PhD Program


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

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.

Our Program

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. 

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 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. GREs are not required, but you may submit your scores if you believe they will strengthen your application. 

Program Objectives

Students in the Ph.D. program in Health & Behavioral Sciences will demonstrate proficiency in the following core competencies by the time they graduate from our program:

  • An ability to integrate and apply multiple social and behavioral science theoretical perspectives to particular health and health care problems.
  • A basic understanding of the broad range of methods and research designs employed in the health and behavioral sciences.
  • Advanced proficiency in a particular method or set of methods.
  • Precision and clarity in the oral and written communication of complex ideas.

Our program prepares students for academic, government, or professional careers that involve independent research, publication-quality writing, advanced research skills, critical thinking skills grounded in theories from the social and behavioral sciences, and the ability to thrive in interdisciplinary settings.   

Funding Opportunities

Health and Behavioral Sciences has historically provided tuition assistance and stipends to first and second year PhD Students (the first 32 credit hours of required classwork) provided they remain in good academic standing. Please note all departmental tuition assistance is net of any other sources of tuition support students may have. We also typically offer funding to support mentored research with faculty during the first few years of the program. 

All Health and Behavioral Sciences PhD students are eligible for paid Teaching Assistant positions for our undergraduate major in Public Health. Beginning in third year, PhD students are eligible for Teaching and/or Research Fellowships. 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 grant propsals to support dissertation research.

Additionally, students have access to funding opportunities including (but not limited to): a dissertation grant after successfully defending their prospectus, annual conference funding to support travel to conferences where they will be presenting research, and other scholarships and awards. Continued funding support is contingent on good academic standing.

Schedule of Courses

There are three dimensions to the required curriculum:

  1. A core curriculum that focuses on problem-oriented, interdisciplinary approaches to theory and method
  2. Elective course work intended to provide the student with a solid base from which to launch the dissertation research
  3. Dissertation research and writing

The curriculum is subject to change. What appears below is intended to give students a general idea of the extent, shape and content of the curriculum. Students should check with the program office for up-to-date information on specific course requirements and scheduling.

The Core Curriculum

The core curriculum should be completed by students by the end of their second year of full-time study. It consists of the following series of courses which, together, constitute 29 semester hours:

I. Health and Behavioral Sciences Colloquium

Each fall, the HBSC program will organize a series of presentations by scholars working in the health and behavioral sciences. The presentations provide students with the most current science and theory in the field. Required of all first- and second-year students, who must take at least two times.

Total: 2 Hours

II. Theoretical Perspectives in the Health and Behavioral Sciences

This series is designed to give students a thorough background in how the principles of the social and behavioral sciences have been applied to health issues. Topics include: the interplay between structure and agency in creating and maintaining health; social epidemiology; critical theory and social determinants of health; issues affecting Western biomedicine and public health systems; diffusion of healthy behavioral change among populations; social construction of health and illness; health policy and bioethics; social networks; and stress.

Total: 6 Hours

III. Human Ecology and Environmental Adaptation

This course will emphasize the biological/physiological dimensions of human health and disease.

Total: 3 Hours

IV. Research Design and Methods in the Health and Behavioral Sciences

Three HBSC core research design and methods courses, plus one additional advanced methods course of student’s choosing. This series covers the philosophy of science and the structure of scientific inquiry, procedures for hypothesis-testing, quantitative and qualitative methodological strategies commonly employed in the field, epidemiology and program evaluation. 

Total: 12 Hours

V. Applications of the Health and Behavioral Sciences

This course offers students the opportunity to focus on individual research interests with guidance from faculty and input from peers.

Total: 3 Hours

TOTAL CORE: 26 Hours

Elective Courses

Elective course work together constitutes 6 semester hours, which can be drawn from the large number of offerings in the health and behavioral sciences at CU Denver. Students will be expected to fulfill the necessary prerequisites for taking these courses, and final authority as to whether a student may enroll in the course will rest with the department in which the course is offered.


Doctoral Dissertation Research

The doctoral dissertation research topic is chosen by the student. The student is expected to define a research question in health and behavioral science, identify the research strategy to be used for answering the question, conduct the research required and document the project in the form of a doctoral dissertation. The student will be guided in this process by a doctoral dissertation advisor and the additional members who comprise the student’s doctoral dissertation committee (see below). A minimum of 30 semester hours of dissertation work is required. Students must register for a minimum of 5 dissertation credits each semester of their dissertation work. Students may not take more than a year’s leave of absence or fail to enroll for semester hours more than three semesters before they are dropped from the program.