Vision Science Graduate Program

The Vision Science Graduate Program (VSGP) allows students to pursue a Master’s or a Doctoral degree within a collaborative, multidisciplinary environment at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Students are mentored by faculty from several academic disciplines, spanning multiple schools and departments, including optometry, ophthalmology, neurobiology, neurology, psychology, behavioral neuroscience, occupational-therapy, rehabilitation science and more. The VSGP is organized around four basic research themes: ocular biology, systems neuroscience, biomedical optics and patient-based vision science studies. The program also offers a combined clinical degree (O.D./M.S.) which prepares students for a career that blends clinical practice with vision science research.


    • Admission Requirements

      Applications are submitted and processed through the UAB Graduate School.

      Academic Qualifications

      • Minimum undergraduate GPA of at least a B (3.0) average
      • A strong background in biological, physical or health sciences is highly recommended
      • Previous research experience is strongly encouraged

      Application Requirements

      • Personal statement/essay
      • Curriculum vitae/resume
      • Official transcripts from undergraduate degrees along with transcripts from other institutions where transfer credits were obtained
      • Three letters of recommendation
      • Payment of application fee ($50 for domestic applicants and $60 for international applicants)
      • GRE (Graduate Record Exam) test scores are not required

      English Proficiency (International Applicants)

      International applicants are required to submit English proficiency scores to demonstrate a command of written and spoken English. In some instances, English proficiency exam waivers are granted. Visit the International Applicants webpage for more information. Minimum English proficiency scores required by the UAB Graduate School are:

      • TOEFL: 80
      • IELTS: 6.5
      • PTEA: 53
      • IELA: 176
      • Duolingo: 120
    • Admissions Process

      Submit your application

      Submit your application along with all the required documentation by the application deadline. We recommend applicants start the process early to allow adequate time to send in your documentation and processing.

      Initial Review

      After the application deadline has passed, all complete applications will be reviewed by the VSGP Admissions committee, and recommend applicants to be interviewed. The review process occurs 1-2 weeks after the application deadline.

      Interview

      If your application was reviewed favorably, the VSGP program manager will contact you via email to schedule an interview. The interview schedule is determined by the availability of the admissions committee and occurs 1-2 weeks after notification of the interview.

      • Domestic PhD applicants will be invited to UAB for in-person interviews. For international applicants, interviews are conducted using an online platform. 
      • Interviews for MS applicants are conducted online unless the applicant is within driving distance to the UAB campus. 
      • Interviews for OD/MS applicants are conducted in person with the admissions committee. 

      Final Review

      After all applicant interviews are completed, the admissions committee will meet to determine the final admission list. This review meeting is normally held within a week of the last scheduled interview.

      Applicant Decision Process

      Notification of the final decision will be sent via email within 5 business days of the admissions committee’s final review meeting. For applicants that have been offered admission, your email will have an acceptance letter attached for you to review and to indicate if you accept your admission offer. 

    • Application Deadlines

      • Doctoral application deadline: January 15th (Summer* and Fall entry only)
      • *Summer entry may be granted only in exceptional cases
      • Master’s application deadline: January 15th (Summer or Fall entry only)
      • OD/MS application deadlines:
        • Fall Term Entry: July 1st
        • Spring Term Entry: November 1st
        • Summer Term Entry: April 1st
    • Submit Application



    • Transcripts

      Official transcripts can be sent electronically to the UAB Graduate School at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or via mail to the following address:

      UAB Graduate School
      LHL G03
      1700 University Boulevard
      Birmingham, AL 35294-0013

    • English Proficiency Exam Scores

      Applicants will need to contact the testing agency to have official test scores sent to the UAB Graduate School. TOEFL scores can be submitted to institution code 1856. IELTS and PTEA scores need to be issued electronically or mailed direct to the UAB Graduate School.

    • PhD

      Eyesight is central to our everyday activities. It is also a fascinating and important topic for research, especially if directed at the visual disorders and retinal diseases that afflict millions. If you're seeking an in-depth understanding of the eye, how it works, and how it connects to everything else we do, a Ph.D. in Vision Science could be the degree for you. UAB can prepare you to work in industry, research, academia, and more.

      Degree Requirements

      • Complete at least 72 credit hours if entering with a Bachelor’s degree, or must complete at least 51 credit hours if entering with a previously earned Master’s degree
      • Complete three 10-week lab rotations based on research interests; may select primary research advisor after completing two rotations. Students use their classroom and laboratory experiences during the first year to help them further define their research interests.
      • Select a dissertation committee consisting of the primary research advisor and four or five other faculty members
      • Develop dissertation research project, and complete a written research proposal and present to dissertation committee
      • Publish at least one first-author peer-reviewed research publication
      • Participate in at least one teaching experience opportunity
      • Conduct dissertation research, write dissertation and publicly defend dissertation research

      Curriculum

      • VIS 610 Ocular Anatomy and Biology (4 credit hours; Fall term)
      • VIS 611 Biology and Pathology of Ocular Disease (4 credit hours; Spring term)
      • VIS 612 Optics for Vision Science (4 credit hours; Fall term)
      • VIS 613 Visual Neuroscience (4 credit hours; Spring term)
      • VIS 700 Vision Research Literature Review (1 credit hour; every Fall and Spring term)
      • VIS 702 Fundamental Techniques in Vision Science (4 credit hours; Fall term)
      • GRD 717 Principles of Scientific Integrity (3 credit hours)
      • VIS 798 Doctoral Level Non-Dissertation Research (credit hours vary)
      • VIS 799 Doctoral Level Dissertation Research (at least 6 credit hours)
      • Statistics 
      • Elective (at least 4 credit hours)

      For detailed description of each course, please visit the UAB Course Catalog 

      Financial Information

      All doctoral students accepted into the Vision Science Graduate Program receive an annual stipend, fully paid tuition and fees, and single coverage health insurance. The current annual stipend is $30,000 with an increase to $31,000 after admission to candidacy.

      Accepted first-year students are funded by the UAB Graduate School fellowships and occasionally by other university and external fellowships. The student’s advisor is expected to provide this financial support once the student has joined the laboratory and should continue to provide it until the completion of the student’s degree.

    • MS

      Vision scientists have an in-depth knowledge of the eye's inner workings and how it interacts with the rest of the body. What we see informs what we do and how we live. Through the Master’s in Vision Science degree program, you can study a host of research topics such as dry eye disease, myopia, retinal degeneration, and clinically-focused studies. The M.S. degree can prepare you for education, research laboratories, policy work, and jobs in the optometric and ophthalmological industries. 

      Degree Requirements

      • Complete at least 30 credit hours with at least 6 credit hours of VIS 699 Master’s thesis research hours
      • Complete three 10-week lab rotations based on research interests; may select primary research advisor after one rotation. Students use their classroom and laboratory experiences during the first year to help them further define their research interests.
      • Select a thesis committee consisting of the primary research advisor and two other faculty members
      • Develop thesis research project and present a research proposal to the thesis committee
      • Conduct thesis research, write thesis and publicly defend thesis research

      Curriculum

      • VIS 610 Ocular Anatomy and Biology (4 credit hours; Fall term)
      • VIS 611 Biology and Pathology of Ocular Disease (4 credit hours; Spring term)
      • VIS 700 Vision Research Literature Review (1 credit hour; every Fall and Spring term)
      • GRD 717 Principles of Scientific Integrity (3 credit hours)
      • VIS 698 Master's Level Non-Thesis Research (credit hours vary)
      • VIS 699 Master's Level Thesis Research (at least 6 credit hours)
      • Elective (at least 3 credit hours)

      For detailed description of each course, please visit the UAB Course Catalog

      Financial Information

      Tuition and fees for the VSGP are set by the UAB Graduate School. For a complete list of current tuition rates and fees, visit the UAB tuition and fees website.

      • View general tuition costs for the Graduate School under the Graduate tab.
      • A summary of annual UAB tuition for a full-time student of the Graduate School is available under the Summary tab.
      • View all fees for graduate students under the Institutional Fees tab. 
      • No financial support is currently offered for Master students
    • OD/MS

      Doctors of Optometry can simultaneously earn a M.S. in Vision Science during their professional education to help bridge the gap between research and clinical care. Dive into the study of the eye and learn how it relates to the rest of the body—and uncover new ways to improve the quality of patient eye care. Research topics such as dry eye disease, vision therapy, biomedical optics, and more, which can lead to a career as a clinician scientist, researcher, eye care provider, and leader in the eye care industries.

      Degree Requirements

      • Complete at least 30 credit hours with at least 6 credit hours of VIS 699 Master’s thesis research hours
      • Complete lab rotations as needed. Students use their classroom and laboratory experiences during the first year to help them further define their research interests.
      • Select a thesis committee consisting of the primary research advisor and two other faculty members
      • Develop thesis research project and present a research proposal to the thesis committee
      • Conduct thesis research, write thesis and publicly defend thesis research

      Curriculum

      • VIS 700 Vision Research Literature Review (1 credit hour; every Fall and Spring term)
      • GRD 717 Principles of Scientific Integrity (3 credit hours)
      • VIS 698 Master's Level Non-Thesis Research (credit hours vary)
      • VIS 699 Master's Level Thesis Research (at least 6 credit hours)

      Financial Information

      Optometry students admitted into the dual OD/MS program receive a full tuition and fee scholarship for the MS degree, and therefore comes at no expense to the student. If interested in what the current tuition and fees are for the VSGP, as set by the UAB Graduate School, visit the UAB tuition and fees website.

    • PhD for ODs

      The Vision Science Graduate Program Ph.D. program welcomes O.D. graduates from North American optometric institutions who are interested in becoming rigorously trained clinician-scientists. Many of these clinicians have held NIH-sponsored career development awards to support their research and offset educational debts via NIH Loan Repayment Programs. Participate in patient-centered clinical and translational studies investigating mechanisms underlying ocular diseases and visual system disorders. A Ph.D. in Vision Science can prepare you for a career in optometric education and leadership, industry, and more.

      Degree Requirements

      • Complete at least 51 credit hours with at least 15 credit hours of didactic coursework
      • Complete lab rotations as needed. Students use their classroom and laboratory experiences during the first year to help them further define their research interests.
      • Select a dissertation committee consisting of the primary research advisor and four or five other faculty members
      • Develop dissertation research project, and complete a written research proposal and present to dissertation committee
      • Publish at least one first-author peer-reviewed research publication
      • Participate in at least one teaching experience opportunity
      • Conduct dissertation research, write a dissertation and publicly defend dissertation research

      Curriculum

      • Didactic coursework selected/customized to O.D. background
      • Statistics
      • VIS 700 Vision Research Literature Review (1 credit hour; every Fall and Spring term)
      • GRD 717 Principles of Scientific Integrity (3 credit hours)
      • VIS 798 Doctoral Level Non-Dissertation Research (credit hours vary)
      • VIS 799 Doctoral Level Dissertation Research (at least 6 credit hours)

      Financial Information

      O.D. graduates accepted into the doctoral program will have the opportunity to apply for a clinical faculty position (Clinical Instructor or Clinical Assistant Professor). Salary will be commensurate with experience. Additionally, ODs who enter the PhD program are eligible to apply to NIH Loan Repayment Programs designed to recruit and retain health professionals into research careers by repaying up to $50,000 annually toward educational debt. More information can be found here: https://www.lrp.nih.gov/.

    • Ocular Biology

      Within ocular biology, researchers at UAB are studying the many cellular and mechanical mechanisms that impact vision, including retinal anatomy and physiology, ocular biome, ocular surface, identifying molecular biomarkers in meibomian gland dysfunction and dry eye disease, glaucoma, dry eye, neurobiology and ocular pharmacology.

      Primary Focus


      Faculty Name UAB Scholars Link Department Research Interest
      Michael Boulton Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Retinal aging, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy
      Christine Curcio Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Retinal anatomy, genomics, aging and age-related macular degeneration
      Marina Gorbatyuk Scholars Profile Optometry Unfolded protein response, inherited retinal degeneration, diabetic retinopathy
      Maria Grant Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Stem cells for retinal repair and regeneration
      Alecia Gross Scholars Profile Neurobiology Molecular mechanisms of retinal degenerations, photoreceptors
      Rafael Grytz Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Mechanisms in myopia, keratoconus and glaucoma
      Timothy Kraft Scholars Profile Optometry Photoreceptor and retinal physiology
      Jason Nichols Scholars Profile Optometry Anterior segment, cornea and contact lenses
      Kelly Nichols Scholars Profile Optometry Dry-eye disease
      Steven Pittler Scholars Profile Optometry Retina, photoreceptors, phototransduction, gene editing, retinal degeneration
      Andrew Pucker Scholars Profile Optometry Contact lenses, dry eye and myopia
      Om Srivastava Scholars Profile Optometry Lens, stem cells, cataract, and keratoconus

      Secondary Focus


      Faculty Name UAB Scholars Link Department Research Interest
      Crawford Downs Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Ocular biomechanics and glaucoma
      Massimo Fazio Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Intraocular pressure and structural changes in the eye, glaucoma
      Paul Gamlin Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Neural control of eye movements, circadian rhythms, visual processing, ocular gene therapy
      Timothy Gawne Scholars Profile Optometry Retinal signal processing and myopia development, cerebral cortical dynamics
      Brian Samuels Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Glaucoma mechanisms and control of intracerebral pressure
    • Patient-Based Research

      By looking at health outcomes, access and social disparities in addition to safety, occupational and environmental vision, researchers gain a better understanding of how vision is tied to health. Clinical trials, studying ocular disease, dry eye, contact lens, epidemiology, myopia control, vision therapy for children with amblyopia, concussion and evidence-based practice fall under patient-based research.

      Primary Focus


      Faculty Name UAB Scholars Link Department Research Interest
      Dawn DeCarlo Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Low vision rehabilitation, pediatric vision and macular degeneration
      Kristine Hopkins Scholars Profile Optometry Convergence, strabismus, amblyopia and pediatric vision
      Tamara Oechslin Scholars Profile Optometry Binocular vision, vision therapy, vision and learning
      Cynthia Owsley Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Aging-related vision impairment and eye disease
      Lyne Racette Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Early detection of glaucoma progression
      Brian Samuels Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Glaucoma mechanisms and control of intracerebral pressure
      Mark Swanson Scholars Profile Optometry Retinal disease, gerontology, public health
      Katherine Weise Scholars Profile Optometry Pediatric vision, traumatic brain injury, and concussion

      Secondary Focus


      Faculty Name UAB Scholars Profile Link Department Research Interest
      Lei Liu Scholars Profile Optometry Binocular vision, eye movements, visual function assessment, low vision rehabilitation
      Jason Nichols Scholars Profile Optometry Anterior segment, cornea and contact lenses
      Kelly Nichols Scholars Profile Optometry Dry-eye disease
      Andrew Pucker Scholars Profile Optometry Contact lenses, dry eye and myopia
      Kristina Visscher Scholars Profile Neurobiology Visual cortex plasticity, fMRI in patient populations
    • Systems Neuroscience

      Faculty and students involved in systems neuroscience research are looking at eye movement and control, visual neuron response properties, neurodegeneration, anomalies of aging and development, perception, and traumatic brain injury.

      Primary Focus


      Faculty Name UAB Scholars Link Department Research Interest
      Mark Bolding Scholars Profile Radiology Eye movement dysfunction with schizophrenia, X-ray neurostimulation
      Paul Gamlin Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Neural control of eye movements, circadian rhythms, visual processing, ocular gene therapy
      Timothy Gawne Scholars Profile Optometry Retinal signal processing and myopia development, cerebral cortical dynamics
      Lei Liu Scholars Profile Optometry Binocular vision, eye movements, visual function assessment, low vision rehabilitation
      Julie Quinet Scholars Profile Optometry Binocular vision, eye movements
      Lawrence Sincich Scholars Profile Optometry Visual processing in cortex, retinal imaging, human psychophysics
      Kristina Visscher Scholars Profile Neurobiology Visual cortex plasticity, fMRI in patient populations

      Secondary Focus


      Faculty Name UAB Scholars Profile Link Department Research Interest
      Mark Swanson Scholars Profile Optometry Retinal disease, gerontology, public health
      Katherine Weise Scholars Profile Optometry Pediatric vision, traumatic brain injury, and concussion
    • Biomedical Optics

      Optics research remains a fundamental discipline in vision science. At UAB we have faculty who are using advanced optical designs to study myopia progression, improve retinal imaging, and assess the biomechanical properties of ocular tissues.

      Primary Focus


      Faculty Name UAB Scholars Profile Link Department Research Interest
      Crawford Downs Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Ocular biomechanics and glaucoma
      Massimo Fazio Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Intraocular pressure and structural changes in the eye, glaucoma

      Secondary Focus


      Faculty Name UAB Scholars Link Department Research Interest
      Christine Curcio Scholars Profile Ophthalmology Retinal anatomy, genomics, aging and age-related macular degeneration
      Steven Pittler Scholars Profile Optometry Retina, photoreceptors, phototransduction, gene editing, retinal degeneration
      Lawrence Sincich Scholars Profile Optometry Visual processing in cortex, retinal imaging, human psychophysics
    • Other Departmental Faculty


      Faculty Name UAB Scholars Link Department Research Interest
      Frank Amthor Scholars Profile Psychology Retinal cell responses
      Karlene Ball Scholars Profile Psychology Visual attentional and cognitive changes with age
      Stephen Barnes Scholars Profile Pharmacology/Toxicology Proteomics and mass spectrometryile acid chemistry
      Champion Deivanayagam Scholars Profile Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics Surface proteins of gram positive microbes
      Allan Dobbins Scholars Profile Biomedical Engineering Computational visual processing
      Lynn Dobrunz Scholars Profile Neurobiology Synaptic transmission
      Karen Gamble Scholars Profile Psychiatry Mechanisms and entrainment of circadian clock
      David Geldmacher Scholars Profile Neurobiology Diagnosis and management of dementia
      Natalia Kedishvili Scholars Profile Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics Retinoid metabolism
      Sixto Leal Scholars Profile Laboratory Medicine Ocular infection, immunology
      Runhua Liu Scholars Profile Genetics Human genetics and autoimmune disease
      Aaron Lucius Scholars Profile Chemistry Enzyme catalysis
      Victor Mark Scholars Profile Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Cognitive disorders
      Donald Muccio Scholars Profile Chemistry Retinal biophysics
      Arie Nakhmani Scholars Profile Engineering Image processing
      Lucas Pozzo-Miller Scholars Profile Neurobiology Calcium signaling, synaptic plasticity
      Keshav Singh Scholars Profile Genetics Genetics, pathology and environmental health
      Robert Sorge Scholars Profile Psychology Nocioception
      Christianne Strang Scholars Profile Psychology Retina/CNS anatomy
      Summer Thyme Scholars Profile Neurobiology Schizophrenia
      Lizhong Wang Scholars Profile Genetics Cancer genetics and mouse models
      John Waterbor Scholars Profile Epidemiology Epidemiologic research design
      Bradley Yoder Scholars Profile Cell, Development and Integrative Biology Ciliopathy
      Yong Zhou Scholars Profile Pulmonary/Allergy/Critical Care Pulmonary, ocular mechanobiology

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