The DrPH Doctoral Project

The DrPH Doctoral Project is the culminating experience of the Harvard DrPH degree and the primary locus of the knowledge translation elements of the degree. The pedagogical intent behind the Doctoral Project’s design is to provide an opportunity for the DrPH degree candidate to practice and develop their personal leadership skills while engaging in a project that contributes substantively to public health results. Harvard DrPH degree candidates, building on the strong foundation of knowledge and skills in the first two years of the program, will be engaged in integrative activities that will set the stage to make a significant impact on public health and health care upon graduation from the program.

A typical DrPH Doctoral Project will be built around a student and host organization relationship, although in some cases more independent work may be appropriate. Through an eight-month (or more) field-based experience, DrPH degree candidates engage in a partnership with a public health organization and associated stakeholders to apply their training from the first two years of the program in a full-time engagement with an organization. Students typically are in residence in the location of their Doctoral Project placement. The impact on public health may be achieved through direct action to improve outcomes in populations and/or the creation of significant evidence that has the potential to influence such action. Results can take the form of policy or program change, impactful documentation of the prior achievement of change, or the development of strategies for future change that have a high probability of adoption and implementation.

Eric Coles, DrPH ’20 and Ahmad Alkasir, DrPH ’20

Students identify a three-person DrPH Doctoral Project Committee consisting of at least two Harvard faculty and possibly an outside expert. The committee is chaired by a Harvard Chan faculty member. Working with their committee, students develop a project proposal which is the focus of an oral qualifying examination at the end of the second year of study. During the second year of study, DrPH students participate in a required Doctoral Seminar to help them develop their projects.

Two types of deliverables are developed during the project year:

  • Doctoral Thesis. This documents the application of competencies developed through coursework; reviews the knowledge of existing literature; and outlines the student’s work and experience with their host organization.
  • Reflection Paper on Leadership and Enabling Change. A student’s reflection on their personal growth and development in the DrPH Program.

In order to graduate in three years with a May commencement, students must complete their project deliverables and pass an oral final examination in April of the third year. Please refer to the DrPH Doctoral Program Milestones for more information.

Below are examples of Doctoral Projects completed by DrPH students: