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The Basics

The doctoral dissertation research topic is chosen by the student. The student is expected to define a research question in health and behavioral science, identify the research strategy to be used for answering the question, conduct the research required, and document the project in the form of a doctoral dissertation.

The student will be guided in this process by a doctoral dissertation advisor and the additional members who comprise the student’s doctoral dissertation committee (see below). A minimum of 30 semester hours of dissertation work is required. Students must register for a minimum of five dissertation credits each semester of their dissertation work. Students may not take more than a year's leave of absence or fail to enroll for credit hours more than three semesters before they are dropped from the program.

The Dissertation Prospectus and the Comprehensive Examination

Before a student advances to candidacy, she/he must complete a dissertation prospectus and defend it successfully in the context of an oral comprehensive examination.

The dissertation prospectus includes:

  • a complete description of the question or hypothesis that the student wishes to research for the dissertation project
  • the research design and study techniques
  • an assessment of the proposed project's contribution to the field
  • a comprehensive review of the relevant literature

If the student chooses to undertake research in a particular ethnic or cultural community, she/he must also demonstrate sufficient understanding of that setting, including adequate knowledge of the language. This prospectus must be approved by the student’s advisor prior to scheduling the comprehensive examination.

The Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination will be an oral format based in part on, but not restricted to, the material presented in the dissertation prospectus. This exam must take place before the student's advancement to candidacy and will typically occur by the end of the third year of study. A committee comprising the chair and three faculty members will supervise the completion of the dissertation prospectus. This committee will conduct the oral examination and will recommend to the executive committee, by a majority vote, whether or not the student should be advanced to candidacy.

The Doctoral Dissertation and Final Exam

After advancement to candidacy, the student, in consultation with his or her advisor, will appoint a dissertation committee comprising the chair and three faculty members. The chair and composition of the committee will be subject to approval by the program executive committee. The chair and two other members must have been present at the student's comprehensive examination and will be responsible for overseeing the research and writing of the doctoral dissertation. The committee will review drafts of the dissertation and, when the dissertation is completed to its satisfaction, will conduct the final exam, which will be based on the doctoral dissertation and related materials. The final examination will be open to the public.

Please see the Handbook for Graduate Study for more detail regarding the dissertation process and other requirements for graduation.

Selecting a Research Focus

A student's particular research focus constitutes a key part of his or her doctoral program. A range of possible foci exists, given the particular student's interest and faculty expertise. Examples of HBSC research foci include:

Social determinants of health. Such research interests include studies on the health-related influences of socioeconomic position, social and economic inequality, discrimination, social networks and support, social capital, work conditions, and psychological states including stress.

Community health. This area of research involves community health assessment, program design and evaluation, translation of evidence-based interventions to diverse populations and communities, participatory research and community mobilization, policy analysis, and advocacy for health-related problems.

Biosocial ecology. Within this area are studies of the interplay of biological (including physiological, genetic or others of the biomedical health sciences), social, cultural, and environmental characteristics influencing maternal/infant health, exercise performance, or susceptibility to disease.

Global health topics include social, cultural and biomedical factors influencing transmission of disease and health disparities on an international (as well as national) scale.

Recent Research Examples

  • social factors affecting newly emerging diseases in the American Southwest
  • factors that contribute to positive perceived health in the older-aged population
  • ethnic group differences in weight gain and cardiovascular disease
  • the impact of natural hazards and risk management strategies on health among pastoral herders in Mongolia
  • adolescent sexual risk behaviors in the context of social networks and cultural norms
  • disease incidence patterns and environmental contamination in North Casper, Wyo.