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Population Health Sciences

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Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 

Degree Requirements


The PhD in Population Health Sciences (PHS) is intended to be a four-year program grounded in one of the five primary fields of study shown below. The desired field affiliation is identified by each applicant at the time of PHS application submission to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences:  

•Environmental Health  


•Global Health & Population   


•Social & Behavioral Sciences  

Each PHS student is typically assigned a faculty advisor by the designated field of study at the time of PHS admission, although, specific timing and procedures vary individually by field. In most cases, advisor assignment changes are possible but require consideration and sign-off by the field of study and PHS administration before finalization.

Year One (G1)

With the faculty advisor’s guidance and using PHS milestones, interdisciplinary core requirements, and individual field requirements as a blueprint, each student designs a degree plan toward the PhD while taking the initial coursework 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 each student’s plan for coursework, including both year one and year two. The Prospective Program should reflect the area of specialization within the field and any minors, if required. Students in the GHP field (only) take the PQE I—the first of two Preliminary Qualifying Exam (PQE) written exams, focused on field content, at the end of the second term.

Year Two (G2)

Students continue with coursework using their degree plans, while solidifying preparations/studies for the two-part Preliminary Qualifying Examinations (PQEs).  

The PQE I: Content Knowledge Exam is managed by the individual field. It typically occurs at the end of year two, and for students in the GHP field-only, one taken at the end of year one and the other at the end of year two. The PQE I (the first of the two exams) may be either written, oral, or a combination of both, as determined by field.

Year Three (G3)

The PQE II: Dissertation Proposal Exam, also known as the “orals exam,” is the dissertation proposal segment of the PQEs and must be completed by the end of the fifth term (typically, end of fall term in the third year). This part of the exam is oral with a student written dissertation prospectus for each field.  

Within two weeks of successfully completing the PQE II, participants finalize general research topics and identify a dissertation advisor who will help with the nomination of a formal Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC). The dissertation advisor is almost always the student’s academic advisor, and the DAC typically consists of the same advisors who serve on the PQE II committee. In some cases, changes and substitutions may be warranted depending on the direction of the research. The DAC serves to mentor the student through the dissertation candidacy process and defense. 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 to six months, up until the time of the dissertation defense.

Year Four (G4)

Each candidate continues with research and dissertation writing, including required in-person DAC progress report meetings every three to six months. The candidate dissertation typically consists of three papers, which are defended orally before the degree conferral of a PhD in population health sciences by the end of year four. 

Year Five (G5) – UPON APPROVAL  

While PHS is expected to be a four-year PhD, the program does allow for up to one additional (fifth) year of research toward a dissertation defense and degree conferral, assuming there is agreement and sign-off among the advisor, committee, field of study, and the PHS director. If approved for a fifth year, the PHS student would be required to complete an additional two (fall term-only) or four (full year) GSAS credit equivalents of TF/RA work during the additional time beyond the original four-year program commitment. These additional credits are required as a fifth-year add-on to the 10 GSAS equivalent required credits already completed in years 1-4.  

Summers (June, July, and August) – ALL YEARS  

All PHS students are required to be working toward their research and dissertation during all summers in which they are enrolled in PHS and receiving their regular monthly PHS stipends. Students should continue with research, writing, and in limited capacity (especially between years two and three and years three and four) holding positions such as research assistants, interns, and/or teaching fellows.  

PHS students should typically not be working for outside organizations with no Harvard University affiliation, and this is particularly true for PHS-enrolled international students. All decisions on non-research/dissertation-related summer work must only be taken after student/advisor consult regarding a summer research plan.  

Additional Notes on PHS Milestones:  

  • The overall four-year timeline depicted above may differ for students entering the PHS PhD from a Harvard Chan SM or MPH program.  
  • All PHS students are allowed to continue with tuition-free coursework toward their research during years three and four of the PhD program—and the additional fifth year, if approved (see above).  
  • PHS students are not eligible to take Harvard-offered summer courses, with the exception of language courses offered through GSAS.  

*Note: PhD students entering FAS are assigned a Graduate Year number, often designated using a G# format, i.e., G1 (Graduate Year 1), G2 (Graduate Year 2), etc. Continuing Harvard Chan students often enter PHS with a G2 or G3 designation based on prior completion of PHS core coursework and/or core requirements in a chosen field of study and when taken in consideration with program and facilities expenses.  

Students who enter with a Harvard Chan master’s degree are considered graduate year G3 rather than G1. Please carefully consult the appropriate field of study timetable for the required due dates of all forms and milestones. However, four fully-funded academic years (tuition, fees, healthcare, and stipend) remain allotted to all PHS students in completing their research toward dissertation and defense. 

Core Curricula


The following courses satisfy the minimum curriculum and core requirements for the PhD in population health sciences. All students are encouraged to pursue further coursework in areas of specific interest. Core requirements have been selected to broaden the student’s knowledge base as well as to build depth in individual research areas. In rare cases (noted below), 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 governing School registrar’s office for all PHS students is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). FAS uses a 1-, 2-, 4-, 8-credit system over two terms (fall and spring), while the Harvard Chan Office of the Registrar (considered the "home School" for PHS students’ classes and coursework) uses a 1.25-, 2.5-, 5-, and 10-credit system over quarter terms (fall one, fall two and spring one, spring two). Students can use the credit conversion chart to see credit equivalents from School to School. GSAS students, encompassing all PhD students, including PHS, use FAS credits. GSAS students are required to enroll in at least 16 FAS credits per term (20 Harvard Chan credits) and are allowed to enroll in a maximum of 24 FAS credits.  

Additionally, all GSAS students are required to take each course for a letter grade (sometimes referred to as an ordinal) if it is offered for a letter grade—even in cases when the course is offered as either an ordinal or as SAT/ UNSAT grade and regardless of whether a student has passed their qualifying exams and is considered to be a PhD candidate. The only routine instance in which a student can take a course as SAT/ UNSAT is if this is the only grading option offered at the time of course enrollment, in which case GSAS students are expected to receive a satisfactory grade. The grading system is outlined on the Grade and Examination Requirements page of GSAS Policies.  

The one exception to the GSAS ordinal grade requirement for all PhD students is in the category of languages. GSAS language courses may be taken at any time on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis, regardless of grading structure, but they may not be counted toward the degree.  

The final selection of courses must be made in consultation with each PHS student’s individual advisor and field 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. All students are obliged to follow the guidelines as described in the PHS Student Handbook for their respective year of entry.  

Off-Campus Study and Non-Resident Status: Students who plan to be away from the Harvard University campus but who still intend to make satisfactory progress toward their degree, i.e., will be engaged either domestically or abroad in fieldwork, research, data collection, etc., should complete the GSAS online Non-Resident Application (aka NORA) to indicate a temporary change to their intended study location and to be considered as non-resident students for the term. Students must request both PHS program office and advisor consent prior to making the request to the GSAS Office of Student Affairs via NORA and should do so well in advance of the specific term filing deadlines. Please note: Any non-resident student approved for traveling scholar status will NOT be allowed to enroll in coursework and will not be able to access campus resources in-person during their time/term as a traveling scholar.

PHS PhD Core Course Requirements

Course TimingTerm Harvard Griffin GSAS CreditsHarvard Chan Credits
PHS 2000 A + Lab*Year One or Two Fall 7.5 credits5 credits
PHS 2000 B + Lab*Year One or Two   SpringSatisfactory/Unsatisfactory5 credits
SBS 506     Year OneFall One2 credits2.5 credits
EPI 201 + Lab    Year OneFall One  2 credits2.5 credits
EPI 202 + Lab  Year OneFall Two   2 credits     2.5 credits
  • RCR – Responsible Conduct of Research: Year One or Year Two
  • TF/RA:  12.5 Harvard Chan credit-equivalent, accrued at any time during years one, two, three, or four at the student’s discretion

*Alternatively, PHS 2000A and/or PHS 2000B may be taken during the second year if a student opts to enroll in BST 201, BST 210, or alternate biostatistics coursework during the first year and upon consultation with PHS 2000 faculty, the advisor, field of study academic adminstrator, and PHS program office. Please see the following section on PHS 2000 Course Timing & Experience. 

Course Listings  

All Harvard University course catalogs are available via my.harvard.  

Past Course Evaluations  

FAS: Harvard Chan:

DMS: Downloadable listings of curriculum and course locations

Past course evaluations are available for FAS courses and Harvard Chan courses.

PHS Core Course Requirements

PHS 2000 A & B + Lab: Quantitative Research Methods in Population Health Sciences

10 Harvard Griffin GSAS Credits/12.5 Harvard Chan Credits 

PHS 2000 A  

This is part one of a two-part core yearlong quantitative methods course for the population health science PhD students at the School of Public Health. The course integrates methods and concepts from the various disciplines represented by population health sciences to equip students with the methodological tools to conduct their own research as well as collaborate across fields of study and areas of specialization. PHS2000A covers foundational statistical methods including linear and logistic regression, generalized linear models, survival analysis, and longitudinal data analysis. Discussion will be given to important concepts including sampling, measurement, model specification, interpretation, estimation, and diagnostics. Coursework will consist of two weekly lectures and a weekly lab session, problem sets, and exams. R is the main statistical computing software that will be used in the course.

PHS 2000 B  

This is part two of a two-part core yearlong quantitative methods course for the population health science PhD students at the School of Public Health. The course integrates methods and concepts from the various disciplines represented by population health sciences to equip students with the methodological tools to conduct their own research as well as collaborate across fields of study and areas of specialization. Part two of the course focuses on scientific inference and causal reasoning in the population health sciences and will provide an overview of methods for sensitivity analysis, interaction, mediation, propensity scores, time-varying exposures, measurement and correction for measurement error, instrumental variables, regression discontinuity designs, difference-in-difference methods, time series, missing data, multiple testing, replication, and meta-analysis. Emphasis will be placed on understanding the basic definitions, assumptions, and methodology. Students will be referred to further readings and courses to gain more detailed understanding. Coursework will consist of two weekly lectures and a weekly lab session, problem sets, and exams. Various software resources will be used throughout the course, with R being the main statistical computing platform used. The course will prepare students to critically read through the empirical population health science literature and to implement a number of different methods in their own research. 


The two-term PHS 2000 course (Part A in fall term and Part B in spring term) forms the methodological foundation for the PHS PhD and for subsequent methods courses. PHS 2000 is interdisciplinary by design and taught at a higher level of understanding than most comparable courses. Except in unusual circumstances, both PHS 2000 A and B are considered required core coursework for all students seeking to obtain the PhD in population health sciences. As such, a final grade of B or above is required of all enrolled PHS students in each of the two PHS 2000 courses, both A and B.  

Our goals for the course are to provide students with a deep understanding of the most commonly used statistical tools in empirical quantitative research in the population health sciences and to give students the background and skills to be able to read, understand, and critique cutting-edge research in their respective fields.  

PHS 2000A/B may be taken in the first or second year of the PhD program. We encourage all students to consider how the timing of taking PHS2000A/B can build on your foundational knowledge of quantitative research methods and to discuss your options with your academic advisors and the PHS 2000 faculty. We recognize that PHS students come to the program with a diversity of skills and experiences.  

We encourage all students to make their decisions via a multilevel process involving a discussion of options with their academic advisors and under the consultation of PHS 2000 faculty. We know that PHS students come to the program with a diversity of skills and experiences, all of which uniquely position them to make contributions to the science of population health. The quantitative skills that we teach in PHS 2000A are an important part of students’ population health sciences "toolkit", and it is worth taking the time to make use of the resources that we provide to help make the most of their PHS experience. Students with strong quantitative GRE scores, with previous master’s level coursework in statistics, and who scored well on the pre-assessment and/or completed the summer online biostatistics course are well positioned to take PHS 2000A in the first year of the program.  

  • Students who do not have master’s level coursework in statistics, who scored below the 70th percentile on the quantitative GRE, or who feel "rusty" in their familiarity with mathematical concepts may consider taking BST 201 and/or BST 210 in their first year, deferring PHS 2000 A/B until the second year. For these students, we suggest that they take their experience with the online summer biostatistics course, the online PHS Summer Prep materials, and the PHS sessions during Orientation Week into consideration in making their decision, in conjunction with their academic advisor. We encourage students to reach out to the PHS 2000 course director to discuss options.   
  • For students who opt to take PHS 2000A/B, we want you to be aware of resources and options to support you in taking the course:   
    • Instructor and TF office hours will be offered throughout each week of the term.   
    • Instructors are also available for one-on-one meetings by appointment.  
    • Small group tutoring with a prior PHS 2000 student is available to enrolled PHS 2000A/B students. To facilitate the transition into PHS 2000 coursework, we will automatically accommodate all requests for tutoring up to the first exam of PHS 2000A/B. The cost of this tutoring is covered by the PHS program. We will re-evaluate tutoring priorities periodically throughout the semester to ensure that this resource is prioritized and made available to those who can benefit most from it.   
  • The deadline to add/drop fall courses with the FAS registrar’s office is the "Fifth Monday" of the term (typically, the first Monday of October). We encourage students to discuss their experience in the first three weeks of the course with the course instructors and with their advisors if they feel that they may want to drop the course, and we will support those students in finding alternative course options to further prepare for PHS 2000A in the same fall term.  
  • In rare circumstances, PHS students with a prior master’s degree and who believe they have previously experienced the vast majority of the material covered in the course can request a waiver for a specific term, subject to approval by the course instructors and the advisor, with notification to the appropriate field of study academic administrator, and final sign-off from PHS program. 

EPI 201: Introduction to Epidemiology – Methods 1 + Lab

Two Harvard Griffin GSAS Credits/Four Harvard Chan Credits

EPI 202: Elements of Epidemiologic Research – Methods 2 + Lab

Faculty: Mittleman

Two Harvard Griffin GSAS Credits/Four 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 requesting a waiver should submit their request and supporting documents.  

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 as long as the course was completed within five years of enrollment in PHS, and field administrators will ensure that these students receive credit toward the PHS core requirements. Five years is the length of time that a degree student has to transfer Harvard Chan courses taken as a non-degree or master’s student into the degree record.

SBS 506: An Intro to History, Politics, & Public Health: Theories of Disease Distribution & Health Inequities

Two Harvard Griffin GSAS Credits/Four Harvard Chan Credits

In all but the most exceptional of cases, this course must 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 at the latest. (Caveat: All SBS students are required to take the course in the first year.) The course introduces different perspectives (social, behavioral, environmental, nutritional, global, and policy) that inform public health research and education. If the course was taken at Harvard Chan prior to 2016, the student will likely need to re-take this course in order to meet the PHS core requirement.  

Students who have previously taken this course 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 as long as the course was completed within five years of enrollment in PHS, and field administrators will ensure that these students receive credit toward the PHS core requirements. Five years is the length of time that a degree student has to transfer Harvard Chan courses taken as a non-degree or master’s student into their degree record.  

Students may request a course reading list during the summer via PHS office.  

Please note, waivers are not allowed for SBS 506.

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)

(FAS-Offered January or August Sessions - RECOMMENDED, HPM 548, or DMS-Offered MEDSCI 300qc, Harvard Chan-offered course)

Any chosen RCR method of study from either 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. All three options listed above meet NIH and NSF requirements. (The FAS-offered course is the one most highly recommended by a majority of PHS students.)  

A new Harvard Chan fall RCR course now also runs on Fridays from 11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m., in-person on the Harvard Chan campus during each fall term:  

Please note: Different courses meeting this requirement are offered via FAS, Harvard Chan, and the Harvard Division of Medical Sciences (DMS). 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 when a student has already taken HPM548 during a prior Harvard Chan master’s degree program. Students may also be required to take a refresher course to update their research conduct knowledge during year three or year four.

Contact Info 

Population Health Sciences Website

PhD Program in Population Health Sciences
Office of Education
Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue, Kresge 121
Boston, MA 02115-6096

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