Social and Behavioral Sciences - PhD



Social and Behavioral Sciences - PhD




The mission of the GW Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health program is to educate individuals who are committed to making a difference by solving public health problems using social and behavioral research. Graduates of this program are uniquely equipped to provide public health expertise and conduct research in the field of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS). Our graduates bring these skills into the world in order to develop, implement, and evaluate innovative health practices and policies.

In addition, the PhD in Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health degree coursework helps enhance students' focus on implementation of programs, evaluations of policies, and advocacy needs of various cultural and socioeconomic groups and communities. At the George Washington University, we are proud to educate students who are committed to improving public health by engaging in active research. We emphasize these qualities in the PhD Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health program because they are essential for future public health scientists.

Welcome Message from PhD, SBS Program Director

With PhD program in Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public health, we will guide you in the creation of rigorous and innovative social and behavioral sciences research. This research will emphasize utilizing the social ecological perspective to make advances in current health behavior paradigms to improve the health and well-being of our individuals and communities.  This program will increase your knowledge of scientific literacy by teaching you how to apply theories to alleviate disparities and inequalities in health and health behavior.  With faculty with a wide range of research interests, you will be able to identify knowledge gaps, synthesize relevant information, and formulate focused research questions to address these gaps in a number of outcomes of interest.  Please visit the faculty research tab to learn more about current research being done in our department.  Thank you for your interest in the program and I hope to read over your application soon. 


- Dr. Bingenheimer, SBS Program Director


NIMH T32 Training Program for Select Students

NIMH T32 Training Program in Approaches to Address Social-Structural Factors Related to HIV Intersectionally (TASHI)​

The George Washington University is offering full doctoral scholarships* to prepare the next generation of community-engaged researchers to develop and lead social-structural and intersectional approaches to promote equity and improve HIV and related health outcomes. The training program is supported by 19 multi-disciplinary faculty conducting both global and domestic research on HIV, mental health, substance use, and violence.

Trainees will receive instruction and mentorship in the following:​

  • Social and structural, critical, and intersectional theory
  • Community-engaged research design and methods​
  • Multi-level intervention development and evaluation​
  • Grant writing, publication and presentation skills


Trainees must apply and be accepted to the PhD program. Individuals from underrepresented populations are strongly encouraged to apply. To learn more about TASHI, visit or email [email protected].​

*Full Scholarships include tuition, living expenses, and health insurance.​​

Drs. Lisa Bowleg and Deanna Kerrigan, TASHI Co-Program Directors​


GWSPH Doctoral programs admit students for the Fall term each academic year.  Applications will be accepted beginning in August and are due no later than December 1st for the next matriculating cohort beginning in the following Fall term.  Find GWSPH graduate admissions information here.

The Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health PhD program is designed for professionals seeking to become leaders in public health research. Because admission to this program is highly selective, successful applicants have competitive academic credentials and substantial prior public health professional work experience related to this specialty field. 

A master's degree is required. Applicants who have completed an MPH degree from a Council of Education for Public Health (CEPH) accredited program or who holds a master’s degree in a social, behavioral, or quantitative field will be considered for admission to the PhD Program. Applicants with a master’s degree in another field may indicate their relevant training, work and/or research experience, or educational background comparable to the MPH that may have prepared them for doctoral-level training in Public Health. For the PhD, qualified applicants with degrees from institutions in foreign countries are also eligible for admission.

The GW SPH uses the SOPHAS application system for admissions. Applications will be reviewed following the December 1st deadline, and those applicants selected for an in-person interview (video conference if remote) can expect to be contacted by mid-February.   

Once admitted, students are required to maintain full-time status for the first 2 years of the program. Hence, students are required to take a minimum of 9 credits per semester (maximum of 18) for their first 2 years in the program.

All applicants for the PhD in Social and Behavioral Sciences are required to submit Graduate Record Examination scores from a test taken with the last five years. The GW institution code is 5268. The program's admissions committee will use these scores as part of its holistic evaluation of each applicant's preparedness and fit for the program. Email  [email protected] should you have any questions.


Select applications for the PhD in Social and Behavioral Sciences may take part in an interview. The interview will be a videoconference interview.


Applications will be reviewed following the December 1st deadline.  Those applicants selected for a videoconference interview will be contacted by late January for an interview.

Please click here for Frequently Asked Questions about the Admissions Process.

Required Schoolwide PhD Foundational & Research Courses

PUBH 6421 | Responsible Conduct Research (1 credit)
PUBH 8099 | PhD Seminar: Cross Cutting Concepts in Public Health (1 credit) NOTE: In 23-24, PUBH 8099 was updated to PUBH 8001
PUBH 6862 OR PUBH 8418 | Applied Linear Regression Analysis for Public Health Research OR Applied Statistical Analysis (3 credits)
PUBH 8416 | Study Design and Evaluation Methods (3 credits)
PUBH 6080 | Pathways to Public Health* (0 credits)

*For students without a prior Master's degree from a CEPH accredited school of PH ONLY. Find FAQs on the Advising page here.



Required SBS Core Courses

PUBH 8525 | Advanced Topics in Social and Behavioral Science: Doctoral Seminar (1 credit)
PUBH 8528 | Advanced Topics in Critical Review of Social/Behavioral Theory and its Application in Public Health (3 credits)
PUBH 8419 | Measurement in Public Health and Health Services Research: Doctoral Seminar (3 credits)
PUBH 8417* | Qualitative Research Methods and Analysis (3 credits)
PUBH 8534 | Multi-Level Interventions for Health Promotion (3 credits)
PUBH 8526 | The Application of Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) to Public Health Research (3 credits)


* Indicates course may be replaced with EDUC 8257, PSYC 8258 or other doctoral level qualitative class.

Elective Courses

PUBH 6570** | Advanced Public Health Communication: Theory and Practice (3 credits)
PUBH 6887** | Applied Longitudinal Data Analysis (3 credits)
PUBH 8116** | Communicating Research Results (2 credits)
PUBH 8527** | Scientific Writing and Training Grant Development (1 credit)

** Recommended courses

15 credits. See the program guide and/or consult with your advisor for recommendations and course options.

GW 8000 level elective courses do not require advanced approval prior to enrollment, however all prerequisites do apply. Advisor's approval prior to enrollment is required for other courses.

Course Descriptions


Dissertation Research

PUBH 8435 | PhD Proposal Development (2 credits)
PUBH 8999.11 | Dissertation Research (7 credits) 


Non-Academic Requirements
Graduate Teaching Assistant Program (GTAP)

All PhD, SBS students must enroll in UNIV 0250- Graduate Teaching Assistant Certification, administered by the University. Successful completion of this Certification is a pre-requisite/co-requisite to taking on a role as a Teaching Assistant. The University does not allow students to be Teaching Assistants unless this certification is completed. The 1-credit, online certification is paid for by GW, however the 1-credit does not count toward the 48-credit minimum required for the PhD, SBS.

Professional Enhancement

Students in this PhD program are required to participate in eight hours of Professional Enhancement in research ethics during their program. Professional enhancement activities supplement the academic curriculum and help prepare students to participate actively in the research community.  Students can fulfill this requirement by attending Public Health-related lectures, seminars, or symposia related to your field of study.

Professional Enhancement activities supplement the rigorous academic curriculum of the SPH degree programs and help prepare students to participate actively in the professional community. You can learn more about opportunities for Professional Enhancement via the Milken Institute School of Public Health Listserv, through departmental communications, or by speaking with your advisor.

Students submit a completed Professional Enhancement Form to the Office of Student Records which is required documentation to be cleared for graduation.

Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Training

All students are required to complete the Basic CITI training module in Social and Behavioral Research.  This online training module for Social and Behavioral Researchers will help new students demonstrate and maintain sufficient knowledge of the ethical principles and regulatory requirements for protecting human subjects - key for any public health research.

Academic Integrity Quiz

All Milken Institute School of Public Health students are required to review the University’s Code of Academic Integrity and complete the GW Academic Integrity Activity.  This activity must be completed within 2 weeks of matriculation. Information on GWSPH Academic Integrity requirements can be found here.


Program Guides

Past Program Guides

Students in the PhD in SBS program should refer to the guide from the year in which they matriculated into the program. For the current program guide, click the red "PROGRAM GUIDE" button on the right-hand side of the page.

Program Guide, 2023-2024

Program Guide, 2022-2023

Program Guide, 2020-2021

Program Guide, 2018-2019

Program Guide, 2016



Lauren Cafferty

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? I graduated from George Mason University in 2012 with a BA in Communication. I received my MA in Communication Studies from Texas State University in 2016, after
which I worked as a Research Analyst for the University of Southern California’s Hollywood, Health, and Society. I am a Clinical Research Manager in the Department of Family Medicine at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. In my role, I manage grant-funded, multi-site research studies. I support program directors, project coordinators, and study staff in achieving the research program's goals. I also mentor and train students and faculty through qualitative analysis and interpretation.

Please describe any hobbies, community, or volunteer activities you are passionate about. Outside of academia, I utilize my interest in community and public health to deliver hot meals to unhoused people in my community. Every morning and evening, a group of volunteers pick up prepared meals from church partners or local restaurants and hand them out to those that need them. If I have free time, I like to take my dog, Molly, for hikes in the city's beautiful parks. I also enjoy cooking and trying new recipes.

Describe an accomplishment for which you are particularly proud. In 2021, I was named Outstanding Research Coordinator by the North American Primary Care Research Group, the world’s largest organization devoted to research in primary care.

Shikha Chandarana

"My main research goals since the beginning of my academic career have been to understand and analyze the social norms around sexual health of women in domestic and global contexts. In addition to research, one of my primary interests is to ensure public health pedagogy and mentoring are empowering and culturally collaborative. As a doctoral student at GW, I hope to find ways to gain expertise in a number of topics in gender-based sexual health empowerment as well as on both qualitative and quantitative methods to apply to future research projects."

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? I finished my undergraduate education at Brandeis University with a BS in Public Health, and then went on to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health to get a Masters in Global Health and Population. During my time at Harvard, I worked as a Research Associate and Teaching Fellow for two years. After my education, I worked at New York University’s Langone Medical Center in the Department of Environmental Health in Pediatrics as a Data Scientist.

Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing? I knew I wanted to work in the public health field after I took a course on social determinants of health in my first year of my undergraduate career. After this, I got the opportunity to work on public health in global contexts of India, Australia, United States, The Netherlands, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic. Understanding the inter and intra-national disparities in women health acted as an inspiration for me to pursue a graduate degree in global health. I spent my final year of my undergraduate career working in the Dharavi slums of Mumbai on health education and compliance of health education for mothers. That experiences cemented my goal of getting doctorate level education in public health focusing on the life course of women.

What excites you in your field/public health? I am excited by the idea that the research that I do my mentors can in some way aid the future of women’s health globally. I think public health is a field of study that includes everything from housing crises, climate justice, racial justice to biological and genetic health determinants. This far reaching effect of public health is a large reason I am passionate about the field since the focus truly lies on improving the life quality of people through all aspects of their socio-cultural environment.

Yuxian Cui

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? Before joining GW as a Ph.D. student, I earned an MSPH degree in Health Education and Health Communication from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. During my MSPH study, I worked as a research assistant at Institute for Global Tobacco Control.

Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing? I was born in China, a country with high smoking morbidity, with millions of people suffering from smoking-related diseases, including cancers. I still remember the uncomfortableness due to the choking smoke when many people were smoking inside. As 20 years went by, despite policy improvements in China, tobacco consumption and smoking prevalence among people, especially youth, are highly ranked globally. I want to change this circumstance and help people live healthier.

Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH? As far as I learned from the school website and alumni, Milken’s Ph.D. program can hone students through independent problem-solving research processes and extensive discussions that help students learn from various perspectives. The variety in the department means that I can obtain views and support from varied sources, conceptualize research in a multi-disciplinary way, and conduct the research with a more careful consideration that ensures research quality. In particular, I would benefit from studying with people who share my category of research interests in the program (Yes, it’s my current advisor Dr. Carla Berg!). In IGTC’s journal club and discussions around projects, I found the papers and works from the tobacco control people at the GW were helpful in advancing the research projects. The wide range of resources for research on tobacco control (e.g., publications, experts, etc.) in the program will help me step forward toward my career goal as an independent researcher in tobacco control.


Adam Flood

Biography coming soon...


Jiayan Gu

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? Briefly describe your work in that role(s):  I earned my master degree in health education and communication from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Since then, I worked as a research technician at Georgetown University Medical Center’s Cancer Prevention & Control Program, where I coordinated several research projects that focused on breast cancer prevention and control.

Describe your public health area of interest in layman’s terms.  What excites you in your field/public health? Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing? What made you interested in this area (please describe)?  I am particularly interested in understanding the mechanisms of how socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals seek and process digital health information with the intention of developing appropriate and cost-effective educational intervention programs that can empower members of this population in the e-health era. I am also interested in exploring the structural factors that contribute to the expansion of the “digital divide”, and advocate for the development of policies that ensures all populations are able to access and benefit from the development of e-health initiatives. Health behavioral change is an area which works on large-scale populations and improves the quality of life for all people. There is no greater satisfaction in life than realizing that my work makes positive changes in the lives of other people.  

Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH?  This program perfectly matches my research interests. I am particularly impressed by the department’s interdisciplinary nature and its expertise in applying health communication theories, novel communication technologies and social marketing approaches in health behavioral interventions.

Please describe any hobbies, community, or volunteer activities you are passionate about. Describe an accomplishment for which you are particularly proud. Where are you originally from?  I was born and grew up in Shanghai, China. I enjoy outdoor activities, especially tennis and hiking. I have been train in go for more than ten years and was a professional go player.  


Megumi Ichimiya

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? Before coming to GW, I studied social behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Prior to that, I worked at a global consulting firm as a healthcare strategy consultant. During my PhD program at GW, I have been working as a research associate for an NCI-funded research project on the dose-response effect of digital health communication targeted at adolescents and young adults.

Describe your public health area of interest in layman’s terms. What made you interested in this area (please describe)? My interest is centered on tailored digital health intervention for chronic diseases prevention for adolescent and young adults. I am interested in studying how advances in digital technologies can contribute to better tailor health interventions for communities and individuals.

Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH? I was fascinated by the variety of faculty who studies chronic diseases prevention and digital health intervention.

Please describe any hobbies, community, or volunteer activities you are passionate about. I am managing a non-profit that promotes HPV vaccines with doctors and public health specialists at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and schools in Japan. I like cooking and playing with my two kittens for my pastime.


Simone Sawyer

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? Upon completion of my master’s program in Health Education and Health Communication at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, I joined two teams of youth development programs at the Bloomberg School of Public Health: HeartSmiles and Cloud-Based Data Science Plus (CBDS+), where I serve in concurrent roles as program coordinator and case manager, respectively. Both programs focus on providing youth from underserved communities with access—whether it be college preparatory, entrepreneurial opportunities, career training, or professional development among other things—with the ultimate goal of achieving their greatest potential. While my departure from these roles will certainly be bittersweet, I look forward to the exchange of knowledge and experience during my graduate assistantship with Dr. Olga Price and the Center for Health and Healthcare in Schools team. 

Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing? I have always been the person who asks “Why?”: Why do people do the things that they do and how can I help them make choices that will benefit, not harm, them and their families? It was during my freshman year at Spelman College, when I learned that my inquisitiveness and passion for supporting and uplifting others could serve the greater community by way of public health research. 

I also have a keen sense of observation. Growing up in a military family that moved several times throughout my childhood, I became increasingly more adept at taking inventory of new environments. After attending Spelman for undergrad and Johns Hopkins for graduate school, I began noticing a pattern: the presence of prestigious schools that possess seemingly endless resources situated in some of the most under-resourced communities—communities composed of people who look like me. It hurt to see people who reminded me of my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, so close and yet so far from access to these very resources and opportunities. It was at that time that I made the commitment to becoming a bridge-builder and to collaborate with other bridge-builders to create a safe and welcome space for those who have been formerly left out of decisions about their health and quality-of-life decisions. 



Loxley Seager

Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing? What made you interested in this area (please describe)? As someone who is a part of the gender, sexuality, and romantic minority (GSRM) community, the concerns of those in my community have always been at the forefront of my interests in public health. Of the topics concerning the GSRM community, I am particularly interested in both improving mental health and reducing HIV-related stigma among adolescents. Within those topics, I am interested in using sexual health education among adolescents to destigmatize living with HIV, improving care among youth living with HIV, and reducing rates of depression and suicidality among GSRM adolescents by normalizing non-hetero and non-cisgender identities. I am particularly interested in investigating protective factors, rather than risk factors for research and health interventions because it focuses more on the things that are within an adolescent’s control (such as providing GSRM community programs for them to participate in) rather than those outside of it (such as their GSRM identity, which is unchangeable). In my research, I aim to incorporate protective factors and resiliency to build interventions that introduce and build on those positive characteristics for GSRM communities to ultimately improve their overall health.

Where are you originally from? Please describe any hobbies, community, or volunteer activities you are passionate about. I am from mid-Michigan, just north of the capital, Lansing. I lived in Oregon for 5 years, but while I lived there, I talked about Michigan so much that one of my close friends once told me that if they were asked to describe me to someone, they would sum me up by saying, “They really love Michigan”—and I really do. My family has always kept active no matter what season it is—going boating, hiking, camping, biking in the summer, and skiing in the winter. Since becoming aware of the importance of self-care for mental health, however, I picked crocheting back up and find it to be a very relaxing activity to unwind with.

Describe an accomplishment for which you are particularly proud. I had several false starts following high school before I found what I wanted to do and be successful in school. About halfway through my undergraduate program, I learned that I have ADHD, yet I still graduated Cum Laude with my BS in Public Health in just 3 years. I like to share this about myself in part because I feel that talking about mental health is incredibly important to destigmatizing it— thus improving care— but also because I am proud of the work that was required of me to do well in school despite the challenges that neurodivergence presents in traditional academic settings

Breana Castonguay headshot

Breana Castonguay

What excites you in your field/public health?

Everything! The field of HIV/AIDS is transitioning before my very eyes. I was at the International AIDS conference the first time they revealed the promising news of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Now I am helping contribute to the field of injectable therapies where a daily pill may one day be a thing of the past. It is VERY exciting! But it is important to me that we make sure these amazing therapies are available to all communities and at the same time, consider the intersectionality of racist policies and the affects of racism on community health and access. These are things I want to continue to think about and develop interventions for during my PhD training at GWU. 

Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing?

Michelle Alexander’s Book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” came out the first year of my graduate program. That book coupled with lectures in the Health Disparities course inspired me to learn everything I could about a system built on racist policies affecting persons, families, and communities of color.


Rebecca Erenrich

What made you interested in this area?
My first job after graduating from college was at an online publisher focused on HIV/AIDS, reporting on clinical research. At that job I learned how fascinating health research can be and how very needed research that considers the political, social, and personal contexts of people and communities affected by HIV is. Since then, hearing from people with HIV grateful for the legacy of past HIV researchers and working with study participants who felt affirmed by the attention paid to their communities by recent research has sustained and solidified my commitment to the field and these topics. 
 Please describe any hobbies, community, or volunteer activities you are passionate about. 

In past years I have taken classes in flying trapeze, Haitian dance, and drawing. I have also volunteered with survivors of interpersonal violence and with an activist group focused on the issues affecting people living with HIV. Recently, my major pursuit outside of work and academics has been caring for my son.


 Describe an accomplishment for which you are particularly proud. 

I am proud of my contributions to the PrEPTECH study, the first randomized controlled trial of a telehealth intervention for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Our small team revamped a pilot intervention, recruited and followed a panel of study participants over six months, and is excited to report on our positive findings.  


Megan Jones Headshot

Megan Jones

Describe your public health area of interest in layman’s terms.
Broadly, I am interested in utilizing social and behavioral science to understand the mechanisms of risk-taking behavior and health behavior change among adolescents and vulnerable populations. Through my research, I hope to examine the pathways through which trauma and life instability are associated with health-related behaviors (e.g., substance use, sexual risk behaviors, physical activity, medication adherence, etc.) to ultimately inform the development of interventions that mitigate the effects of such experiences on long-term health outcomes. Additionally, I hope to study how social processes and internal constructs, such as self-efficacy, motivation, stigma, and social relationships influence behavioral health outcomes among marginalized groups.

Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH?
I chose the Milken Institute SPH because of its emphasis on approaching public health from a multidisciplinary perspective and the various faculty members focusing on community-engaged approaches, health disparities reduction, and behavioral risk-taking. With much of the current research at GWU aligned with my own interests, it is the perfect place to pursue my doctoral training.


Mamaswatsi Kopeka Headshot

Mamaswatsi Kopeka

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD?
I recently got my Master of Public Health degree from Brown University, with a concentration in Global Health. At Brown, I worked with the Women’s Health Interventions and Transitions (WHIT) research group on a collaborative project that explored the experiences of pregnant + postpartum Women Living with HIV in Cape Town, South Africa. I also really love qualitative research in general, and I worked as a Teaching Assistant for an introductory qualitative research class. When I was not in the classroom, I worked to facilitate impactful engaged scholarship and research projects within the undergraduate community.
Describe your public health area of interest in layman’s terms.
My interests are quite broad, but related. I am generally interested in the health and illness
experiences of low-income women. My previous work includes understanding how financial stability impacts the ability to adhere to HIV medication regularly among low-income mothers living with HIV. For my PhD, I am open to learning more about healthcare access, illness management, and advocacy efforts for women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Where are you originally from?
I am from Lesotho, Southern Africa

Leslie Manso

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD?
I have a Masters in Anthropology and a Bachelors in Psychology. In addition to my PhD studies and duties, I am working as a part-time Data Analyst for the NIMH.

Briefly describe your work in that role(s).
I work for the Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Phenotyping Service where patients who have rare diseases are often seen for neuropsychological and clinical assessments. As a Data Analyst, I work closely with the statistician and external contributors to organize, manage, and produce data resulting from neuropsychological batteries. Currently, the department is piloting a REDCap database I designed to manage all the data we collect from the numerous protocols we service.

Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing?
After working for a memory disorders lab, I noticed the normative neuropsychological data used for Hispanic and Latino populations are outdated. Having Cuban heritage and being born & raised in Hialeah – a Cuban-dominated city – I felt that gathering data to produce better norms at the subgroup level would produce more accurate neuropsychological scoring, and, thus, help professionals provide a more tailored treatment.


Jessica Otero Headshot

Jessica Otero

Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH?
I chose Milken because I was very excited to engage in the new Center for Community Health in Latin America & the Caribbean, and to work with all the incredible faculty doing impactful work with Latin American communities.

 Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing?
I went to Haiti with a sustainable development organization called P4H Global my first year of college. I had always felt passionate about advocating for communities but had never seen this done well. P4H did this sustainably by prioritizing community partnerships and their needs, while following evidence-based practices. This trip showed me that working with communities can be harmful, when not centering their voices and needs. Their CEOs did an incredible job of doing that well. They were also the first Women of Color who I met with doctoral degrees that did the kind of work that I wanted to do. This made me realize that I could do that too! Since then, I’ve had incredible mentors who have reaffirmed this desire and shown me how impactful research can be to advancing health equity. My experiences with CEAL also reaffirmed this and grew my passion for engaging in community-based research.

Where are you originally from?
I am originally from Bogota, Colombia! I am very proud of my Colombian background.


Mackenzie Weise Headshot

Mackenzie Weise 

Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH? 

I’m a Milken MPH alum and highly value the education and experiences I was provided while earning my master’s degree. Additionally, I chose to pursue a PhD at the Milken Institute SPH based on the unique diversity profile across both the school and surrounding community. The faculty, staff, and students provide strong global perspectives and it’s beyond advantageous to learn and impact change right here within the heart of our nation’s capital.

Describe an accomplishment for which you are particularly proud. 

I’m proud of a lot of personal and professional accomplishments but most of all, I’m proud to be a Black woman in pursuit of a PhD. According to the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, only 6.5% of all doctoral recipients were Black or African American females from 2010-2019. I believe the unique viewpoints of Black women are critical for public health education, research, community engagement, and health equity. 

What made you interested in this area? 

My interest in centering underserved and marginalized groups is based on both professional and personal experience. Professional experience has highlighted the weight and priority often given to large samples or majority rule scenarios even though this can omit other important considerations, exposures, or outcomes. On a personal note, I was raised in the southern U.S. where various social determinants of health conditions within Black or African American communities greatly differed from those surrounding other groups. As a result, I have grown to understand how preventable or unjust health disparities can be. 


Emily Zhang Headshot

Emily Zhang 

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD?
Before starting my PhD at GWU, I lived in Baltimore while I earned my MSPH in Health Education and Health Communication from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Prior to Baltimore, I lived in Austin while I earned my BS in Public Health from the University of Texas at Austin and worked as a Health Strategies Specialist at the American Heart Association following graduation. During my PhD, I will be working as a graduate research assistant on my faculty advisor’s longitudinal cohort studies examining stress regulation and socioemotional health in Latinx adolescents and social influences of family, neighborhood, and culture on school success and healthy development.

Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing?
I first learned about public health during my freshman orientation in college when a small row of students in the back cheered for their public health major as the orientation leaders called out each major. I was a biology pre-med major at the time and had never heard of public health before, but I wanted to learn more. After taking an introductory public health class in the spring of my freshman year, I soon switched my major to public health. My undergraduate public health education broadened my perspective of health to include behavioral, community, and societal challenges, some of which are out of one's control. Additionally, as a peer educator for my college’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, I led mental health initiatives on campus centered around social connectedness and mindfulness. I saw the importance of valuing mental health as much as physical health after learning how stress can leave lasting detrimental effects on our well-being. My leadership experience in the program sparked a research interest in the benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for mental and physical well-being.

Describe your public health area of interest in layman’s terms.
Broadly, I am interested in mental health, qualitative and mixed methods, social determinants of health, and minority health. More specifically, I am eager to investigate the role of mindfulness-based interventions on minority and youth mental health and the resulting improvement in health outcomes.



The Prevention and Community Health (PCH) faculty are involved with a vast array of research for which you may be interested.  See an outline here for information about ongoing research within the department.  Please feel free to contact PCH department faculty at your convenience to discuss further.

In addition, here are some sample dissertation topics from our PhD-Social and Behavioral Sciences graduates:

  • Cigarette Package Graphic Warning Labels: The Role of Affect and Mechanisms of Change... Andrea Johnson, PhD 2020
  • Investigating the Influence of Social Norms on Intentions and Behaviors: a Multi-level Analysis of Iron Consumption Behaviors Among Women in India... Hagere Yilma, PhD 2021
  • Applying Social Cognitive Theory to identify predictors of electronic nicotine product use trajectories and cessation... Nandita Krishnan, PhD 2022
  • Social Norms and Tobacco Use: Studies of Change... Shaon Lahiri, PhD 2022
  • Risk and Resilience among Female Sex Workers in the Dominican Republic... Beth Maclin, PhD 2022
  • Health Disparities among Adolescent Sexual Minority Males: Associations with Multilevel Stigma and Implications for PrEP Uptake... Hannah Yellin, PhD 2023
  • Examining associations between timing of physical activity and health outcomes in young adults...Cailtin Bailey, PhD 2024

  • Noticing E-Cigarette Warning Labels in relation to Harm Perception and E-Cigarette Use Intentions among a National Sample of US Adults....Christy Wysota, PhD 2024