Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Doctor of Philosophy

The Ph.D. in Occupational Science educates individuals to engage in the scientific study of human occupation, the purposeful activities that constitute our life experiences. This important new science is chiefly concerned with the unique capacity of humans to develop adaptive skills, such as tool use and related occupational behaviors, and to choose and orchestrate daily occupations. It also seeks to understand the function, structure and interrelationship of these occupations and their impact on individuals and institutions.

The focus on occupation distinguishes this program from closely-related disciplines such as psychology, sociology and anthropology. The program emphasizes the development of research skills and encourages students to organize and synthesize knowledge to contribute to occupational science theory, as opposed to therapeutic application.

Admission Requirements

Applicants for admission to the Ph.D. program are expected to have a baccalaureate degree in an appropriate field, such as one of the biological or social sciences or occupational therapy, with a minimum GPA of 3.0 (A = 4.0) and a minimum score of 1100 on the verbal and quantitative sections of the Graduate Record Examinations. At least three academic letters of reference must also be submitted. Other considerations include evidence of academic potential based on master’s level study (if relevant), research skills and interest, and a statement of purpose. International students must demonstrate competency in English, as measured by the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination.

Degree Requirements

This degree is awarded under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer Requirements for Graduation and Graduate School for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degree must be courses accepted by the USC Graduate School.

Course Requirements

Satisfactory completion of 60 units beyond the baccalaureate degree is required, including the following courses:

OT 640 Conceptual Foundations of Occupational Science 4
OT 641 The Nature of Occupation 4
OT 660 Research Practicum (2 units – six semesters) 12
OT 604 Temporal Adaptation: Organization and Use of Time 4
OT 612 Information Processing and Occupation 4
OT 642 Therapeutic Uses of Self: Psychodynamic Perspectives 4
OT 643 Meaningful Engagement in Everyday Life 4
OT 644 Foundations of Research on Activity and Health 4
OT 645 Narrative, Healing and the Culture of Biomedicine 4
OT 646 Intersections of Occupational Science and Human Development 4
OT 650 Development of Adaptive Skills 4
OT 651 Adaptation and Disability 4
OT 653 Play and Occupation 4
OT 655 Work and Leisure 4

40 units of OT core courses must be completed. 20 of those units include the required courses OT 640 (4 units), OT 641 (4 units) and OT 660 (12 units). The remaining 20 units are to be selected from the other OT 600-level classes.

Those students who also wish to participate in clinical practice in occupational therapy may opt to complete a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Such students are required to complete the requirements for that degree as well as the occupational therapy undergraduate major courses if they are not registered occupational therapists or eligible for registration prior to study.

Cognate Requirement

Completion of a minimum of 12 units in a topic area such as one of the following is required: quantitative research approaches, qualitative research approaches, neuroscience, social development, life span development or gerontology.

Research Practicum

Each student will enroll in 2 units of OT 660 Research Practicum in Occupation per semester for six consecutive semesters, for a total of 12 units. Students are required to begin enrolling in OT 660 in their first semester of doctoral study. In this practicum the student will develop research skills by working as part of a research team under the direction of a faculty member.

Screening Procedures

Departmental screening will be required. Passing this procedure is prerequisite to continuation in the doctoral program. Directions for obtaining and filing the Report on Ph.D. Screening Procedures are found in the Graduate School section of this catalogue.

Dissertation Enrollment

Doctoral students must submit a dissertation according to the policies and procedures described in the Graduate School section of this catalogue. Registration in OT 794 Doctoral Dissertation for a minimum of 4 units (2 units in each of two consecutive semesters) is required.

Summary of All Course Requirements

Required core courses are OT 640 (4), OT 641 (4), OT 660 (12) for a total of 20 units.

Required electives are five 600-level OT courses for a total of 20 units.

Cognate courses are a minimum total of 12 units.

Dissertation requires 2 units per semester for at least two semesters for a minimum total of 4 units.

Additional 4 units can include 4 further units of dissertation or cognate.

Total: 60 units

Foreign Language or Research Skills

The Ph.D. in Occupational Science does not require the demonstration of competence in a foreign language. However, each student is expected to achieve expertise, as defined by the student’s guidance committee, in either qualitative or quantitative research techniques through participation in course work and the research practicum.

Guidance Committee

The guidance committee is composed of five faculty members. Three members of the committee must be regular faculty from the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. One member must be from outside the division. Complete regulations for establishing a guidance committee are found in the Graduate School section of this catalogue.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination is comprehensive in nature and requires the student to demonstrate a grasp of content from the core courses and the cognate area. The examination is both written and oral and is set and administered by the student’s guidance committee. Refer to the Graduate School section of this catalogue for specific directions for filing a request to take the examination.


Doctoral students must submit a dissertation based on students’ original research according to the policies and procedures of the Graduate School section of this catalogue. Upon approval of the preliminary copy of the dissertation by all members of the dissertation committee, the candidate must pass an oral defense of the dissertation. Upon successful completion of the oral defense and revisions, approval for final typing is granted and the committee recommends the candidate to the Graduate School for the Ph.D.


To prepare students for anticipated roles as faculty members, a teaching component is incorporated into the program. Students who receive teaching assistantships will be required to assist in relevant teaching assignments for a minimum of one academic year. Those who do not receive teaching assistantships are required to present a minimum of six lectures or laboratory sessions.

Additional Information

Further information about the baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral programs can be obtained by writing or calling the USC Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, 1540 Alcazar Street (CHP 133), Los Angeles, CA 90089-9003; (323) 442-2850, toll free (866) 385-4250, or by sending email to otdept@hsc.usc.edu. Information regarding the Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy is available at ot.usc.edu.