Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree Program in
the Department of Public Health Sciences at
the University of Chicago

 

INTRODUCTION

The PhD program in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Chicago offers advanced courses of study in biostatistics, epidemiology, and health services research, all of which are foundational fields in Public Health.  The program is supported by a core methodological curriculum in population-based research on human health. Students completing the program will be prepared to design and conduct methodological and substantive research on fundamental questions about human health and biomedical science from a population perspective. They will also be prepared to collaborate with colleagues from different disciplines to carry out such research.
           
Why should you choose the University of Chicago for your PhD in epidemiology, biostatistics, or health services research?

     - Our program is small and student-focused; training programs are developed specifically 
        for each student based on their background and interests.
     - Our highly selective program prides itself on extensive student-faculty and
        student-student interaction.
     - Our students can take courses from and interact with faculty from departments across
        the University of Chicago, including Statistics, Sociology, Human Genetics, 
        Cancer, Biology, Public Policy, Economics, Business, Social Services,
        Human Development, and Clinical Departments in the Medical School.  Dissertation
       Committees often include faculty from other departments.  
     - We are one of a small number of programs that guarantee full funding for the PhD
        program.

CURRICULUM

Overview

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The program is organized around a common quantitative core curriculum designed to prepare students methodologically for more in-depth study in their chosen field and for dissertation research. Beyond the core curriculum, each student will choose a major disciplinary area of concentration, take a sequence of advanced courses in that area, and prepare a dissertation of independent, original, and rigorous research in that area. Opportunities for such concentrated study are available in the three broad areas represented by Department faculty: biostatistics, epidemiology and health services research.

In addition to the concentration, each student will choose a minor program of study in another area either represented by Department faculty or offered elsewhere at the University. An overarching goal of the program is to train scholars who will be capable of both conducting independent research in their chosen field and collaborating with researchers from other disciplines. The combination of the major concentration and minor program is intended to yield a curriculum with disciplinary depth and an interdisciplinary perspective on problems in population health and biomedical science.

 

Program requirements

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To earn the Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Department of Public Health Sciences, students must fulfill the following requirements:

(i) Complete 19 graduate level courses, including:

(a) a core curriculum of up to six courses needed to prepare for the preliminary examination; and
(b) a major concentration program approved by the faculty consisting of at least 7 additional courses in a disciplinary domain (such as biostatistics); and
(c) a minor program approved by the faculty consisting of at least 3 additional courses in a second disciplinary area; and
(d) a course in scientific integrity and the ethical conduct of research (BSDG 55000), usually in the first year of study (divisional ethics requirement).

Students with advanced training relevant to the program may be able to waive some courses; however, in no instance may a student take fewer than 9 courses in this program. Each student's course schedule must be developed in collaboration with the Curriculum Committee.             

(ii) Pass a multi-part preliminary examination demonstrating mastery of the core curriculum and of foundational knowledge in the chosen area of concentration;

(iii) Teach two quarters for credit in pre-approved teaching assistant positions in the biological sciences (divisional teaching requirement);

(iv) Establish a doctoral dissertation committee, present proposed dissertation research to members of that committee and other interested faculty, and obtain written approval from the committee for the proposed dissertation research;

(v) Prepare and defend a doctoral dissertation of independent, original, and rigorous research in the chosen area of concentration; and

(vi) Participate in the departmental seminar, in faculty/student workshops, and in research workshops that overlap with the chosen area of concentration.

For the typical student, it is expected that the majority of coursework will be completed in the first two years of the program, that preliminary examinations will be taken the summer following the first year in the program, and that the program will be completed in a maximum of 5 years. Students unable to complete the core curriculum in one year may take the preliminary examination the summer following the second year in the program.

Students are required to be in residence throughout the graduate program including the summers, during which students will focus on research.


Core Curriculum

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The purpose of the core curriculum is to prepare students methodologically for population-based research on human health. As such, it is primarily quantitative and analytical, designed to ensure that all students in the program attain foundational proficiency in the Department's core subjects of biostatistics, epidemiology and health services research, as well as a working knowledge of the structure and functioning of the U.S. health care system.

The core curriculum will be covered in a sequence of six courses (see list below), five of which - marked with asterisks - will be the subject of Part I of the preliminary examination. Some students will take all six of these courses, while others with appropriate background will pass over some and/or take alternatives offered at higher methodological levels. Subjects covered in these courses include: exploratory data analysis and basic biostatistical techniques, multiple linear regression models, applied generalized linear models (logistic regression, log-linear regression, proportional hazards regression), epidemiologic methods, econometric models, design of observational, quasi-experimental and experimental studies, measurement validity and reliability, survey design and analysis, and methods for measuring quality and costs in health care. The six courses are:

*PBHS 30900 - Principles of Epidemiology;
*PBHS 31001 - Epidemiologic Methods;
*PBHS 32400 - Applied Regression Analysis;
*PBHS 32700 - Biostatistical Methods;
*PBHS 35100 - Health Services Research Methods;
  PBHS 35411 - The U.S. Healthcare System
             


Major Area of Concentration

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Each student will choose a major area of concentration among those offered by the Department-biostatistics, epidemiology, or health services research.  The concentration provides in-depth study in at least one disciplinary domain in population-based health research.  The student will take a total of 10 - 12 courses in that area (including up to 3 core courses), 2 of which may be reading courses.  These courses will constitute a coherent program of study developed in consultation with the Curriculum Committee.  Because of the diversity in students' backgrounds, each program will be tailored to the student's needs based on experience and interest, as well as available faculty and courses.  This course of study may draw on courses offered by the Department, as well as elsewhere in the Biological Sciences Division and across campus, including those in Statistics, Sociology, Human Genetics, Cancer Biology, Public Policy, Economics, Business, Social Services, Human Development, and Clinical Departments in the Medical School. In addition, the student will regularly participate in research workshops on campus that overlap with his/her chosen concentration area.  
           
In epidemiology and health services research, the student will further sub-specialize within his/her concentration in order to attain the adequate depth of study appropriate for a PhD degree.

Concentration in Biostatistics. Students completing a concentration in biostatistics will be prepared to develop state-of-the-art quantitative reasoning and techniques of statistical science, mathematics, and computing, and to apply these to current and future research problems in biomedical science and population health. In addition, these students will complete a minor program of study in a substantive area of application. As such, they will be particularly well prepared to engage in collaborative population-based health research.

Concentration in Epidemiology. Students completing a concentration in epidemiology will be prepared to design epidemiologic studies and apply state-of-the-art quantitative methods to epidemiologic data analysis. They will have a strong background in epidemiologic methods and at least one substantive area of sub-specialization. Possible sub-specializations include genetic epidemiology, social epidemiology, psychiatric epidemiology, cancer epidemiology and aging research. Their program of study will include appropriate courses in the biological sciences related to the disease processes for the substantive area. Whether or not their minor program is biostatistics, their course of study will include advanced biostatistical methods in sampling, categorical data analysis, survival analysis and longitudinal analysis.

Concentration in Health Services Research. Students completing a concentration in health services research will be prepared to apply theories and methods adapted from economics or sociology to the study of individual, neighborhood, and population health, the delivery and financing of health care, and the structure and functioning of the U.S. health care system. The focus of this concentration will be on experimental, quasi-experimental, and survey-based studies and appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods for analyzing how, by whom, and to whom health care is delivered. Students may choose to sub-specialize in health economics or in organizational behavior, social network/social capital theory, or demography, all of which apply to problems in human health. In addition, students will have strong training in biostatistics and epidemiology via the core curriculum and minor program.


Minor Program of Study

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In consultation with his/her academic advisor, each student will develop a minor program of study to complement his/her major area of concentration. The student will take 3 additional courses in that area which are neither core nor concentration courses. The program may comprise of courses from any Division or School on campus.

Tailored to each individual student, the minor will vary in its degree of specificity from student to student. It may be one of the three broad areas represented by the Department faculty, or it may be a more specialized, emerging or synthetic area; examples within the PHS include psychiatric or cancer epidemiology, health economics, economics of aging, and clinical trials design. Outside the PHS, minors may conceivably be designed in areas such as statistical genetics, cancer biology, genetic or molecular epidemiology, bioinformatics, medical decision making or survey research methods. In many cases, the combination of portions of the core curriculum and the minor program will approximate traditional Master's level training in a given area. For example, a student with a minor in biostatistics or epidemiology will accrue 5 or more courses in that area from the core curriculum and minor curriculum over the course of the program.


Faculty-Student and Student-Student Interaction

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The main purpose of the PhD program is to train scholars who are prepared to be independent researchers and who are capable of collaborating with researchers from other disciplines. This purpose will be furthered by seminars and workshops and by extensive faculty-student and student-student interaction. By design, the PhD Program is relatively small, affording students the opportunity for regular and intensive interaction with Public Health Sciences faculty and other Public Health Sciences students throughout their residency in the program. Additionally, interactions with other graduate students from across campus arise regularly in the classroom; many of our courses regularly include graduate students from the Divisions of Biological, Physical and Social Sciences, as well as in the Schools of Business, Public Policy, and Social Service Administration. Typical course enrollment is between 10 and 20 students which is an ideal size to foster vigorous classroom interactions. 

Upon admission to the program, the Curriculum Committee will be in contact with each student to plan coursework for the upcoming academic year. The Curriculum Committee, in consultation with the Public Health Sciences faculty, will periodically evaluate each student's progress with respect to coursework, examinations and dissertation development. Upon a student's selection of a dissertation topic and a dissertation advisor, the advisor replaces the Curriculum Committee and oversees the student's progress for the remainder of his or her time in the program.

Faculty-Student Workshop. All PhD students participate in a regular joint faculty-student workshop where they present their own work and discuss and critique material presented by others. See “Seminars and Workshops.”


Teaching Assistantship

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Doctoral students will be expected to teach a total of two one-quarter courses for credit in pre-approved teaching assistant positions in the Department of Public Health Sciences, generally during their second and third years in the program. This is a teaching requirement for all doctoral students in the Division of Biological Sciences. Activities will include holding office hours and help sessions, grading, and preparing solutions to problem sets. As appropriate, a student may ask or be asked to present one or two lectures of the material for the course or to develop a series of support lectures. Students should feel free to suggest courses for which they are particularly interested in acting as a TA.  Teaching assistantships are unpaid educational experiences.

 

Research Rotations and Assistantships

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During each quarter of the first year, students will meet with the Curriculum Committee to discuss research interests and the Committee will suggest Public Health Sciences faculty matches for research rotations throughout the first year.  These rotations may start in the autumn or winter quarter, depending on a student's experience and course load.  It is expected that research rotations taking place during the first year will require relatively few (5-10) hours per week given that first-year students are expected to concentrate on their coursework.

Each student will be expected to do at least one full-time research rotation with a Public Health Sciences faculty member during the summer after their first year in the program in order to initiate substantial involvement in research being carried out in the Department of Public Health Sciences.  Students will meet with the Curriculum Committee in the spring quarter of their first year to decide upon a suitable mentor for this research rotation; this should be established by the sixth week of the spring quarter.  During the remainder of the spring quarter, students should prepare for their summer project by reading suggested background articles.

In general, research rotations will last one or more academic quarters and will be formally re-evaluated by the student and faculty advisor each quarter.  Depending on the student's interest and progress, multiple research rotations might be assigned in sequence over the course of the second year.  Faculty expectations of student contributions will be flexible during autumn, winter, and spring quarters, as coursework must have priority. 

Beginning in their second or third year, as coursework nears completion, most students will work as a formal research assistant for a year or more as a member of a collaborative research project with a faculty member in the Department of Public Health Sciences or with a faculty member in another department at the University of Chicago.  It is expected that work on such projects may inform the student's dissertation research.  Importantly, research assistantships will often form part of tuition and stipend fellowship awards from the Department of Public Health Sciences. 

 

                       

Preliminary Examination

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Prior to embarking on dissertation research, each student will pass a multi-part preliminary examination testing his/her mastery of the quantitative and methodological skills of the core curriculum and ability to integrate material from the set of core courses. Students are expected to take the preliminary examination in the summer after their first year.  However, if a student is unable to take the relevant core courses because they are pursing courses for their major concentration during the first year, then it is permissible to take the preliminary examination during the summer after the second year.

The
exam takes place annually over the course of a week in mid-July. It consists of a 4-hour closed book exam taking place on a Monday morning; a take-home data analysis project distributed Tuesday morning and due Wednesday evening; and a 2-hour oral exam taking place on Friday with a committee of at least three Public Health Sciences faculty members. 

Students may receive grades of "pass with commendation", "pass", "conditional pass", or "fail".  "Conditional pass" will require a discrete follow-up learning activity to be determined by the examination committee, and to be completed within 3 months of the date of the oral examination.  Students who fail the examination may in rare cases and at the discretion of the faculty, be allowed to retake the examination within one year.  In most instances, however, failure on the preliminary examination will result in the student being asked to leave the program.

Dissertation Committee, Proposal and Proposal Hearing                             ^ top

Prior to beginning dissertation research, each PhD student will establish a doctoral dissertation committee, will prepare a written dissertation proposal, will present his or her proposal at an oral hearing by the committee and other interested Departmental faculty, and will obtain approval for that research by the committee and Departmental faculty.

 
During the second year, each student shall work with the Curriculum Committee to select an area of dissertation research and a dissertation advisor.
           

Each student shall, after consultation with his/her dissertation advisor, ask at least
two and not more than four additional University faculty members to serve on his/her dissertation committee. The committee should be constituted no later than the end of the winter quarter of the third academic year of study.  The committee must include the student's dissertation advisor, a committee chair, and at least two regular faculty members from the Department of Public Health Sciences. The advisor need not be a member of Public Health Sciences, but if s/he is, may count as one of the two Public Health Sciences faculty members. The chair of the committee must be a member of Public Health Sciences and counts towards the two required Public Health Sciences faculty members, but need not be the dissertation advisor. The role of the advisor is to direct the day to day/week to week execution of the dissertation work. The role of the chair is to ensure that this work conforms to Public Health Sciences requirements. Generally, if the dissertation advisor is a Public Health Sciences faculty member, he or she will also serve as committee chair. Within these parameters, the composition of the committee may be changed at any time if the student or faculty so choose.

 

The dissertation proposal should identify, describe and justify the significance of question(s) to be addressed in the course of dissertation research. It should contain a literature review targeted to those research questions, summarize current knowledge in that area, identify gaps in that knowledge, and propose approaches or studies that could be developed to address those gaps. It should then describe a specific study or set of studies designed to further knowledge in this area which will, when completed, constitute the student’s dissertation.  Finally, the proposal should convincingly demonstrate the feasibility of conducting such studies during the course of dissertation research.


Students are expected to present their proposal at an oral hearing of their committee and interested Departmental faculty no later than June 30 of their third year. A final draft of the dissertation proposal will be made available to the student's dissertation committee and to the faculty as a whole four weeks before the oral hearing. Students who fail their oral hearing may, at the discretion of their committee and Departmental faculty, revise their proposal and present the revision at a second hearing up to three months later. In cases where the faculty deems the proposal to be irremediable, however, failure on the oral proposal hearing will result in the student being asked to leave the program. Final approval for dissertation work must be obtained by the beginning of Fall Quarter of the student’s fourth year of study.


Notes: The recommended timeline for completion and approval of the dissertation proposal during the third year of study is as follows:

Fall Quarter: Select dissertation advisor and broad area of dissertation research.
Winter Quarter: Establish dissertation committee and present preliminary ideas to the committee and/or informally at a session of the Faculty-Student workshop.
Spring Quarter: Complete proposal and present it at an oral hearing.
Summer Quarter: Refine proposal as a function of feedback obtained from the committee and faculty, and obtain final approval (if necessary) before Fall Quarter.

**Note that the timeline given above is in reference to students without advanced degrees who will be taking two full years of coursework.  Those students with the relevant Master's degrees would be expected to initiate the dissertation process earlier; their timeline will depend on the extent of their required coursework and should be developed in consultation with their academic advisor.

 

Admission to Candidacy ^ top

Upon completion of all required coursework, the preliminary examination, divisional teaching assistantship and ethics requirements, and faculty approval of the dissertation proposal, students will be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree. A candidacy form listing the committee members, with their signatures, must be filed in the Department office by this time.  At this stage of their program, students’ primary responsibilities consist of completing their dissertation research in accordance with the plan established in their proposal, and continuing their research assistantship duties in support of Public Health Sciences research projects to which they have been assigned.


After admission to candidacy, each student must meet with his/her dissertation committee at least twice a year. The committee chair will produce a summary report of the proceedings of the meeting which will be briefly given at a Departmental faculty or academic staff meeting
.

 

Dissertation

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Dissertation Format. Students may choose to prepare a dissertation following one of two formats.  In the traditional monograph format, the dissertation will present an integrated and in-depth study of independent, original and rigorous research addressing research questions outlined in the student’s dissertation proposal. For example, chapters may be broken down according to areas such as background, theory, methods and results. An alternative format is a dissertation constructed around two-three publishable manuscripts addressing the research questions in the proposal. Each manuscript will present different aspects of the student’s findings, and these will be supplemented in the dissertation with introductory, theoretical, methodological, technical and other supporting material to the published manuscripts sufficient to render the entire work an in-depth study of research questions outlined in the proposal.

 
Note: The alternative, two-three manuscript format is encouraged because it tends to result in accelerating the student’s work towards review and publication in the peer-reviewed literature.

 

Dissertation Defense. A final draft of the dissertation will be made available to the student's dissertation committee and to the faculty as a whole four weeks before the oral defense of that work. The defense will involve a public presentation of the work in a Departmental seminar, followed by a closed hearing of the work with the student's dissertation committee

Dissertation Evaluation Criteria. Dissertation research in the Department of Public Health Sciences must be grounded in theory, be rigorously and independently executed, and make a substantial contribution to knowledge in the disciplinary area in which the student has elected to concentrate. In addition, where possible, the research should reflect important perspectives from the student's chosen minor program.


Presentations and Publications
Students are strongly encouraged to attend scientific meetings, and, especially, to submit abstracts or papers for presentation at such conferences.  This is an important step, especially for senior students. The DHS is committed to assisting students in this endeavor. 

 

MD/PHD PROGRAM

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The PhD program offered by the Department of Public Health Sciences is designed to accommodate students seeking a joint MD/PhD degree at the University of Chicago. For such students, program requirements are modified so as to dovetail with coursework and clinical activities taken as part of the MD program. Specifically, core course requirements will remain the same as those for non-MD students. However, major concentration course requirements are reduced, as there is expected synergy with medical school courses. Additionally, the minor program is waived, essentially being replaced by the student's preparation in clinical medicine. For the typical student, 3 to 4 years of residency in the PhD portion of the MD/PhD program are expected in addition to the 4 years of medical school.

Program requirements. To earn the Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Department of Public Health Sciences as part of a joint MD/PhD program, students must fulfill the following requirements:

(i) Complete 15 graduate level courses, including:

(a) a core curriculum of up to six courses needed to prepare for the preliminary examination; and
(b) a major concentration program approved by the faculty consisting of at least 7 additional courses in a disciplinary domain; and
(c) a course in scientific integrity and the ethical conduct of research (BSDG 55000), usually in the first year of study (divisional ethics requirement).

(ii) Pass a multi-part preliminary examination demonstrating mastery of the core curriculum and of foundational knowledge in the chosen area of concentration;

(iii) Teach two quarters for credit in pre-approved teaching assistant positions in the biological sciences (divisional teaching requirement) ;

(iv) Establish a doctoral dissertation committee, present proposed dissertation research to members of that committee and other interested faculty, and obtain written approval from the committee for the proposed dissertation research;

(v) Prepare and defend a doctoral dissertation of independent, original, and rigorous research in the chosen area of concentration; and

(vi) Participate in the departmental seminar, in faculty-student workshops, and in research workshops that overlap with the chosen area of concentration.

 

 

 

 


Last Updated: 10/29/2014 1:11 PM