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Science Education
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Science Education

Degree Information > Science Education, PhD

Science Education, PhD

Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Science Education

Ph.D. Degree (SCSD)

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Brief Program Description

Welcome to the doctoral degrees in Science Education. The Ph.D. degree requires a minimum of 75 points. The main emphasis of our doctoral programs in science education is to prepare students to obtain leadership positions in science education as teachers, supervisors, teacher educators, and faculty members in colleges and universities. A major part of preparing our students for these roles is enabling them to engage in a broad range of experiences that will provide a balanced, extensive, and personalized form of professional development. In particular, we are concerned that students develop expertise in key domains which make up the knowledge base in science education, including deep and conceptual understandings of the disciplines of science, thoughtful exploration of the core science education areas of study (including history of science education, sociocultural issues, curriculum and pedagogy, teacher education, and equity and policy), and proficiencies in the professional education areas of study (e.g., psychology, sociological and cultural studies, history and philosophy), educational research, and technology.

Over the past fifty years, science education has developed into a rich field with a particular history and a set of specialized subdivisions. Fundamental developments in the philosophy of science, the psychology of learning, sociological understandings, and in research methodologies have led to the development of several productive domains, as documented by the Handbook of Research on Science Teaching and Learning (Gabel, 1994) and the Handbook of Research on Science Education (Abell and Lederman, Ed., 2007). We aim to support our students in developing robust understandings of science content knowledge, contemporary educational scholarship and research, and the demands of educational settings and policies. Teachers College offers a unique setting for the construction of productive, comprehensive knowledge in the diverse field of science education, thus playing a vital role in the preparation of local, national, and international science educators.

As you progress in your research for the doctoral degree, we encourage you to think earnestly about publishing your work in recognized journals in our field. Your faculty advisor will provide helpful advice and assistance in guiding you toward a suitable plan to meet the goal of completing a thesis while also doing so in a way that permits you to gain as early a publication of your results as feasible. Publishing your work is an asset to the profession and also a clear professional asset to you. Our very best wishes for much success in research and publishing your scholarly work.

Getting Started
There are some typical questions that our new students ask about the doctoral degree programs. We provide some guidance by addressing some of the topics that often are addressed for your convenience, and we also include a list of faculty members who can assist you with specific questions and issues that may arise.

To be admitted to the program, students will be required to have a bachelors degree in one of the science or its equivalent. The admission of a Ph.D. student to candidacy involves two stages. The first stage results in admission to the program of studies leading toward certification for the Ph.D. degree. The second stage is “fully certified” which represents full candidacy for the degree. In normal progress a student should aspire to achieve certification in the term in which about 65% of the course work has been completed. (See the description of the Certification Exam below).

Transfer Credits
By College policy, as much as 30 points of approved graduate transfer credit can be applied to the Ph.D. degree. If you have taken graduate courses previously at Teachers College additional points of applicable TC credit can be applied to the Ph.D. degree. Application for transfer credit evaluation is made through the Office of Admissions. Prior TC graduate credit can be applied to the degree with approval of your advisor.

The following website contains general information on policies and procedures: .

Time Commitment
Students, on average, can complete their course work and take their certification examinations in three years (at a rate of four or five courses a year), but this pace will vary. Some students may take longer because teaching full-time while enrolled in the doctoral program. Others will take longer because they devote a larger share of their energies to an ongoing research project. The dissertation ordinarily adds another two years, but this part of the program is even more variable because of wide-ranging differences in the kind of data-gathering activity that is required and the amount of time available for analysis and writing that they choose to do. Thus, students can complete all requirements and receive a Ph.D. in five years, although it is acceptable to take longer.

Opportunities Offered Beyond Formal Coursework
Teaching: We offer opportunities for our advanced graduate students to participate as instructors in the department's science education courses. Depending on the student's interests and areas of expertise, this may involve teaching in a variety of settings, including content and curriculum courses and introductory methods courses. Through this experience, doctoral students have the opportunity to teach his or her own courses, while working closely with faculty and other students involved in exploring and strengthening their own teaching. In addition, some of these courses may allow doctoral students to engage in different kinds of field-based instruction, such as working with prospective teachers in their student teaching experiences or working with practicing teaching in our school-university partnerships.

Research: Students will spend a substantial amount of time engaged in one or more research projects. Research work is supported by advisors, research seminars, and a depth and breadth of research expertise found across the College. In the course of their graduate careers at Teachers College, students may work on one particular project from start to finish or on several projects focusing on different kinds of questions and approaches. In the process they can become involved in the full range of research activities -- including conceptualizing a research problem, formulating and testing a research plan, gathering data, analyzing data, writing research reports, presenting results at conferences, and publishing articles in academic journals. As assistantships, these research activities do more than provide students with financial support. They constitute a central part of the doctoral experience in the department -- providing students with a unique opportunity for gaining hands-on experience in all aspects of the research endeavor.

Faculty Advisors for the Doctoral Degrees
The faculty who advise students in the doctoral program are listed alphabetically including their area of expertise.

O. Roger Anderson: Biology content and curriculum research including the application of cognitive theory to science teaching and learning. Prof. Anderson also holds a joint appointment at Columbia University as a Senior Research Scientist (Biology). E-mail:

Chris Emdin: Physical Science and chemistry content and research on urban science education with a focus on the dynamics of the social, scientific, and group processes that enhance science teaching and learning. E-mail:

Felicia Mensah: Biology content, elementary science teaching, and the application of social constructivist theory and cognate theories to urban science education and enhancement of science teacher education. E-mail:

Ann Rivet: Earth and physical science content, with an emphasis on the application of cognitive science and learning theory to curriculum development and implementation in urban schools. E-mail:

Requirements for the Degree
Please consult the general requirements for the Ph.D. degree. (URL:

The Ph.D. requires 75 points (see Appendix I: “Advising Checklist and Course Guidelines”). All doctoral degrees require a scholarly culminating project for the thesis, but the Ph.D. degree is typically more theoretically based. Theses are expected to have a sound theoretical model or conceptual rationale and be guided by a thorough analysis of existing literature in the field. See the attached Guide Sheets for the Ph.D. degree for specific course requirements.

Please note that we strongly urge all entering doctoral students to enroll in MSTC 6502: Science Education Research Seminar the first autumn semester after admission, and to enroll in MSTC 6000: Quantitative Methods in Science Education Research in the autumn term of the second year after admission.Other courses can be planned in consultation with your advisor.

General Organization of Doctoral Degree Requirements
The doctoral programs in science education at Teachers College Columbia University focus on five key areas of study: 

  1. The Discipline of Science
  3. Science Education Core Areas of Study
  5. General Professional Core Areas of Study
  7. Research
  9. Technology

In addition to these five key areas of study, students will also be required to study courses in their own area of interest (electives) as well as to enroll in dissertation study. In this program, students are granted a higher number of elective courses to develop advanced applied research expertise in cognate areas.

Core Courses and Breadth Requirement
In addition to courses in science content and science education, all Ph.D. students are required to take courses in the area of “Core Professional Concerns” (see Section 4 of Appendix I), to establish breadth in professional education theory and practice beyond the specialization in science. Courses that are intended to fulfill this requirement are presented in Appendix II.

Obligations That You Have to Complete the Degree
All doctoral students are expected to keep in close communication with their faculty advisor(s) and to consult the website for the Office of Doctoral Studies to ensure that they are fulfilling the requirements that the College has established for the degree.

(URL: It is advisable to seek advice from your faculty advisor during the course of the academic year rather than waiting until registration. Please carefully consult the guidelines for the doctoral degree.

Statement on Satisfactory Progress and Academic Performance
Students are expected to make satisfactory progress toward the completion of degree requirements. Program faculty will annually review each student’s progress. Where there are concerns about satisfactory progress, students will be informed by the program faculty. If a student is performing below expectations he/she may be required to complete additional course work. The program will provide a plan and timeline for remediation so students know the expectation for them to continue in the program. If satisfactory progress is not maintained a student may be dismissed from the program. For additional information about Academic Performance, please refer to Degree Requirements in the TC Catalog.

An average grade of B or better is expected for satisfactory completion of the degree. According to College policy, no more than 3 points of C- may be credited toward any degree or diploma. Students completing requirements for more than one degree or diploma may count 3 points of C- toward only one such award. A student who accumulates 8 points or more in C- or lower grades will not be permitted to continue study at the College and will not be awarded a degree or diploma. Please see the statement on policy of grades at Teachers College. (URL:

The Certification Examination is a major decision point in your progress toward the degree. You must satisfactorily pass the Certification Examination to be a candidate for the doctoral degree. The examination is a written examination in a take-home format, followed by an oral examination on your response to the second question in the examination packet. There are two questions. The first addresses general theory in science education. The second is specifically tailored to your proposed area of research interest in science education. The time of the examination is set by the Office of Doctoral Studies. Please be certain to submit your application for the examination in advance of the semester when you plan to take the exam. The deadlines are posted on the Office of Doctoral Studies website. If you are not successful on the first sitting of the examination, it is possible to be permitted to revise and resubmit the examination if there is promise that you have potential to succeed.

Certification Exams
Once students have completed 65% - 75% of their coursework, they are required to pass a certification exam in order to demonstrate proficiency in their chosen areas of study. This generally takes place in the student’s third year of full time study. The certification exam includes (a) one take home exam that focuses on a key area of study within science education, and (b) one take home exam that focuses on the student’s intended area of dissertation study. Students will have two weeks to complete both take home exams. Students may use whatever books and notes they feel appropriate for this portion of the exam. The certification examination is offered typically each semester and once in the summer. All students who apply for a particular offering of the exam must take the exam in the prescribed time frame. Finally, students will have an oral component to the exam one week after they submit their written exams. The focus of this oral exam will be the two written exams. This final phase of the certification exam serves to evaluate and forward the student’s progress pertaining to dissertation research.

Total Program Statement
All doctoral candidates must have a written plan, approved by their advisor prior to the beginning of the residence period. The approved plan should then be forwarded to the Office of Doctoral Studies. During the residence the student will normally be completing their doctoral coursework or be engaged in doctoral research and writing. Refer to the information on the URL for theOffice of Doctoral Studies at the TC website for a more complete description.

Dissertation Guidelines and Committee
The student is guided and supervised in the planning and preparation of the dissertation by a committee of three or more faculty members, or two committee members and one consultant, one of the faculty members serves as the sponsor. For the Ph.D. degree, the sponsor must be a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) approved Ph.D. thesis sponsor. However, a non-GSAS professor may guide the thesis study if it is within her/his expertise as long as a GSAS approved professor serves officially as the sponsor.

Final Steps in Completion of the Thesis and Granting of the Degree: Preparing for Thesis Research and Timelines for Submission of Thesis Documents
A thesis proposal must be approved by the thesis committee before research begins. It is wise to begin thinking early in your doctoral program about the general area of research interest for your thesis, and to consult regularly with your advisor in developing your knowledge of the literature and research competencies to complete the degree. The thesis proposal must be presented formally to your committee at a proposal hearing and approved by the committee. As you progress through the thesis research and preparation of the thesis document, remain in close communication with your thesis sponsor and committee.

Certain deadlines must be kept in mind toward completion of the thesis and planning for the defense after your thesis committee has approved the draft documents.

The doctoral dissertation is the culminating step in your progress toward award of a doctoral degree. It is a substantial document and must be of the highest quality. Due to the extensive time required to review and suggest refinements in your thesis document and the several subsequent steps that must be completed before the thesis is approved for defense, we are establishing some guidelines as follows:

  1. Anyone who intends to graduate in May of an academic year must submit a completed draft of her/his thesis to the Science Program thesis committee (sponsor and readers on your committee) no later than January 31st in the spring term of the academic year that the candidate expects to graduate. The committee will advise you if it is sufficiently well developed to proceed toward a defense in the spring semester. Likewise, a Candidate who plans to defend a thesis in the autumn semester of the academic year must submit a complete draft of the thesis to the sponsor no later than the end of September of that autumn semester. Please also consult the additional requirements published by the Office of Doctoral Studies.
  2. For the Ph.D. degree, we must hold an advanced seminar hearing where the thesis is vetted by your thesis committee and sometimes other appointed faculty who may be on the final defense. The advanced seminar must be scheduled no later than 1 month before the anticipated date of the defense of the Ph.D. thesis. This is necessary to allow time for adequate revisions as may be needed and to permit the outside readers sufficient time to examine the thesis.
  3. Anyone who cannot make the above deadlines may defend the thesis in the summer term of that year, assuming the Office of Doctoral Studies approves the application and if the faculties who must sit on the defense hearing are available, or during the autumn or spring term of the next academic year. In these cases, the degree will be awarded at the next scheduled date for award of degrees. You can be hooded at the next graduation ceremony in May.

We trust that you will understand the necessity of abiding by these rules so we can ensure uniform quality of your theses. To be equitable, we cannot make an exception to the rules, especially rule 1.

Please be assured that we are eager to help you move along in your doctoral studies, but we cannot do it effectively if we do not have sufficient time to adequately attend to the responsibilities that we must fulfill as members of the faculty.

Standard Policies and Practices of the College
Services for Students with Disabilities: The College will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students are encouraged to contact the Office of Access and Services for Individuals with Disabilities for information about registration (166 Thorndike Hall).  Services are available only to students who are registered and submit appropriate documentation.

Statement on Academic Conduct:A Teachers College student is expected to refrain from any conduct, including cheating, plagiarizing, or purchasing documents submitted for academic evaluation, that calls into question his/her academic and/or professional probity. Decisions regarding academic evaluation in all aspects of students’ work at the college, including course work, certification examinations, clinical or field experiences, and preparation of dissertations, are within the sole jurisdiction of the faculty concerned, including as appropriate, the department or program staff members. Disciplinary actions (e.g., reprimand, suspension, or dismissal) in cases of academic misconduct can be imposed by the Vice Provost or the Committee on Student Conduct.

Resolution of Student Academic Program Concerns: Any student who has a concern regarding an academic matter may seek assistance. The procedure for resolving academic program concerns (see note of grade correction process below) begins with either the faculty member (if the concern is related to a course) or the student’s advisor. If the student is not satisfied with the response or resolution achieved at this first level, or if speaking with the faculty member presents a conflict of interest for the student, the student should proceed to speak with the Program Coordinator in the area in which the academic concern resides. If the student is not satisfied with the response or resolution achieved through the Program Coordinator, the student should proceed to speak with the Chair of the academic department in which the academic concern resides. If the student is still not satisfied with the response or resolution achieved through the Department Chair, or if speaking with the Department Chair presents a conflict of interest for the student, the next step is to contact the Office of the Vice Provost. At any stage of the process, students are welcome to seek the advice and guidance of the Ombudsman, who is charged with attempting to informally resolve student dissatisfaction of an academic nature on a completely confidential basis.

Grade Correction Procedure: The instructor for a course has the responsibility for setting the requirements for a course and making an evaluation of students’ work. Once a grade has been given, the instructor is not free to change the grade unless the instructor indicates to the Registrar that an error was made in the original grade transmitted. If a student believes that an error has been made, he/she must take the initiative in bringing about the necessary correction prior to the conclusion of the semester immediately following the semester in which the course was taken. The normal procedure for effecting a correction would be through direct discussion between the student and the instructor. If redress cannot be attained through such discussions, the student may next appeal to the department chairperson of the department offering the course. If resolution cannot be attained through appeal, the student may next appeal to the Dean. In situations where the student feels that such an appeal process might not be in the student’s interest, counsel and assistance can be sought from the Office of the College Ombudsman and the Office of the Vice Provost.

Keeping in Communication after Graduation
We are eager to remain in communication with our graduates upon completion of their degrees. Our graduates enter the educating professions at many different levels and at institutions around the world. Our Alumni Office will remain in communication with you at the College level, but we also would like to keep you informed about events and accomplishments of our students, graduates, and faculty of the Department by informal and formal means. Informally, we do hope that you will make an opportunity from time-to-time to keep us informed of your current address and any of your professional and academic activities and achievements by sending an e-mail message or other forms of communication to our Director of Administration and/or the faculty. Formally, we will be pleased to send you the Newsletter published by the Department that contains newsworthy information about the College, our Department and our alumni. From time-to-time we also have events specifically for our alumni and we would be most pleased if you were able to attend. Please consult the website for the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology for up-to-date information. (URL:

Appendix I

Advising Checklist and Course Guidelines

Ph.D. Degree in Science Education (SCSD)







Date of enrollment:








Science Content Area:





Course Requirements


Disciplinary Courses

(15 points)

Science Education Courses

(15 points)

Specialization Electives

(12 points)


(3 points)

Core Professional Concerns

(12 points)

Research Methodologies

(12 points)

Electives [non-specialization]

(0-3 points)

Dissertation Study

(6+ points)

Total: 75 minimal or additional points


A maximum of 30 graduate level credits may be transferred to meet the degree requirements in the following areas: disciplinary courses, technology, core professional concerns, research methodologies, and electives.


1. Disciplinary Courses (15 points)



Term Completed

[PCK course1]



MSTC 5041: Nature and Practice of Science















1At the advisor’s discretion.

2. Science Education Courses2 (15 points)



Term Completed

MSTC 6502: Science Education Seminar (First semester)



MSTC 5048: Curriculum & Pedagogy in Science Education



MSTC 4007: Urban and Multicultural Education



MSTC 5047: Science Teacher Education (optional)









2Six (6) additional points may be used as a specialization.

3. Specialization Electives3 (12 points)



Term Completed

Advisor’s Approval





















3Six (6) points may be used as a specialization or research interest. All elective courses must be approved by your advisor.


4. Core Professional Concerns for Breadth (12 points) [See Appendix II]



Term Completed

[Broad and Basic Foundations of Education (List 1)]:





[Broad and Basic Foundations of Education (List 2)]:





[Selected to develop depth in cognate field of education]:





[Selected to develop depth in cognate field of education]:






5. Research Methodologies (12 points)



Term Completed

MSTC 4001.01: Introduction to Qualitative Research in Science4





[Qualitative Research]:





[Introduction to Quantitative Research in Science5]:





[Basic statistics, advanced statistics, specialized research methods] HUDK or HUDM





4Qualitative research methods in science education course is taken after completion of first year in the program.


6. Technology (3 points)



Term Completed










7. General Electives (0-3 points)



Term Completed

Advisor’s Approval












8. Dissertation Advisement (6+ points)



Term Completed

MSTC 7501: Dissertation Seminar in Science Education



MSTC 8901: Dissertation Advising











Requirements for Certification Exam:

1. Completion of 55-65 points

2. Completion of five Science Education Courses

3. Approval of thesis advisor

4. Selection of second reader


Students cannot complete more than 75 points without passing the certification exam. The certification examination has two major parts: Written and Oral.


Certification Exam Date:




Pass of Written Date:




Pass of Oral Date:




Advisor’s Approval:






Appendix II

Breadth Requirement Courses

List 1 and List 2 for the SCSD Doctoral Degree


List 1: Foundations/philosophy/history/policy/culture

A&HH 4070 History of education in the United States

A&HH 4076 History of urban education

A&HH 5076 History of African American education

A&HF 4061 Introduction to cultural studies

A&HF 4090 Philosophies of education

A&HF 4094 School and society

A&HF 4190 American philosophies of education

A&HF 4194 Dialogue and difference in the multicultural classroom

A&HF 4060 Youth cultures

A&HF 5190 Critical perspectives on philosophy and education

A&HR 5075 Knowledge and human values

A&HW 5530 History of American social thought

C&T 4004 School change

C&T 4002 Curriculum theory and history

C&T 4005 Principles of teaching and learning

C&T 4032 Gender, difference and curriculum

C&T 4161 The teacher: Socio-historical, cultural contexts of teaching

C&T 5074 Curriculum and teaching policy

HUDF 4000 Education and public policy

ITSF 4010 Cultural and social bases of education

ITSF 4011 Social context of education

ITSF 4012 Cross-cultural studies of learning

ITSF 4014 Urban situations and education

ITSF 4075 Cross-cultural communication and classroom ecology

ITSF 4051 Education and economic development

ITSF 4057 Economics of urban and minority education

MSTU 4005 Equity, ethical, and social issues in educational technology

ORLF 4040 American politics and education

ORLF 4043 Political thought and education

ORLF 5042 Urban politics and education

ORLF 5044 Modern political theory and education


List+ 2: Sociology/psychology/cognition

A&HF 5093 Ways of knowing

BBS 4032 Neuroscience of human speech

HUDK 4015 Psychology of thinking

HUDK 4029 Human cognition and learning

HUDK 4080 Educational psychology

HUDK 4820 Education for thinking: Goals and methods for middle school

HUDK 5023 Cognitive development

HUDK 5125 Cross-cultural developmental psychology

HUDF 4021 Sociology of education

HUDF 4022 Sociology of urban education

HUDF 4027 Sociology of classrooms

HUDF 4029 Sociology of schools

HUDF 5022 Sociological analysis of educational systems

MSTU 4133-4134 Cognition and computers

MSTU 5035 Technology and metacognition

ORLJ 4005 Organizational psychology