Basic Scientific Core
Each track has a basic scientific core. The core for the social, behavioral and policy track stresses the physiological, psychological, sociological and policy dimensions of individual and population aging. The scientific core for the biology of aging track emphasizes the understanding in the molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms of aging and age-related disease. Special emphases include mechanisms associated with chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, and the interplay between genetic and environmental influences.
A second core area focuses on development of research skills. For social scientists this includes research design, methods and statistics. Biologists will learn methods appropriate to biological sciences as well as research design and statistics. Students in the social, behavioral and policy track are required to take GERO 593 and GERO 640 and at least one additional statistics course — generally from another department — on the student's research focus. Students in the biology of aging track are required to take GERO 593 and GERO 590 (2 semesters of 4 units).
Students in both tracks are also required to take two semesters of GERO 592 , a research seminar in which participants will develop and carry out their own research. This course is generally taken after the first year.
A third core involves electives that allow students to create a concentration in a particular area of focus or analytic field of inquiry. Students should select courses in consultation with their adviser. Courses should be selected to provide in depth knowledge in the specialized area or general knowledge in the field of gerontology. A number of gerontology courses can be taken as electives.
Students should note that Gerontology courses at the 600 level are usually offered only every second year. Students are encouraged to review the course schedule to determine how to best complete these courses in a timely manner. Successful completion of the required course work does not complete the educational experience of the student. Students are expected to enhance their exposure to research by attending the colloquium lecture series, working on research with a faculty member and presenting original research at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America and other professional meetings.
Foreign Language Requirements
There are no foreign language requirements for the PhD program.
Students with master's degrees or prior graduate course work in gerontology can petition to apply the credit toward required courses. Petition for credit will be based on the Graduate School's policies and requirements for "transfer of credit" and on approval by the doctoral advisory committee. Transfer credits toward the PhD requirements will be limited to 20 units and must be credits taken within 10 years of entering the program.
The normal time for completing the PhD is four to five years (without a prior master's degree). The first two years will consist of required and elective courses. The third year will consist of electives, the PhD qualifying exams and completion of the dissertation proposal. The final year(s) will involve the completion of the dissertation. The maximum time to complete all requirements for the PhD degree is eight years from the first course at USC applied toward the degree.
Students who have completed an applicable master's degree at USC or elsewhere within five years of the proposed enrollment in the PhD program must complete the PhD in six years.
When students have completed a minimum of 16 but not more than 24 units of doctoral course work, the doctoral advisory committee assesses their performance through a screening process and makes a decision regarding their ability to continue in the program. If the student is granted permission to continue, a guidance committee is established.
Qualifying Exam Committee
The qualifying exam committee is composed of five faculty members, at least three from the School of Gerontology. The function of the qualifying exam committee is to oversee the development of the student's academic progress through the qualifying examination, including the preliminary dissertation proposal.
As a prerequisite for candidacy for the PhD, students must pass a qualifying examination, which is multidisciplinary and comprehensive in nature and that necessitates independent study beyond course requirements. Students must have completed at least 28 units of course work in the doctoral program with a GPA of at least 3.25 before attempting the qualifying exam. The exam is designed to test mastery of knowledge and scholarly skills and to test readiness to undertake independent research. If the student fails this exam, it may be repeated one time. When the exam is successfully completed, the student then must develop and have a dissertation proposal approved before the student is officially admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree.
Upon admission to candidacy, a dissertation committee is established which consists of three members of the faculty, some of whom may be from the qualifying committee.
The dissertation committee has responsibility for providing guidance and consultation during the research process, approving the dissertation, conducting the final oral examination, and recommending the candidate for the PhD degree. The doctoral dissertation should make an original contribution to the development of knowledge and theory in gerontology.
Final Oral Examination
Upon approval of the final draft of the dissertation by all members of the dissertation committee, the candidate must pass a final oral examination. Upon successful completion of this final examination, the committee recommends the candidate to the Graduate School for award of the PhD degree.