Doctoral degree program

Core Competencies
HB Doctoral students are trained to:

  • Appreciate the history and philosophy of public health and health behavior, as well as understand similarities and differences of these disciplines from other social science disciplines,

  • Critically evaluate and use a range of theories at multiple levels to study health behavior and develop, implement and evaluate health-related interventions in a variety of settings,

  • Master principles of research design and data analysis, as well as demonstrate skills in reasoning and in gathering, synthesizing, and interpreting empirical evidence,

  • Recognize that health behavior is an inherently interdisciplinary field, and apply that understanding to research on health behaviors and health-related interventions, and

  • Report research objectively, insightfully, and in the context of theory and prior research and to prepare compelling justifications for proposed research, programs, and policies.

Students complete courses in health behavior  principles and practices (6 credits), behavioral and social science theory (10 credits), research methods (21 credits), and electives (9 credits). Required courses are completed during the first two years of study. Most students take additional courses in areas of special interest to them.

Mentored training that involves hands-on activities is integral to the HB doctoral program. Students complete a primary practicum (480 hours) in research and a secondary practicum (240 hours) in teaching, research, or some other experience that enhances professional skills (e.g., an internship in a congressional office, government agency, or non-profit organization). Students individually design practica to meet their learning objectives and build on or supplement their past experience. A practicum can occur within either the department or elsewhere. The mentor is usually a member of the HB faculty or an adjunct faculty member

Doctoral Exam
To advance to doctoral candidacy, students take a written comprehensive exam and then an oral qualifying exam. The written comprehensive examination tests competency in health behavior and health education principles and practice , social and behavioral science theory, and research methods. The exam is intended for students to demonstrate critical thinking, ability to integrate knowledge and understanding across competency areas, and readiness to undertake the dissertation. The examination is normally administered during the opening of the student’s third fall semester.

The qualifying oral examination focuses primarily on the dissertation proposal, although questions may deal with any subject in which the student is expected to be competent. When qualifying oral examination is passed, the student advances to doctoral candidacy. Students are eligible to form a dissertation committee and submit a formal dissertation proposal once the written comprehensive examination has been passed.

For the dissertation, students conduct original research on a contemporary public health problem or issue. They are expected to make a significant scholarly contribution and to gain knowledge and skills that enable them to make continuing important contributions to the field. Students are guided by behavioral and social science theory in formulating their dissertation questions, which they address using either quantitative or qualitative methods and through primary data collection or secondary analysis of already collected data.

Some recent dissertation topics have included examinations of: social network characteristics associated with unsafe needle use by young adults injection drug users; spirituality and depression in a community sample of adults; internet cigarette vendors’ marketing practices; barriers to breast cancer screening; and perceived racism and HIV testing behaviors among African Americans .

Graduates of the HB doctoral program hold faculty and research positions at leading universities and organizations throughout the United States and abroad. Graduates are on the faculty of many distinguished universities, such as the University of Michigan, Emory University, and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as at major research organizations such as Family Health International and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, and federal health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.