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Social and Behavioral Sciences - PhD

 

My research over the past decade has focused on individuals and communities impacted by violence and oppression. Whether focusing on women and girls surviving sexual violence in eastern Congo's conflict, Syrian and Iraqi refugees working to build a new life in Jordan, or the urban poor attempting to survive in cities like Dhaka and Port-au-Prince, I am driven by a mission to serve those most marginalized in society through the production of new and better research. My hope for my time at GW is to expand my research methods toolkit and gain a better understanding of how to apply those methods in an anti-racist, feminist manner to better support those most in need.

Beth Maclin, PhD Candidate

Overview


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. Rodriguez-Diaz, Vice Chair of the Department of Prevention & Community Health and PHD, SBS Program Director

Admissions


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 researaxch. 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 hold 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

All PhD degree applicants must submit scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) taken within five years of the date of application. 
 
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.
 
Interviews

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

Review

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

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


Curriculum


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)
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.

SCHOOLWIDE PhD FOUNDATIONAL/RESEARCH TOTAL: 8 CREDITS

Course Descriptions

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)

SBS CORE COURSES TOTAL:  16 CREDITS 

Elective 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

ELECTIVE COURSES TOTAL:  15 CREDITS MINIMUM

Dissertation Research

PUBH 8435 | PhD Proposal Development (2 credits)
PUBH 8999 | Dissertation Research (7 credits) 

DISSERTATION RESEARCH TOTAL:  9 CREDITS MINIMUM

 

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.

**For graduation requirements, please download the program guide.**


See the program guide and the SPH Graduate Student Handbook for additional information.


Profiles


Caitlin P. Bailey

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? Prior to becoming a PhD student, I worked at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as a Cancer Research Training Award Fellow. Before my appointment at NCI, I earned my master’s degree in Nutrition Interventions, Communication, and Behavior Change from The Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Were there any significant experiences in your life that inspired you to choose the field you are pursuing? When I moved away from home for the first time, I quickly learned that my friends and I were not equipped with the knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy to maintain positive health behaviors in the face of mounting social and environmental challenges (e.g., access to fast foods, lack of structured exercise time). I hope my work can inform the ways society prepares and guides young people through the transition to independent living.

What excites you in your field/public health? I’m excited for opportunities to collaborate with a variety of stakeholders, including scientists, health professionals, educators, and community members of all ages. I believe that impactful programs are built in partnership with the individuals they serve.

 

Angela Bourassa

Biography coming soon...

 

Shikha Chandarana

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.

 

Jiayan Gu

jiayan Gu Photo

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.

 

Nandita Krishnan

Nandita Krishnan Photo

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? Briefly describe your work in that role(s):   My undergraduate and masters degrees were in public health and international health respectively, with a focus on social and behavioral sciences. After my undergraduate degree, I worked at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation in Chennai, India on a multi-site cardiometabolic disease surveillance study. Prior to enrolling in the PhD program, I managed an mHealth smoking cessation trial at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. I have also consulted for the United Nations Population Fund, Institute for Reproductive Health and the Overseas Development Institute on projects related to reproductive health and social norms change.

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 interested in understanding how social norms influence health behaviors. I am particularly interested in leveraging this knowledge to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases stemming from modifiable risk behaviors such as tobacco use. Through my experience working on smoking cessation projects in South Africa and Baltimore, I saw the role that peers and family members played on an individual’s decision to smoke and their success in quitting. It became evident that an individual’s success in quitting smoking largely depended on smoking-related behaviors and norms within their social networks. The constant innovation that is opening up new avenues for social and behavioral sciences research and interventions, such as social media platforms.  

Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH?   The professional development opportunities that DC offers, faculty expertise in theoretical and applied social and behavioral sciences research, and mentorship.

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?   Tennis, exploring new cities on foot. Publishing my first paper! Chennai, India.  

 

Shaon Lahiri

Shaon Lahiri Photo

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? Briefly describe your work in that role(s):   Prior to becoming a PhD student, I worked for about three and half years in the international development sector after getting my MPH. First I worked in Muscat with UNICEF Oman, and then with the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) in New Delhi.

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’m interested in how behavior is shaped by culture and community, and how to create positive change for problematic behaviors. I’m looking for common threads across different health domains in order to learn something new about how people behave when it comes to their health. The end goal is to develop practically useful contributions to health policies and programmes which can positively impact people’s lives. Almost everything in our lives involves health, and everything in our social world involves behavior. The tremendous breadth of applicability of my chosen degree (PhD Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health) excites me greatly. Developing an understanding of common social processes across a number of health domains represents a real opportunity to make positive change in the world by bringing an interdisciplinary rigor and global focus in the study of behavior as it relates to health. I’m interested in how behavior is shaped by culture and community, and how to create positive change for problematic behaviors. I’m looking for common threads across different health domains in order to learn something new about how people behave when it comes to their health. The end goal is to develop practically useful contributions to health policies and programmes which can positively impact people’s lives.  

Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH?   The Milken Institute SPH immediately appealed to me through its PhD in Social and Behavioral Sciences in Public Health. This degree represents the perfect culmination of my interests in behavioral science, public health and culture. The strengths of the faculty in rigorous methods of evaluation and health communication factored in strongly for me as well given my academic interests. Finally, the existence of the Center for Social Well-Being and Development really sealed the deal, as this is an area of interest that I would really like to pursue.

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 love Jazz – playing it, listening to it, and watching it performed. I’m really looking forward to explore the Jazz scene in Washington, DC. I’m proud of developing an ability to jump into vastly different cultural contexts, adapt and learn. This has underpinned a great many culturally nourishing experiences throughout my life. I spent the first part of my childhood in India, and the latter half in Muscat, Oman. Since graduating high school, I have lived in Michigan, London, Guangzhou (briefly), Muscat, and New Delhi. I’m very much a “third culture kid”!  

 

Beth J. Maclin

Beth J. Maclin Photo

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 studied journalism and political science during undergrad and then concentrated in epidemiology during my MPH. My work, which has largely focused on communities affected by conflict and insecurity, has spanned the academic, policy, and programming spheres and employs both qualitative an quantitative methods.

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)?   My interest is in global health and conflict, specifically the intersection of gender, conflict, and migration. I like that public health in general, and social and behavioral sciences specifically, examines an issue through a holistic lens, looking beyond the individual to consider the broader context. It’s only when we examine all the factors that inform health outcomes that we can develop meaningful policies and programming. My initial interest, from my time as an undergraduate student, was on refugees, as I could imagine no more vulnerable group. But as a student at a women’s college, issues of gender were never far from my mind. While working for the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Women in War program, I saw up close the ways in which gender and conflict intersect, resulting in seemingly insurmountable levels of vulnerability. Moving forward, I will continue to pursue these research tracks and how they interact with each other. 

Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH?   I initially became interested in the Milken Institute SPH because of the research centers, particularly the Avance Center for the Advancement of Immigrant/Refugee Health and the Global Women’s Institute, which align with my interests. But the thing that sold me on it is the commitment the faculty have to the students and the emphasis on mentorship throughout the PhD process.

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’m a New Englander. I grew up in southeastern Connecticut and then moved to Boston for college where I lived for 12 years before moving to DC. My happy place is in my kitchen. I love trying out new recipes to feed my family and friends. I’m also starting to experiment with gardening, though time will tell how well that works out.  

 

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. 

 

Christina Wysota

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? Prior to entering the PhD program, I earned my BS from the University of Delaware and my MPH from NYU. I worked as a Research Coordinator at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in the Department of Population Health on in the section on Tobacco, Alcohol, and other drug use.

Describe your public health area of interest. My research interests surround tobacco use with a particular interest on disadvantaged populations. I am interested in exploring the relationships between tobacco-related health outcomes with socio-demographic risk factors and behavioral health, especially among those who experience higher rates of tobacco use.

 

Hannah Yellin

Hannah Yellin

What was your background before becoming a PhD student? Are you working while getting your PhD? Briefly describe your work in that role(s):   My background is in public health and social science. I have an MPH in Epidemiology from George Washington University, and I studied psychology and anthropology at Macalester College. After finishing my master’s degree, I joined the GWU HIV Prevention Trials Network Clinical Research Site, and I will continue this work while pursuing my PhD. As the site coordinator for the GWU HPTN CRS, I help implement multiple biomedical HIV prevention clinical trials.

Describe your public health area of interest in layman’s terms. What made you interested in this area (please describe)? Why did you pick the Milken Institute SPH?
I am primarily interested in social and structural factors that influence public health, specifically within the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. My interest in this area stems from my involvement in HIV-related research and prevention work in DC. I chose the Milken Institute SPH because of the school’s collaborative research environment.

Where are you originally from? Please describe any hobbies, community, or volunteer activities you are passionate about. I grew up in New Jersey, and lived in St. Paul, Minnesota for several years before coming to DC. I enjoy playing piano and guitar.


Research


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