THE PHD IN HEALTH & BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES
The PhD in Health & Behavioral Sciences (HBS) prepares students to be leaders in the interdisciplinary field of population health. Our program draws on theories and methods from the social, behavioral, and health sciences, to understand health, health behaviors, and health care. A few recent research topics in our program include the AIDS epidemic, the social contexts of medical care, the diffusion of health behaviors through social networks, the ethics of health care, biases that shape decision making, the mechanisms that link social conditions to biological health, and the determinants of health disparities. Graduates from our program are leaders in analyzing the conditions that give rise to the inequitable distribution of health within and across populations.
Our faculty have expertise in fields including medical anthropology, health psychology, medical sociology, demography, gerontology, health disparities, social epidemiology, community health, using new technologies to promote health, and social networks. Our research crosses disciplinary lines as we use a range of quantitative and qualitative methods to answer critical population health questions. For example, these are just a few recent research projects by our faculty: Why men in sub-Saharan Africa are less likely to have HIV but more likely to die from it. How we can exploit cognitive biases to nudge individuals into healthier behaviors including hand washing and influenza vaccination. How health care systems may generate or exacerbate health disparities. The number of lives we could save if all adults in the U.S. had at least a high school degree. How race and physical functioning intersect to shape participation in the labor force among older adults. Whether cardiovascular reactivity and recovery from acute stress explain socioeconomic status disparities in cardiovascular health. Preferences for punishing norm violators or compensating victims in Papua New Guinea How older siblings of Mexican-origin young women in immigrant families may protect younger sisters from risky sexual behaviors. Whether text message based interventions have long-term benefits on adolescent sexual health behaviors. How social context may shape network based interventions that target adolescent smoking behavior. For more information please see our faculty pages.
PREPARING A STRONG APPLICATION
We welcome students who have training and work experience in diverse fields. In recent years, we have accepted students with training in fields including anthropology, community health, engineering, geography, nutrition, physiology, policy, psychology, public health, sociology, social work, and health professions including medicine, nursing, and physician assistants. The faculty consider multiple factors when evaluating applications: A well written statement that describes your research experience and interests is essential for evaluating your fit with our program. Please contact us at so we can explore how your interests fit with our program. Strong scores on the GRE and high grades in your prior studies are important indicators of your academic aptitude and preparation. Strong letters of recommendation from people who can speak to your potential for success in our PhD program provide additional background on your academic aptitude and preparation.
Students are admitted for the fall semester, whereupon they spend two years taking required courses within a cohort of fellow students. The coursework focuses on social and behavioral theory, research design, statistics, qualitative methods, and the social determinants of population health. After coursework, students usually spend one to two years preparing a proposal for their dissertation research with mentorship from their dissertation committees. After successfully defending a prospectus, students typically take one to two years to finish their dissertations, also with mentorship from their committees. Students who work full-time on their studies usually finish the program in four to six years. Throughout the program we encourage students to pursue mentored research with faculty, and independent research on their dissertations and other projects.
The program typically pays tuition for required coursework, and provides funding to support mentored research with faculty and for students who teach for the department. Other funding opportunities (e.g., undergraduate advising, work with faculty on grants) sometimes become available. The department, college, and university also have small grants available to support conference travel or other professional development. We also work with interested students to develop grants to support dissertation research.