FAQ for SMS Doctoral Degrees

Is the GRE required?

In line with our partner GSAS programs, the GRE is required for applicants to the Anthropology and Sociology concentrations.
The GRE is not required for History concentration applicants.

How should I decide which disciplinary concentration to apply to in the PhD program?

Competitive applicants to the PhD program will already have a substantial grounding in their discipline of choice. We do not require that students have majored in that discipline, but a student without substantial coursework at the undergraduate or Master’s level in that specific discipline is unlikely to be competitive. Not being sure which discipline to apply to, in our experience, means that an applicant is unlikely to rise to the top of the pool. There are other programs at schools of public health across the country that have PhD programs in the social and behavioral sciences. Ours is unique in the depth of engagement with a *specific* discipline, and we are looking for students who are particularly drawn to that feature of the PhD.

How long does it take to complete the doctoral program?

Students are expected to complete all requirements for the PhD in no more than seven years.  Coursework must be completed within two to three years; a proposal defense within eighteen months of completed of coursework; and to have completed the program no more than seven years after matriculation.

What is the typical funding package offered by the department?

SMS doctoral students in years 1-5 will receive an annual (12 month) stipend, coverage of tuition & fees, and health insurance, which is the Columbia University benefit package provided to all PhD students. The stipend is our standard level for all funded doctoral students at the Mailman School of Public Health. The stipend is inclusive of all required departmental expectations for satisfactory completion of doctoral training in the SMS, including teaching and research rotations across faculty mentors. Stipends to training grant fellows are disbursed three times a year, and stipends to non-training grant students are paid twice a month. In both cases the annual amount is the same.

Prospective PhD students who are eligible for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program are encouraged to apply to that at the same time as they are applying to the program. All SMS doctoral students are expected to submit applications for external funding either to NSF or NIH in their first or second year of the program. The department provides support with application preparation, and tops off the stipends so that regardless of funding source, stipends for all funded students are the same.

How can I know if an SMS faculty member is taking new doctoral students?

It is not a requirement that you reach out to faculty in advance of applying. SMS faculty available to mentor doctoral students who enter in 2023 include Professors Aidala, Chowkwanyun, Colgrove, Fullilove, Giovenco, Hernandez, Hirsch, Hopper, Rosen-Metsch, Shelton, Siegel, Sikkema, Sivaramakrishnan, Sommer, and Wingood. Our PhD students also work closely with faculty in our partner departments in Arts and Sciences.

Due to the large volume of applications, the small proportion of applicants admitted, and the fact that SMS does not use a ‘mentorship’ model of admissions in which students are admitted with an explicit commitment to working with a particular faculty member, applicants should not reach out directly to prospective mentors.

How can I indicate that I am interested in working with a specific faculty member or members?

We do advise prospective students to list on their application which SMS faculty from the above list they would hope to have as mentors. We take mentorship extremely seriously, and the fit between a students’ theoretical and substantive foci and faculty expertise and interests is certainly weighed in admissions decisions.

Prospective students should know that listing faculty on the application is just one way that we assess an applicant’s fit with the department, rather than a hard and fast commitment to work only with those faculty. The SOPHAS question about whether an applicant has contacted the faculty member(s) with whom they hope to work is a standard SOPHAS application question, and we want to assure applicants that we do not expect them to have been in touch directly with faculty mentors.

Can students in one concentration or program have a primary mentor who is in a different concentration or program?

Yes. There are instances in which students concentrating in one discipline benefit from having a dissertation sponsor in another. Most students have faculty from another discipline or program as one of the five members of their dissertation committee. However, applicants should review the research interests of the faculty in Sociomedical Sciences, both in general and within the specific concentration or program to which they are applying, to ensure faculty are working in areas of interest.

Can SMS doctoral students work with faculty in other departments?

All doctoral committees include at least one faculty member outside of SMS, and as noted above our PhD students frequently work closely with faculty in anthropology, history, and sociology. However, given the very small number of students to whom we can offer admission every year, we are looking for students who are interested in having a primary mentor who is an SMS faculty member.

Is a master’s degree a prerequisite for applying to the doctoral program?

A master’s degree is not required for application to the PhD program. However, admission is extremely competitive, and many offers in recent years have gone to students with a master's degree. A small number of extraordinary students have been offered admission without having a master’s degree.

If the PhD is granted by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, why do students not apply through GSAS?

As of Fall 2011, all Mailman School applications at the master’s and doctoral level were moved to the Schools of Public Health (SOPHAS) common application. The PhD degree continues to be granted by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The SOPHAS application contains questions on public health work experience and public health leadership aspirations. While PhD applicants must answer those questions, these questions are not weighted heavily in the admissions process. For the PhD program, we seek students with a demonstrated capacity for academic excellence and the ability to ask innovative and important questions at the juncture of their discipline of choice and public health.

Where can I learn more about faculty and courses available in the GSAS departments in which PhD students take courses?

Prospective students should look at the Arts and Sciences department pages for more information on faculty and courses: Anthropology, History, and Sociology.

Where can I find BIOS and contact information for current students in the department?

Most of our current students have online profiles - emails are linked to their profile heading.

Who should I contact if I want to know more about the doctoral programs offered by sociomedical sciences?

The Contact Us page provides information on whom to contact for general questions and for each concentration or program, but applicants should note that we do not have the capcity to meet with individual applicants, and should expect that all of their questions about admissions will be answered during the open house.


Where can I go if I want to learn more about the doctoral programs?