Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS)

The mission of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences is to understand and intervene on the social determinants of health and health equity across the life-course.

This mission is achieved through research to identify the social and behavioral determinants of health, development, and evaluation of interventions and policies leading to the improvement of population health, and the preparation of professionals and researchers who will fill leadership positions in advocacy and public service. The department’s educational mission is to train both scholars and practitioners: scholars whose research will illuminate basic social determinants of health and who will identify and test innovative social policy and service interventions; practitioners who are skilled in designing, implementing, and evaluating health-enhancing interventions in action settings.

The Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) field of study in the Population Health Sciences (PHS) PhD program provides a common core education addressing issues of Social and Behavioral Sciences. PhD students enroll in coursework and develop expertise in social determinants of health which emphasizes the analysis of the major social conditions that affect the health of populations as well as planned social change which focuses on the application of theory in the design of intervention programs, as well as on research and evaluation methodology. The program is designed to train researchers in these two areas of study, to understand how they might intersect, and to bring this expertise to their research careers.

SBS Doctoral Competencies

  • Critically assess, integrate, and apply behavioral & social theories and conceptual paradigms to the design of basic and applied inquiries, with specific attention to:
        • The role of social determinants in health outcomes and health disparities
        • The historical, political, social, and cultural context
  • Formulate social and behavioral change interventions based on these theories that are appropriate and responsive to the social and cultural context
  • Critically assess and apply principles of research, evaluation, and public health monitoring/surveillance methodology, including quantitative and qualitative methods, to address research hypotheses using a range of research designs. It is expected that students will:
        • Identify, access, manage and apply a range of data sources to support scientific inquiry
        • Apply rigorous approaches to the measurement of social and behavioral constructs, including disparities
        • Apply rigorous methods to the assessment of community assets and systems and the measurement and monitoring of population health and health inequities
  • Understand and apply knowledge of biology relevant to public health and the influence of lifespan factors, to health outcomes
  • Understand and apply rigorous, theory-based approaches to research translation for practice, policy, and public health settings, including communication with policymakers, civil society organizations, and the lay public
  • Develop advanced professional skills, including:
        • Demonstrate skill in the review, synthesis, and critique of research literature
        • Attain familiarity with social inclusion, diversity, social justice, and ethical principles in research and interventions

Faculty in the department associated with this Field of Study

More information on the faculty in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Required courses in this Field of Study

Field of Study Core course requirements  – 22 total ORDINAL credits:

All Population Health Sciences PhD students in the Social and Behavioral Sciences field of Study are required to take the following field of study core courses which, along with the PHS core courses, form the basis for the content of the written field of study qualifying exam:

Year 1

  • SBS 201, Society and Health, 2 Griffin GSAS ORDINAL credits
  • SBS 231, Community Intervention Research Methods, 2 Griffin GSAS ORDINAL credits
  • SBS 507, An Advanced Seminar in Theories of Disease Distribution & Health Inequities: History, Politics & Public Health, 2 Griffin GSAS ORDINAL credits
  • SBS 522, Multi-Level Theoretical Approaches to Health Behavior, 2 Griffin GSAS ORDINAL credits

Year 2

  • BPH 208, Human Physiology, 4 Griffin GSAS ORDINAL credits (or equivalent human biology course chosen in consultation with your advisor)
  • SBS 245, Social and Behavioral Research Methods, 4 Griffin GSAS ORDINAL credits
  • SBS 263, Multilevel Statistical Methods: Concept & Application, 4 Griffin GSAS ORDINAL credits
  • SBS 500, Developing a Research Protocol, 2 Griffin GSAS ORDINAL credits

Additional Field of Study Requirements – 16 total ORDINAL credits – specific courses should be chosen in consultation with your academic advisor

  • 8 Griffin GSAS credits intermediate or advanced research methods (see approved list of courses below)
  • 2 Griffin GSAS credits in policy, sociology, or social science
  • 6 Griffin GSAS credits in your chosen area of expertise – All doctoral students in the SBS field of study are expected to augment the basic requirements with substantial course work appropriate for a research orientation and in the topic of their interest. 

Intermediate or Advanced Research Methods courses

In addition to any upper-level BST or EPI course at HSPH, the following courses may be counted toward the intermediate/advanced research methods courses (5 credits need to be taken at HSPH.)

  • API 114 & 115: Econometric methods for applied research 1&2
  • ECON 2150: Econometrics II
  • EDU S010B: Designing Surveys and Questionnaires: Principles and Methods
  • EDU S010C: Large-Scale Data Analysis for Complex and Weighted Survey Designs
  • EDU S032: Accumulating Evidence: How to Conduct a Meta-Analysis that Informs Ed
  • Research, Policy, and Practice
  • EDU 2043: Multilevel and Longitudinal Methods
  • EDU S052: Intermediate and Advanced Statistical Methods for Applied Educational
  • Research
  • EDU S061: Statistical and Psychometric Methods for Educational Measurement
  • EDU S090: A1 Structural Equation Modeling
  • GHP 525: Econometrics for Health Policy
  • PSY 2030: Bayesian Data Analysis


Students are required to enroll in additional elective courses to fulfill the degree requirement of 2 years [64 credits] of full-time course work.

To learn more about the Social and Behavioral Sciences field…

…please email and a SBS academic affairs staff member will be in touch with you as soon as possible.

More information on the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.