College of Public Health students graduating



The curriculum for the Graduate Center for Gerontology consists of 43 hours of coursework within a doctoral program of study that involves six interlocking elements:

  • a required core in gerontology,
  • specialized training in a substantive domain selected from clusters of related disciplines,
  • training in gerontology and geriatrics-related research methodologies,
  • grounding in public health concepts,
  • a qualifying examination, and
  • a dissertation.

Emphasis on the interaction between social sciences, biomedical sciences, and the humanities, permeates the entire curriculum and core seminars are taught by representative faculty from diverse disciplinary backgrounds.

Course Summary

The following courses comprise the required curriculum:

  • GRN 600 A Study of the Older Person (3 hrs)
  • GRN 612 Biology of Aging (3 hrs)
  • GRN 620 Human Aging and Adjustment (3 hrs)
  • GRN 650 Research Design in Gerontology (4 hrs)
  • GRN 656 Integrative Studies in Gerontology (3 hrs)
  • CPH 605 Epidemiology (3 hrs)
  • CPH 663 Public Health Practice and Administration (3 hrs)
  • STA 570 (4 hrs) /580 (3 hrs) Basic Statistical Analysis/Biostatistics
  • Elective Methods (6 hrs minimum)

Approved courses in area of specialization (minimum of 12 hrs)

Elective courses should be selected by the student with the guidance of the student’s advisor and/or Advisory Committee. No more than 9 hours of independent readings or research may be used to fulfill this requirement.

Gerontology Core

The Doctoral Program requires a thorough knowledge of gerontology from a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspective that incorporates biological, psychological and social perspectives. Particular emphasis in the core Doctoral Program is placed on developing an understanding of the older person from the level of the physiological and psychological effects of aging on the individual to the influence of our society as a whole. In addition, emphasis is placed on exploring major research issues in this domain and on developing proficiency in gerontological research methods.

Area of Specialization

Each student is expected to develop an in-depth understanding of a particular topical area. Thus, for example, a student focusing in the social sciences might develop a program drawing largely from sociology, but incorporating course work in psychology, anthropology or other disciplines. In a similar manner, a student focusing in the biomedical sciences could develop a program centered in physiology, incorporating studies in anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology and other related disciplines. Each student’s area of specialization will be developed in collaboration with his or her advisor and Advisory Committee working as needed in conjunction with the appropriate department(s). A total of at least 12 credit hours will be completed in the area of specialization over the first two to three years of the program.

Gerontology Methods

Basic Requirement: Students are required to complete a course in gerontological research design (GRN 650). This four credit hour course incorporates methodological content specific to research with older people including, for example, design issues raised by age/period/cohort effects, appropriate ways to obtain data from elderly research participants, and ethical considerations permeating the research process. Students are also required to complete, or demonstrate course equivalency to Basic Statistical Analysis (STA 570), prior to sitting for the qualifying exam.

Recommended Methods Supplements: Students must take additional methods courses as appropriate for effectively designing and conducting dissertation research. Such courses may include specific quantitative/statistical methods, qualitative/ethnographic methods, laboratory or instrumentation techniques, and experimental or survey design. Students should work closely with their advisor or Advisory Committee in selecting suitable additional methods training.

Appropriate courses may be found within a wide array of departments. Listed below is a sampling of possible courses that would supplement the basic methods requirement.

  • STA 671 – Regression and Correlation (2 hrs)
  • STA 672 – Design and Analysis of Experiments (2 hrs)
  • STA 673 – Distribution-Free Statistical Inference and Analysis of Categorical Data (2 hrs)
  • STA 675 – Survey Sampling (2 hrs)
  • STA 677 – Applied Multivariate Methods (3 hrs)
  • STA 679 – Design and Analysis of Experiments II (3 hrs)
  • SOC 681 – Research Design and Analysis (3 hrs)
  • PSY 610 – Psychometrics (3 hrs)
  • GEO 600 – Analytical Methods in Geography (3 hrs)
  • GEO 700 – Advanced Analytical Methods in Geography (3 hrs)
  • EDP 557 – Educational Statistics (3 hrs)
  • ANT 660 – Ethnographic Research Methods (3 hrs)
  • ANT 661 – Ethnographic Data Analysis (3 hrs)

Transferring Credits

The Graduate Student does not allow courses to be transferred for use toward doctoral degrees. It is, however, not necessary to officially transfer credits to the University; any graduate courses taken at other universities may be used toward the degree if they exhibit relevance to the student’s study plan. Such courses must be approved by the student’s advisory committee and the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).

Teacher Training Component

Emphasis in our program is placed on tailoring each student’s curriculum and experiences to meet the specific circumstances of the individual’s background and career goals. One possible--and potentially quite common--career pathway of Gerontology students will be to gain faculty positions within the nation’s college and university system. The Teacher Training Component provides a formal arena for acquiring valuable teaching experience. It is based on the premise that practice is a necessary component of ability, yet it recognizes that careful and informed guidance is a staple in building true proficiency. Furthermore, this Component helps to ensure a solid foundation in general gerontology, which is an invaluable part of preparing for qualifying exams.

Fall Semester: The Teacher Training Component involves a year of supervised work. During the fall semester (commonly the third semester of residence) students may enroll in GRN 770 – Special Topics in Gerontology: Practicum in Teaching (2 hrs). This practicum is designed to provide a survey of the elements of teaching, from content selection and syllabus preparation to lecture and interactive techniques, student and self-evaluation, advising issues, and ethics in the classroom. The practicum also provides a supervised venue for the development of an undergraduate course in gerontology. Team teaching is strongly encouraged. Students will decide on the specific course to be taught, a course syllabus will be composed and finalized, and content research and organization will be conducted. Students will, as appropriate, be charged with advertising the course to promote adequate undergraduate enrollments. During this fall semester, students may also enroll in GRN/PGY 615 -- Seminar in Teaching Medical Science (2 hrs). This course introduces broad pedagogic elements, and also covers such topics as laboratory organization and technology in instruction.

Spring Semester: Students who have completed GRN 770 - Practicum in Teaching have the option of assuming full responsibility for teaching an undergraduate course in gerontology during the spring semester. The students will concurrently enroll in GRN 770 – Special Topics in Gerontology: Seminar in Teaching Gerontology (3 hours). This course will be coordinated by a member of the Gerontology faculty who will meet with students to discuss progress and experiences in the undergraduate class as well as practical and theoretical issues related to undergraduate education in gerontology. Students may elect to postpone their in-class teaching experience until later in the program, and students with prior experience may qualify to serve as sole instructor when they teach.

Students may also elect to participate in the University's Preparing Future Faculty opportunities. For more information about this program , including the certification requirements, visit:

Gerontology Core Examination

All students must sit for a ‘Gerontology Core Examination’ at the completion of all required coursework, and before scheduling the qualifying examination.  The purpose of this examination is to ensure that students are capable of articulating and synthesizing central and fundamental aspects of gerontology along the spectrum from cell to society.

Core exams will be scheduled twice a year (December and May) during finals week, although students may petition to schedule the examination at another time in the event of extenuating circumstances. 

The examination will be oral in format, and will be administered by an examination panel comprised of a minimum of 4 members, all of whom will be gerontology faculty and the majority of whom will be core faculty.  An individual exam will last approximately 90 minutes, with the outcome being recorded as Satisfactory (S), Unsatisfactory (U), or Incomplete.  A student who has not demonstrated proficiency during her/his first attempt at the exam will receive an Incomplete. Remediation to remove the incomplete must occur within 12 months, and may include: (a) written follow-up by the student addressing deficiencies; and/or (b) sitting for a second oral core examination.  Lack of demonstrated proficiency at a second oral examination will be recorded as unsatisfactory. A third examination is not allowed.

Qualifying Examination

Eligibility and Scheduling: A student must take a qualifying examination in order to advance to Ph.D. degree candidacy. This examination will include both a written and an oral component. A student generally becomes eligible to sit for the qualifying examination after successfully completing all program requirements for core and elective course work, and after clearing any and all incomplete course work on record. A student on academic probation may not take the qualifying examination. A student should have made demonstrable progress in developing a dissertation proposal before sitting for the qualifying examination. The oral component of the qualifying examination must be formally scheduled by completing the “Recommendation for Qualifying Examination” form. This form, requiring the Director of Graduate Studies approval, must be submitted no later than two weeks before the scheduled examination.

Content:A student must select, with the assistance and approval of the Advisory Committee, three distinct focus areas that serve as the context for examination items. These areas should correspond to the student's current and anticipated research interests, and will most likely be closely tied to the student's dissertation work. Students should expect to respond to questions regarding concepts, theories, and methods relating to each focus area, and should also be able to place the focus area within the broader field of gerontology.

Preparing for the Examination: Students are encouraged to retain all notes and readings from all courses taken to fulfill requirements of the program. Students should also meet with each committee member and should compose an appropriate list of readings corresponding to one or more of the chosen focus areas. At least one full committee meeting should be scheduled before the qualifying examination to allow effective guidance in both finalizing the dissertation proposal and identifying—and preparing for—the three focus areas.

Format: Examination items for the written component may be composed by any or all members of the student's committee. The student's committee chairperson, or advisor as designee, is responsible for soliciting and collecting possible examination items for each of the three focus areas, and for the final selection of examination items. The chairperson is also responsible for distributing copies of the dissertation proposal, as appropriate and determined by the Advisory Committee, to all committee members prior to commencement of the written component of the examination. Students will have 72 hours to respond in writing to items pertaining to each of the three focus areas (an examination "section"), and all three sections must be completed within a 14-day period. It is up to the student and chairperson to determine the exact scheduling of the sections within this period. It is also up to the student and chairperson to determine when, during the day, the exam sections will be conveyed. If the schedule format presents unusual hardship for a student, then the student may petition for an alternative schedule. In no case shall the alternative schedule extend any individual section period beyond 72 hours. The petition for alternative scheduling should be submitted in writing to the advisor and Director of Graduate Studies no later than two weeks before the beginning of the examination.

Students are expected to follow all standards of academic and professional conduct while completing the qualifying examination. Students are further expected to follow the format specifications for referencing defined by the student’s advisory committee or by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Approximately two weeks following completion of the written examination, students will sit for the oral component of the examination. Students may expect to respond to questions concerning their written examination, completed graduate course work, and, as appropriate, to questions associated with the dissertation proposal. The oral examination is classified as a formal committee meeting for Graduate School purposes; it should be scheduled at a time when classes are normally in session, and must have all advisory committee members in attendance.

Examination Outcomes:The student’s Committee Chairperson should receive from the Director of Graduate Studies the “qualifying examination signature card” prior to the scheduled oral examination date. This card, which is sent to the Director of Graduate Studies from the Graduate School, is required for reporting the outcome of the qualifying examination. This card, with all committee member signatures and recorded examination outcome, must be returned immediately to the Director of Graduate Studies for final approval and signature. There are two possible outcomes of the examination: Pass or Fail. A passing evaluation allows the student to proceed to degree candidacy without stipulation, although in some cases the student’s committee may require additional course work to be taken as part of the post-qualifying residency requirement. If the result is failure, the advisory committee determines the conditions to be met before another examination, to include both written and oral components, may be given. The minimum time between examinations is four months. A second examination must be taken within one year after taking the first examination. A third examination is not permitted. Failure to submit any portion of the written qualifying exam within the allocated time will constitute failure in the qualifying examination. Passing the qualifying examination advances a student to the status of “Doctoral Candidate.” The student will be so notified in writing by the program's Director of Graduate Studies and the Dean of the Graduate School.

Residency Requirement

The purpose of a residency requirement is to encourage contact with the academic community so that doctoral students may become fully involved with colleagues, libraries, laboratories, on-going programs of research and inquiry, and experience the intellectual environment that characterizes a university. Such experience is generally as important as formal class work in the process of intellectual development. While the residency requirements are, by necessity, given in terms of full or part-time enrollment, the intent of the requirements is to ensure that the student becomes fully involved in an essential part of scholarly life.

The university requires at least three years of “residency” for completion of a doctoral degree. Successful completion of all program requirements for core and elective course work is equivalent to two years of this Graduate School requirement. Students fulfill the third year of residency through completion, with a grade of "Satisfactory," of two consecutive full-time semesters (9 credits each) or three consecutive part-time semesters (6 credits each) of GRN 769 after successfully passing the qualifying examination. Students electing the full-time option may substitute a summer term for one of the semesters by enrolling in 3 credits of GRN 769 in the first summer session and 6 credits of GRN 769 in the second summer session. Students electing the part-time option may substitute a summer term for one of the semesters by enrolling in 6 credits of GRN 769 in the second summer session only.

A student who schedules a qualifying examination within the first six weeks of a semester (or three weeks in the second summer session) may enroll for GRN 769 residency credits during that semester.

With the written recommendation of a candidate's advisory committee and with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Dean, specified graduate course work may be taken in lieu of all or part of the residence credit (course 769) requirement. The student need not be physically present on campus while enrolled for credit after the qualifying examination. While there is generally no formal class work attached to these credits, and in some cases the student may not be on the campus, full tuition costs are assessed in that students who are preparing their dissertations are utilizing University resources such as libraries, Computing Center, and major professors' and committee members' time and energy.

A candidate who has fulfilled the above requirements, but who has not yet defended the dissertation, is required to remain continuously enrolled in course GRN 749 or GRN 769 (0 credit hours) each semester until the dissertation is completed and defended.

Exceptions to this normal pattern may be made with the approval of the Dean of the Graduate School upon the written recommendations of the student's advisory committee and the Director of Graduate Studies, which clearly demonstrate that the principle of residence is preserved.

The Dissertation

The culmination of all program requirements is completion of an approved dissertation that is the result of original research and adds to or significantly and innovatively modifies what was previously known on the subject. The Chairperson or Advisor, whose research specialization reflects the candidate’s dissertation interests, serves as the Dissertation Director. Procedures for undertaking and writing the dissertation are outlined in the Graduate School’s Manual for Theses and Dissertations, which is available in printed form or from the Graduate School’s web site.

Proposal: A student must submit for approval to the student’s advisory committee a Dissertation Proposal. The format of the proposal and timing of approval is specific to each student and associated Advisory Committee. Regardless of format or timing of submission, a copy of the proposal approved by the Advisory Committee must be filed with the Director of Graduate Studies. The dissertation proposal should, at a minimum, follow basic content and length specifications of a grant proposal submitted to the National Institutes of Health.

Administrative Preparation for the Defense and Graduation: Students are expected to know and understand the administrative procedures and forms associated with all elements of dissertation completion, degree application, final defense, and graduation as specified by the Graduate School in the Graduate School Bulletin.

Dissertation Format: The content and general organization of the dissertation is left to the discretion of each student, with the approval of the student’s advisor and/or advisory committee. The format of the dissertation should follow guidelines established by the Graduate School and described in the web document governing theses and dissertations . Referencing format should follow American Psychological Association (APA) standards unless otherwise approved by the student’s advisory committee.

Final Examination/Dissertation Defense: Doctoral dissertation defenses shall be conducted in full accordance with Graduate School guidelines. Procedure for the doctoral defense shall include the following three elements:

  1. Candidates will present a public seminar on their dissertation work.
  2. Following this presentation, the candidate and his or her advisory committee shall meet for the purpose of examination of the content and contribution of the dissertation document. At the beginning of this segment of the examination, the candidate and any guests may be asked to briefly step out of the room so that the committee may discuss any concerns with regard to the dissertation and deliberate on appropriate questions to ask the candidate.
  3. At the conclusion of questioning and discussion of the dissertation, the candidate and any guests will be asked to leave the room and the dissertation committee, together with the external examiner, will deliberate with respect to the success of the defense and the nature of needed changes, if any, in the final document. At the conclusion of these deliberations the candidate will be invited to return and will be informed of the outcome of the examination.

Mentors Program:

Elder Mentors: An innovative element of our program is the pairing of new students with elder mentors, who are older volunteers from the Lexington community. The elder mentors offer opportunities for students to see aging through the eyes of the aged. Activities with elder mentors are dominantly focused within the first semester of a student’s residence and are part of the GRN 600 seminar, A Study of the Older Person. Working with mentors, students collect and discuss life course summaries and health histories, watch and critique movies pertaining to issues of aging and being an elder, and conduct life reviews of their mentors. Because of the frequency of meetings, students and mentors often develop strong friendships that continue to endure through at least the student’s residence in the program.

Student Mentors: Admitted students are teamed with a senior “student mentor” who is already a doctoral student in the program. The student mentors help to ease the transition to a new home and learning environment, they assist new students in becoming familiar with such routine tasks as getting ID cards, parking permits, and even enrolling in classes, and they provide valuable guidance based on their own experiences of moving through the first year of doctoral studies.

Faculty Mentors: Entering students identify, or are assigned a “faculty mentor” during the first few weeks of the initial semester. The role of the faculty mentor is to help new students build research skills by providing direct research experience and working with students to identify and conduct background research on possible areas of interest and dissertation topics. Although some initial mentors eventually become formal advisors, it is not uncommon for students to switch faculty mentors several times during the first year.