Content | Navigation |

STEM Education PhD Program

North Dakota State University

Applicants are invited for NDSU's interdisciplinary PhD program in Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics (STEM) Education. The purpose of this interdisciplinary program is to prepare future college faculty whose research focus is on teaching and learning at the collegiate level and who can successfully teach at the undergraduate/graduate level in their selected STEM discipline.

Coursework will center on graduate-level courses in the discipline area, a common core of STEM Education courses, and elective courses focused on research training. The candidate's dissertation research will be supervised by an interdisciplinary team of faculty and will investigate teaching and learning within/across one or more STEM disciplines.

Although interdisciplinary in nature, graduate students in the STEM Education PhD Program will have an academic home in the STEM department/program of their discipline preference. Graduate committee membership will include faculty from the STEM Education program and from the department/program of discipline preference.  The outside committee member must be external both to STEM Education program and to the disciplinary home department.

Program Requirements


Applicants for the STEM Education PhD program must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Completed a Masters (or PhD) degree in a STEM discipline.
  • Accepted into an NDSU Masters program in a STEM discipline.
  • Accepted into an NDSU PhD program in a STEM discipline.

Applicants will provide a background information, a written statement of career goals, and a response to the following prompt: What skills and knowledge do you expect to gain as a result of earning a PhD in STEM Education?

Academic Progress

The program requires 60 semester hours beyond a Masters degree. A plan of study will be developed to ensure that the student demonstrates content expertise in his/her STEM discipline as well as a strong background in educational research.

Core Didactic Courses (9 SH)

  • STEM 810: Teaching College Science (3 SH)
  • STEM 820: STEM Curriculum & Instruction (3 SH)
  • STEM 830: Research Methods in STEM (3 SH)

Additional Coursework

  • STEM 890: Graduate Seminar (1 SH) (continuing enrollment throughout program)
  • EDUC/BIOL/BIOC/MATH/PHYS 899: Doctoral Dissertation (minimum SH)
  • Elective Graduate Courses in STEM Discipline and/or Education (minimum of 18 SH, to meet minimum of 27 SH coursework requirement)

Students enrolled in program must maintain and overall GPA greater than 3.0 both within the content area and the education courses. If the GPA in either component should drop below 3.0, then the student is placed onto probation within the program for the following semester. If at the end of that semester the GPA still remains below 3.0, the student is subject to dismissal from the program.

Advancing to Candidacy

In the STEM Education PhD program, advancing to candidacy involves (1) a written comprehensive exam and (2) an oral defense of a preliminary research proposal.

Advancing to candidacy: Comprehensive exam

We believe that the purpose of the comprehensive exam is to demonstrate mastery of an area within your field. There are multiple ways to demonstrate mastery, including through a written or oral exam, or a literature review. We briefly describe several approaches, while leaving room for additional alternatives (alternative comprehensive exams must be approved by the STEM Education steering committee).

Short-term written or oral exam. In this format, a student responds to a set of questions developed by their advisory committee in consultation with the STEM Education program faculty. Exams may be open or limited resource and occur within a specified time frame.

Comprehensive literature review. One of the primary goals of your graduate career is to generate new knowledge and to defend its value to the broader community of scholars. You will need to develop and demonstrate an understanding of the scholarly work relevant to your area of study. Familiarity with the literature is important for the successful completion of every step in your journey, from providing motivations for choosing a specific topic to reporting the results, as shown in Figure 1. In order to support you in this process, this approach to the preliminary exam will focus entirely on undertaking a literature review. The literature review, as a thorough and integrative review, may serve a number of purposes (see literature types below). As you engage in this work, we encourage you to think about how this writing could inform your research proposal. We expect you will expand this writing as your project develops.


The written component is intended to assess the student’s comprehensive knowledge of content in the STEM discipline and education, with particular emphasis on demonstrating expertise at integrating the two fields of study. As such, this is not an examination to assess the student’s recall of information but rather an opportunity for the candidate to reveal his/her understanding of key concepts and the relationship between STEM disciplines and education. Students are allowed to access web-based, electronic, and print resources during the examination. Therefore, it is advisable for students to prepare for the exam by not only reviewing content covered in previous coursework, but also in organizing the resources they anticipate consulting during the exam. As part of the written component, students may be asked to demonstrate disciplinary content knowledge. This may be achieved through (1) written questions, (2) an MS degree that demonstrates content knowledge (e.g., written exam), or (3) some alternate methodology that is approved by the STEM Education PhD Steering Committee. The student’s Committee will articulate through a memo to the program director how mastery was assessed.The student’s committee will solicit exam questions from STEM Education faculty and will select six exam questions. These questions are open-ended and will require the candidate to evaluate, synthesize, and integrate knowledge. The student will have two weeks to prepare written responses to four of the questions. Responses will be submitted electronically to the candidate’s committee chair no later than the date and time indicated on the question sheet.  The committee will have seven working days to review, score, and return the answers to the advisor.  Each question of the exam will be evaluated on an expectations met/expectations not met system resulting in an overall rating for each question; students must meet expectations for all questions in order to pass the written exam. Within approximately two weeks of submitting the written exam, a meeting will be scheduled with the student to review the results. Successful completion of the written component of the comprehensive exam is required prior to attempting the oral defense of the preliminary research proposal.As stated above, the exam is open-source. However, open-source does not include consultation with outside individuals. Students may ask for clarification on any question from the committee chair or the writer of the specific question as identified on the exam. Consultation with any other individuals concerning exam questions during the candidate’s two-week writing time will result in failure of the comprehensive exam and may result in expulsion from the program and university.In congruence with the Graduate College policies, upon permission of a majority of the supervisory committee members, a candidate is allowed to take the written examination twice. If any portion of the written exam does not meet expectations, the committee will propose a course of action as a second attempt that may include:

  • Oral discussion with committee to demonstrate mastery of prompt(s) not meeting expectations,
  • Re-write response to prompt(s) or respond to similar, but new prompt(s), or
  • Complete a new exam of six questions

At least one month must transpire after the failed examination before a second attempt is made.

The oral component is intended to focus on the student’s plan for conducting original research in STEM education. In addition, the committee will address the student's coursework, plus any topics from the written exam that were not appropriately addressed by the student. Following the exam, the advisory committee will review the student's progress (including such areas as GPA, completion of coursework on the plan of study, and seminars). The committee will vote on whether to advance the student to candidacy. A negative vote by more than one member of the student's committee will signify failure of the preliminary oral defense. If the candidate does not meet expectations, they will receive written feedback and recommendations for improvement. At the conclusion of the preliminary oral defense, the examining committee will record, in writing, its approval or disapproval of the candidate and file its report, within seven days, with the Dean of the Graduate School. Upon permission of a majority of the supervisory committee, a student is allowed to take the oral examination twice, but no sooner than one month after failing the first attempt.
Students are expected to complete the oral defense of their preliminary research proposal within 12 months of passing the comprehensive exam in STEM Education.
Dual track students
Students pursuing a dual PhD (PhD in STEM Education and discipline-based PhD) will complete two separate comprehensive exams: the written comprehensive exam in the STEM Education PhD program, as described above, and the comprehensive exam in the student’s discipline. It is anticipated that most students will complete a single oral defense of their preliminary research, but this will be decided in concert with the student’s discipline program.

Final Examination

At least one academic semester must elapse between the comprehensive/preliminary examination and the final examination. The final examination will be taken after the candidate has completed the course work and dissertation. This oral examination will be concerned primarily with the dissertation, but it may also cover material from course work, especially those courses fundamental to the dissertation.

Additional Information

Jeff Boyer, Ph.D.
Director of Assessment and Accreditation
Office of the Provost
Fargo ND 58108-6050

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

Follow NDSU
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • RSS
  • Google Maps

Center for Science & Mathematics Education
FLC Suite 314 Dept. 2020
Tel: 701-231-7015

Last Updated: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 11:46:54 AM
Privacy Statement