The program requirements for a doctoral degree can be completed in an average of four to five years. The Master of Science degree requirements must be met, in addition to the following requirements:

Learn more: Doctoral Program

  • Complete three 10-week lab rotation in labs of choice. Students use their classroom and laboratory experiences during the first year to help them further define their research interests. The lab rotations allow students to choose areas and mentors that are of interest to them with the idea that at the end of the third rotation, a student will be prepared to select a permanent lab/mentor in which to carry out his or her PhD research.
  • Produce at least one scientific article of dissertation research that is accepted for publication before graduation, per the UAB Vision Science Graduate Program Publication Requirement Policy.


Courses are offered through the Department of Optometry and Vision Science and are taught by research faculty.

Vision Science Graduate Level Courses

VIS 700 Vision Related Literature Review
Course Director/Instructor: Alecia Gross, PhD
Vision Related Literature Review - preparing for giving public presentations.

VIS 743 Optics and Imaging - Optical properties of the eye
Course Director/Instructor: Roderick Fullard, PhD
Transparency, aberrations, modulation transfer functions of the eye. Use of coherent optics (lasers) in vision science research, MRI in vision research.

VIS 744 Ocular Anatomy, Physiology & Biochemistry
Course Director/Instructor: Om Srivastava, PhD
Anatomy of the eye, biochemistry and physiology of ocular tissues, including tears, cornea, aqueous humor, lens, vitreous and sclera.

VIS 745 Biology and Pathology of the Posterior Segment
Course Director/Instructor: Steven Pittler, PhD
Examination of the structure, function, biochemistry and disease of the posterior segment including the retina and sclera.

VIS 756 Visual Neuroscience
Course Director/Instructor: Lawrence Sincich, Ph.D.
This course introduces the student to the anatomical and physiological underpinnings of visual perception, stepping from single photoreceptors in the retina on through the cortical neural circuits devoted to capturing every facet of seeing the world. Lectures are supplemented with hands-on sessions where students can test their own vision.

VIS 790 Ocular Surface Journal Club
Course Director/Instructor: Jianzhong Chen, Ph.D.
Literature review of topics pertaining to the ocular surface.

VIS 698 Masters Level Non-Thesis Research
Thesis level research hours prior to candidacy.

VIS 699 Masters Level Thesis Research
Thesis level research hours after admission to candidacy

VIS 798 Doctoral Level Non-Dissertation Research
Dissertation level research hours prior to candidacy

VIS 799 Doctoral Level Dissertation Research
Dissertation level research hours after admission to candidacy

Non-Vision Science Graduate Level Courses

GBS 707 Basic Biochemistry and Metabolism
This course is intended to provide students a rigorous background in the principles of biological chemistry. The principles taught are those we believe student should master and include the application of these principles to research protocols and performance.

GBS 708 Basic Genetics and Molecular Biology
This course is intended to provide students with a strong foundation in basic genetics and basic molecular biology so that students are able to apply and understand fundamentals in their lab research.

BST 621 Statistical Methods I
Mathematically rigorous coverage of applications of statistical techniques designed for Biostatistics majors and others with sufficient mathematical background. Statistical models and applications of probability; commonly used sampling distributions; parametric and nonparametric one and two sample tests and confidence intervals; analysis of two-way contingency table data; simple linear regression; simple analysis of variance designs with equal or proportional subclass members; use of contrasts and multiple comparisons procedures; introduction to survival analysis; multivariate methods. Interested students must have a year of calculus sequence before enrolling in BST 621.

GRD 717 Principles of Scientific Integrity
Surveys ethical issues and principles in the practice of science.

Admission to Candidacy Requirements

Admission to candidacy requirements for Vision Science Graduate Program doctoral students students consists of two parts: 1) completion of a written research proposal, and 2) an oral qualifying exam in which the student must demonstrate a satisfactory level of general scientific knowledge and understanding of the research proposal topic.

Research Proposal

(Effective August 2013)

The written research proposal can be either:

1) A written NIH RO1-style research proposal in NIH grant format (1/2 inch margins, single spaced), on the topic of the student's intended dissertation research project.


2) A written National Research Service Award (NRSA)-style fellowship or equivalent research application on the topic of the student's intended dissertation research project. This should be done after consultation with the student’s mentor to determine the appropriate fellowship format for the student and lab. The student’s mentor is strongly encouraged to contact the appropriate funding agency to review eligibility prior to approving the choice of a fellowship application.

Students writing a fellowship application are encouraged to submit the application to NIH or other funding organization for consideration for an independent fellowship award. The UAB Graduate School provides incentives to fellowship applicants and supplements the stipend of each successful awardee.

Note: The mentor is not required to have an active NIH grant in order for a student to apply for an NRSA predoctoral fellowship. The mentor should have a track record of prior successful graduate training, track record of prior funding, and a solid publication record. In the absence of an active grant, evidence of adequate internal funding and pending grants may be all that is needed.

The choice of RO1 research proposal or fellowship proposal requires the approval of both the student’s mentor and the director of the Vision Science Graduate Program.

Oral Qualifying Examination

The written research proposal must be distributed to the student’s Ph.D. committee at least 10 business days before the qualifying exam. At this exam, which should be scheduled for no less than two hours, the student will orally summarize the research proposal. The committee will ask the student questions about the proposal, about the student’s understanding of the area in which he or she is working, and questions of a more general nature to determine if the student has achieved an appropriate level of scientific understanding and relevant background literature to proceed with the dissertation research.


The qualifying exam should be completed by August at the beginning of the third year to enable fall semester admission to candidacy (see UAB Graduate School website for administrative deadline dates). In extenuating circumstances, the research proposal can be completed by December of the third year for spring semester admission to candidacy.

Helpful Links

NRSA Participating Funding Agencies

Publication Requirement

UAB Vision Science Graduate Program Publication Requirement Policy

Effective: Entering Class of 2013

The UAB Vision Science Graduate Program Advisory and Admissions committee voted to approve a new peer-review publication requirement effective for the entering class of 2013. This new policy requires all enrolled Ph.D. students to have at least one scientific article of his/her dissertation research accepted for publication prior to graduation.

Teaching Experience

Teaching experience is an important component of graduate education.

After the first year but before advancing to candidacy, each student will be required to assistant a faculty member in his or her teaching responsibilities. This will generally involve assisting in lecture or laboratory courses offered by faculty in the Department of Optometry and Vision Science in graduate or professional programs.

A list of opportunities for serving as an assistant will be kept in the Vision Science Graduate Program office. After determining what opportunities are available, students will be responsible for contacting faculty members and asking to assist in a specific course. Some especially time- or effort-intensive courses may require two assistants.

The faculty member for whom the student serves as an assistant will notify the Program Manager upon the successful completion of the responsibilities as an assistant.