Sociomedical Sciences

The Sociomedical Sciences Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program is interdisciplinary, with study divided between the Mailman School of Public Health and one social science department (Anthropology, History, Psychology, or Sociology) in Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).

The PhD is designed for individuals who wish to combine training in a social or behavioral science discipline with a focus on research and teaching in public health and medicine. Students undertake course work in a social science discipline of their choice and a similar length of training in public health. Faculty mentors are drawn from the Department of Sociomedical Sciences, as well as from other Mailman School faculty with social science training, and faculty from social science departments in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Upon satisfactory completion of the PhD, students will be able to conduct independent and scholarly research that advances knowledge in public health applying the theory and methods of their chosen social science discipline. The successful PhD graduate will be an independent scholar with the ability to teach in either a social science department or a school of public health.

Course Requirements | Program Milestones 

SMS Course Requirements for the PhD

  • P6104 Biostatistics
  • P6499 Epidemiology
  • P8788 Theoretical Foundations of Sociomedical Sciences
  • P8789 Contemporary Debates in Sociomedical Sciences
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Qualitative Methods

Choose two of the following five:

  • P8704 Medical Sociology
  • P8755 Medical Anthropology
  • P8767 Health Psychology
  • P8773 Social History of American Public Health
  • P6503 Introduction to Health Economics
  • Public Health Electives

GSAS Requirements

PhD candidates must complete 30 course work credits and fulfill language proficiency requirements within the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

For information on specific social science discipline course work and language proficiency requirements, please consult the Doctoral Student Handbook (PDF).

Comprehensive Exams

The comprehensive examinations are intended to assess the candidate’s proficiency in the composite disciplines of the Department of Sociomedical Sciences, as well as her or his social science, and to determine readiness to undertake work on a dissertation.

The four examinations required for the PhD are:

  • The Standardized Research Methods Examination (written)
  • The Health Behavior/Population Health Examination*
  • The Healthcare Systems Examination*
  • Examination in the student's social science concentration (written or oral, either taken together with the Health Behavior/Population Health and Healthcare Systems examinations or separately)

Students are eligible to take the Standardized Research Methods Examination upon completion of course work requirements for the PhD degree. Students may take the methodology examination during the semester in which course requirements are being completed, but all methodological requirements must be completed prior to that semester. Students may take the Methods Examination before completing language requirements in those departments which have such requirements. All course requirements, language requirements, and the Research Methods Examination must be successfully completed before the other comprehensive examinations are taken.

*The Health Behavior/Population Health and Healthcare Systems Examinations are oral exams taken together following successful completion of the Research Methods Examination.

Program Milestones

Other Requirements

In addition to successfully completing the four comprehensive examinations, PhD candidates must fulfill the Master’s Essay/Research Paper requirement.

General Requirements for all SMS PhD students:

  1. Rigorous disciplinary training comparable to that received by PhD candidates in Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences;
  2. A two-semester course in the major traditions of social theory that support and frame contemporary practice in the sociomedical sciences and its application to health-related research;
  3. Training in epidemiology and biostatistics; and
  4. To progress to the dissertation stage of doctoral studies, students are examined in four areas: a written methods examination, oral examinations in health systems and population health/health behaviors; and an examination specific to the student's social science concentration.