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Human Performance Ph.D.

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The Ph.D. in Human Performance program is designed to train doctoral-level students to become effective educators within a rapidly changing education and public service environment and to produce and publish scholarly research. Specializations are offered in exercise science, health, leisure studies, and physical education. The program is primarily for students with a master’s degree in one of these areas, but other applicants may be admitted by completing prerequisite courses and meeting other entry criteria.

What We're Doing

Treadmill exercise helps overcome paralysis

Treadmill exercise helps overcome paralysis

Research being conducted at the MTSU Exercise Science laboratory is helping people with paralysis to walk again! Individuals with spinal cord injuries who are training in an underwater treadmill are able to stand and support themselves and are taking steps toward a new beginning. “We have participants who have come to MTSU from other states because there is nothing similar,” says Dr. Sandy Stevens, an assistant professor who oversees the treadmill program. “If one thing has consistently changed throughout the course of treatment, it is that hope has been restored. When the participants see their legs moving, they believe that anything is possible.” Walking in water produces greater blood flow for people with severe spinal cord trauma and increases cardiovascular activity. “It’s much easier to give somebody a glass of water, to give some help; it’s much harder to give some hope,” research subject Andriy Ogorodink says. MTSU students earlier used the 270-gallon fiberglass tank of water to help children with cerebral palsy increase muscle strength and improve mobility.

Student impressed by mentors, Ph.D. job placement

Student impressed by mentors, Ph.D. job placement

Preparation is invaluable to any student. Brad Camp, a Ph.D. candidate in Human Performance with an emphasis in Leisure Studies, chose MTSU for that exact reason. Camp experienced firsthand the unique assistance that he and fellow classmates have received. “MTSU has a proven track record of getting Ph.D. students hired across the nation. I have watched office mates and colleagues go out and have success obtaining employment.” His keen interest in the importance of leisure as a way to maintain a healthy, well-established society persuaded Camp to continue on to a doctorate. He also believes faculty are indispensable to the program, providing both support and mentorship. "Dr. Gray truly cares about her graduate students, and she prepares them to become professionals once they leave ... Dr. Dunlap has introduced me to a wide variety of scholarship. He is incredibly well read, and he constantly encourages me to read new things.” Camp’s dissertation focuses on the impact of urban-built environments on social interaction.

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The Ph.D. in Human Performance is offered for the purpose of developing doctoral level expertise in research (both applied and theoretical) and as preparation for teaching at the collegiate level. Some positions currently held by alumni from the doctoral program include

  • Athletic trainer
  • Behavioral sleep medicine specialist
  • College athletics head coach
  • Physical education teacher
  • Strength and conditioning coach
  • University professor 

Employers of MTSU alumni include

  • Bowling Green State University
  • BYU—Hawaii
  • Columbus State University
  • Cumberland University
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Endicott College, School of Sport Science and Fitness Studies
  • Gustavus Adolphus College
  • Kansas State University
  • Lipscomb University
  • Mesa State University
  • Montana State University—Northern
  • National Basketball Association/Brooklyn Nets
  • Roanoke College
  • Syracuse University
  • Taylor University
  • Tennessee Technological University
  • Texas Tech University
  • Trinity Elementary School
  • Troy University
  • University of Tennessee—Martin
  • University of Wisconsin
  • University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire
  • Vanderbilt University Medical Center
  • West Virginia University
  • Western Kentucky University


MTSU’s doctoral program leads to the Ph.D. in Human Performance degree, with the following specializations:

  • Exercise science researches physical activity and metabolism. For further information, contact
  • Health researches questions that deal with community and public health, school health, and lifetime wellness education. For further information, contact
  • Leisure & Sport Management researches leisure and sport organizations, methods of support in the expansion of leisure and sport industries, and other research that advances the understanding of leisure and sport in society. For further information, contact
  • Physical education researches pedagogical skills regarding how individuals learn and teach physical activity as part of the development of each individual. For further information, contact

Applicants holding only a bachelor’s degree will complete the requirements for an M.S. (thesis option) in addition to the Ph.D. requirements.

For complete curriculum details, click on the REQUIREMENTS  tab above.

Other degree programs offered by HHP

Two Master of Science degrees are available in the Department of Health and Human Performance: an M.S. in Exercise Science; and an M.S. in Leisure, Sport, and Tourism Management, with concentrations in Sport Industry and in Recreation and Leisure Services.

The department also offers an M.P.H. in Public Health, which has two concentrations: Community Health and Physical Activity.

Undergraduate majors in the department can attain a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Athletic TrainingExercise ScienceCommunity and Public Health (concentrations in Community and Public Health); Leisure and Sport Management; or Physical Education. Both a B.S. and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree are available in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.

The department offers undergraduate minors in Athletic Coaching and Officiating, Driver and Traffic Safety Education, Health, Health and Physical Education, Health and Human Performance, Recreation, and Somatic Movement Education, and Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology.

For more information on the Ph. D. in Human Performance, click here.

Apply Now!

Human Performance, Ph.D.

Dr. Don Belcher, Graduate Director
(615) 898-2904

The Department of Health and Human Performance offers the Ph.D. in Human Performance with specializations in Exercise Science (for further information contact Dr. John Coons,; Health (for further information contact Dr. Andrew Owusu,; Leisure, Sport, and Tourism Management (for further information contact Dr. Rudy Dunlap,; and Physical Education (for further information contact Dr. Don Belcher, The Ph.D. degree is offered for the purpose of developing doctoral level expertise in research (both applied and theoretical) and as preparation for teaching at the collegiate level.

Please see undergraduate catalog for information regarding undergraduate programs.

Admission Requirements

Admissions decisions will be made after reviewing all materials and determining the applicant's capacity, suitability, and preparation for doctoral study. Admission decisions are based on consideration of a number of criteria that predict success in the Ph.D. program.

Admission to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Human Performance program requires

  1. an earned bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited university or college with an acceptable grade point average (GPA) in all college work taken. Successful applicants typically have a grade point average (GPA) on the last 60 hours of academic work of 3.00 or above on a 4.00 scale.
  2. completion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) with acceptable scores. Successful applicants to the Ph.D. program have scores that exceed 297. The Analytical Writing Assessment score is also considered.
  3. research skills. Successful applicants typically have statistical and research methodology skills as evidenced by coursework in both areas, and have completed a thesis or scholarly project that can be reviewed by the graduate director.
  4. coursework in a related field. Applicants with a bachelor's degree are expected to have completed at least 18 hours of coursework in a related field. Applicants with a master's degree are expected to have completed at least 20 graduate hours in a related field.

Application Procedures

All application materials are to be submitted to the College of Graduate Studies.

Applications for admission must be complete by March 1 for Summer admission, by June 1 for Fall admission, and by October 1 for Spring admission. Late applicants who meet the admission criteria may be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Applicants must submit

  1. application with the appropriate application fee (online at Once this initial application has been accepted, the applicant will receive directions on how to enter the graduate portal to be able to submit other materials.
  2. official scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE);
  3. official transcripts of all previous college work;
  4. three letters of recommendation from persons who can address their academic qualifications and potential for success in doctoral study and teaching ability;
  5. a 400-500 word statement of purpose giving their reasons for applying to the Ph.D. program, academic interests, professional goals, and area of specialization.

Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. in Human Performance requires completion of 60-72 semester hours.

Candidates must

  1. complete 60 credit hours past the master's degree (see Curriculum section below for specifics). A maximum of 12 hours from the master's degree may be transferred in from an accredited program. Two-thirds (40 semester hours) of the program must be at the 7000-level. Applicants holding only a bachelor's degree will complete the requirements for an M.S. (thesis option) in addition to the Ph.D. requirements. 
  2. complete a thesis or scholarly equivalent prior to admission to candidacy.
  3. successfully complete preliminary examinations to advance to candidacy.
  4. be enrolled in full-time study (9 semester hours) for at least one semester to fulfill residency requirements.
  5. complete a dissertation and successfully defend it in the final oral examination.


The following illustrates the coursework requirements. In addition, a maximum of 24 hours of dissertation research may be required to fulfill degree requirements.

Human Performance Core Requirements (15 hours)

  • HHP 7060 - Research Practicum in Human Performance  1 to 6 credit hours  
    (3 credit hours required)(3 credit hours required)  dotslash:(3 credit hours required) title:(3 credit hours required) 
    (3 credit hours required) 

    HHP 7060 - Research Practicum in Human Performance

    1 to 6credit hours

    Research experience under the direct supervision of a graduate faculty member resulting in the submission of a manuscript to a refereed journal or a grant to a funding agency.

  • HHP 7600 - Teaching Practicum in Human Performance  3 credit hours  
    (3 credit hours required)(3 credit hours required)  dotslash:(3 credit hours required) title:(3 credit hours required) 
    (3 credit hours required) 

    HHP 7600 - Teaching Practicum in Human Performance

    3credit hours

    Teaching experience under the direct supervision of graduate faculty member in a three-credit undergraduate course within the student's area of specialization. May be repeated once for a maximum of 6 credit hours. S/U grading.

  • HHP 7700 - Advanced Data Analysis and Organization for Human Performance

    3credit hours

    Prerequisites: HHP 6610 and HHP 6700 or equivalent. Skills and understanding necessary to read, conduct, report, and interpret advanced data analytical techniques using data from HHP. Practical and written assignments, presentations, examinations, and projects will furnish doctoral student with tools necessary for data analysis associated with dissertation requirement.

Select 3 hours from the following:

  • FOED 7570 - Issues in Higher Education

    3credit hours

    Higher education in America and its historical, philosophical, political, and sociological background, development, and relationships. Current trends and problems, particularly those relating to the financial and legal aspects.

  • FOED 7580 - The College Student

    3credit hours

    The changing nature of the college student with emphasis on institutional efforts to provide for the development of the student.

  • SPSE 7551 - Instructional Development in Higher Education

    3credit hours

    Prerequisite: Previous college teaching (instructor of record) or completion of the LT&ITC graduate teaching assistant teaching preparation certification program or approval of the instructor. Addresses effective course design, instructional strategies, and use of technology in teaching at the higher education level.

Research Tools (9 hours)

 Choose three courses from statistics, research design, and data analysis in consultation with advisor.

Specialization (24 hours)

A total of 24 hours coursework and independent research is to be selected in consultation with the graduate program advisor.

Dissertation (12-24 hours)

  • HHP 7640 - Dissertation Research  1 to 6 credit hours  
    (12 credit hours)(12 credit hours minimum)  dotslash:(12 credit hours minimum) title:(12 credit hours) 
    (12 credit hours minimum) 

    HHP 7640 - Dissertation Research

    1 to 6credit hours

    Assignment by department or chair of candidate's committee. Selection of a research problem, review of pertinent literature, collection and analysis of data, and composition of dissertation. Once enrolled, student should register for at least one credit hour of doctoral research each semester until completion. S/U grading

Program Notes

Pre-dissertation Advising - Upon admission to the Ph.D. program, the candidate will be assigned an advisor who (in cooperation with the graduate coordinator) will advise the student on an appropriate program of study and of any deficiencies to correct.

Preliminary Examinations - Upon completion of coursework, the candidate will be eligible to take preliminary exams. The written exams will be structured to test the student on the three content areas (research methodology and data analysis, Ph.D. specialization area, and area of research interest). All exams are to be taken within one calendar year.

Advancement to Candidacy - No more than six credit hours of C grade will count toward the Ph.D. degree requirements. D and F grades will not count toward degree requirements but will be computed in the GPA. The student must have a GPA of 3.25 for the program of studies to advance to candidacy.

Dissertation Committee - Upon advancement to candidacy, students will formally construct their dissertation committees. The committee should include at a minimum three faculty members; two must be from the department, and one must be from outside the department. All members of the committee must have graduate faculty status.

Time Limit - There is a ten-year limit for completing all Ph.D. degree requirements, i.e., all doctoral coursework taken at MTSU, as well as the dissertation, must be completed within ten years of the first semester of enrollment.

Our adjunct faculty bring outstanding professional experience to our programs. Many are industry leaders with decorated careers and honors. Importantly, they are innovative educators who offer hands-on learning to our students to prepare them to enter and thrive in a dynamic, and oftentimes emerging, industry and professional world. They inspire, instruct, and challenge our students toward academic and professional success.

Online or Hybrid Programs at a Glance

This program is available .

For More Information or Explore Your Options​

Contact your department / program coordinator or advisor for more details about the program OR work one-on-one with your advisor to explore your options.

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With over 25 years of experience in online teaching and learning, MTSU Online offers students access to innovative, high-quality programs. Designed with students in mind, our courses allow maximum flexibility for those unable to participate in person. ​

Resources and services for online students are available from MTSU Online or contact us at

Contact Information

Don Belcher

Who is My Advisor?

Dr. John Coons

Mailing Address

Department of Health and Human Performance
Middle Tennessee State University
MTSU Box 96
1301 East Main Street
Murfreesboro, TN 37132

 College of Graduate Studies
Middle Tennessee State University
MTSU Box 42
1301 East Main Street
Murfreesboro, TN 37132

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