Graduate Program in Vision Science (MS, PhD)

Degree Requirements

Non-thesis Master of Science Degree

Because Vision Science is a multidisciplinary field, students must demonstrate breadth of knowledge in vision science.

Each semester, students are required to register for and participate in the weekly vision science seminar (V765) known as “Oxyopia" and the accompanying discussion period. Participation implies that the seminar will be taken for credit.

Admission Requirements

The typical candidate for this program would be a practitioner who has an undergraduate degree in optometry or its equivalent and licensed or license eligible to practice optometry in their home country. GRE results will be optional. All non-native English speakers entering the program must have taken the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) within the last 5 years. Non-typical candidates can also be considered for admission. However, they should first correspond with the Associate Dean of Graduate Programs before applying.


A total of 40 credit hours are required. Most of the courses will be based on the didactic courses in the School of Optometry’s Doctorate of Optometry curriculum. Core courses will provide a breadth of background and also provide training in teaching methods, epidemiology, research design and writing and will be required to attend weekly research seminars. These core courses will add up to 15 credit hours. Electives totaling 25 credit hours will concentrate on one or two specialty areas in Optometry. Prior to registration for courses in the first semester the student will meet with the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs or with Program Director to identify specialty areas, and to obtain advice on electives.

Thesis-based Master of Science Degree
Course Requirements

A total of 30 credit hours is required, of which 15 credit hours must be didactic hours in vision science or approved substitutes. Students holding the O.D. degree or concurrently enrolled in the O.D. and MS program, may accelerate progress by receiving up to 4 graduate credit hours completed in the optometry curriculum. Students must complete courses that satisfy a knowledge base in statistics, research design and vision science.

Students must enroll in, and participate in, the weekly Vision Science Seminar (V765) known as “Oxyopia” and the accompanying discussion period. Participation implies that the seminar will be taken for credit. For semesters with conflicts with their clinical duties and/or rotations, a student may petition to be released from this requirement. Students in research programs (thesis-based MS and Ph.D.) are expected to be able to make presentations on their research. Students in the thesis-based MS program must make one such presentation prior to graduation.

Research Requirements

Early in the program, students participate in a research project under the direction of a faculty advisor. The advisor is chosen by the student after consultation with the director of the graduate program and with the approval of the faculty advisor. Research toward the thesis is guided by the advisor and a committee. After completion of the thesis, at least three members of the graduate faculty give it final approval.

Doctor of Philosophy Degree
Course Requirements

A total of 90 credit hours is required, of which 30 must come from didactic courses with grades of C or higher. Students holding the O.D. degree or enrolled in the O.D. program, may apply up to 6 credit hours to this requirement of 30 didactic credit hours. When the grade point average of a student falls below 3.0, the student will be placed on academic probation and to remain in the program, must show substantial progress in the following semester. 

Each semester, students are required to register for and participate in the weekly Vision Science Seminar (V 765) known as “Oxyopia.” and the accompanying discussion period. Participation implies that the seminar will be taken for credit. Students in research programs (thesis based MS and Ph.D.) are expected to be able to make presentations on their research. For MS students, one such presentation prior to graduation is required. For Ph.D. students, a yearly presentation in all years other than their first and final year is expected, with exceptions requiring specific approval of the course director and the Associate Dean of Graduate Programs. 

During the first year, students will be required to take a two course sequence, either Geometric and Visual Optics (V521) or Systems Approach to Biomedical Science (V542). During the second semester, students will take Vision Science 1 (V560) and either V523 or V543 as well as a special topic seminar (V768) or a course fulfilling part of their minor requirements. Students believing they have met these requirements may apply to the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs with an alternative program.

Minor Requirements

Students will select at least one minor subject in any relevant field of study, subject to approval by their advisory committee.

The requirements for the minor are determined by the department or program offering the minor. A specialized inter-departmental minor is also possible, if approved by the University Graduate School. Didactic credits applied to the minor can also be counted towards the 30 hour didactic requirement for the program.

Vision Science Ph.D. Degree Requirements

To successfully obtain a Ph.D. a student must successfully pass three major milestones. The first is the qualifying exam, typically taken at the end of the second year in the program. The test qualifies the student to perform research. The second step is advancement to candidacy, which requires meeting all major course requirements, including studies in a minor area, and evaluation of a written dissertation proposal. The final stage is to complete and defend the Ph.D. dissertation.

Advisory, Testing and Research Committees

Students must identify a major advisor and have an advisor by the end of their first year. Students must form an advisory committee be the end of their first year; later in their course of study, students must form a research (dissertation) committee once the research topic for the dissertation is identified and at least by the time of the defense of the dissertation proposal. With the formation of the research committee, the advisory committee is dissolved. The student’s advisory committee is chaired by a faculty member identified by the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs. The research committee is chaired by the student’s dissertation advisor. The advisory or research committee shall consult with the student, at least once per year, to help determine the student’s course of graduate study, develop a research program, approve the student’s course selections, and review the student’s progress in all areas (for example, but not limited to: completion of required courses, course grades, adequacy of teaching, and research progress). Following each yearly meeting, a written report of the meeting must be filed with the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs. The student’s committee will determine whether or not the student is making adequate progress in all areas. Should the advisory (or research) committee determine that a student is not making adequate progress in any area, this may be grounds for eliminating a student’s department funding, probation, or dismissal from the program. The testing committee is formed solely for the purpose of developing and administering the qualifying examination for a student and to evaluate the students’ performance on that examination.

Composition of the Testing Committee

At the first graduate faculty meeting of each academic year students eligible for the qualifying exams in the upcoming year will be identified, and a testing committee will be assigned by the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs. Typically, several members of the student’s advisory committee will serve as members of the testing committee, although any graduate faculty member is expected to participate if requested as part of the teaching expectations within the graduate program. One member of the testing committee will be identified as chair of the testing committee. The testing committee will not include the student’s chosen mentor.

The chair of the testing committee will contact the student, let them know the committee members, and establish a time window for the exam to be taken. The chair of each exam committee is responsible for setting the date of the examination(s) and communicating with the student. The chair of the testing committee can invite a faculty member from another department (i.e., minor department) if they deem appropriate. The chair of the committee will discuss the student’s plans for study and needs with the intended dissertation supervisor and the student prior to working with the committee to formulate the qualifying exam questions. If the student has questions or issues with the plans for the qualifying exam, they may only interact with the chair of the testing committee, or in extraordinary circumstances with the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs.

Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam is the first major step for a Ph.D. student towards achieving candidacy for Ph.D. status. Successful completion of the qualifying examination qualifies the student to perform their dissertation research. 

The qualifying exam consists of two portions, a written portion and an oral portion. The typical student will take the qualifying exam during their second year, although an exception in unusual circumstances can be made by the Associate Dean for Graduate Program of IUSO and unanimous agreement of the student’s advisory committee. The goal of the qualifying exam is to test both the student’s knowledge of Vision Science as a multidisciplinary field of study, and the student’s ability to integrate information beyond a simple recitation of facts. The qualifying exam is not intended to be a comprehensive test of detailed knowledge of all of Vision Science, but will test the ability of the student to think creatively and to integrate information in areas related to their primary interests and related areas.

The written qualifying exam will consist of three questions. The student will have a two-week time limit for completing the written response. Changes to the timing of the qualifying exam and length can, in unusual circumstances, be approved by the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs. Answers to each question should not exceed 5 written pages with 1-inch margins, not including the bibliography. 

The oral qualifying exam will be administered by the examination committee typically within a week after the written exam is returned to the committee. The oral exam can cover a breadth of topics in eye and vision research, but will concentrate on material that a second year student within the student’s planned course of specialization within Vision Science can be expected to be familiar with. 

The outcome of the qualifying examination will be determined by the examination committee after the oral exam is concluded. Results will be either “pass” or “fail”. All student who fail will have a second chance to pass, with the examination committee determining which components need to be reassessed (written, oral, or both). If re-examination is required, it should be completed within approximately one month of the original oral examination.

Establishing a Minor Area of Knowledge

The University Graduate School requires students to complete a minor area of study in order to be admitted to candidacy. In the case of a traditional minor, the requirements for completion are defined by the department or program offering the minor. In cases of custom minors, which are common in Vision Science due to its multidisciplinary nature, the evaluation of the minor will be established both by passing all classes with a GPA of 3.0 and all classes with a B- or above and an evaluation of the breadth of knowledge gained either by incorporating aspects of their minor within the dissertation proposal, or in an appendix.

Dissertation Proposal

The final step before being admitted to candidacy is for the students to present their advisory committee with their dissertation proposal. This proposal will follow the current NIH format of a 12-page proposal. The proposal will represent a body of work that, if this work is then completed successfully, would be adequate for a Ph.D. dissertation. This step will typically be completed within the third year in the program. 

The examination of the dissertation proposal will be performed by the research committee, with alternates being appointed by the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs if needed, or if members of the research committee are unavailable. This exam will consist of a short verbal presentation by the student (15-20 minutes), followed by a discussion between the student and the research committee. The evaluation of the proposal will concentrate on the background, significance and methodology for testing the proposed hypotheses. Since individual laboratories have different approaches to scientific issues the committee will base the examination results on the appropriateness of the proposal for answering questions within the disciplinary field of the laboratory in which the student is working. 

The outcome of the dissertation proposal will be either pass or fail, and determined by the majority of the research committee. Should the decision be a fail, a re-examination is possible. The timing for re-examination of the dissertation proposal will be determined be the research committee, since in rare cases the issues raised may require redesign of the experimental approach, and this may take more time. Thus, while a short interval to reexamination is desirable, the time must reflect the nature of the weaknesses that led to the fail decision.

Advancement to Candidacy

After successful completion of the dissertation proposal and oral defense of the proposal, as well as satisfying all course requirements, including a minor, a student can be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Participation in the Ph.D. program will be terminated and the student will not be advanced to candidacy if a student fails the qualifying examination twice or the dissertation defense twice.

Completion of Dissertation

After completion of the written dissertation, it is presented and defended at a scheduled seminar meeting. Defense of the dissertation must be scheduled at a minimum of 30 days prior to the defense, and all members of the research committee must agree that the dissertation is ready to be defended before the defense is allowed to be scheduled.  The student is expected to present a nearly complete copy of the dissertation to be defended to the committee in a timely manner so that they can determine whether it is ready to defend.  Agreement that a dissertation is ready to defend does not imply that a dissertation can be successfully defended. 

In the Vision Science program every dissertation defense begins with a public presentation that is open to the public.  This public presentation is typically an hour, with a talk limited to approximately 30 minutes, followed questions from the attendees.  After the public presentation, the research committee and the student have a second, more private, meeting for examination.  Any faculty members who are not on the research committee but wish to attend the second meeting are welcome to do so, but should notify the chairperson well in advance.  

The dissertation must be approved by the student’s research committee. 

The student is responsible for submitting the final approved dissertation to the University Graduate School

IU University Graduate School

The University Graduate School (UGS) provides a guide to the preparation of theses and dissertations and maintains links to electronic forms required for submitting the necessary documentation.


All doctoral students are required to participate in teaching, usually in the second or third year of their program.

Ph.D. Minor in Vision Science

OPT-V 540, OPT-V 560, VSCI-V 705, VSCI-V 707, VSCI-V 717, VSCI-V 723, VSCI-V 725, VSCI-V 754, VSCI-V 783, and VSCI-V 791, or with substitutions by prior approval of the Academic Advisor.

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