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What is Gerontology?

Gerontology is the study of all aspects of growing old. Our program involves an integrated and holistic perspective on this phenomenon that is encapsulated in the following programmatic statement. Each person traces a life path from birth to death. As the person’s life unfolds, the nature of his or her life path may be understood as a function of complex interactions between inherent processes of aging and the environmental circumstances of the individual’s life. Inherent processes of aging involve physiological changes, some of which are a function of genetics and are largely immutable (subject to the potential and constraints of recent advances in genetic engineering), and some of which can be influenced by behavior and lifestyle. The circumstances of an individual’s life involve many overlapping environmental factors, including, but not limited to location, life history, economic status, social context, gender and culture. During old age each person’s life path, while subject to normative physiological changes over which he or she can exert only limited control, is molded by individual choices and shaped by life circumstances. Although the eventual outcome is always death, some people experience a lengthy old age in good health in a nurturing environment, while others experience a much briefer period of old age characterized by ill health and environmental conditions that hasten death. There are a multitude of possible life paths in old age. Gerontology is concerned with understanding the characteristics and determinants of individual life paths and their consequences in old age. It involves all of the disciplines that impinge on this process, but necessitates their integration in a manner that transcends them all in developing a comprehensive perspective on the phenomenon of growing old.

What are the career opportunities for a person with a Ph.D. in Gerontology?

Most people who complete a Ph.D. in Gerontology proceed to post-doctoral and faculty positions in public and private universities, research positions in the expanding field of health and health services in the private sector, or to senior positions in government and health services administration.

What if I don't have a background in Gerontology?

Most of our students do not have degrees, or even certificates, in gerontology before entering the program. It would probably be fair to say, however, that nearly all have had formal coursework that either focused solely on some element of gerontology or had a strong aging component. It is from such coursework, or from assisting on faculty research projects involving gerontology, that students develop their scholarly interests and then decide to pursue doctoral studies.

How long does it take to complete the program?

Assuming full-time status (i.e., a minimum of 9 credits hours per semester), all required coursework can be completed after two years, and the qualifying examination is commonly completed during the third year. The length of time necessary to complete the dissertation will vary among students; it may take as little as one year or as many as five years after the qualifying examination. So, the total time to degree after entry to the program may be as short as 3½ years or as long as eight years. We encourage a timeline of 4 to 5 years.

Is your program or any of its courses offered online or through distance learning?

The strong interdisciplinary focus of our program with its emphasis on direct interpersonal face-to-face dialogue (both formal and informal) among program participants is not conducive to an online format. We feel that education at the doctoral level entails full ongoing participation in a collegial environment where mentorship and the exchange of ideas are proximate and immediate. Direct interaction among students and high levels of collaborative work with faculty members in both laboratory and field situations are key features of the program. Consequently, our program currently has no online options.

Is your program accredited?

The purpose of accreditation is to ensure nationally comparable levels of quality and content in professional training programs. The Ph.D. is not a professional degree that requires accreditation, rather it is a research-based degree that allows degree holders to enter any number of professional and academic careers. There is currently no accreditation criteria for Gerontology, but our program is the only doctoral level program to have been awarded “Program of Merit” status by the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education.