Tufts University  |  School of Arts and Sciences  |  Find People  | 

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education

Doctor of Philosophy

The Doctor of Philosophy program in STEM Education prepares educators, researchers, and university faculty in the areas of Mathematics Education, Science Education, or Engineering Education. Doctoral recipients will contribute to PreK-16 STEM Education for all students, through a deep understanding of:

  • Theory and research on learning and development, cognitive science, and the socio-cultural foundations of education;
  • The developmental, pedagogical, and content specific challenges inherent to the teaching and learning in the STEM disciplines;
  • Research results and research methods appropriate for the development of studies that will contribute to new theoretical insights and practical approaches to STEM Education.

The PhD program enrolls a maximum of five full-time students per year through new applicants and MS applicants from within the program. Part-time students may be admitted based on recommendations from faculty in the program, with the approval of the STEM Education Program Committee.

The program admits candidates with backgrounds in Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Education, Learning Sciences, Psychology, Child Development, or other related areas. Candidates without a baccalaureate in Mathematics, the Sciences, or Engineering will be required to take additional graduate level courses in their focal content area in order to reach a level of expertise that at a minimum is equivalent to that of a Tufts BA/BS major in that content area.

Students with strong backgrounds in physics may also consider the Physics Education track, which we offer in collaboration with the Department of Physics & Astronomy.

Appropriate coursework paths are designed to ensure that all students develop an advanced level of competency, as determined by the advisors and by the STEM Education Program Committee. Students work in partnership with educational researchers, mathematicians, natural scientists, engineers, and experienced teachers. Throughout the program they experience a balanced combination of discussions of educational theory, analysis, and development of research studies, participation in practical experiences in schools and other educational settings, and advanced work in their given focus.

The maximum time limit for full-time students to complete the PhD program is six years.

Overview of Program

STEM Education

Students typically complete the program in 5-6 years. This page provides details about the program regarding Advising and Evaluations, course requirements, qualifying papers, and the dissertation.

Advising and Evaluations

PhD students work under the guidance of advisors and mentors in the Education department, related departments at Tufts, and from the broader STEM education research community.

Program Advisors
Upon entry into the program, each student is assigned two program advisors, one from the Departments of Education or Child Development and another from the Mathematics, Sciences, or Engineering Departments. The program advisors assist in making choices regarding courses, area of research, internships, possible qualifying paper topics, and the early planning of dissertation research. These advisors can be changed at any time within the program.

Annual Evaluations
At the end of each academic year, PhD students will submit to the STEM Education Program Committee a report on academic activities developed while in the program and a statement of goals for the following years. The Program Director will distribute a form that students complete to report on their progress. Each student's report and goals are evaluated by at least three faculty members, including the student's advisors or, if already selected, the Chair of the Dissertation Committee. The Program Committee meets once a year to discuss the reports and the faculty's evaluations and recommendations. The Program Director then prepares a written report to each student that reflects the Committee's deliberations and recommendations and that serves as guidance towards future progress. Students should make sure that they meet with their advisor on a regular basis. In addition, whenever possible, students should also touch base with their committee members at least twice during the academic year.

Evaluation of student's progress will be based upon:

  • Course choices and grades obtained in courses;
  • Progress towards the development of qualifying papers;
  • Progress towards the development of the dissertation proposal, data collection, and final dissertation;
  • Conference presentations and manuscript submissions for publication.

Course Requirements

Each student is required to complete 18 courses to fulfill the PhD in STEM Education degree requirements. These include:

  • 12 courses from Groups A, B, C, D, and E (at least one course from each group is required);
  • 2 courses from Group F (Program Seminar);
  • 2 graduate courses in the Mathematics, Sciences or Engineering Departments;
  • 2 courses for dissertation work.
STEM Education

Depending on their level of competence and backgrounds, as evaluated by their advisors and by the STEM Education Program Committee, students who have completed advanced work in a group should further develop their expertise taking courses in other groups.

Students with a master's degree may be granted waivers for up to eight courses. Transfer of credits depends on the content of the course, the student's performance in the course, and the relevance of the course to the student's plan of study, as judged by the student's advisors or the Chair of the Dissertation Committee, and by the STEM Education Program Committee.

No undergraduate courses will count towards the PhD degree.

Qualifying Papers

Two qualifying papers are judged by the student's program advisor and by at least two other readers, faculty members or researchers in the community with expertise related to the subject area of the papers. Readers from the disciplinary departments should be included when appropriate. The qualifying papers should preferably be completed and approved prior to the full development of the dissertation proposal, although it is not required that they be on the same topic as the dissertation. This form should be submitted to the program director once the qualifying paper has been approved by all committee members. Once this form has been submitted, approved qualifying papers should be submitted and uploaded here to the Tisch Library digital archives. The page limit for qualifying papers is 30 pages excluding references (using 12 point font and double spacing).

Students should consult with their advisors about productive and appropriate topics for their qualifying papers. At least one qualifying paper must report on empirical work. In general, it is recommended that the first qualifying paper would be a discussion of the current research literature pertinent to the student's research and the second qualifying paper would be a relevant empirical study that could help refine methods to be later used in the development of the dissertation research. However, in consultation with their advisor, students may use both qualifying papers to report on empirical studies.

Standards for Acceptance
Ideally, a qualifying paper would lead to a professional publication or presentation. Toward this end, the standard for acceptance of a qualifying paper is that it reflects novel thinking by the student and writing quality at the level of a reasonable submission for a national peer-reviewed conference (e.g., the International Conference of the Learning Sciences, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Research Presession, National Association for Research in Science Teaching, the American Educational Research Association, American Society for Engineering Education, Jean Piaget Society). Each member of a qualifying paper committee can request revisions to a paper until they determine it to be satisfactory. Once all committee members have deemed the paper suitable, final acceptance is under purview of the committee chair (or the student's advisor, if a committee chair has not yet been determined).

Students may have coauthors for one of the two qualifying papers, including advisors, other faculty, outside collaborators, or peers. Students who have coauthors on a qualifying paper must also give an independent presentation of that paper (either final paper or paper in progress) at the STEM Education Annual Student Presentation Series or other suitable venue.

Once per year, there will be a STEM Education Annual Student Presentation Series. Students can opt to present their qualifying paperwork at this series. Those who submit a coauthored qualifying paper are required to present that paper at the series.

STEM Education


The dissertation is developed under the guidance of an inter-departmental Dissertation Committee. The dissertation proposal and the final dissertation are to be submitted to the student's Dissertation Committee. Students cannot begin data collection and work on the final dissertation until they have approval of their committee on their dissertation proposal and have received IRB approval for work with human subjects. The Dissertation Committee's final recommendation on the Dissertation will be submitted to the STEM Education Program Committee and, after deliberation, provided that all other requirements have been fulfilled, a recommendation for degree awarding will be made to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Dissertation Committee
The Dissertation Committee, chosen in accordance with the STEM Education Program Committee guidelines, will be constituted by:

  • Two faculty from the Department of Education, or one from the Department of Education and one from the Department of Child Development;
  • One faculty from Tufts Departments of Mathematics, Sciences, or Engineering;
  • One outside reviewer.

Chairs of Dissertation Committees should preferably be faculty from the Department of Education or from the Department of Child Development. The committee chair is normally a full-time, tenure-track faculty member.

Students are required to select the Chairperson of their Dissertation Committee before beginning the third year of studies or, if they have entered the program with a Master's degree in hand, before beginning the second year of studies.

Submission of Dissertation

Once your dissertation has been approved, you will need to fill out and submit these two forms: Certificate of Fitness and Approval of Thesis/Dissertation for Submission. After you have submitted these forms, you should upload your dissertation to ProQuest/UMI and you should make sure to apply for graduation on SIS.