Doctoral Program

PhD-PHS in Social and Behavioral Sciences

Prospective doctoral students interested in the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Program in Population Health Sciences and choose Social & Behavioral Sciences as their Field of Study.

The PhD in Population Health Sciences is offered under the aegis of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) and is awarded by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Students in this program will gain broad, interdisciplinary knowledge in quantitative and qualitative methods of enquiry for understanding the health of populations, and developmental approaches to population health science. In addition, students will belong to one of the following Fields of Study associated with the departments of: Environmental Health, Epidemiology, Global Health and Population, Nutrition, or Social and Behavioral Sciences.

For further details on the PhD program, please visit this website.

Curriculum Guide

2023-24 SBS-PhD Curriculum Guide


What are the admission requirements for the PhD program?

For applicants that are applying into the PhD in Population Health Sciences check out this admission requirement checklist.

I’m applying to the PhD program in Population Health Sciences, do I need to secure an advisor? Do faculty make advising commitments before applying to the program?

Advisors for PhD students in the PHS program are chosen after we know who will be joining us in the new cohort. Generally, the assignment takes place in early to mid-May. An essential part of the PhD admissions process is the consideration of appropriate mentoring faculty for the applicant. Therefore applicants do not get prior advising commitments from a potential faculty mentor prior to applying to the program. We recommend listing up to three faculty members of interest in your personal statement, articulating how your current research interests align with the faculty listed.

I’m applying to the PhD program in Population Health Sciences, do I need to have prior quantitative coursework?

Our program has a strong emphasis on quantitative methods so showing preparation in this area is strongly recommended. The doctoral program in SBS is very quantitative-focused and we do require students to take a year of Quantitative Research Methods in Population Health Sciences (PHS 2000 A + B). Although the committee looks at the application holistically, some emphasis is placed on how well applicants do in specific course areas such as Biostats, EPI and the social sciences.

It’s always helpful to the admissions committee to be able to assess quantitative skills in an applicant’s background and that is usually demonstrated through coursework, professional experiences and letters of recommendation.

What are you looking for in applicants to the PhD program?

While applications are looked at holistically, the admissions committee does place an emphasis on prior coursework in biostatistics, epidemiology and the social sciences, so highlighting these types of courses in your application will be useful.  Additionally, it could be helpful if one of your recommenders is a professor from your last degree program who can comment positively on your quantitative abilities.  Your statement of purpose is a chance for you to tell the committee about your motivation for pursuing doctoral work in SBS and to describe yourself as a researcher. A key part of the admissions review process is making sure there is appropriate mentorship, so we suggest naming up to three SBS faculty whose interests align with your own. You can read about the faculty here.

You may find the information on this page helpful as you prepare your application.

Will graduate course work from my master’s degree be accepted for some of the coursework required in the PhD (e.g. statistics courses etc.)?

You can submit a substitution form with the course syllabus for courses you have taken in your Master’s program. Substitution requests are carefully reviewed by the instructor of the required HSPH course to determine if the course is truly equivalent.

Where can I find out more information on the research in the SBS department?

You can get some information on faculty research by viewing their profiles on the department website.

You can read about the research areas of current students here.