PhD in Community and Behavioral Health

Degree Description and Learner Objectives

Prepares individuals for academic, research, and policy-making careers in the social and behavioral health sciences. Graduates of this Ph.D. program will be able to do the following:

  1. Apply social and behavioral science theories in public health research
  2. Produce effective scientific writing
  3. Demonstrate grant-writing skills
  4. Participate in interdisciplinary research
  5. Communicate research findings to various audiences, including policy makers and community members
  6. Design a research study that incorporates knowledge of pertinent cultural, social, behavioral, and biological factors
  7. Design a theory-informed community-based intervention research project
  8. Design an implementation and evaluation plan for a theory-informed community-based intervention
  9. Formulate focused research questions to address gaps in community and behavioral health knowledge
  10. Evaluate social and behavioral science research design, methodology, and analysis related to public health
  11. Evaluate how structural bias, social inequities, and racism undermine health and create challenges to achieving health equity at organizational, community, and societal levels


A master’s degree in a related area is required.

Supervision of a Ph.D. program

It is necessary for all Ph.D. students to be matched with appropriate department faculty who are available to advise their program of study and chair their dissertation committee. Prospective students should begin this matching process by speaking with the Graduate Program Coordinator, about which faculty members are currently available for the advisement and dissertation chair roles. The Graduate Program Coordinator will suggest personal contact with likely advisors as needed. Acceptance into the Ph.D. program will be in part dependent on the identification and agreement of an appropriate and available advisor and dissertation chair.

PhD Curriculum

During their first semester, students will work with their academic adviser to develop a Plan of Study that will satisfy both the students’ individual goals. The curriculum for the doctoral program requires that students complete at least 75 semester hours of course work past the baccalaureate degree. The transfer credit given for a master’s degree counts towards these 75 semester hours. The University of Iowa General Catalog has the specific degree requirements.

PhD Qualifying Exam

The qualifying examination should be completed early in the doctoral program. For students with a relevant Master’s degree, the qualifying exam is to be taken at the end of the second semester of full-time study.  For students without a relevant Master’s degree or enrolled part-time the qualifying exam should be taken by the end of the third semester, or upon completion of sufficient coursework.  Students will work with their advisor to determine the best time to sit for the exam.

PhD Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive examination is taken after the majority of coursework for the Ph.D. degree has been completed. It tests the student’s ability to integrate relevant theories, analytical skills, research design and methodology in the behavioral and social sciences related to public health.

Dissertation Defense

The goal of the dissertation is to produce a document that is publishable in a peer-reviewed journal. Original thought is required in the formulation and conduct of the research, although neither original data collection nor data analysis are strictly required. During the dissertation defense, a specially formed committee will thoroughly examine the student’s area of knowledge associated with the context of the work.