Careers For Research Graduate Students (Ph.D.)

A research doctoral degree (Ph.D.) is required to become a speech, language, and hearing researcher. Ph.D. degree programs emphasize preparation for research and teaching careers in audiology, speech-language pathology, and hearing or speech science, with the expectation that students will contribute to the science of the discipline and become productive teacher/scholars. Speech, language, and hearing researchers may work and conduct research at universities, hospitals, state or federal government health agencies, and/or private industries.  

Goals of a Ph.D. Program

Ph.D. program goals are quite different from those of master's programs in speech-language pathology or clinical doctorate programs in audiology (AuD or clinical PhD). The purpose of the research Ph.D. program is to prepare individuals for careers as teachers, scholars, and researchers. These individuals convey knowledge to educate future clinicians, and generate new knowledge by conducting research that addresses questions regarding the nature, diagnosis, and treatment of communication disorders. In contrast, the purpose of masters or clinical doctorate programs is to prepare knowledgeable, competent clinicians who will provide exemplary clinical services to children and adults with communication disorders. Clinicians apply knowledge for the benefit of patients. While some researchers hold ASHA's Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC), the credential is not required for research. 

The typical program of study for a research doctoral degree takes 4-5 years and is designed to:

  • enable the student to extensively study a focused area of interest within the discipline
  • learn the scientific method
  • acquire the skill set necessary to independently pursue a program of research
  • secure funding for research in one's area of interest
  • contribute to the basic and applied knowledge base of the discipline

Growing Need for New Researchers

There continues to be a great need for basic, applied/clinical, and translational research in the discipline, and as the profession continues to grow, there is a strong need for more scientists and college professors; especially those from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds. For more information see ASHA's report on the PhD student pipeline.

In many fields, it is typical for students to enter PhD programs directly from their undergraduate programs. However, in speech and hearing sciences it has been far more common for students to complete an undergraduate degree and entry level clinical degree (master's degree or Au.D.) before applying to doctoral programs. Many people enroll in a PhD program after a few years of clinical practice. That being said, there is no reason that someone with an undergraduate or even a graduate degree in another discipline or field cannot pursue a doctoral degree in speech and hearing sciences. Many people find that a background in education, psychology, linguistics, pre-medicine, and so on, provides a great foundation for graduate study in this field. Ph.D. programs are quite individualized, so it is possible to tailor the program to a variety of backgrounds.

Some doctoral programs, but not all, also accept students into a combined Masters/PhD or AuD/PhD degree. These students complete the requirements for the entry level clinical degree as well as the PhD. The Clinical Fellowship (CF) may also be completed during these years.

Financing A Doctoral Education

The majority of doctoral students finance their doctoral education through funding they receive from the university that they attend. Students may receive fellowships from the university, or they may be employed as research assistants or teaching assistants. The university may have a training grant funded by the National Institutes of Health or the U. S. Department of Education. Tuition is typically provided as a benefit from fellowships or assistantships. Additional funding can be sought from private foundations (e.g., American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation) and from grant funding from the National Institutes of Health. Students should ask about the particulars of funding as they talk with doctoral programs and with former and current doctoral students.