The Doctor of Philosophy in Health Behavior Research provides academic and research training for students interested in pursuing career opportunities in the field of health promotion and disease prevention research. Students receive well-rounded training encompassing theory and methods from allied fields such as communications, psychology, preventive medicine, biostatistics, public health and epidemiology. The program prepares students for research positions in the areas of preventive medicine, public health, population health science, health psychology, and health policy research.

Training is conducted via course lectures, discussions, seminars, student and faculty presentations, and field research. In addition, students gain research experience by participating in faculty projects, most often in connection with the USC Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (IPR).

Students come away from the program with an in-depth understanding of the subject matter and the intellectual capability needed to pursue a career in health-related research. Small classes, one-on-one mentoring, and research opportunities offered by internationally recognized faculty make this program an exceptional training ground for future impact.

  • This program requires completing 60 units of graduate study. Students are required to complete 9 core courses (plus the interdepartmental ethics course INTD 500), 12 units of research, a minimum of 7 units of elective coursework and 4 dissertation units. Students may take additional classes according to their unique research interests.

  • The Doctor of Philosophy in Health Behavior Research is typically completed in 4-5 years. Below is the recommended time frame for completing program requirements:

    Years 1-2
    The first two years include core and elective coursework, directed research activity, and seminar participation. Students also work as Research Assistants (RAs) or Teaching Assistants (TAs).

    Year 3
    During the third year, students should finish any remaining coursework and complete the Qualifying Exam (described below). Passing that exam qualifies the student to begin the dissertation study. Year 3 is a good time to apply for a predoctoral fellowship (e.g., NIH F31).

    Years 4 and 5
    In years 4 and 5, students move into more independent research activities and perform dissertation research. Unless they have independent funding, students are still involved in RA or TA responsibilities. Students who have not yet obtained dissertation funding or a predoctoral fellowship should apply or resubmit unsuccessful applications. Students should aim to complete and formally defend the dissertation research by the end of the fifth year.

  • Students are required to take the following core courses. Students who enter the program with a strong statistical background may substitute higher-level statistics classes for PM 510L, PM511aL and PM 511bL after consulting with their advisor.

    PM 500 Foundations of Health Behavior | 4 Units

    PM 511aL Data Analysis-SAS | 4 UnitsPrerequisite, 510L, Principles of Biostatistics

    PM 511bL Data Analysis-Regression | 4 Units

    PM 515 Multivariate Statistics in Health Behavior Research | 4 Units
    (Prerequisite, PM 512, Intro to Epi Methods)

    PM 530 Biological Basis of Disease | 4 Units

    PM 601 Basic Theory and Strategies of Prevention | 4 Units

    PM 604 Health Behavior Research Methods | 4 Units

    PM 615 Intervention Research Grant Proposal Development | 4 Units

    PM 756 Research Seminar in Health Behavior | 1 Unit each, 5 required

    Students will be expected to attend at least 10 seminar sessions during each semester they are enrolled in PM 756. These sessions can be from any reputable seminar series held at USC or outside USC focusing on research. Seminars should be research-focused and related to the student’s degree and research interests. In some cases, students may wish to attend a conference and count conference sessions toward the attendance total of 10 sessions required for PM 756 (one paper session or symposium equals one seminar). During COVID-19, all seminars may be online. When we are back on campus, students should attempt to attend the majority of the seminars in-person to facilitate networking and interaction.

    At the end of the semester, students should submit a 1-2-page paper listing the seminars that they attended and describing what they learned. Examples might include theories, intervention approaches, research methods, new ideas about predictors of health behavior, or novel approaches to intervention translated from basic science research.

    INTD 500 Ethics and Accountability in Biomedical Research | 1 Unit

  • Students must enroll in a minimum of 12 units of directed research (4 units of PM 590, 4 units of PM 690, and 4 units of PM 790; credit/no credit). Students typically begin taking directed research units during their first year. Directed research activity is designed in consultation with your faculty advisor or with another faculty member with whom you may be working. (We strongly encourage you to take directed research units with a variety of faculty members, because you will need to assemble a committee of 5 faculty members who are familiar with your work.) The student and advisor should plan a set of activities that will promote the student’s knowledge in a particular area. This activity is distinct from TA and RA responsibilities. Examples of directed research activities include development and pilot testing of health education curricula, observational studies, design and pilot testing of assessment instruments, data collection efforts (e.g., telephone surveys or face-to-face interviews), data analysis, and literature reviews. As a general rule, 1 unit of research is equivalent to 2 hours of work per week.

    PM 590 Directed Research | 4 Units
    PM 690 Directed Research in Health Behavior | 4 Units
    PM 790 Research | 4 Units

  • Students must complete the qualifying exam and dissertation units. Before the qualifying exam, students assemble a Guidance Committee (also known as the Qualifying Exam Committee) consisting of 5 faculty members.

    GRSC 800a Qualifying exam | 0 Units

    GRSC 800b Qualifying exam | 0 Units

    PM 794a Doctoral Dissertation | 2 Units

    PM 794b Doctoral Dissertation | 2 Units

    All students are required to apply for dissertation funding.

PhD Characteristics

The USC Graduate School is committed to providing detailed information on the inputs, outcomes, and overall characteristics of its PhD programs, for the purposes of full transparency and to support informed decision-making.

Program Director

I study the psychosocial and cultural risk and protective factors for health-related behaviors across diverse populations.

Jennifer Unger, PhD
Email: unger@usc.edu
Phone: (323)442-8234
Jennifer Unger, PhD

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