Ph.D. in Consumer and Design Sciences

Program Overview

The Ph.D. in Consumer and Design Sciences (CADS), a research-based degree, requires 60 semester hours of graduate level course work beyond the B.S. degree. It also requires a Written Preliminary Examination, an Oral Preliminary Examination defined as the CADS Dissertation Proposal defense; and a Final Oral Examination defined as the Dissertation Defense. The doctorate is focused on the generation of new knowledge through innovative exploration of theory, development of creative perspectives, and application of new technologies.

Teaching and/or research assistantships are awarded on a competitive basis, based upon program needs, student qualifications, and funding availability.

The following list suggests topical areas for advanced study in CADS:

  • • Consumer Behavior
  • • Interior Design
  • • Functional and Creative Apparel/Product Design
  • • Design Management
  • • Retail and Merchandising Technologies
  • • Product Development
  • • Sustainability
  • • Creativity
  • • Forecasting and Trend Analysis
  • • Emerging Technologies
  • • Multicultural and Global Markets

The list of CADS graduate faculty provides descriptors of each individual’s key subject matter areas.

Beyond basic requirements, each student’s program is tailored to his or her own educational objectives and goals through the selection of courses and research topic. Although coursework is taken primarily within CADS, courses from other departments may be identified as appropriate. All selections are made in communication with and approved by each student’s Major Professor (MP) and Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC). CADS courses carrying graduate credit include regularly scheduled courses and customizable courses that may be taken by a single or small group of students. A list of possible external supporting courses has been identified by CADS graduate faculty, but others may be suggested by a student.


Program Requirements

Graduate School Requirements for the Ph.D.
Students must successfully complete a total of at least 60 semester credit hours beyond the bachelor’s degree. These must meet the following criteria:

  • at least 30 semester credit hours must be at or above the 6000 level and graded (i.e., not S-U) course work;
  • the other 30 or more hours may incorporate ungraded course work, including the dissertation;
  • at least 21 of the 60 credit hours must be completed at Auburn University; and
  • up to 30 credit hours of master’s course work (including no more than four semester hours of thesis research and completion) may be counted in the 60-hour minimum. Application of master’s course work to the doctoral degree must be approved by the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee and the dean of the Graduate School.

Graduate students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher to remain in the Graduate School. Doctoral students must pass general (comprehensive) written and follow-up oral examinations to proceed to doctoral candidacy and subsequent completion of the dissertation.

At the end of each spring semester, CADS is required by the Graduate School to report each doctoral student’s progress toward degree completion. The CADS Doctoral Progress Form used by MPs for this purpose and available to students as a planning guide is the Doctoral Student Term-to-Term Progress toward Degree Completion. It is laid out to cover a three-year period.

Related links to the Graduate School website include the following:
Doctoral Degree Information
Academic Progress & Grades
Doctoral Studies Checklist
Check if on track to graduation.

CADS Course Requirements
  • CADS 7040 Protocol for Graduate Study (1 cr.) (Fall semester)
  • CADS 7050 Research Methods in Consumer and Design Sciences (3 cr.) (Spring semester)
  • CADS 7060 Survey of Consumer and Design Sciences Research (3 cr.) (Fall semester)

Two of the following four theory courses:
  • CADS 7100 Environmental Design Theories and Applications (3 cr.)
  • CADS 7200 Aesthetics Theory and Consumer and Design Sciences (3 cr.) Pr./CR CADS 7050
  • CADS 7530 Sustainability Theory and Applications (3 cr.) Pr. CADS 7050
  • CADS 7670 Social Psychological Theories in Clothing Behavior (3 cr.) Pr./CR CADS 7050
  • CADS 7690 Consumer Theory in Apparel and Interiors (3 cr.) Pr. CADS 7050
  • CADS 8100 Apparel and Interiors Branding (3 cr.) Pr. CADS 7050

Two statistics courses (6-7 total credit hours): Selected from a list of choices in consultation with student’s MP or GPO.

20-25 credit hours in CADS graduate courses (or equivalents from the master’s degree); courses outside the Department may be approved for some of these hours.

CADS 8990 Research and Dissertation (10 cr.)

Master’s Thesis
Students who completed a non-thesis master’s degree must develop and submit a manuscript to a research journal prior to the general doctoral exam. The content may be initiated through a research project begun in one of the student’s courses.



Customized Program
Courses taken beyond the CADS specific requirements should be taken to support the student’s post-graduate goals and fill in gaps in experience or knowledge identified by the student and Graduate Program Officer (GPO) initially and ultimately by the MP once the MP is determined.

Graduate Advisory Committee (GAC)
Each doctoral student’s GAC must be composed of four faculty – an MP and three other graduate faculty. At least three of the GAC members, including the MP, must be Level 2 graduate faculty; the fourth member can be Level 1. Only CADS Level 2 graduate faculty can be an MP for CADS Ph.D. students; it is a good idea to identify more than one possible faculty in case the first professor you ask is too busy or does not feel that their expertise links to your interests. CADS Level 1 faculty can serve as a co-major professor (co-MP) with a Level 2 faculty. Having two co-MPs is not uncommon and may be desirable for topical, methodological, or workload reasons. The CADS graduate faculty list indicates level status.

The GAC is led by the MP who succeeds the GPO as advisor. During the first term, students will hear about most or all of the graduate faculty’s interest areas in CADS 7060. Schedule meetings with those faculty whose focal areas of research or creative work could link to your interests and goals to explore MP possibilities.

Once you have decided whom you would like to have as your MP, you ask that professor if they are willing. If they agree to be your MP, submit the Declaration of Major Professor form.

Following this, you will begin to talk with the MP about identifying members of your GAC. Because of the mandated four members, you may want one to be from another department, but typically no more than one member is external.

Choosing the GAC members may not occur until the student and MP have had some time to discuss the student’s research interests. The GAC must be identified prior to the student being able to complete the Plan of Study (POS). It is students’ responsibility to ask the faculty in person if they will serve on their GAC.

Plan of Study (POS)
The POS is each student’s list of courses completed and to be completed to comply with Graduate School and CADS requirements. It is filled out in the CADS Plan of Study Template.

Content of the POS should be decided with the MP. GAC members also may suggest courses. The POS must be approved by all GAC members. To receive your GAC’s approval, the completed Plan of Study Template should be saved in a PDF file and then shared with the GAC by the MP for the GAC members to sign if they approve it. The approved POS should be submitted to the GPO for departmental records. You are strongly encouraged to file your GPO by the beginning of your third semester. It must be completed prior to your General Written Exam or one semester prior to the semester in which you graduate, whichever earlier (see Doctoral Degree policies).

After approved by the GAC and filed with the GPO, the POS can still be revised if needed; revisions must be approved by your GAC by completing a new  Plan of Study Template. The approved revised POS should be submitted to the GPO for departmental records.



After completion of course work and prior to proceeding with the formal dissertation proposal and research, students must pass a General Doctoral Examination composed sequentially of written and oral components. The purpose of the examination is to assess the student’s understanding of existing knowledge in his/her area of study and to evaluate the student’s readiness for proceeding to developing a dissertation proposal, executing the approved research, and completing the written dissertation. The focus will be relatively broad but not necessarily reflective of every course taken in the POS.

The general examination is scheduled in consultation with the MP and GAC. It is given in two steps, and each step is developed by and executed under the supervision of the MP and guidance of the GAC. The first component is written and is designed to probe the student’s broad comprehension and application of established knowledge in his/her field of focus. The written component can be completed over a maximum period of two weeks. The oral component follows the submission of the written portion. It must be scheduled to take place two to three weeks following the date that the written exam is submitted.

No Graduate School forms are needed to schedule the written segment. The oral examination must be scheduled by submitting the Request to Report on the General Oral Examination to the Graduate School no later than one week before the oral examination.

The written examination will be graded by the time of the oral examination, but these grades will not be final until the oral examination is finished and the overall general examination performance (written + oral) is graded by GAC. Aggregated scores and written comments from GAC on the general examination can be communicated to the student upon the student’s request AFTER the general examination result (satisfactory/unsatisfactory) is announced. Passage of the general doctoral examination (combining written and oral components) must be documented by a unanimous, affirmative vote of the GAC following the oral examination, as noted on the form, which must then be submitted to the Graduate School. Upon passage of the general examination, the student is considered a doctoral candidate and may proceed with full development and presentation of the dissertation research proposal.

If the student fails the general examination, the GAC can recommend termination of the student’s doctoral program or re-examination, which must be accomplished no later than by the end of the semester following the initial administration of the examination. Upon the GAC’s recommendation, approval of the GPO, Department Head, and Graduate School dean is required for a student to re-take the examination. If the student fails the Examination on the second trial, they are dropped from the doctoral program.

At least one term must lapse between passing the General Oral Examination and completing the Final Oral Examination (final defense of the dissertation). Candidates have a maximum of four additional years after passing the General Examination in which to complete all additional degree requirements. Candidates must pass a final oral defense of the dissertation to complete the Ph.D. requirements.

MPs may obtain detailed CADS Ph.D. General Examination Process and Communication Guidelines for MP from the GPO before planning the student’s general examination.

GAC members will discuss appropriate topical coverage for the exam, based on the student’s POS and area of dissertation research, and identify each member’s contribution. They may ask a non-GAC faculty with whom the student has had an important course to submit a question. Following this, the MP will provide guidance to the student on the breadth of content to review in preparation for the examination without revealing the exam questions. The student may also meet with each GAC member to discuss their section of the exam.

The general written examination is administered as a take-home exam over a maximum period of two weeks. Five to seven in-depth and potentially multi-part questions are given to the student at the beginning of the period. Questions are distributed via email to by the MP to the student, and GAC should be copied on this email. Each of the questions is to be answered as a unique paper (including cited references) not to exceed ten pages, followed by pages for the list of cited references. The paper must not show any plagiarism, self or otherwise. No wording (i.e. sentence or paragraph) from any previous work, including class papers, publications, or any proposal development, should be used. The work must be only the result of the student’s effort; no editor (human or AI) may be used. The student should not share exam questions or response papers with anyone prior to submission to the GAC. The GAC will decide whether each paper will be evaluated by part or all of the GAC members.

The general oral examination will follow up on the content addressed in the written examination. Upon completion of the written examination, the student should review any parts of their written examination responses which they felt insufficient or incorrect and be prepared to address how they could be improved in case GAC has questions on them. Feedback will not be given by the MP or GAC prior to the oral examination.



A dissertation is the written record of an original research project undertaken by a doctoral student under the supervision of the MP and guidance of the GAC. It is composed of a description of the significance of the topic, what is already known relevant to the subject (literature review), specification of research objectives and/or hypotheses and how they will be examined, what was found in conducting the research (data analysis and interpretation), and how the study may be applied and contributes to the knowledge base for future research. Students are encouraged to identify the focus or topic of their dissertation early in the graduate program and begin to review relevant literature after they have identified their MP. After passing the general examination (written and oral components), the student can proceed with developing and defending the proposal for dissertation research.

Click here for Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Guide: an overview of and specific Graduate School guidelines for the dissertation process, output, and submission.

Dissertation Proposal
The student works directly with the MP to develop a research plan that is presented in a proposal to the GAC for formal approval prior to execution and completion. The Proposal typically consists of the first three chapters of the dissertation.

In any semester that the student is actively working with the MP on developing the proposal and completing the dissertation, the Department requires that they must register for at least two hours of CADS 8990. Doctoral students who have completed their general oral examination are automatically enrolled in GRAD 6@@0 to indicate their full-time student status even if their actual credit hours they register for dissertation is below 9 hours in the semester.

The MP determines when the Proposal is ready for GAC review. The student is responsible for contacting GAC members to identify days and times of availability for a two-hour meeting, as well as to reserve a room for the meeting. Two weeks in advance of the meeting, the student provides committee members with proposal copies in digital and/or printed form (according to the wishes of individual members).

Dissertation Proposal Meeting and Progression to Research Execution
In the proposal meeting, the student gives an oral presentation (with slides) summarizing the proposal. All graduate students and non-GAC faculty can be invited to the meeting but are excused following the presentation. At this point, the GAC will query the student about any aspect of the proposal, with the goal of making sure that the planned research is well conceived and with the perspective of helping the student avoid pitfalls in execution. GAC members will likely have suggestions or edits for the proposal writing. Upon conclusion of the question and answer period, the student may be asked to temporarily leave the room while the GAC discusses approval of the proposed research.

Possible Sources of Financial Support for Dissertation Research
Aside from students who pursue research allied with their MP’s funded research, there may be opportunities to apply or be nominated for Graduate School Awards and Grants, some of which have accompanying monetary awards. Further, professional organizations in your discipline may offer opportunities to apply or be nominated for graduate student awards and grants (e.g., the International Textile and Apparel Association [ITAA] sponsors competitive applications for a limited range of awards). Further, a doctoral student may apply for the dissertation research support (up to $500) from the College of Human Sciences Office of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies (ADR) according to the application instructions HERE.

Dissertation Completion
Once the dissertation proposal is approved by the GAC, the student works with the MP during the execution of the dissertation research and composition of an acceptable draft of the full dissertation. Following are the step-by-step procedure and required paperwork for dissertation completion:

  1. The MP will indicate when the dissertation draft can be given to the GAC for preliminary approval.
  2. The student submits the MP-approved dissertation draft to the GAC. As with the proposal, two weeks should be allowed for members to review.
  3. Once the GAC has given preliminary approval of the draft, a copy is submitted to the Graduate School along with the Doctoral Dissertation First Submission Approval Form. In this form, a University Reader (UR) must be specified. The UR may be an instructor of a non-CADS graduate course the student took or any other non-CADS graduate faculty member who the MP or student thinks would be willing and able to assess the dissertation. The student or the MP must personally invite a potential UR for this role and obtain their agreement before including their information in the Doctoral Dissertation First Submission Approval Form.
  4. Once the GAC indicates their preliminary approval in the Doctoral Dissertation First Submission Approval Form, the dissertation draft will be delivered to a UR for his/her review (the student may separately submit their dissertation draft to the UR before the Graduate School sends it if they desire the UR to begin reading it early). Simultaneously, the student is also required to submit PDF of the dissertation draft to for Format Check.
  5. If the UR approves the dissertation draft, the student will receive an email notification to proceed with scheduling the Final Oral Examination. Note that the UR may suggest changes that should be made prior to the Final Oral Examination. If this is the case, a revised dissertation draft must be sent to GAC members and the UR after incorporating or addressing the UR’s comments. Once the UR has reported approval of the first draft to the Graduate School, and the student has addressed any requested changes, the student may apply for the Final Oral Examination using the form that will be automatically emailed to the student upon the UR’s approval submission. The application for the Final Oral Examination must be submitted at least one week prior to the final oral examination.
  6. At the Final Oral Examination (dissertation defense), the student will first present the dissertation research. This presentation portion of the Final Oral Examination is open to attendance by faculty and graduate students. But, only the GAC and UR are permitted for the remainder of the defense when GAC members and the UR may ask the candidate about their research efforts and other relevant questions. After the GAC/UR questioning is completed, the student will be asked to step out of the meeting momentarily while the GAC/UR deliberates on the dissertation performance and determines the outcome (satisfactory/unsatisfactory). Final passage requires unanimous approval of all GAC members and the UR.
  7. On the day of the final oral examination, the Graduate School will send the MP the Report on the Final Oral Exam and Publishing Approval Form. Once the MP indicates the outcome of the final oral examination and submits the form, it will be automatically sent to the remaining GAC members and the UR for their confirmation of the final oral examination outcome. In case during the final oral examination the GAC/UR request revisions on the dissertation that they determine to be critical enough not to approve the dissertation until the revisions are made, the student must submit a revised dissertation draft to the GAC/UR after fulfilling the revision requirements. The GAC/UR will postpone reporting their approval until this has happened.

    In case of failure to pass the Final Oral Examination (i.e., one or more GAC members or UR disapprove the dissertation), the candidate may be allowed one re-examination upon approval of the GAC and the Dean of the Graduate School.
  8. Submit the Dissertation approved by all GAC members and UR on AUETD.