Degree Programs

Ph.D. in Vision Science

The Ph.D. in vision science is offered to top students worldwide. A Ph.D. in vision science prepares the student for a career in research. Our students obtain jobs in both academics and industry. With leading programs in biology, optics, imaging and vision science, our faculty research provides the basis for this advanced training.

Degree requirements

To ensure adequate progress toward the Ph.D. degree, all students are expected to achieve the following milestones at the end of years one, two, and three of the program.

Advancement to Second Year Exam

At the end of the first year in the program, each student must pass a written examination covering a wide selection of vision science topics to advance to the second year of the program. By this time, students should also have demonstrated an appropriate command of spoken and written English.

Advancement to Third Year

By the end of the second year, all students should have identified the area of study and the specific experiments that will eventually constitute their Ph.D. thesis. This requirement will be met by submitting a formal abstract describing the proposed experiments to the Graduate Program coordinator. This abstract must be accompanied by written approval of the Ph.D. advisor.

Advancement to Candidacy

By the end of the third year each student should complete a written and an oral qualifying examination. The student’s advisory committee administers these examinations. The written component is the dissertation proposal, and can be in the form of a grant application. The requirement of 30 credit hours of didactic course work, including credits required to meet a minor, must be fulfilled before the qualifying examination. After successful completion of the qualifying exam each student will be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Participation in the Ph.D. program will be terminated if a student fails the qualifying examination twice.

Completion of Dissertation

After completion of the written dissertation, it is presented and defended at a scheduled seminar meeting. The student’s research committee must approve the dissertation.

Indiana University Graduate School provides a guide to the preparation of theses and dissertations. Related forms may be acquired from the IU School of Optometry Office of Student Administration.


A total of 90 credit hours—30 of which must come from didactic courses with grades of B or higher—is required. Students holding the O.D. degree, or enrolled in the O.D. program, may apply up to 6 credit hours to this requirement of 30 didactic credit hours. When the grade point average of a student falls below 3.0, the student will be placed on academic probation.

Students are required to complete V 792 Ethical Issues in Scientific Research.

Each semester, students are required to register for and participate in the weekly Vision Science Seminar (V 765) known as Oxyopia. Participation implies that the seminar will be taken for credit and that students will make presentations.

Students will select at least one minor subject in any relevant field of study, subject to approval by their advisory committee. The department or program offering the minor determines the requirements for the minor.
Ph.D. Degree Program course descriptions

The number of credit hours given a course is indicated in parentheses following the course title. The abbreviation "P" refers to the course prerequisite(s). Unless otherwise noted, the prerequisites for all courses include enrollment in the School of Optometry and permission of the instructor.

  • VSCI-V 501 Anatomy and Physiology of the Eye (4cr.) 

    An introduction to the eye.

  • VSCI-V 550 The Miracle of Sight (3cr.) 

    Introduction to all of the key features of vision, from optics, to anatomy, neurophysiology and psychology.  Vision is arguable the greatest achievement of evolution, and this course is designed to provide an overview of the full process we call vision and to identify the key requirements at the human visual system.

  • VSCI-V 595 First-Year Research (1-5cr.) 
  • VSCI-V 695 Second-Year Research (1-5cr.) 
  • VSCI-V 700 Introduction to Vision Science I (4cr.) The first of a two-semester sequence of courses that provides a comprehensive introduction to vision science. The course is designed for graduate students enrolled in Vision Science, but is also suitable for students from other disciplines who are interested in the eye and vision.
  • VSCI-V 701 Introduction to Vision Science II (4cr.) The second of a two-semester sequence of courses on vision science. V 700 and this course constitute a breadth requirement for Ph.D. students in Vision Science.
  • VSCI-V 705 Ocular Surface Biology (4cr.) Basic biology and physiology of the ocular surface, including the cornea, conjunctiva, and tear film.
  • VSCI-V 707 Retinal Imaging (2-3cr.) The fundamental methods used in imaging the human retina will be examined, including types of illumination and delivery methods, optical techniques for detection, interaction of light and tissues, systems integration, and selection of imaging modalities based on scientific goals.
  • VSCI-V 717 Visual Development in Infancy and Early Childhood  (3cr.) 

    An introduction to structural and functional development of the human visual system; to functional development of the human visual system; and an introduction to and the methodology used to study visual development.

  • VSCI-V 723 The Eye as an Optical Instrument (4cr.) P: OPT-V 663 or equivalent. 
  • VSCI-V 725 Introduction to Retinal Disease Research  (2-3cr.) P: Permission of the Instructor 

    The most common retinal diseases are studied based on peer reviewed literature and book chapters, integrating common mechanisms such as vascular disease, neural degeneration and hereditary factors.  The third credit can be earned by preparing a project by prior arrangement with the course director.

  • VSCI-V 765 Vision Sciences Seminar (1cr.) Students in the Ph.D. program in Vision Science are required to take this seminar and make a presentation annually.
  • VSCI-V 768 Special Topics in Vision Science (1-4cr.) Covers topics that are not offered on a regular basis. Possible topics include cell and molecular biology as it relates to the eye and vision, comparative studies of the vertebrate eye, current research, experimental design, optical and ophthalmic instruments, pathology, and pharmacology. This course may be taken for credit more than once when different topics are covered.
  • VSCI-V 791 Quantitative Methods for Vision Research (3cr.) Introduction to communication theory approach to problems in vision. Topics include the sensory nerve code, representation of nerve messages by orthogonal functions, sampling theorem, linear filters, Fourier analysis in one and two dimensions, analysis of directional data, stochastic processes, and signal detection theory.
  • VSCI-V 792 Ethical Issues in Scientific Research (1cr.) This required course explores the ethical issues and dilemmas raised by research in the biological sciences.
  • VSCI-V 793 Critical Evaluation of Peer Reviewed Publications in Vision Science (1cr.) This course provides experience to students to critically evaluate literature in the area of vision research. Students will meet for two hours each week for an eight week period. Evaluation will be based on attendance, reading assignments and class participation.
  • VSCI-V 795 Third-Year Research (1-5cr.) 
  • VSCI-V 799 M.S. Thesis Research (1-10cr.) 
  • VSCI-V 801 Basic Experimental Design and Methods in Vision Science (3cr.) An introduction to basic research skills in vision science.
  • VSCI-V 899 Ph.D. Dissertation Research (1-12cr.)