The PhD in Population Health Sciences (PHS) is intended to be a four-year program grounded in one of five primary Fields of Study (FoS) bulleted here. The FoS is identified by each candidate at the point of submitting the PHS application to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences:
- Environmental Health
- Global Health & Population
- Social & Behavioral Sciences
Each student is assigned a faculty advisor by the designated Field of Study at the time of PHS admission.
With the faculty advisor’s guidance and using PHS milestones, interdisciplinary core requirements, and individual FoS requirements as a blueprint, each student designs a degree plan toward the PhD while taking the initial coursework – both required and desired – that will, ultimately, both inform and help-to-form their research topic and dissertation.
At the end of year one, students will complete a Prospective Program form. This form lists the student’s plan for coursework, including both year one and year two. It should reflect the Area of Specialization within their FoS and any minors, if required. Depending upon the student’s FoS, some will take part of the first Preliminary Qualifying Exam (PQE) exam at the end of the second semester.
Students continue with coursework using the degree plan while solidifying preparations/studies for the two-part Preliminary Qualifying Examination (PQE).
The PQE I: Content Knowledge Exam is managed by the individual FoS. It typically occurs at the end of year two, and in some instances, has two sections, one taken at the end of year one and the other at the end of year two. The first part of the PQE may be either written, oral, or a combination of both, as determined by the FoS.
The PQE II: Dissertation Proposal Exam is the dissertation proposal segment of the PQE and must be completed by the end of the fifth semester. This part of the exam is oral with a student-written dissertation prospectus for each FoS.
Within two weeks of successfully completing the PQE II, participants finalize general research topics and identify a dissertation adviser who will help with the nomination of a formal Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC). The DAC serves to mentor the student through the dissertation candidacy process and defense. The dissertation advisor is most often the same faculty member who has served as the student’s academic advisor. At this point, the student is officially recognized as a PhD candidate and begins doctoral research and dissertation writing in earnest, including in-person DAC progress report meetings every three months, up until the time of the dissertation defense.
Each candidate continues with research and dissertation writing, including required in-person DAC progress report meetings every three months. It is expected that the candidate’s doctoral research will result in the publication of one or more original research papers by the end of year four. Following completion of doctoral research, candidates must also write and defend a dissertation before being awarded the PhD in Population Health Sciences by the end of year four.
The following courses satisfy the minimum curriculum and core requirements for the PhD in Population Health Sciences. All PHS students are encouraged to pursue further coursework in areas of specific interest. Core requirements have been selected and, in some cases, created to both broaden the student’s knowledge base as well as build depth in individual research areas. In most cases, students may jointly petition a course’s respective Field of Study, the academic advisor, and the PHS Program Office with a request to consider prior similar or more advanced coursework in order to satisfy core requirements. To further broaden perspectives on population studies and health-related issues, students may also choose to enroll in courses offered beyond the PHS Fields of Study and Harvard Chan, such as those offered by programs affiliated with other Harvard schools (i.e., Harvard Medical School, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Kennedy School, etc.) as well as graduate level classes at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tufts University, or Brown University.
Please note that the number of ‘credits’ per course varies by school. The ‘home’ Office of the Registrar for all PHS students is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). FAS uses a 2-, 4-, 8-credit system, while Harvard Chan uses a 2.5-, 5-, and 10-credit system. Students can use the Credit Conversion Chart to see credit equivalents from school-to-school. GSAS students, including all PhD students (including PHS) use FAS credits. GSAS students are required to enroll in at least 16 credits per semester and are allowed to enroll in a maximum of 24 credits.
Additionally, all GSAS students are required to take each course for a grade (sometimes referred to as an ‘ordinal’), even if the course is offered either as ordinal or as SAT/UNSAT. The only instance in which a student can take a course as SAT/UNSAT is if this is the only grading option offered, in which case, GSAS students are expected to receive a Satisfactory grade. The grading system is outlined in the GSAS Handbook.
The final selection of courses must be made in consultation with each PHS student’s individual advisor and FoS academic administrator and will be verified by the PHS Program Office.
Course offerings vary from year-to-year, and students should consult the course catalog in my.harvard for the most up-to-date course list. You can also review the FAS Course of Instruction website. All students are obliged to follow the guidelines as described in the PHS Student Handbook for their respective year of entry.
PHS PhD Core Course Requirements
|Course||Timing||Semester||GSAS Credits||Harvard Chan Credits|
|PHS 2000 A + Lab||Year One||Fall||4 credits||5 credits|
|PHS 2000 B + Lab||Year One||Spring||4 credits||5 credits|
|SBS 506||Year One||Fall One||2 credits||2.5 credits|
|EPI 201 + Lab||Year One||Fall One||2 credits||
|EPI 202 + Lab||Year One||Fall Two||2 credits||2.5 credits|
- RCR – Responsible Conduct of Research: Year One or Year Two
- WES – Weekly Evening Seminar:
- Year One – Wednesday Evenings
- Year Two – One Tuesday Evening/Month
- TF – Teaching Fellowship: Year Two, Year Three, or Year Four
FAS, Harvard Chan, GSE, GSD, HKS, HDS: Course catalog search via my.harvard
DMS: Downloadable listings of curriculum and course locations
Past Course Evaluations
PHS Core Course Requirements
PHS 2000 A & B + Lab: Quantitative Research Methods in Population Health Sciences
8 GSAS Credits/10 Harvard Chan Credits (4/5 credits per semester)
This is a year-long course to be taken by all incoming PHS students in the first year. The course forms the core of the PhD work in research methods. Methods from different disciplines with relevance to all five Fields of Study are included.
PHS 2000 Waiver Policy
The following outlines the policy by which course waivers will be considered for current PHS students for PHS 2000 A & B.
- The PHS 2000 course forms the methodological foundation for the PhD in Population Health Sciences (PHS) and subsequent methods courses; it is interdisciplinary and is also taught at a higher level than most comparable courses. Except in unusual circumstances, both PHS 2000 A & B are considered required courses for all students seeking to obtain the PhD in Population Health Sciences.
- PHS students with a prior Master’s degree, who believe that they have had the vast majority of the material covered by the course, can request a waiver for a specific semester, subject to approval by the course instructor (Chen or Hughes for PHS 2000A; VanderWeele, Chen, or Cohen for PHS 2000B), the advisor, and the appropriate Field of Study academic administrator.
- PHS students requesting a course waiver will be required to support the request with documentation about prior completed coursework (grades, syllabi, etc.) to the PHS Program Office. Separate waiver requests must be submitted for PHS 2000A and PHS 2000B, and waivers for PHS 2000B will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
- PHS students who are granted a waiver can still attend any of the course lectures or labs of interest to them, but will not be required to do so and will not be required to submit any of the assignments.
- PHS students who are granted waivers will, nevertheless, be required to take the three course exams each semester as part of their school-wide program requirement and must obtain a B+ on the exam of each individual module. These grades will not be recorded on the student's transcript but will constitute the equivalent of a ‘qualifying exam’ for the PHS PhD.
- PHS students who receive a grade that falls below a B+ on any module exam will be required to re-take the exam for that specific module in the following year during the semester in which it is offered, and strongly encouraged to attend the lectures and complete the assignments of that module. PHS students who do not attain a B+ for each exam will be required to take the entire course for credit during the following year. If a student fails to achieve these standards the second year, then whether they are allowed a third attempt will be at the discretion of the PHS director.
- Please Note: Students choosing the waiver option for either PHS 2000 course (A or B) must maintain a B+ average across all three course examinations (as judged by the final distribution of overall final average scores for the course), as opposed to the B average requirement for those students enrolled and taking the course.
- Students can access a PHS 2000 Waiver Request Form via the PHS Program Office and should return the form to the PHS Program Office with the requested signatures for final approval by the PHS director.
EPI 201: Introduction to Epidemiology – Methods 1 + Lab
2 GSAS Credits/4 Harvard Chan Credits
EPI 202: Elements of Epidemiologic Research – Methods 2 + Lab
2 GSAS Credits/4 Harvard Chan Credits
These two Epidemiology courses are to be taken by all PHS students in the first year. This sequence equips all students with understanding of basic research concepts, causal theory, epidemiology, and study design. Students seeking a course waiver should work with their advisor to determine whether prior coursework matches similar EPI 201 or EPI 202 objectives and must receive waiver sign-off by the course instructor, advisor, FoS academic administrator, and PHS faculty director.
Students who have previously taken one or both of these courses during a prior degree at Harvard do not need to take any course enrollment/waiver request action. Confirmation of course completion is reflected in the transcript provided at the time of application to PHS, and FoS administrators will ensure that these students receive course credit for these requirements.
SBS 506: An Intro to History, Politics, & Public Health: Theories of Disease Distribution & Health Inequities
2 GSAS Credits/4 Harvard Chan Credits
In most cases, this course should be taken by all incoming PHS students in the fall of first year; however, all PHS students are required to complete this course by the end of fall in the second year. The course provides an introduction to different perspectives (social, behavioral, environmental, nutritional, global, and policy) that inform public health research and education. Students seeking a course waiver should work with their advisor to determine whether prior coursework matches similar SBS 506 objectives and must receive waiver sign-off by the course instructor, advisor, FoS academic administrator, and PHS faculty director.
Students who have previously taken this course for a degree in 2016 or later at Harvard do not need to take any course enrollment/waiver request action. Confirmation of course completion is reflected in the transcript provided at the time of application to PHS, and FoS administrators will ensure that these students receive course credit for these requirements.
Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)
(HPM 548, MEDSCI 3000qc or Chemistry 305qc)
Various times, courses, faculty, and schools/organizations
The chosen course from the list above or another approved equivalent should introduce the basic ethical and regulatory requirements for conducting bench, animal, clinical, and public health research. The course must fulfill the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Health (NIH) requirements for RCR instruction.
Please note: Different courses meeting this requirement are offered via Harvard Chan, the Harvard Division of Medical Sciences (DMS), and GSAS. PHS students need only choose one PHS-approved course; however, this course must be completed by the end of the second year for all students (in some cases, within the first year of study), except in circumstances where a student has already taken HPM548 during a prior Harvard Chan Master’s degree program. Students will also be required to take a ‘refresher’ course to update their research conduct knowledge during year three or year four.
PHS Wednesday Evening Seminar (WES) & Tuesday Evening Seminar (TES)
This ‘standing’ seminar for all first year PHS students takes place one-night-per-week throughout the year, covering various rotating topics/components. For incoming PHS students, the PHS Evening Seminar takes place on Wednesday evenings, beginning in Fall One. A Pedagogy & Teaching extension of the Seminar is also required during the second year of the program on one Tuesday evening per month.
WES Topic Rotations
- PHS ‘Pulse Check’ Dinner with Faculty Director (begins in Fall One; optional in Year Two)
- PHS Speaker Series (begins in Fall One; optional in Year Two)
- Scientific Communication & Grant-Writing (begins in Fall Two)
- Pedagogy & Teaching (begins in Spring Two, one evening/month in Year Two)
Please note: The PHS Program Office will order-in dinner each week for all students. Students should consult the PHS Program Office with any accommodation concerns that arise over scheduling or dietary restrictions.