New program aims to increase diversity in doctoral programs at Harvard Chan School

Donald Hopkins
Donald R. Hopkins, MPH ’70

February 18, 2020 – A pilot pipeline program initiated by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Dean Michelle Williams aims to enroll more underrepresented students in the School and provide them with a strong foundation toward studying for a doctoral degree.

The Donald Hopkins Predoctoral Scholars Program, launched in September 2019, offers students the opportunity to pursue a two-year master of science degree in biostatistics, epidemiology, or global health and population. The program provides full tuition, health insurance, a stipend, and mentoring by a senior faculty member. To enhance the quality of the students’ educational experience, the program also offers them the opportunity to take doctoral-level courses; gather informally with current doctoral students; and attend professional development workshops on topics such as building self-confidence, improving writing and research skills, and self-care. The program is designed to support up to six Donald Hopkins Scholars over the next two years.

Upon completion of their master’s programs, the students would be well qualified for admission to a doctoral program at Harvard Chan School, or any similarly rigorous program across the nation, according to Marcello Pagano, professor of statistical computing. The program’s oversight committee includes Pagano; Betty Johnson, assistant dean for faculty and staff diversity, development, and leadership; Bizu Gelaye, assistant professor of epidemiology; and Goodarz Danaei, Bernard Lown associate professor of cardiovascular health.

The program is named in honor of Donald R. Hopkins, MPH ’70, a distinguished alumnus of Harvard Chan School who is known internationally as a strong supporter and promoter of public health education. A man who was “materially poor” but “rich in spirit” according to a 2018 profile in Harvard Public Health magazine, Dr. Hopkins has gained worldwide recognition for his monumental work, leading efforts to eradicate Guinea worm disease and river blindness and helping to eliminate smallpox.

While Harvard Chan School’s existing pipeline programs—for high school students, college students, and post-baccalaureate students—have successfully exposed students to the public health field and increased their interest in further education, some underrepresented students face obstacles to gaining admission into doctoral programs, according to Pagano.

“Their doctoral program applications reflect the educational opportunities they have had thus far,” said Pagano. “The Donald Hopkins Predoctoral Scholars Program is designed to help these students fill in the gaps, expand their networks, and build on their existing strengths so they can be better prepared when applying to doctoral programs.”

“We think that with the support we’re offering, the likelihood of the students being admitted to the doctoral programs will be greatly improved,” said Johnson.

So far, two inaugural Donald Hopkins Predoctoral Scholars are studying at Harvard Chan School. The oversight committee plans to recruit several additional scholars for the fall of 2020.

Johnson and Pagano credit a number of colleagues with helping them to get the program off the ground, including Dean Williams; Gelaye and Danaei; Vincent James, director of admissions, and Kathy Austin, director of financial aid.

Criteria for admission to the Donald Hopkins Predoctoral Scholars Program

  • Applicants should apply to the PhD Program in Biostatistics, or the PhD program in Population Health Sciences with a field of study associated with epidemiology or global health and population, and simultaneously apply to an SM2 program in their field.
  • Applicants should have completed some coursework fundamental to quantitative health sciences­­­.
  • The personal statement should describe any barriers the applicant has experienced to academic success.
  • The application should include two exemplary letters of recommendation.

 If you have questions about the Donald Hopkins Predoctoral Scholars Program, please contact Marcello Pagano, professor of statistical computing, at

photo: Kent Dayton