Ph.D. in Education program handbook

The following document represents the handbook for the current academic year. For an archived version of a previous year’s handbook, please contact your specific program. All forms mentioned in the program handbook can be found at the Graduate Schools forms page.



I. Program Description

Areas of emphasis

The College of Education and Human Development offers a Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) with different areas of emphasis. Areas of emphasis available in the Ph.D. program include the following:

  • Counselor Education and Supervision - This emphasis is an excellent fit for individuals who wish to pursue counselor education faculty positions or leadership roles, excelling in research, writing, teaching, service, securing external funding, assuming professional roles in the counseling field and providing clinical supervision.
  • Curriculum and Instruction - This emphasis area is for students interested in developing expertise in teaching and teacher education, curricular development and implementation, subject specific areas (e.g., English, social studies, science, mathematics, and other areas), and/or issues in pre-K through college education.
  • Educational Leadership – This emphasis area focuses on advanced leadership preparation as it applies to K – 12 or higher education settings. The Ph.D. prepares students for leadership or teaching at the college level or for roles in policy analysis and research.
  • Equity, Diversity and Language Education - This program allows educators and those in related fields to enhance their knowledge, skills, and dispositions to work more effectively with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
  • Human Development and Family Studies - This emphasis area provides students with a strong foundation in developmental, interpersonal, and family theories, in-depth research skills and expertise, and builds in-depth knowledge in a content area chosen by the student in consultation with their advisor. The Ph.D. emphasis in HDFS is designed to prepare students for academic positions in departments of Human Development and Family Science or equivalent advanced positions.
  • Information Technology in Education - This emphasis provides a strong theoretical and practical foundation in dynamic instructional design, and prepares students to learn and integrate contemporary technology in a variety of educational and training settings. Research skills will be developed with a solid publication agenda as well.
  • Literacy Studies - Literacy instruction, development, learning, and assessment are the core areas of this emphasis.
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education- This emphasis area explores the effective teaching of math and science, as well as applications of various technologies in these fields and their impact on society. Students are encouraged to focus on math or science education as a primary area of emphasis within STEM disciplines.
  • Special Education & Disabilities Studies - Study in this area emphasizes issues of disability as they apply to education and human service agencies. Students may focus broadly across disability areas and age ranges, or they may focus more narrowly. Courses are available in the categorical areas of learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, autism, intellectual disabilities and severe multiple disabilities, and early childhood special education. Cross- categorical courses are also offered, as well as special topics courses related to key contemporary issues in special education.

Changing area of emphasis after admission

Any student accepted to the Ph.D. who desires to change the emphasis area after acceptance to the original area is required to submit a letter of request explaining why the change is desired to the doctoral committee. The student will be expected to complete the entire application process for the new doctoral emphasis area. The faculty in the requested emphasis area must review the request and the student's file and indicate, if the student is accepted, their willingness to chair and/or serve on the student's committee as well as make a recommendation to grant the request or not. Subsequently, the College of Education and Human Development Doctoral Committee will review the request and emphasis area input to determine if the request should be approved. Any student requesting such a change is cautioned that additional coursework will likely be needed in that the core content of the new emphasis area must be met. After the College of Education and Human Development Doctoral Committee approves the request to change the emphasis area, the Graduate Director must submit a memo approving the change to the Graduate School.

You are admitted

When admitted to the program, you are assigned an initial, temporary advisor in most emphasis areas. While taking first-year coursework, you should be carefully thinking about choosing a permanent advisor. Choosing an advisor is an important decision, as they will be your guide throughout your Ph.D. program. Although it is possible to change advisors, it is not desirable. It is preferable that you choose one advisor for the entirety of your program. It is important to choose someone with whom you are compatible and someone who works in your area of interest. You might consider the following suggestions when making a choice:

  1. Consider taking a course from or possibly an independent study with a potential advisor to learn about your working style with this individual.
  2. Consider the research being conducted by the potential. Does it interest you?
  3. Consider reading the potential advisor’s publications. Is this person an active researcher? Do they have a strong publication record?
  4. Consider talking with current or former students who have worked with this advisor. How would they describe this advisor’s working style?
  5. Consider the working relationship of the advisor and others you want on your committee. It is important that your committee works well together.

Once you have selected a faculty member to serve as your advisor, make an appointment and ask him or her about serving as your chair. Faculty members are not obligated to accept doctoral advisees. Workload and fit with a student’s intended area of research may influence this decision.

Provisional admission to the doctoral program

If you do not meet the expectations for full admission to the doctoral program, you may be considered for provisional admission. For such consideration, your potential for success in doctoral study must be evident in your application and at least one faculty member must be willing to serve as your initial advisor. If you are granted provisional admission, you must meet the following requirements to attain full admission status:

  • Complete at least 9 credits of course work, prescribed by the student’s committee chair and to include at least one research course.
  • Complete the designated 9 credits within one calendar year.
  • Earn an overall GPA in these courses of 3.5 with no grade lower than a B. (Note: B- is considered to be lower than a B.)

The student’s initial chair will report the student’s performance on the above criteria at the end of the provisional period. Courses completed during provisional status may be applied toward the doctoral degree with approval of the student’s committee.


II. Degree requirements

The Ph.D. program requires a minimum of 72 credits beyond the baccalaureate degree, including a minimum of 12 credits of dissertation, with the exception of Counselor Education and Supervision (which requires 96 credits). A maximum of 24 credits (with grades of B or better) may be applied from a master’s degree per approval of individual courses by your committee chair and subsequently the appropriate University office. These credits must be submitted with your POS on a Transfer of Credit form and approved by your chair and the Graduate School. Credits from a thesis or special project may not be included.

Required research and core courses


III. Transfer credits

These are credits transferred from another institution. Credits completed at the University of Nevada, Reno, in another program or as a graduate special do not need to be transferred. Transfer credit can be requested on the Graduate Credit Transfer Evaluation Request form and must be signed by the student, major advisor and graduate director. Transfer credits applied to a master’s program must comply with the time limitation on master’s work (6 years). Thus, courses five years prior to admission would need to be complete the degree within one year for the course to apply to the degree. Credits from a completed master’s degree will be exempt from the 8-year time limitation for those students pursuing a doctoral degree.


IV. Timeline for degree completion

Degree completion timelines vary based on a number of factors, including the number of credits that a student can transfer, full-time or part-time status, summer classes and so forth. The average time is 3.5-5 years.

The program of study (POS) allows you to plan your program coursework and protects you from changes in requirements during your doctoral experience. After completing approximately 18 graduate credits, meet with your chair (advisor) and complete your program of study. This form is available online at the Graduate School website. Your program of study requires a signature first from your advisor and then from each of your committee members and the Graduate Director of the College of Education and Human Development. Your program of study may change as you work through your coursework. To make changes you will need to complete a Change of Program form to the Graduate School to reflect these changes.

Program of study requirements Required research and core courses


V. Committee selection guidelines

The advisory committee consists of at least five graduate faculty members. Your chair is a member of this committee. The committee is composed of:

  • Two or more members from your emphasis area;
  • One or more faculty from related areas of emphasis; and
  • At least one member of the graduate faculty from outside your major program area who serves as the Graduate School Representative.

Students may request the appointment of a committee member from the faculty of another university. The student and advisor must submit a written request along with the faculty member’s CV to the Graduate School for approval.

Students entering a Ph.D. program with a master’s degree should form the advisory committee during their first or second semester of enrollment.

Changing a committee member

Changing committee members is a process that should be taken seriously. It is expected that the student retain his or her original committee unless a strong, defensible reason to the contrary can be provided. An unacceptable reason, for example, would be that the committee member holds high expectation for a student’s work. If a change is made, the student must gain the signature of the person being removed from the committee.


VI. Comprehensive examination and dissertation

The comprehensive examination includes written and oral components. The exam is completed near the end of coursework (a minimum of 75% of the student’s required coursework must be completed) and must be completed no later than eight calendar months before graduation. Doctoral students do not enroll in coursework for the comprehensive exam.

Written exam

Students work with their chair to prepare for the written comprehensive exam. They develop 2-4 questions that should include one research methodology question and up to three content and/or theory questions. (For doctoral students in counseling, these will focus on CACREP standards.) The student’s committee reviews the proposed comprehensive exam questions, suggests revisions, and approves the final version.

The total length for the comprehensive exam should be about 75-100 double-spaced pages, including references. Students have four months to complete the comprehensive exam from the time their committee approves the proposed questions until the exam is submitted to the committee chair. (Exception: Doctoral students in counseling will write papers on four questions, each of which will be 12 pages long. These students will have one month to complete the exam.)

Students may not receive any help from others, including their committee chair, in preparing the content of or in writing their comprehensive exam. Receiving help with the comprehensive examination is considered academic dishonesty. Any proposed modifications to the procedures above must be approved by the College of Education and Human Development Doctoral Committee and will be considered in exceptional circumstances only.

Oral comprehensive exam

Typically, the student schedules an oral defense of the written exam with the full committee to occur within approximately one month after submitting the exam. The oral portion of the exam is an opportunity for the student to respond to the committee’s questions and for the committee to evaluate the quality of the student’s work.

Possible Outcomes

Potential outcomes for the comprehensive exam are as follows:

  1. Pass both written and oral portion and move on to dissertation.
  2. Revisions required. A question or multiple questions are rewritten by the student within one month and reviewed by the committee.
  3. Not passed. The student does not pass the exam but has one opportunity to retake. If the student does not pass on the second attempt, they may be dismissed from the program (see the Graduate School dismissal policy).

When the comprehensive exam is successfully completed, the “Application for Admission to Candidacy Comprehensive Examination Report” is submitted to the Graduate School.

Role of the advisory committee

The committee reviews your questions, suggests revisions, and approves your written questions. Your chair may elect to invite committee members to submit one or more of the questions. For all students in the College of Education and Human Development doctoral program, one question must be related to research methodology. Although the research question may be adjusted by the committee, the typical cross-college research question is as follows:

There are three main approaches to educational research, qualitative, quantitative, and mixed designs. Within each approach, there are a number of specific designs that can be used depending on the questions being asked, the type of data available, the precision level of the data, and the goal of the outcome. Pick two of the three approaches above and describe how you would answer two different research questions using the approaches. Identify the appropriate design within the approach, the variables of interest if appropriate, and the step-by-step methodology you would use. Note, if you select mixed methods, you must include how you would integrate the two data sets.

The committee reads and evaluates the comprehensive exam. Each question will be evaluated as pass or fail. Each question should show deep understanding of your area and an understanding of research methodology and design. If the student fails to pass a comprehensive examination question, the student will not be allowed to schedule the oral comprehensive exam. The chair and committee will determine the next steps for students who fail one or more written comprehensive exam answers.

Typically, within two weeks of submitting the comprehensive exam to your committee, the student schedules an oral defense. The oral defense is often conducted 2 to 4 weeks after the questions have been submitted to the chair and committee.


The dissertation proposal is a substantial portion of your dissertation (i.e., the first three chapters) that you submit to your committee for suggestions and approval before your study may begin.

Work with your chair to prepare for your proposal defense. The members of your committee should receive a copy of your proposal at least 2 weeks before your oral presentation (called the Proposal Defense).

At your proposal defense, the advisory committee may determine you are ready to begin your study or your proposal needs revisions that will be supervised by your chair.

Sometimes, a student may be required to have a second proposal defense. If you are required to have a second proposal defense, it is expected that you will pass the second time. If you fail this second defense, you will be dismissed from the program.

When your proposal is approved, you will want to complete the application for approval of study from the Research Integrity Office (IRB). Most studies require approval to ensure protection of your participants.

Dissertation preparation

The dissertation is a significant piece of original research, written to standards of refereed publications. Your chair will guide you through conducting your study and writing the final report. No data can be collected without IRB approval. Before defending your dissertation, your chair must run your dissertation through SafeAssign. The Graduate School offers dissertation filing guidelines.

Dissertation defense

All doctoral students are required to provide a dissertation presentation that is open to the university community, referred to as the Dissertation Defense. Although the presentation is open to the university community, the chair and members of the committee determine how questions are handled. The following are options:

  1. The committee can choose to ask the audience to leave following the presentation without an opportunity for the audience to ask any questions.
  2. The audience might be given the opportunity to ask questions and then be asked to leave.
  3. The audience could ask questions, might be present for some questions from the committee members, and then would be asked to leave prior to final committee questions.

The following are important points regarding the defense and related questions:

  • Members of the committee are given the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the dissertation with the student without the presence of an audience.
  • In having dissertation defenses be public, it is important that the process not be minimized in any way.
  • All committee members must have the opportunity to ask questions. Students must be held to high standards and must be able to answer difficult questions without committee members being concerned about how the process might be perceived by an audience.

Students should not provide food or water for the committee during the defense.

At the dissertation defense, the committee may determine that you have earned a pass, passed with revisions supervised by the chair and perhaps committee members, or they require a new defense. The defense is unsuccessful if more than one committee member casts a negative vote.

If there is a second defense, the committee may determine you have a pass, pass with revisions, or that you have not passed.

For the College of Education and Human Development dissertation defense approval form, please see the Graduate School forms.

Dissertation committee and student responsibility


  • Make reasonable amounts of time to meet with student. Ensure you have adequate time to support and mentor a doctoral student.
  • Read all parts of a student’s proposal and dissertation.
  • Provide timely solution-focused help. Provide timely feedback on draft documents (approximately 2 weeks).
  • Set standards for the dissertation process.
  • Provide a clear path for student to be successful.
  • Inspire a student to finish and to flourish as a professional.
  • Make sure the student meets the program, university and professional standards.
  • Treat the student in a professional and collegial manner.
  • Provide opportunities for research, presentations and writing.
  • Approve student's program of study and advise on coursework.
  • Develop a collegial relationship with student and committee members.
  • Hold Graduate Faculty II status.
  • Participate in all committee meetings.
  • Support the student in maintaining his or her committee.

Committee members

  • Provide solution-focused help.
  • Make time for the student.
  • Attend committee meetings.
  • Approve student's program of study.
  • Read student's proposals and dissertation.


  • Make an informed decision about a chair and committee members.
  • Be aware of and responsible for all deadlines and requirements.
  • Meet the deadlines for drafts agreed upon by you and your chair. Submit your best work. Accept feedback in a professional manner.
  • Develop a research question and research plan.
  • Provide paper and/or electronic copies of your proposal and dissertation to committee.
  • Stay motivated.

The committee reads and evaluates the comprehensive exam. Each question will be evaluated as pass or fail. Each question should show deep understanding of your area and an understanding of research methodology and design. If the student fails to pass a comprehensive examination question, the student will not be allowed to schedule the oral comprehensive exam. The chair and committee will determine the next steps for students who fail one or more written comprehensive exam answers.

Typically, within two weeks of submitting the comprehensive exam to your committee, the student schedules an oral defense. The oral defense is often conducted 2 to 4 weeks after the questions have been submitted to the chair and committee.


VII. Mid program review

Graduate faculty members are responsible for guiding doctoral students through the transition from student to productive, independent scholar. While each student’s chair/advisor is primarily responsible for this process, the entire college has a vested interest in the success of each doctoral student. For this reason, the Doctoral Student Mid Program Review serves two goals:

  1. Ensure that doctoral students are making good progress through their programs.
  2. Ensure that doctoral students have opportunities to engage in key professional activities outside of coursework and their dissertations build the skills of productive, independent scholars.

To these ends, doctoral students are required to submit a set of materials to their chair and one other faculty member who is on their committee at the mid-point of their program. This review occurs when students have completed about 15-21 credits of doctoral coursework at the University of Nevada, Reno after their acceptance into the program. 

Scheduling for the mid program review

The student is responsible to request a review at the appropriate time. Failure to complete a mid program review may result in a recommendation that the student not continue in the program.

Students should submit the required materials to their program advisor for approval, allowing time for any needed revisions before meeting with their chair and one additional faculty member.

Reviews must be conducted during a fall or spring semester. Materials may be submitted at any time but at least six weeks before the end of the semester. No reviews are completed during the summer.

Materials for mid program review


Students are required to provide a summary of their progress in the doctoral program. The purpose of the summary is to give the faculty members an understanding of the student’s scholarly and professional development as a mid program doctoral student. The following research requirements must have been completed:

  • One course in research methodology;
  • Certificate of completion of the CITI course; and
  • Copies of 1 or 2 completed research papers

Students should provide evidence of:

  • All research activity completed or in progress;
  • Plans for research; and
  • How these plans connect to the completion of doctoral work.

 Recommended research materials:

  • Participation in developing a data-based research study;
  • Participation in conducting a data-based research study;
  • Submitting one or more conference presentations; and
  • Participating in writing one or more grant proposals.


The following coursework requirements should be met:

  •  A university issued report of all grades and completed coursework;
  • A GPA of 3.0 maintained in the 15 to 30 credits with no grade lower than a B;
  • A program of study;
  • No more than 3 credits taken as satisfactory/unsatisfactory; and
  • A minimum of 9 credits taken in the student’s area of emphasis.

Teaching and service

The following are recommended activities:

  • Teach or present in a community, college, or university class;
  • Serve on one or more service activities for external professional organizations; or
  • Design or participate in professional development.

The review

The review focuses on the student’s progress in research and scholarly activities, coursework, and teaching and service.

Results of the review

  1. Pass – Recommended to continue in the program.
  2. Pass with Conditions – Recommended to continue in the program with conditions to be met. This result will be supported by suggestions for resources and experiences to enhance the doctoral experience.
  3. Unsuccessful – Recommended to be dismissed from the program but will follow all Graduate School dismissal policies. 

Graduate assistantship

  • The College of Education and Human Development has a limited number of graduate assistantships for full-time students admitted to masters or doctoral programs
  • The graduate assistant may teach a course, supervise lower-level students in internships or field experiences, or assist faculty with their teaching and related research.
  • View eligibility and applications on our graduate assistantship web page.
  • All graduate students holding an assistantship (teaching GTA or GRA) are considered Nevada residents for tuition purposes. Non-resident tuition is only waived for the duration of the assistantship. To be eligible for an assistantship, students must be admitted to a degree-granting program and be in good academic standing. The student must have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 and must be continuously enrolled in at least 6 graduate level credits (600-700) throughout the duration of the assistantship. 
  • State-funded assistantships (GTA/GRA) may be held for a maximum of: three (3) years for master’s degree students and five (5) years for doctoral degree students.
  • General information on graduate assistantships.
  • Graduate Assistantship handbook.

IX. Health insurance

All domestic degree-seeking graduate students, who are enrolled in six or more credits (regardless of the course level) in a semester, will be automatically enrolled and billed for the University-sponsored health insurance for each term they are eligible (fall & spring/summer). If a student has other comparable coverage and would like to waive out of the student health insurance, it is the student’s responsibility to complete the University online waiver form prior to the deadline. If approved, a health insurance waiver is good for the current academic year only. A new waiver must be submitted each academic year. All international graduate students are required to carry student health insurance, and the cost will be automatically added to your student account. Any international graduate students with insurance questions must contact the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) directly.

View information on graduate student health insurance.


X. Leave of absence

  • Continuous Enrollment: To maintain “good standing,” all graduate students are required to enroll in a minimum of three (3) graduate credits each fall and spring semester until they graduate. International students may be required to enroll in nine graduate credits each fall and spring semester, depending on the requirements of their visa. All students holding assistantships (whether teaching or research assistantships) are required to enroll in a minimum of six (6) graduate credits each semester they hold the assistantship.
  • Leave of Absence: Students in good standing may request a leave of absence by completing a Leave of Absence form, during which time they are not required to maintain continuous registration. Usually, a leave of absence is approved for one or two semesters. The leave of absence request may be extended by the student filing an additional leave of absence form. Students applying for a leave of absence should not have any “incomplete” grades, which could be changed to “F” and have a detrimental impact on their cumulative GPA. Requests for leave of absences must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the leave is to begin.
  • Reinstatement: When a student has been absent for one semester or more without an approved leave of absence, he or she may request reinstatement via the Reinstatement form. This form allows the program the option to recommend the student be re-admitted to their graduate program based on their previous admission OR require the student to re-apply for admission, which would require students to submit a new application for admission and pay the application fee. The Notice of Reinstatement to Graduate Standing must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the reinstatement is to begin.

XI. Dismissal policy

Please see the Graduate School’s Academic Standing page for current policies.


XII. Graduate Student Association

  • The Graduate Student Association(GSA) represents all graduate students and promotes the welfare and interests of the graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno. The GSA works closely with appropriate university administrative offices, including the Graduate School and Student Services and reports to the President of the University. The GSA government functions through the Council of Representatives, Executive Council and established committees.
  • The GSA offers several events, awards and needs-based services to current graduate students.