching apprenticeships up to 20 hours per week.
  • When engaging as a Teaching Fellow or Instructor of Record, students register for SED CT 700 Teaching Apprenticeship; 0 credits.
  • When engaging in a research apprenticeship, students register for SED RS 700 Doctoral Research Apprenticeship; 0 credits.

Research Courses (minimum: 20 credits)

  • SED RS 652 Qualitative Research Methods or equivalent (required)
  • SED RS 653 Quantitative Research Methods or equivalent (required)

Three additional courses: options include the following, as well as other courses across Boston University and at consortium partners:

  • GRS PS 711 Statistics in Psychology (I and II)
  • SED LS 726 Discourse Analysis
  • SED RS 654 Educational Inquiry and Proposal Writing
  • SED RS 655 Mixed Methods Research
  • SED RS 750 Advanced Research Seminar
  • SED RS 752 Seminar in Qualitative Research
  • SED RS 754 Causal Design in Education Research
  • SED RS 760 Design-Based Research

Specialization Courses (minimum: 28 credits)

Specialization courses are determined jointly between the student and doctoral advisor. Examples of options in each specialization area are listed below:

Language and Literacy Education Mathematics and Science Education
Seven specialization courses will be chosen by student in consultation with advisor, based on student interests. Examples of specialization courses:

  • SED BI 620 Issues in Bilingualism (4 cr)
  • SED DE 572 Social Psychology and the Deaf World (4 cr)
  • SED DE 576 Bilingual ASL/English Development, Assessment, and Planning for Deaf Children (4 cr)
  • SED DE 672 Sign Language Structure (4 cr)
  • SED EN 711 Critical Literacy as a Lens: Exploring Theories, Processes, and Strategies
  • SED LS 658 Second Language Acquisition (4 cr)
  • SED LS 725 Discourse, Narrative, and Literacy (4 cr)
  • SED LS 750 Culture, Language & Cognition (4 cr)
  • SED LS 902 Seminar in Early Literacy (4 cr)
  • SED LW 781 Processes of Writing
  • SED TL 622 Assessment for Language Teaching and Research (4 cr)


Students must take the core set of three required courses and will select four additional courses in consultation with their advisor, based on their interests and career goals.


Required Core Courses for the PhD in

Mathematics and Science Education

  • SED ME/SE 701 Epistemologies and Theories of Learning in Mathematics and Science Education
  • SED ME/SE 702 Teaching and Teacher Education in Mathematics and Science Education 
  • SED ME/SE 703 Curriculum Research and Theory in Mathematics and Science Education


Additional Course Options

BU, Boston College, and Tufts University have developed a consortium for doctoral STEM education and maintain a website where course offerings across the institutions are published each semester. Therefore, BU Wheelock doctoral students are able to choose from a rich variety of courses relevant to the STEM disciplines and develop relationships with graduate students across all three institutions. 

  • SED CE 801 Cognitive and Affective Bases of Behavior
  • SED CT 770 Seminar on Teaching
  • SED ME/SE 530 Equitable Pedagogies in STEM Education
  • SED ME/SE 851 Seminar Topics


Special Education Educational Policy Studies
Specialization courses are determined jointly between the student and doctoral advisor; wide-ranging options are available. Some examples include:

  • GMS AN 713 Autism: Clinical and Neuroscience Perspectives
  • GRS PS 847 Atypical Development
  • SAR OT 714 Developmental Disabilities II: Values, Policy, and Change
  • SED SE 744 School Administration and Special Needs
  • SED SE 751 Assessment in Special Education
Examples of specialization courses:

  • SED AP 701 Doctoral Colloquium (2 cr)
  • SED AP 702 Research Colloquium in Educational Leadership and Development (2 cr)
  • SED AP 761 Organizational Analysis (4 cr)
  • SED AP 771 Advanced Policy Seminar (4 cr)


 Qualifying Tasks 

  • One qualifying task comprises completion of an empirical study and associated research article intended for publication; topic and format to be determined in collaboration with the student’s advisor. Work will be evaluated by the student’s Qualifying Committee, and will be presented at a Doctoral Student Research Symposium.
  • For the second qualifying task, the student and advisor will choose between two options. Work will be evaluated by the student’s Qualifying Committee.
    • Completion of a literature review in an area of the student’s field of study where there is a problem/challenge/gap in the literature.
    • Completion of a second empirical study and associated research article.

 Dissertation Proposal   

  • Preparation of written proposal for dissertation research
  • Oral defense of proposal to Dissertation Committee

Dissertation Advisement and Oral Defense (SED XX 999) (minimum: 10 credits)

  • Dissertation may take one of two forms: traditional or alternative format with three publishable articles
  • Oral defense of dissertation findings to Dissertation Committee

Residency Requirement

Every doctoral candidate must spend a minimum of two consecutive semesters in residence at Boston University. Residence is defined as registration for a minimum of 12 credit hours at the University during each of two consecutive semesters. (Summer terms may be considered one semester.) The residency requirement may be met by holding a research or teaching assistant position and registering for a minimum of 8 credit hours for two consecutive semesters. For additional information, students should contact their academic advisors.