Skip to main content
Doctoral Programs

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Social and Behavioral Sciences

Offered By: Department of Health, Behavior and Society

Onsite | Full-Time | 35 years

About This Program

The PhD program in Social and Behavioral Sciences is designed for individuals seeking training for careers as social and behavioral scientists, health educators, and health promotion or communication specialists in the public health arena. The curriculum centers on the application of social and behavioral science perspectives to research on contemporary health problems, with a focus on understanding and influencing the social contexts and behaviors relevant to health. In addition to coursework, students complete a written exam at the end of the first year and gain experience in research skills and approaches. With faculty guidance, students develop and present a dissertation protocol in an oral exam. The final dissertation defense is conducted as an oral exam that includes a public seminar.

The program provides rigorous training in research methodology, theory, and program design and evaluation. Research is primarily focused in two areas—health education and communication, and social and psychological influences on health.

Program Highlights

Interdisciplinary theory

with multi-level perspective

Rigorous methods

with practical application to contemporary health problems

Application of behavioral and social science perspectives

with attention to context

Community engagement

to understand and influence health behaviors that are risk factors in disease and illness

What Can You Do With This Degree?

Sample Careers

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Research Public Health Analyst
  • Social Scientist, Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products
  • Health Scientist-Alcohol Program
  • Project Director
  • Senior Communications Adviser
  • Tenure Track Faculty
  • Senior Program Officer
  • Director of Clinical and Academic Research
  • Senior Consultant
  • Research and Evaluation Officer
  • Program Director, Department of Public Health


Browse an overview of this program's requirements in the JHU Academic Catalogue, explore all course offerings in the Bloomberg School Course Directory, and find many more details in the program's Student Handbook

Research Areas

The emphasis of the curriculum is on the application of behavioral and social science perspectives to research on contemporary health problems. Understanding and influencing health behaviors that are risk factors in disease and illness, as well as behaviors that can be considered protective and health enhancing, are strengths of the program.

Rigorous training in research methods and program design and evaluation are also key elements of the curriculum. The program focuses its research in the following areas.

Health Education & Communication

This area focuses on the application of principles from education, communication, behavioral, social science and psychological theories to encourage health behaviors conducive to optimal health in individuals, groups and communities. Students are exposed to current research on health education and communication, with particular focus on multilevel, ecological models of health and health behavior, design and evaluation of multifaceted intervention programs and patient-provider communication.

Social & Psychological Influences on Health

This area focuses on social and psychological factors and processes in the etiology and prevalence of disease in health-care-seeking behavior, disease prevention, long-term care and rehabilitation. Students are exposed to current research on health knowledge, attitudes and beliefs; social and psychological factors in disease etiology; risk reduction; and cultural influences in public health, including cross-cultural and multilevel studies.

Admissions Requirements

For general admissions requirements, please visit the How to Apply page.

Standardized Test Scores

Standardized test scores (GRE) are optional for this program. The admissions committee will make no assumptions if a standardized test score is omitted from an application, but will require evidence of quantitative/analytical ability through other application components such as academic transcripts and/or supplemental questions. Applications will be reviewed holistically based on all application components.

Program Faculty Spotlight

Katherine Smith

Katherine Smith

Health, Behavior and Society

Katherine Clegg Smith, PhD, MA, is a sociologist who examines health experiences and health communication, with a research focus on cancer and chronic disease.

Carl Latkin

Carl Latkin

Health, Behavior and Society

Carl Latkin, PhD, conducts biobehavioral interventions for disadvantaged communities, with a focus on social networks, substance use, infectious diseases, and mental health.

Roland Thorpe, Jr.

Roland Thorpe, Jr.

Health, Behavior and Society

Roland J. Thorpe, Jr., PhD, MS, is a gerontologist and social epidemiologist with nationally-recognized expertise in minority aging, men’s health, and place-based disparities.

Carol Underwood

Carol Underwood

Associate Professor
Health, Behavior and Society

Carol Underwood, PhD '93, MA, MA, studies the role of gender, social class, and marginalization in global health outcomes to contribute to the wellbeing of populations.

Tuition and Funding

All full-time PhD students will receive the following support for the first four years of the program: full tuition, individual health insurance, University Health Services clinic fee, vision insurance, and dental insurance.

Contact Us

Questions about the program? We're happy to help. 

Academic Program Administrator
L. Robin Newcomb