Population Health Science Predoctoral Coursework

Predoctoral trainees will complete five training program courses (these can be counted as electives for their PhD programs): Three “core” population health courses and two cross-training courses. The three core courses include (1) population health; (2) population modeling; and (3) research ethics. These courses—described below—are routinely taught by members of our program faculty.

Predocs pursuing PhD’s in social science fields will also complete a set of two cross-training courses in the biology and epidemiology of disease in one of these tracks: (1) chronic disease; (2) nutrition and obesity; (3) genetic disease and molecular biology; or (4) reproductive and sexual health.

Predocs pursuing PhD’s in health science fields will also complete a set of two cross-training courses in the social sciences in one of these tracks: (1) spatial methods, concepts, or global research; (2) life course and family; or (3) social stratification and inequality. 

Required Core Courses (Must Take All Three)

Population Health: This course introduces students to the substance, theory, and methodology of population health science—the branches of public health scholarship that consider how social interactions and purposive human activity affect health. In other words, population health is about how a society’s innumerable social interactions, past and present, yield differential exposures and thus differences in health outcomes between persons who make up populations. 

Population Modeling: This course covers population-modeling techniques from the demographic tradition, organized around life course transitions. These techniques excel at describing social and epidemiological changes occurring along multiple time scales simultaneously, identifying the inequalities lurking beneath population averages, and figuring out what population a research question is really about. 

Ethics in Public Health: Research and Policy: This course addresses ethical issues related to health research. Topics include guidelines for ethical conduct of research; ethical practices in transnational research; ethics of funding health research; clinical trials and the role of the FDA in protecting patients and research participants from unapproved biologics; and ethical frameworks concerning community engagement in health research. The course draws upon codes and guidelines for ethical conduct of health research as well as scholarship from bioethics, public health, and social science studies of health research. 

“Cross-Training” Courses for Social Science Predoctoral Trainees (Must Take Two Courses in One Track)

Predocs in social science PhD programs must take two courses from one of four tracks: (1) chronic disease (e.g. cardiovascular disease; cancer); (2) nutrition and obesity; (3) genetic disease and molecular biology; or (4) reproductive and  sexual health. Below we briefly describe example courses from each of the four tracks.

Public Health Aspects of Cardiovascular Disease: This course introduces cardiovascular disease (CVD) epidemiology. It provides a detailed perspective on the well-established risk factors for CVD, including biologic, behavioral, genetic, and social, as well as discussing emerging risk factors. The course describes the biologic processes involved in CVD progression; includes a focus on prevention of CVD and national recommendations for treatment and prevention; and covers new directions and current controversies in CVD research. 

Nutritional Epidemiology: This course provides an understanding of the theoretical and practical considerations in the conduct of epidemiologic studies of nutrition. The objective of the course is to provide students with familiarity with the design, conduct, analysis, and interpretation of epidemiologic studies related to diet and nutrition, as related to chronic disease. 

Genetics in Public Health: This course introduces the field of public health genomics, which integrates findings from genetic epidemiology into public health services and policies to prevent disease and improve health at the population level. Topics include different approaches to measuring the association of genes with disease, how to model gene-by-environment interactions, epigenetics, and Mendelian Randomization as an approach to causal inference. The course also covers public health applications of genomics (e.g., criteria for population-based genetic testing, informed consent and incidental findings in genetics research, personalized medicine). 

Reproductive and Perinatal Health: This course covers current multidisciplinary knowledge on population-based reproductive, pregnancy and newborn health outcomes.  Emphasis is placed on women’s and pregnancy health. Topics include: reproductive life course and critical periods for public health intervention; contraception and unintended pregnancy; fertility, infertility, and sexually transmitted infections in pregnancy; pre-conception and pregnancy behaviors; preterm delivery and low birth weight; women’s mental health during pregnancy and postpartum; men and fathers; GLBT reproductive health.

 “Cross-Training” Courses for Health Science Predoctoral Trainees (Must Take Two Courses in One Track)

Predocs in health science PhD programs must take two courses from one of three tracks: (1) spatial methods, concepts, or global research; (2) life course and family; or (3) social stratification and inequality. Below we briefly describe example courses from each of the three tracks.

Population Methods & Issues for the U.S. & Global South: The health of populations in developing and developed countries is very different, and within countries, health disparities exist between more advantaged and more disadvantaged populations. When crafting policies that aim to improve population health, it is crucial to know how to measure health and how to think about the health needs of specific populations. This course provides an overview of the factors driving health, mortality, and aging across different populations. 

Life Course Inequality and Health: This course examines the life course paradigm, with special focus on inequality and health. Students examine theoretical and empirical work inspired by the life course paradigm, featuring structural sources of inequality throughout the life course in major institutional contexts of development (e.g., family, education, work, health care systems, criminal justice) and their impacts on long-term cumulative processes that promote resilience or vulnerability. 

Social Stratification and Mobility: This course provides intensive preparation in theoretical, methodological, and substantive topics in social stratification, social inequality, and social mobility. The course begins with broad overviews of theory and research in the area. Subsequent sections of the course look in some detail at occupations and social classes, the factors that influence intergenerational mobility between them, and the institutional and market forces that constrain that mobility and that shape occupational and class inequalities.