The program aims to provide students with a thorough understanding of theory and research related to learners, learning and developmental processes. All degree programs reflect this aim and prepare students for careers as faculty members within academic settings, researchers in agencies or businesses and school practitioners. The program invites applications from excellent students, especially those in underrepresented populations.

The University of Alabama invites applications for the Educational Psychology Ph.D. Program.  Funding, in the form of research and teaching assistantships and fellowships, is available to qualified students (as of 2021 Fall, 78.26% of PhD students are supported  by assistantships or fellowships). The Educational Psychology Ph.D. Program consists of a human development and learning track, in addition to a PhD concentration in educational neuroscience .  We are looking for students who are interested in studying the cognitive, affective, and/or  neural mechanisms of learning and exploring educational implications in one or more domains relevant to education (e.g., STEM learning and cognition, language development & bilingualism, moral development, motivation and affect, cognitive and behavioral disorders). Students from diverse backgrounds (e.g., education, cognitive science, neuroscience, learning sciences, STEM fields, psychology, computer science) are encouraged to apply.

Application Process

Please apply online at  http://graduate.ua.edu/prospects/application/. A letter of application, curriculum vita, unofficial transcript of all coursework, and three reference letters are required to complete the online application process. The Educational Psychology Ph.D. Program does not require GRE scores for admissions and applications without GRE scores will be given a full review. However, applicants are encouraged to submit GRE scores, especially if they are seeking an assistantship, applying without a master’s degree, and/or if they do not have previous post-undergraduate research experiences. To be competitive for the majority of assistantships, a minimum of 300 for the combined scores on the verbal and quantitative portions of the GRE is required. All non-native English speakers (domestic and international) must submit at least one language proficiency score report (i.e., TOEFL, IELTS, PTE). In response to COVID-19, international applicants now have the option to take the Duolingo English test.

You should select “Educational Psychology” as your intended major and indicate your preferred track in your letter of application. We will start reviewing all applications on December 15th, 2021 for Fall 2022 admissions.  Please contact Dr. Hyemin Han (hyemin.han@ua.edu), graduate program coordinator, if you have any questions.

Admission Requirements

Students without a master’s degree may complete a master’s degree as part of their graduate activities in the Educational Psychology Program. Students admitted to doctoral programs have about 7 years to complete doctoral degrees. Some students may elect to be admitted to and complete a master’s program first, and then apply for official admission to the doctoral program.

Minimum Qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s or master’s degree in a relevant field
  • Interest in conducting interdisciplinary research that incorporates methods and perspectives from education as well as the brain and cognitive sciences
  • Interest in educational applications broadly defined
  • Ability to work with students and faculty in a variety of disciplines
  • Strong writing and communication skills
  • Previous research experience is not required but will be positively value

Program Faculty & Research Areas

  • David Walker: Moral psychology, character development, character education (ethicaldevelopment.ua.edu)
  • Firat Soylu: Educational & cognitive neuroscience, mathematical cognition, STEM learning, embodied cognition, EEG/ERP, fMRI (elden.ua.edu)
  • Hyemin Han: Educational neuroscience, social neuroscience, social development, positive psychology, computational simulations, educational interventions (seed.ua.edu)
  • Jason Scofield: Child development, cognitive development, language development (scofield.people.ua.edu/abcd-research-lab)
  • Laura Morett: Educational neuroscience, language processing and development (including second language learning), autism spectrum disorder, gesture (nerdlab.ua.edu​)
  • Macarena Suarez Pellicioni: Educational neuroscience, mathematical cognition, child development, learning, fMRI, ERPs​ (Brain, Learning, and Education Lab: https://mspellicioni.people.ua.edu/lab.html)

Research Focus

In addition to core areas of research (e.g. human development, motivation, and learning), faculty in the program are currently working in the following areas of specialized activity: ethical development; language development and bilingualism; autism spectrum disorder; mathematical cognition and earning and military matters.  The program welcomes excellent students with wide-ranging academic interests.  Potential students are encouraged to discuss their research ideas with faculty in the educational psychology program (see links below).  General research enquiries may also be directed to the program coordinator, Dr. Firat Soylu (fsoylu@ua.edu).

Research Labs and Center

Embodied Learning Design and Educational Neuroscience (ELDEN) Lab

PI: Firat Soylu PhD. fsoylu.people.ua.edu

Educational neuroscience, numerical cognition, STEM learning, embodied cognition, learning design.

The Neuroscience of Educational Research on Development (NERD) Lab

PI: Laura Morett PhD. http://nerdlab.ua.edu

Neurobiology of language, embodied cognition, second language acquisition, autism spectrum disorders, developmental cognitive neuroscience.

Social, Emotional and Educational Neuroscience (SEED) Lab

PI: Hyemin Han PhD.  http://seed.ua.edu/people

Educational neuroscience, social neuroscience, social development, positive psychology, computational simulation, educational intervention.

Center for the Study of Ethical Development https://ethicaldevelopment.ua.edu/

PI: David I.Walker PhD.  http://diwalker.people.ua.edu/

Moral judgement development, personality and social development, moral and character development and education among children and in professions (e.g. teaching, military, business, medical).

ABCD Research Lab

PI: Jason Scofield PhD. http://scofield.people.ua.edu/abcd-research-lab.html

Child development, cognitive development, language development.

Brain, Learning, and Education Lab (BLE) (https://mspellicioni.people.ua.edu/lab.html
PI: Dr. Suarez Pellicioni https://mspellicioni.people.ua.edu/
Educational neuroscience, mathematical cognition, child development, learning, fMRI, ERPs

Program Requirements


A major part of graduate training is successful participation in courses. Coursework requirements for the three Ph.D. degree options in Educational Psychology are listed at the end of this document. Each subsequent level of graduate degree in the Educational Psychology Program builds on the preceding-level degrees. For example, the doctoral degrees include the M.A. and Ed.S. degree requirements, plus additional requirements specific to the doctoral degrees.

In addition to the completion of M.A. level coursework, requirements for the Ph.D. Programs in Educational Psychology include the following:

Doctoral students are required to complete 12 hours of Foundations courses:

BEF History and/or Philosophy of Education

BEP 600 Level Course or HD Course

2 Specialization Courses outside the department (cannot be HD or BEP course)

Doctoral Courses/Seminars in the Educational Psychology Department include:

  • BEP 600          Contemporary Educational Problems and Educational Psychology
  • BEP 650          Psychology of Morality
  • BEP 655          Adolescent Psychology
  • BEP 665          Motivation and Emotion in Education
  • BEP 670          Research Methods and Trends in Educational Neuroscience
  • BEP 672          Teaching Educational Psychology in College
  • BEP 673          Doctoral Research and Ethics Seminar
  • BEP 690          Readings in Educational Psychology
  • BEP 698          Non-Dissertation Research
  • BEP 699          Dissertation Research

Transfer of Credit and Use of Previous Graduate Work

The University of Alabama allows students to transfer equivalent courses from other accredited institutions where the student was enrolled in the graduate school.  Up to one-half of the required coursework, exclusive of thesis or dissertation credit, may be transferred from another institution.  Credits may be transferred only if they were earned during the six-year period prior to admission to the program.  Transfer of courses must be approved by the student’s advisor.  The Dean of the Graduate School must also approve transfer of courses.

Doctoral Programs of Study

Doctoral students are required to file official program of study forms with the Graduate School at the beginning of graduate studies. These forms require each student and her or his advisor to list the specific course requirements necessary for the student’s completion of the degree. Doctoral programs of study may not be completed until the student successfully completes doctoral screening. Although a master’s degree is not required for initial admission into the doctoral program, the completion of a master’s degree is required before any student may complete and file the official program of study form. Doctoral programs of study are approved by the program advisory committee, area head, and assistant/associate deans of the College of Education.

Doctoral Program Advisor

All Ph.D. students entering the program will be allocated a major advisor whowill represent the student’s major area of study.

Progression Milestones

On average, a PhD in Educational Psychology takes approximately 5 years to complete.  Students will generally aim to complete the comprehensive examamination in years 3-4 and to complete the dissertation proposal by the end of year 4. These milestones are described below.

Comprehensive Examinations

All degree students in the Educational Psychology Program are required to successfully complete written comprehensive examination before the degrees will be granted.

1Consult with your advisor about when to take the exam
-usually during year 3 or 4, after core classes
-after a dissertation topic has been identified
The semester before you intend to take the exam
2Contact the department office to indicate your intent to take the exam First 2 weeks of semester (by Sept 1 or by January 15)
3Form dissertation committee
-usually 5+ members LINK
First 4 weeks of semester (by October 1 or Feb 15)
4Receive the written examFirst 4 weeks of semester (by October 1 or Feb 15)
5Submit the written exam
-without assistance from faculty or peers
-written exam must be submitted within 30 days
30 days after receiving the exam (by November 1 or March 15)
6Written portion of the exam scored by faculty
-if passed, move to Step 8
-if failed, see program coordinator
2 weeks after submission (by Nov 15 or Apr 1)
7Submit the oral exam document (aka “prospectus”)
-without assistance from faculty or peers
-committee needs 10+ days to review
2 weeks before the end of term (by Dec 1 or Apr 15)
8Defend the oral exam document to committee
-prepare a 20-minute oral presentation
-expect 40-minute question/answer period
Last week of term (by Dec 15 or May 1)
9Committee conducts 2 votes
-vote 1: pass/fail oral exam
-vote 2: approve/reject dissertation topic
-if failed/rejected, see program coordinator
At the conclusion of the oral exam meeting

Format of the Comprehensive Exam

  • Written: Students review current and historic literature in two of the four major areas of educational psychology (learning, motivation, development, or neuroscience). Responses should highlight seminal papers and people. Each response should include 10-12 pages of text and approximately 40 references.
  • Oral: Students review the existing literature and propose a novel study in their specialty area. Students should prepare a written document or “prospectus” and give an oral presentation. The document should include 20-25 pages of text and approximately 50 references. Note that the prospectus is intended to serve as the basis for the dissertation proposal.

Scoring of the Comprehensive Exam

  • Written: Written exams are scored by faculty members. There are seven scoring categories: evidence of knowledge, accuracy, adequacy, depth, organization and flow, grammar, format (e.g., APA style). Each category is scored 1-5, but the first five categories are weighted two points while the other two are weighted one point. A student must average 3.0+ on each response to pass the written exam.
  • Oral: Oral exams are scored by dissertation committees. A student’s committee conducts a formal pass/fail vote at the end of the oral presentation. Each committee member votes. A student must receive a majority “pass” votes to pass the oral exam. Additionally, the committee votes to approve/reject the student developing the prospectus into a formal dissertation proposal.

Dissertation Proposal

Students can seek help from their adviser at this stage.

The proposal involves writing the first three chapters of the dissertation – introduction, literature review, and methods. Although there are no strict rules about this,

Chapter 1 “introduction” is supposed to provide an overview of the study by locating the research questions within a specific literature, highlighting the new information the study will provide, and providing the basic empirical approach.

Chapter 2 “literature review” complements this introduction by providing the depth required to fully establish your study within the field lay out the controversies, the different methodologies (their strengths and weaknesses) and so on.

Chapter 3 “methods” will describe the theoretical framework and the specific design of the research.

The proposal needs to be presented orally to the dissertation committee who will provide feedback and decide whether or not the student can progress to the next stage by becoming a PhD candidate. This is known as the proposal defense. Similar to the prospectus, the student will need to take account of the following:

  1. The student will need to send the proposal to their dissertation committee to read 10 working days before they attend an oral presentation of it (see below);
  2. The student will need to book a room and check availability of their dissertation committee who all need to attend a presentation by the student of their proposal.
  3. The student will need to present their proposal to the committee and receive their signatures from all members of the committee (Link)(Link)
  4. After successfully passing the proposal defense, the student will need to consult with their advisor about dissertation committee feedback, apply to the IRB if it is necessary, start to conduct their project, and write their dissertation.

Admission to Candidacy

As noted in the Graduate Catalog, admission to the Graduate School does not imply admission to candidacy for a degree. Admission to candidacy is contingent upon the recommendation of the student’s program and the approval of the graduate dean, after the student has met the formal requirements for candidacy for the degree and demonstrated sufficient preparation to pursue the graduate study and research required for the degree sought. Application forms are available online at the Graduate School website.


The dissertation involves completing 5 chapters of the dissertation – introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion. Although there are no strict rules about this,

Chapter 4 “results” will show findings and results of data analysis.

Chapter 5 “discussion” will include reiterating the research problem or problems the student investigates and the methods the student used to investigate them, moving to describe the major findings of the study by supporting them with the literature. The student also mentions limitations, suggestions, and implications of the study at the end of the discussion.

The dissertation needs to be presented orally to the dissertation committee who will provide feedback and decide whether or not the dissertation of the student is accepted to get a PhD degree. This is known as the dissertation defense. Similar to the proposal, the student will need to take account of the following:

  1. The student will need to send the dissertation committee to read 10 working days before they attend an oral presentation of it (see below);
  2. The student will need to book a room and check availability of their dissertation committee who all need to attend a presentation by the student of their dissertation.
  3. The student will need to present their dissertation to the committee.
  4. The student will need to consult with their advisor about dissertation committee feedback, make necessary corrections on their thesis, get signature from the committee on the presentation form to submit it to the graduate school (Link), and submit their thesis to ProQuest (Link)

Research Participation

Doctoral students are required to participate in and conduct research, and faculty members work closely with doctoral students to help them complete their research requirements. Each doctoral student takes a number of research courses and seminars, is required to participate in ongoing research projects prior to dissertation.

Application for Graduation

Each candidate for a graduate degree must apply for graduation no later than the registration period for the semester of first term of the summer session in which degree requirements are to be completed. The “Application for Degree” from must be obtained from and submitted to the Graduate School.

Deadlines to Meet Degree Requirements

Each semester, the Graduate School publishes dates by which students must meet degree requirements, submit forms, and engage in other activities necessary for awarding of the degrees. Some of the deadlines occur early in the semester in which the degree will be granted; some of the deadlines occur in semester before the degree will be granted. Graduate School deadlines are posted every semester and can be found at the Graduate School website.  It is the student’s responsibility to review and meet all deadlines.


Degrees are awarded during fall, spring, or summer semester, and are awarded after the completion of degree requirements.

For more information on this program, contact Dr. Hyemin Han (hyemin.han@ua.edu).