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:

  • Demonstrate extensive knowledge of and contribute to social and behavioral science theories related to public health.
  • Identify knowledge gaps, synthesize relevant information, and formulate focused research questions to address these gaps.
  • Critically evaluate social and behavioral science research design, methodology, and analysis related to public health.
  • Contribute to public health knowledge by designing and implementing research that incorporates knowledge of pertinent cultural, social, behavioral, and biological factors using quantitative and qualitative methods.
  • Demonstrate professional skills including scientific writing, oral communication, grant-writing, interdisciplinary collaboration, teaching, and service.
  • Communicate research findings effectively to various audiences such as researchers, policy makers, and community.
  • Demonstrate extensive knowledge in designing and implementing community-based interventions and research.


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, and the requirements listed below. 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.

Questions or comments? Contact Torrie Malichky. This page was last reviewed on June 13, 2018.