Jul 19, 2024  
Academic Catalog 2023-2024 
Academic Catalog 2023-2024

Vision Science, PhD

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This program is offered to top students worldwide interested in scientific research or case study related to clinical practice. It is designed to engage students to explore the broad field of vision science through basic, translational, or clinical research. The curriculum provides fundamental knowledge about all facets of vision and visual performance, including (but not limited to) physiological optics, anatomy and physiology of the human eye, visual perception/cognition, visual neuroscience, eye diseases, public health vision care, sports vision, eye movements, visual search, visual function in learning, and human-computer interaction, as well as other aspects of applied vision. Students will engage in laboratory-based and clinical-relevant research and be exposed to the basic concepts and techniques central to their specialized research topics. The program was created to provide high quality optometric education combined with customized rigorous research training. Overarching program goals are to develop students into highly proficient clinicians and talented researchers who are well prepared for careers in vision science, whether in academia, industry, or leadership in government-supported or non-profit organizations.

Degree completion usually takes three years but may vary depending on whether the student enters with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, or any advanced standing (e.g., an OD degree or a post-ungraduated degree in a vision science related field). The total time allowed to complete the PhD degree requirements is seven years. Students entering PhD without an MS degree should complete the MS requirements within five years and the PhD degree requirements within seven years from the student’s enrollment for graduate study. Students who fail to reach the milestones may be removed from both degree programs.

Degree Requirements


To receive a PhD in Vision Science, students must satisfy the following requirements. Students are encouraged to publish papers and present research at conferences, which is essential for achieving their professional goals.

  • Fulfill course requirements with satisfactory performance: The minimum credit requirements vary based on students’ backgrounds. Additional coursework may be deemed necessary by the VSG Committee and the student’s advisor.
  • Conduct an early research project: This can be satisfied with a committee-approved master’s thesis or a peer-reviewed research publication.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in research skills as evidenced by passing the Laboratory Study course.
  • Pass the written and oral comprehensive knowledge examination in four topical areas of vision science.
  • Pass the Ph.D. Dissertation Proposal Exam. Present the dissertation proposal for the Ph.D. Qualification Exam, obtain approval from the dissertation advisor and the research committee before data collection.
  • Successfully present and defend the Ph.D. Dissertation Project in public, and deposit it to Pacific University Library CommonKnowledge.


Course requirements vary based on students’ backgrounds when matriculating into the program.

  • All students must complete courses from the following seven categories with a minimum of 57 credits.
  • Students without a relevant Master’s degree need to take all PhD courses mentioned above, plus complete the whole Master’s degree curriculum.

The PhD curriculum consists of coureswork in the following six categories.

  1. Research Skills: 9.0 credits
  2. PhD Research Work: 22.0 credits
  3. Vision Science Seminars: 18.0 credits
  4. Clinical Skills: 1.0 credit
  5. PhD Teaching Experiences: 2.0 credits
  6. Electives: 5.0 credits

Total: 57 credits

PhD Research Work: 22 credits

Clinical Skills: 1 credit

PhD Teaching Experiences: 2 credits

Electives: 5 credits

Electives may be chosen from courses offered by the College of Optometry except those listed under Vision Science Core Courses, Colloquium, Thesis Research, VSC 760 Curricular Practical Training, VSC 998, and VSC 999.

Other courses from Pacific University outside of the College of Optometry approved by the Director of the VSG Programs can be counted toward the elective requirements.

Special Courses:

Students who meet the following criteria may take VSC 760 , VSC 998 , and VSC 999  with approval from the program director. Credits earned from these courses are not counted toward the degree requirement.

Additional Requirements

Early Research 

Students must conduct and present a research study before applying for the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam. This requirement can be met by successfully defending a Master’s thesis, submitting a Master’s thesis in a vision-science-related field before entering the program, or submitting a manuscript accepted by or published in a peer-reviewed journal with the student being the first author or the corresponding author. The previous Master’s thesis or peer-reviewed paper must be reviewed and approved by the VSG Committee.

Comprehensive Knowledge Examination 

PhD students must pass the Comprehensive Knowledge Examination (in written and oral forms) to ascertain the breadth of their comprehension of fundamental knowledge in vision science. After completing all Advanced Seminars in VSC 811, 821, 831 (or 833 and 834), and 841, the student may request to take the exam. The VSG Committee appoints the student’s Comprehensive Knowledge Exam Committee, which shall comprise all instructors in the Advanced Seminar courses. The committee is tasked with designing the exam for the student and shall be configured to assure eventual student expertise in the following areas of vision science:

  • Vision and Optics
  • Ocular Anatomy and Physiology
  • Eye Diseases and Public Health
  • Oculomotor Functions and Visual Performance

The Comprehensive Knowledge Examination includes a written exam and an oral exam. The written exam is conducted first, and the oral examination shall be administered within four weeks after the written examination. During the oral examination, the Comprehensive Knowledge Committee will test the student’s knowledge of the topical areas.

Ph.D. Candidacy (Qualification) Examination

In consultation with the student, a research advisor is appointed to replace the academic advisor. The research advisor works with the student and the director of the Graduate Program to form a Doctoral Dissertation Committee to guide the student’s dissertation work. The dissertation committee requires at least four members with expertise related to the student’s dissertation topic, including:

  • The research advisor, who shall serve as the committee chairperson;
  • Three or more committee readers;
  • At least two of the committee members (including the advisor) should be be members of the College of Optometry faculty;
  • At least one external committee member who is not a member of the College of Optometry faculty will serve as a referee to evaluate the dissertation defense process. If a non-optometry faculty member cannot serve on the dissertation committee, a College of Optometry faculty will be substituted.

If changes in the approved advisor or committee become necessary, the student must submit a written request and obtain approval from the VSG Committee before the change occurs.

At least one semester after passing the Comprehensive Knowledge Exam, a student may submit a dissertation research proposal for the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination to the student’s dissertation committee. The proposal should be formatted as for grant application (e.g., NIH grant proposal) and include the following (or equivalent) elements:

  • Specific aims: Describe the main research questions, and the hypotheses, and outline experiments to test them.
  • Background and significance: Include a focused literature review on the topics and rationale for the importance of the research.
  • Preliminary studies or progress report: Describe the relevant preparation or research the student has done toward completing their dissertation.
  • Research design or methods: Describe the planned research.

Once passing the Qualification Examination, the student is advanced to PhD Candidacy and may begin his or her doctoral dissertation research as approved by the dissertation committee.

Dissertation Writing, Defense, & Deposit

The final examination for the degree is a defense of the research in front of the dissertation committee and the public and its write-up report. The PhD candidate must present the results of an original research study and give evidence of excellent scholarship and proficiency in critically relevant research techniques.

When applying for dissertation defense, a PhD candidate must indicate how the research proficiency of their research topics has been fulfilled. This can be shown as completion of VSC 862  with a satisfactory grade and, when applicable, mastery of other relevant research skills (e.g., computer programming skills, advanced statistical methods, neuroimaging techniques, etc.). The candidate’s dissertation committee will evaluate the candidate’s research proficiency as part of the dissertation defense.

After successfully passing the dissertation defense, the student must deliver to the director of the graduate program and the university library an electronic file of the dissertation approved by the student’s Dissertation Committee, along with a scanned signature page signed by the Committee members before the degree is conferred.

Program Details

Program Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the PhD in Vision Science program’s degree requirements, students will have the following skills: 

  1. Mastery of Knowledge: Graduates will demonstrate fundamental knowledge in a broad range of topics in vision science as well as advanced expertise in specific scientific and clinical domains, understand the mechanisms and interactions between the visual, environmental, and etiological factors of chosen visual conditions, and be able to articulate, synthesize, and apply the learned concepts and skills to establish clearly defined lines of empirical research inquiries.
  2. Critical Thinking: Graduates will demonstrate the ability to assess theoretical hypotheses, empirical evidence, and statistical outcomes by evaluating the underlying philosophy, evidence, and biases in their scientific and clinical applications, form well-reasoned perspectives and scientific theories, and apply evidence-based medicine principles at scientific discovery and clinical innovation. 
  3. Mastery of Research Skills: Graduates will demonstrate the ability to apply theories and knowledge to identify the research question, master the analytical and methodological skills to conduct research activities, and use clinical and laboratory equipment to collect, analyze, and interpret the data. Graduates will also demonstrate written and oral communication skills sufficient to publish in peer-reviewed journals, present and lead scientific discussions at a conference, and propose well-rounded research to attract research grants.
  4. Competency in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion:  Graduates will demonstrate the ability to promote personal and social participation in effective citizenship, demonstrate leadership in encouraging new and diverse perspectives based on differences in areas such as cultural and socioeconomic background, design or improve an environment to recognize and mitigate one’s own biases, and implement inclusive values in both research inquiries and organizational missions. Graduates can apply their competency in healthcare and research contexts with diverse populations.
  5. Leadership: Graduates will establish personal and scholarly goals in advancing scientific and clinical inquiries for the well-being of broad society and community eyecare, demonstrate a mastery of skills and knowledge at a level required for higher education teaching in their fields and mentoring students in their learning and career development, and participate in professional organizations to further these goals.


Program Admission Information

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