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PhD EHS Students Timeline and Degree Requirements

The Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) doctoral program focuses on how environmental agents – physical, chemical, and biological – affect human health, considered within the general framework of epidemiology and public health. Students will be skilled in research, assessment, and evaluation of the impact of environmental stressors; they will identify potentially adverse environmental agents, assess their exposures, determine their impact on health, and estimate the consequent risk.

Current Graduate Studies Executive Committee (GSEC) EHS representative (2023): Dr. Caroline Johnson, Associate Professor.

Key objectives/deadlines to be met each year

Year 1

  • Coursework (7-8 credits)
  • Fall and Spring Rotations (2 credits) followed by seminar presentations
  • Complete Preliminary Exam end of Spring semester

Year 2

  • Coursework (3-4 credits)
  • Complete Fall and Spring Teaching Fellowships
  • Submit Specific Aims and Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) to GSEC for approval
  • Write prospectus and defend by seminar presentation for Qualifying Exam*
  • Submit prospectus to GSEC for Admission toCandidacy*

Year 3

  • Fall and Spring Teaching Fellowships (if required)
  • Work on dissertation

Year 4

  • Work on dissertation

Year 5

  • Submit readers and submission of dissertation form (Sept and Feb deadlines for Dec/May grad)
  • Submit dissertation to readers (Oct and March deadlines for Dec/May grad)
  • Public defense of dissertation
  • Finish minor editorial revisions by approx. Nov 30th or April 30th
*The department of EHS recommends that students complete their qualifying exam and admission to candidacy by the end of year 2, however it is possible to complete these objectives by the end of Year 3 (GSAS deadline) if more time is needed.

Degree Requirements - PhD in Environmental Health Sciences

2023-24 Matriculation

All courses are 1 unit unless otherwise noted.

The Ph.D. degree requires a total of 13 course units. Course substitutions must be identified and approved by the student’s advisor and DGS.

PhD Required Courses (9 course units)

  • CDE 617 Developing a Research Proposal OR EMD 625 How to Develop Write and Evaluate an NIH Proposal
  • EHS 503/ENV 896 Public Health Toxicology
  • EHS 507 Environmental Epidemiology
  • EHS 508 Environmental and Occupational Exposure Science*
  • EHS 525 Seminar and Journal Club in Environmental Health - 0 unit
  • EHS 526 Seminar and Journal Club in Environmental Health - 0 unit
  • EHS 619 Research Rotation
  • EHS 620 Research Rotation
  • EPH 505 Biostatistics for Public Health
  • EPH 508 Foundations of Epidemiology and Public Health
  • EPH 600 Research Ethics and Responsibilities - 0 unit
  • EPH 608 Frontiers in Public Health (not offered in 2023-24)*
*Students entering the program with an MPH or relevant graduate degree may be exempt from this requirement.

Suggested Electives (must take a minimum of 4)

  • BIS 505 Biostatistics in Public Health II
  • BIS 623 Advanced Regression Models
  • BIS 628 Longitudinal & Multilevel Data Analysis
  • CDE 534 Applied Analytic Methods in Epidemiology
  • CDE 516 Principles of Epidemiology II
  • CDE 520 Case-Based Learning for Genetic and Environmental Diseases
  • EHS/CDE 502 Physiology for Public Health
  • EHS 511/ENV 893 Principles of Risk Assessment
  • EHS 530/ENV 608 Our Air, Our Health
  • EHS/EMD 537 Water, Sanitation, and Global Health
  • EHS 545 Molecular Epidemiology
  • EHS 547 Climate Change and Public Health
  • EHS 560/ENV 606 Methods in Climate Change and Health Research
  • EHS/CDE 563 Biomarkers of Exposure, Effect, and Susceptibility in the Epidemiology of Non-Communicable Diseases
  • EHS/CDE 566 Causal Inference Methods for Public Health Research
  • EHS 567 Fundamentals of Green Chemistry and Green Engineering
  • EHS 568 Introduction to GIS for Public Health
  • EHS 569 Advanced GIS Workshop
  • EHS 581 Public Health Emergencies: Disaster Planning and Response
  • ENV 755 Modeling Geographic Space
  • ENV 756 Modeling Geographic Objects

*Students entering the program with an MPH or relevant graduate degree may be exempt from this requirement.

Updated 07/03/23

Advisory Committees

Academic Advisor

Each student is assigned an academic adviser (primary or secondary faculty member of EHS with Graduate School appointment) at the time of matriculation. The academic adviser is available for help with general academic questions, course selections and research rotations.

Dissertation Advisor

Although students and potential dissertation advisers are encouraged to discuss possibilities at any time, a final commitment must be made at the beginning of the second year and subsequent to the successful completion of the preliminary examination. The dissertation advisor must have an appointment in the Graduate School and should be a faculty member in EHS (primary or secondary).

Dissertation Advisory Committee

The Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) usually consists of three members and the dissertation advisor serves as the chair of the DAC. The student, together with the advisor, will choose other members from the faculty of YSPH or from outside YSPH. An additional committee member may be selected from outside the University, if she/he is a recognized authority in the area of the dissertation. The DAC is expected to meet at least twice each year, and more frequently if necessary. If vacancies occur or replacements are necessary, the committee will fill those taking into consideration the student/advisor recommendations.

PhD Requirements

In order to graduate, an EHS student must satisfactorily complete the requirements described in I through VIII below as well as adhere to all requirements of the Public Health program and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

I. Coursework and General Requirements

A program of study with required core courses is designed to accommodate the student's long-range goals, possible undergraduate deficiencies, immediate research interests and the requirements of the Graduate School. A minimum of 13 course units is required for the degree.

II. Research Rotations

Two research rotations during the first academic year in EHS laboratories (primary and secondary faculty) are required for each student. A rotation in a laboratory outside of the department is also permitted as long as the research is related to the field of EHS and is discussed prior with the students’ academic advisor. The fist rotation will be in the “fall semester” and the second in the “spring semester”. A third rotation will be offered, if necessary during the summer between the first and second year. Research rotations will be available for both “dry” (i.e., statistical analysis) and “wet” (i.e., bench) research groups. The student will meet with the EHS faculty member at the beginning of the rotation for an explanation of the goals and expectations of a student in the laboratory. The student will become familiar with the research models, approaches, and methods utilized by the research group through interactions with other laboratory/research personnel and from laboratory manuscripts. The student is expected to spend at least 15 hours per week working in the laboratory or research group and present a rotation seminar at the end of the rotation period. Fall and Spring rotations must be carried out in different laboratories.

Students are required to present a 15-20-minute seminar for each completed research rotation (two total). These seminars will be scheduled no later than 45 days following the completion of the rotation. The GSEC representative will help schedule your rotation seminars.

III. Seminars

All students enrolled in the program must present at least one research seminar per year. This will be either during the annual departmental retreat (summer), or at the YSPH doctoral program Research-in-Progress (RIP). Satisfactory seminar performance will be evaluated by the faculty in attendance. In addition to the research seminar, students are required to complete a seminar in the EHS journal club, which is part of the "Current Topics in EHS Research." The student and course coordinator will choose the subject of this seminar. The presentation should review a topic related to the EHS Seminar Speaker that will present the week after. Students are required to attend all seminars scheduled by the EHS Program and participate in the journal club.

IV. Preliminary Examination

A preliminary take-home examination will take place in May/June following the first year of study. The examination will cover materials from core classes. The EHS GSEC representative is responsible for coordinating this examination, and the examination content is developed by the faculty of core classes. The exam can be retaken once after 3 months.

V. Qualifying Examination and Admission to Candidacy

A qualifying examination composed of two parts 1) the written dissertation proposal and 2) and oral presentation of the proposal must be passed by the student as required by the Graduate School. The student's dissertation advisory committee will administer the qualifying examination by end of the student’s 2nd year. Prior to the examination, the Graduate Studies Executive Committee must review and approve the dissertation advisory committee and specific aims with a working title for the research (deadline end of Spring semester 2nd Year). This will ensure that the dissertation advisory committee is approved early in the process to avoid any questions or concerns.

The written dissertation proposal can be either in the format of the full prospectus (20-pages double-spaced, see “Guidelines for Prospectus and Dissertation” document). Or in the format of a NIH NRSA F30 or F31 Predoctoral Fellowship grant; single-spaced Arial 11 or Times New Roman 12, specific aims (1 page), research strategy, with sub-sections covering the proposal’s significance, innovation, approach (6 pages), references (unlimited). At least three weeks before the oral qualifying examination, the written proposal will be distributed to Department of EHS faculty. The faculty will provide any constructive comments by email to the student and dissertation advisor.

The DAC Chair will host the student during their talk (either in person or virtual) and also lead and help field the questions following the talk. During the oral part of the qualifying examination, the student will present their dissertation proposal to the dissertation advisory committee and EHS faculty. Current EHS PhD students are also welcomed to attend. One hour will be scheduled for the student to present their proposal (30 min) and answer questions from the faculty (30 min). The questions will evaluate: 1) the student’s readiness to conduct the research proposed, 2) the timeline for completion, 3) the rigor of the research, 4) the significance to environmental and public health, and 5) the student’s communication skills and critical thinking. At the end of the presentation the student and other PhD students in attendance will leave the room and the faculty will discuss and vote on the grade. The DAC Chair will not participate in the vote. The possible outcomes are (a) pass unconditionally with minor revisions, (b) pass conditionally, with further study suggested (or required) in one or more areas, or (c) fail, with or without the option to re-take the examination after the areas of concern have been addressed. If a student receives an unconditional pass, the faculty should note whether the student will receive a merit of distinction defined by both an excellent written proposal and oral presentation.

Once the student has passed the qualifying examination without conditions, the prospectus will be approved by the dissertation advisory committee and sent to the Graduate Studies Executive Committee for final approval. After all pre-dissertation requirements are successfully completed (course requirements, two Honors grade, overall High Pass average, qualifying examinations, dissertation prospectus), the student will be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.

Important Deadlines

  • End of Spring Term 2nd year: Send dissertation advisory committee selection and dissertation specific aims to GSEC for review and approval.
  • End of Summer Term 2nd year: Send written proposal to EHS faculty three weeks before carrying out oral presentation of proposal.
  • Information regarding scheduling the Qualifying Exam When the student and DAC agree that the student is ready to present their prospectus for the qualifying exam, the student will identify a 90 min time window in which the DAC are available to attend the oral presentation. The DAC Chair is required, the attendance of the rest of the committee is strongly recommended. The written prospectus should be sent to the GSEC EHS representative at least 2 weeks before the meeting (they will distribute the prospectus to EHS faculty). The student will invite all EHS faculty and PhD students to attend the oral presentation either in person or by virtual meeting with the assistance of Department of EHS administrators.

VI. Thesis Progress

A thesis progress report must be submitted to the DAC twice a year. The report should reflect the work accomplished and provide a reasonable indication that the thesis will be completed in the expected time frame. Once the progress report is submitted, the committee will meet with the student to discuss the status of the work and to evaluate the student's understanding of the research area. This will allow the committee to reach consensus on what experimental work will be required before writing of the dissertation can commence. The Chairperson of the DAC produces a summary evaluation of progress and plans for the coming year. This document is to be distributed to each committee member for comments and signature. The student and the DGS are to receive a copy of the signed document “Public Health Thesis Committee Report Form” from the DAC Chairperson.

Two annual DAC meetings must be completed by June 30 of each academic year. Since Dissertation Progress Reports at the Graduate School are due at the close of the spring term, it is advised that one meeting is scheduled during this term.

VII. Thesis Research

All PhD candidates will be required to satisfactorily complete a research thesis. This work should be of sufficient scope and quality to result in a significant contribution to the literature. A final copy of the thesis must be submitted to the student’s DAC at least two weeks prior to the final presentation.

VIII. Thesis Defense

After the thesis has been received, the DAC will conduct a final examination of the thesis and decide whether the thesis work is recommended for public defense.

Updated: 07/03/2023