Social and Behavioral Sciences PhD


Learn more about the Doctor of Philosophy in Social and Behavioral Sciences.

About the Program

The Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences administers the PhD in Social and Behavioral Sciences (PhD-SBS). This program provides advanced training in theory, methods and research related to social and behavioral influences on population health that prepares students for advanced research and scholarship. The program provides experiences that support interdisciplinary learning; promote critical and theory-based problem-solving skills to address public health threats; and foster the development of professional values and ethics. Heavy emphasis is placed on scientific foundations, research methods and statistics as well as hands-on research experience.

Coursework and experiential learning emphasize the dynamic interaction of individual difference characteristics, social circumstances and situational factors influencing health-promoting and health-damaging behavior and behavior change. Required research courses, structured research experiences each academic term, colloquium presentations, and coursework in teaching and grant writing expand students’ knowledge and application of research methods and analytic techniques while facilitating professional development and scholarship. Students choose advanced training opportunities in concentration electives with close consultation from a faculty mentor to ensure proper breadth and depth of training in students’ emerging areas of expertise. A publishable first-authored paper is required prior to sitting for the preliminary examinations to further facilitate students’ focus on scholarship.

Throughout enrollment in the program, students are expected to actively participate in scholarly activities and develop their own line of independent research that will contribute to their area of interest within the social and behavioral sciences. Many opportunities lie in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences for research mentorship with internationally renowned faculty affiliated with dynamic research laboratories and centers, including the Center for Obesity Research and Education, the Health Behavior and Research Clinic, the Health Disparities Research Laboratory, the Risk Communication Laboratory, and the Social and Behavioral Health Interventions Laboratory, as well as the Dean’s Research Group. Collectively, centers and labs in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences develop, test and evaluate interventions aimed at resolving significant public health problems in high-risk and vulnerable populations. Examples of research content areas in which department faculty are actively involved include cancer control (e.g., smoking cessation); cancer prevention and decision-making (e.g., early detection and screening); cancer survivorship (e.g., online and live support groups); ethnic and racial disparities in cancer; health systems research; obesity; and violence. Research mentors in these labs offer opportunities for research placements and developing papers for publication and presentation at conferences; provide professional socialization; help define dissertation projects using existing funded studies; and may provide some funding in the form of Research Assistantships. Students in the PhD-SBS program also are expected to participate in ongoing professional development opportunities, such as the monthly SBS graduate student seminar series, as well as journal clubs, colloquia and brown-bag research presentations.

Time Limit for Degree Completion: 7 years

Campus Location: Main

Full-Time/Part-Time Status: Full-time study is preferred.

Interdisciplinary Study: Students are encouraged to develop programs of study that are interdisciplinary in nature, involving coursework or scholarly activities across departments, schools and colleges.

Affiliation(s): Students are expected to work in close collaboration with their faculty research mentor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. In addition, students can consider collaborative research projects across affiliated units within the College of Public Health in coordination with their developing line of research and with approval of their research mentor and the PhD Program Director. A list of active research centers can be found on the College of Public Health website at

Faculty and doctoral students also are involved in research with affiliates across the University, including the Fox Chase Cancer Center, the Fox School of Business and Management, the Institute on Aging, the Institute on Disabilities, the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication, and the School of Podiatric Medicine. Additional research opportunities at Temple University include the Institute for Survey Research, the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, and the Social Science Data Library.

Job Prospects: Students in the program develop public health content expertise and skills in research, scholarship, teaching and grant writing. Therefore, graduates of the PhD-SBS program are prepared to become faculty members or researchers in colleges and universities or to hold research-related positions in a wide range of organizations, such as agencies promoting community and public health, consulting firms, foundations, healthcare systems, nonprofits and research centers. Graduates are employed in health systems, hospitals and clinics, public health departments, public health and other healthcare and human service agencies, and universities.

Non-Matriculated Student Policy: Doctoral coursework is open only to students enrolled in the program.

Financing Opportunities: Full-time PhD students generally receive financial support through fellowships or assistantships.

University-Wide Fellowships:
University-wide fellowships provide a stipend and tuition for two years of study. The College of Public Health provides assistantships to cover two additional years of study. The Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences nominates outstanding applicants for consideration for the following fellowship opportunities:

  • Presidential Fellowships are the most prestigious awards. Competition is reserved for only the most outstanding candidates.
  • University Fellowships are awarded to outstanding incoming graduate students. These awards are intended to support students who demonstrate outstanding potential for success in their chosen fields.

College of Public Health Graduate Assistantships:
Graduate assistantships sponsored by the College of Public Health include the following:

  • Research Assistants (RAs) perform supervised research activities. Research assistantships are frequently supported by faculty grant funding, and it is anticipated RAs will work with faculty members on new and continuing grant proposals and develop both research and grant-writing competencies.
  • Teaching Assistants (TAs) support faculty in the teaching of courses, with activities that include grading examinations/papers or teaching occasional lecture sections. One purpose of a TA opportunity is to develop competencies in current pedagogies that prepare students for academic teaching careers.

TAs and RAs provide 20 hours of service per week. Both assistantships carry a stipend and tuition remission for up to 9 credits per term. Consideration for admission with an assistantship requires a description of research and teaching experience; a statement of research and teaching goals; and identification of areas of interest, including identification of potential faculty mentors and articulation of career goals consistent with the mission and purpose of the PhD-SBS program.

Offers of admission are generally accompanied by a fellowship or assistantship offer. Students with full funding from another source (e.g., government funding) are given full consideration in the admission process. Self-funding through external employment is highly discouraged as it can impede progress in the program. The Graduate School website details the types of graduate student support.

Admission Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadline:

Fall: January 2

Admission into the PhD program is highly competitive. Not only must applicants display an exemplary academic record and potential for scholarship, but their research interests and area of emerging expertise must match those of Graduate Faculty who are available to take a new student. All applicants to the PhD-SBS program must apply via the Centralized Application Service for Public Health (SOPHAS). The system can be accessed at

All application materials must be received by the deadline in order to be reviewed by the PhD Admissions Committee. Admission is competitive, and students are admitted only once a year. Applications are evaluated together after the deadline has passed. Applications that are completed after the deadline are held for review the following year. An important component of the admissions decision is the fit between the applicant's goals, experiences, and interests and the expertise of the faculty in the PhD program who are designated as "Graduate Faculty" and available to mentor an incoming student.

Letters of Reference:
Number Required: 3

From Whom: Letters of recommendation should be obtained from evaluators who can provide insight into the applicant's academic and research experiences and talents, as well as comment on the applicant's aptitude for doctoral-level study and research. Recommendations from college/university faculty members are preferred.

Coursework Required for Admission Consideration: Applicants are expected to have completed coursework in the natural, social or behavioral sciences related to health. Coursework in statistics and research methods is desirable. The following prerequisites, which do not count toward the PhD, must also be satisfied, either through an MPH degree or course equivalency:

EPBI 5002Biostatistics3
EPBI 5101Fundamentals of Epidemiology3
HPM 5006Political and Economic Aspects of Health3
SBS 5002Program Planning, Theory, and Practice3

Master's Degree in Discipline/Related Discipline: Nearly all students admitted to the program have a master’s degree. Although a master's degree specifically in Public Health is not required, preference is given to applicants who have a background in the health sciences, including behavioral medicine, environmental health, epidemiology, health communication, health psychology, medicine or a public health discipline.

Students accepted without a master’s degree are required to complete foundational courses in public health, epidemiology, and biostatistics prior to beginning doctoral coursework.

Bachelor's Degree in Discipline/Related Discipline: A baccalaureate degree is required, although it need not be in Public Health. Preference is given to applicants who have a background in the health sciences, including behavioral medicine, environmental health, epidemiology, health communication, health psychology, medicine or a public health discipline. 

Statement of Goals: In no more than 750 words:

  • identify the Social and Behavioral Sciences doctorate as the program for which you wish to be considered and why;
  • describe important academic and research achievements and interests; and
  • specify how your research interests relate to your ultimate career goals and to ongoing work by faculty members affiliated with the PhD-SBS program.

The match between faculty and student interests is important in the admissions decision. Be sure to articulate clearly the linkages among your training goals, the expertise of our faculty, and the training emphasis of the PhD program. For a description of faculty interests and active research, visit the Social and Behavioral Sciences Faculty webpage.

Standardized Test Scores:
GRE: Required. The median score of recently admitted applicants is above the 50th percentile on the verbal and quantitative subscales. Official GRE scores should be sent to SOPHAS using code 0151.

Applicants who earned their baccalaureate degree from an institution where the language of instruction was other than English, with the exception of those who subsequently earned a master’s degree at a U.S. institution, must report scores for a standardized test of English that meet these minimums:

  • TOEFL iBT: 79 (send officially to SOPHAS using the SOPHAS-specific TOEFL code 5688)
  • IELTS Academic: 6.5
  • PTE Academic: 53
  • Duolingo: 110

Resume: Current CV required.

Writing Sample: Scholarly articles, technical reports or academic papers are preferred. Unless it is a published work (e.g., a book chapter or peer-reviewed journal article), the writing sample should be no more than 10 pages.

Laptop: Beginning in Fall 2020, all incoming students in the College of Public Health are required to have a laptop. Academic programs in the college are technology intensive. They incorporate statistical and database analyses; utilize specialized tools for athletic training, kinesiology and physical therapy; stream audio and video for communication sciences; facilitate online interactive counseling for social work; and foster clinical experiences and online assessments. The laptop requirement enables the College of Public Health to improve opportunities for active learning and provide greater access to specialized software and required tools in and out of the classroom, better preparing students for the workforce. Learn more about device specifications and suggested vendors. Students can use excess financial aid (i.e., funds that are reimbursed after all tuition and fees are paid) to meet student needs, including the purchase of a laptop. Scholarships may also provide funding.

Advanced Standing: A student enrolled in the PhD-SBS program may apply for advanced standing credits for graduate coursework graded "B" or better from an accredited institution. Credits for courses taken as part of a master's degree are considered. Credits for thesis, fieldwork, clinical practice or directed projects/readings cannot be used for advanced standing credit. To be approved for advanced standing, the courses must be deemed appropriate as part of the student’s training in the PhD-SBS program. The maximum number of advanced standing credits awarded is 9.

Program Requirements

General Program Requirements:
Number of Credits Required to Earn the Degree: 45

Required Courses:

Core Courses
HRPR 5001Current and Emerging Issues in Public Health and Health Professions 10
SBS 8005Health Promotion in Vulnerable Populations3
SBS 8009Health Psychology3
SBS 8105Health Communication3
SBS 8112Concepts and Methods to Improve Public Health Interventions3
Research and Statistics Courses
EPBI 8012Multivariable Biostatistics 23
EPBI 8201Structural Equation Modeling 23
EPBI 8212Grantsmanship in Health Research3
HRPR 5999Research Experience in Health Professions 30
SBS 8001Research Methods in Public Health3
Select five from the following: 415
Spatial Analysis in Public Health
Research Approaches in Communication, Development and Social Change
Qualitative Methods in Health Outcomes Measurement
Maternal and Child Health
Addictions and Dependencies
Obesity: From Genes to Junk Food
Readings and Conference in Public Health 5
Research Courses 66
Preliminary Examinations 7
Dissertation Proposal Research
Dissertation Research
Total Credit Hours45

Minimum Grade to be Earned for All Required Courses: B-

Culminating Events:
Area Paper:
Prior to sitting for the preliminary examinations, students must have successfully published or written a publishable paper in their chosen area of research interest. The purpose of the paper requirement is to demonstrate critical and interpretive knowledge in specialized areas of one's chosen program, as well as a high proficiency in written communication and a capacity to contribute to generalizable knowledge in the field. The student must be the lead or sole author. For students who enter the program without already having published a first-authored, peer-reviewed article, they typically initiate efforts toward this requirement during their first term of residency.

A student cannot advance to the preliminary examinations without passing the paper requirement. Failure to satisfactorily complete the area paper requirement within the specified time frame can result in dismissal from the PhD program. Students who are entering the PhD program and have already published a peer-reviewed paper related to their programmatic subdiscipline can request to waive this requirement by completing a waiver application and submitting it along with the published document to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Preliminary Examinations:
Students typically take their preliminary examinations during their third year of residency in the program, after completing the paper requirement. All students are required to take the preliminary examinations prior to completing and defending their dissertation research proposal. The exams should be taken within one term of completing all coursework. Students are required to meet with their mentor and Director of Graduate Studies before the beginning of the term in which they plan to take the examinations to establish eligibility.

The preliminary examinations are designed to test fundamental core competencies of the students' training. The student must register for 1 credit of SBS 9994 in the term in which the examinations are taken. To register for SBS 9994, the student must have completed all coursework or be enrolled in final courses in the term in which the examinations are taken. Note that all Incomplete and/or "NR" grades must have been removed, and the area paper requirement must have been satisfied. Special authorization is required to register.

The preliminary examinations consist of the following components:

  • A comprehensive one-week take-home written examination, with an emphasis on the student’s concentration, about the scientific foundations as well as social and behavioral sciences underpinnings of public health; and
  • A methods exam, which is a four-hour in-class examination on research methods and statistics.

Students who fail these exams may have one opportunity to take the examinations again. A second failure results in automatic dismissal from the PhD program.

Dissertation Proposal:
After passing the preliminary examinations, students may enroll in SBS 9998. Students must be enrolled for 1 credit of SBS 9998 each term until they file their dissertation proposal with the Graduate School.

All students must form a Doctoral Advisory Committee (DAC) with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. The DAC is composed of at least three Graduate Faculty members: two members, including the chair, must be from the PhD program faculty of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The DAC Chair must be approved as Doctoral Graduate Faculty by the Dean of the College of Public Health and by the Graduate School. The chair is responsible for overseeing and guiding the student's progress; coordinating the responses of the Committee members; and informing the student and the Director of Graduate Studies annually of the student's academic progress. A fourth, external reader is also required at the time of the final dissertation defense. This person must be a member of the Graduate Faculty at Temple or approved by the Dean of the College to take part in the final dissertation examination. This fourth member is not required to be present at the defense of the proposal.

To fulfill the requirements of SBS 9998, students must submit a dissertation proposal, successfully defend it orally before their Committee, apply for Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for the proposed research, and submit the proposal to the Graduate School. Students have a maximum of one year from the time of completing their preliminary examinations to develop and defend their dissertation proposal. Thus, students may enroll in SBS 9998 for only two terms without permission. Students needing more time may, with the support of their mentor, formally petition the Director of Graduate Studies for an extension, although an extension is not guaranteed. Failure to meet these requirements can result in dismissal from the program.

The doctoral dissertation is an original theory-based research study that makes a significant contribution to the field of Public Health. It should expand existing knowledge and demonstrate the student's mastery of theory and research methods, particularly within a concentration or specialty area. The research should be rigorous, while upholding the ethics and standards of the field. Students are expected to submit their dissertation study for publication and presentation to professional audiences.

To fulfill the dissertation requirement, students must prepare and orally defend the final dissertation in a public meeting. Students should present their plans for publishing their dissertation as part of their defense. Students must be enrolled continuously for at least 3 credits of dissertation research until their dissertation is successfully defended. The Graduate School requires a minimum of 2 credits of SBS 9999. Students must be enrolled in the course in the term that they graduate.

The Dissertation Examining Committee (DEC) consists of the DAC plus at least one additional external reviewer. The external reviewer must be doctorally prepared. If this person is not a member of the Temple University Graduate Faculty, they must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies, the Dean of the College, and the Graduate School to take part in the final dissertation examination. The DEC evaluates the student’s written dissertation and oral defense, including the student’s ability to articulate orally the research question; methodological approach; primary findings; interpretation of the findings; and implications for theory, research and practice. The DEC votes to pass or fail the dissertation and the defense at the conclusion of the public presentation.

If a student needs to change a member of a committee, the new member must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and registered with the Graduate School.

Students who are preparing to defend their dissertation should confirm a time and date with their DEC and work with their department’s administrative assistant to secure a room. This should be done at least one month in advance of the proposed date. The administrative assistant arranges the time, date and room within two working days. After the time, date and room are secured, the student must send to the Graduate School a completed "Announcement of Dissertation Defense" form, found in TUportal under the Tools tab within “University Forms.” This must be submitted at least 10 working days before the defense. The Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences posts flyers announcing the defense, and the Graduate School lists the defense on its website.


Program Web Address:

Department Information:

Dept. of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Ritter Hall Annex, 9th Floor (004-09)

1301 Cecil B. Moore Avenue

Philadelphia, PA 19122-6005


Submission Address for Application Materials:

Department Contacts:


CPH Office of Admissions


Ph.D. Program Director:

Jennifer Orlet Fisher, PhD



Stephen Lepore, PhD