PhD in Environmental Health

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Environmental Health program provides students with specialized training and research experience in environmental and occupational epidemiology, exposure science, spatial epidemiology/GIS, risk assessment, and toxicology. Interested doctoral students can also participate in the Graduate Program in Urban Biogeoscience and Environmental Health (URBAN), a traineeship that focuses on tackling urban environmental challenges through interdisciplinary training, workshops, and internships. For more details on requirements specific to URBAN, please see the URBAN website.

Our program is one of a small number of academic units nationally that specializes in investigating exposure-related health outcomes in community settings. The program provides knowledge, experience, and training in core disciplines to allow for critical thinking in research design, interpretation, and translation. Graduates of our doctoral program continue the department’s tradition of rigorous, innovative, and socially engaged research as postdoctoral research fellows and faculty members at academic research institutions, as senior scientists at environmental consulting companies, and as senior scientists at regulatory health agencies.

To receive the doctoral degree, candidates entering the doctoral program must complete the equivalent of 64 credits (16 graduate-level courses), complete three research rotations, pass a qualifying exam, and complete a dissertation. The research rotations begin upon entering the program and provide students the opportunity to develop research skills and clarify their research interests. URBAN internships can qualify as research rotation experiences. To prepare for their qualifying exam and to engage in dissertation research, students design a set of courses with their advisor, in addition to the core courses below. Candidates who have already earned a related master’s degree must take eight graduate-level courses (32 credits) beyond the master’s degree and at least 16 credits of the coursework must be in environmental health.

Learning Outcomes

The training program provides knowledge, experience, and training in core disciplines to allow for critical thinking in research design, interpretation, and translation.

Upon completing the PhD in Environmental Health, students are able to:

  • Communicate the basic characteristics of major chemical, physical, and biological hazards and the properties that govern the hazards’ behavior in the environment.
  • Examine the scientific characteristics (e.g., route of exposure, dose response, mode of action) of major chemical, physical, and biological hazards that result in human health risk.
  • Analyze genetic, physiologic, and social factors that affect the susceptibility to adverse health outcomes following exposure to environmental hazards.
  • Critically evaluate and interpret the hypothesis, experimental design, methods, and results presented in a paper from a technical journal article in an environmental health discipline (toxicology, epidemiology, exposure assessment, environmental policy).
  • Formulate testable hypotheses about critical questions in environmental health (epidemiology, toxicology, exposure assessment, environmental policy).
  • Design and implement data collection strategies and rigorous evaluations to test hypotheses using novel or current techniques.
  • Analyze and interpret environmental health data.
  • Determine the appropriate intervention strategies for specific environmental health problems.
  • Prepare scientific manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed journals in the field of environmental health.
  • Communicate scientific results at national and/or international conferences in the field of environmental health.

Foundations of Public Health

Effective public health requires expertise from many disciplines, and students need to have a broad foundation of knowledge across these diverse disciplines in order to collaborate effectively with other health professionals.

SPH 700 Foundations of Public Health (0 credits) is an online course designed to provide students with foundational knowledge in the profession and science of public health and factors related to public health. PH 700 meets the foundational knowledge criteria (as outlined by CEPH) for all SPH students.

Required common courses include:

  • EH 705 Toxicology for Public Health
  • EH 710 Physiological Mechanisms of Health and Disease
  • EH 730 Methods in Environmental Health Sciences
  • EH 805 Environmental Health Science, Policy, and Law
  • EP 714 Introduction to Epidemiology
  • BS 723 Introduction to Statistical Computing or BS 730 Introduction to R: Software for Statistical Computing

Students additionally identify one major and two minors from the training areas below. A student should plan to take at least four courses beyond the required common courses to satisfy the major, and two courses beyond the required common courses to satisfy each minor. These training areas serve as the basis for their qualifying exam. Students and advisors work together to select appropriate courses in each of the training areas.

Environmental Epidemiology:

  • EH 757 Environmental Epidemiology
  • EP 813 Intermediate Epidemiology
  • BS 852 Statistical Methods in Epidemiology
  • EP 854 Advanced Epidemiology

Exposure Science:

  • EH 804 Exposure Assessment
  • BS 805 Intermediate Statistical Computing & Applied Regression Analysis
  • EH 811 GIS in Public Health
  • EH 872 Environmental Data and Exposure Modelling


  • EH 840 Advanced and Emerging Topics in Toxicology
  • BS 830 Design and Analysis of Microarray Sequencing and Next Generation Sequencing or BS 805 Intermediate Statistical Computing & Applied Regression Analysis
  • EH 866 Risk Assessment Methods
  • EH 713 Molecular Biology & Public Health

Students are encouraged to consider a minor from the other major training areas or from the following training areas: Biostatistics, Community-Based Research, Environmental Infectious Diseases, Environmental Health Policy, Risk Assessment, and Urban Biogeoscience.

In addition, doctoral students take part in a weekly seminar series that focuses on topics chosen each semester by the department’s faculty and students. Recent topics include environmental health disparities, exposure to complex mixtures, modern food systems, obesity, and global climate change. Additionally, a biweekly proseminar offers an informal setting in which students may present on their own evolving research interests or hold sessions on a range of topics (e.g., preparing a CV, grant-writing, reviewing manuscripts) intended to help them develop their careers, and a monthly journal club provides the opportunity for engagement with faculty on interpretation of scientific manuscripts.

After completing coursework and passing qualifying examinations, students work on their dissertation full time. The dissertation demonstrates to the student’s thesis committee that the degree candidate has designed, performed, and reported on substantial independent research in his or her chosen field. It is an original research effort judged to meet the publication standards of peer-reviewed journals in the candidate’s field of concentration. Students must adhere to dissertation submission deadlines and requirements.

All PhD students must adhere to the Doctoral Graduation Calendar in preparing and submitting their dissertation.

All SPH students will need a laptop or tablet for classes, purchased according to the recommendations of the Medical Campus Information Technology professionals.

For contact information, please visit the School of Public Health website.