About PhD in Health Behavior Research


The Division of Health Behavior Research (HBR) in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, offers a doctor of philosophy degree in health behavior research, providing academic and research training for students interested in pursuing career opportunities in the field of health promotion and disease prevention research.

The specific objective of the program is to train exceptional researchers and scholars in the interdisciplinary field of health behavior research. The well-rounded training that students receive encompasses theory and methods from many allied fields including: communications, psychology, preventive medicine, biostatistics, public health and epidemiology.

Students also receive research experience participating in projects conducted by HBR faculty, most of them through the USC Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (IPR). IPR is a separate research institute at USC but is also home to the Division of Health Behavior Research. Training in the program is conducted via course lectures, discussions, seminars, student and faculty presentations and field research. The program provides students with a depth of understanding, and intellectual capability they need to pursue a career and health-related research. The small classes, one-on-one mentoring relationships and numerous research opportunities offered by internationally recognized faculty make this program one of the best of its kind.

IPR and the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences are recognized as international leaders in interdisciplinary research and training in epidemiology and prevention science, and for more than 20 years have developed research and educational programs that have addressed the complex public health needs in local, national and international settings. The greatest strength of the department has long come from its outstanding faculty and enormous base of cutting-edge, multidisciplinary and population-oriented research, consistently ranked number one in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding among comparable medical school departments.

Upon program completion, graduates will be able to:
  • Understand the theories of behavior that are typically used in health behavior research, including (but not limited to) the Health Belief Model, Theory of Reasoned Action/Planned Behavior, Stages of Change, Relapse Prevention models, Harm Reduction models, Social Cognitive Theory, social ecological models, dual process models, Diffusion of Innovations, and PRECEDE/PROCEED. Know the components of each model, how to select the appropriate model to address a given research question, and how to use the models to predict and modify health risk and protective behaviors.

  • Design studies to test hypotheses about the etiology, modification, and effects of health-risk and health-protective behaviors. Understand how to choose the appropriate experimental, quasi-experimental, or non-experimental research design, balancing the potential threats to validity against practical, ethical, and financial constraints. Know how to design and evaluate health promotion programs, including process evaluation, outcome evaluation, and dissemination.

  • Select the appropriate statistical tests to evaluate hypotheses, perform the appropriate statistical tests, interpret the results, and report the findings to scientific and lay audiences. These statistical analyses include, but are not limited to, t-tests, chi-square, linear regression, logistic regression, structural equation analysis, latent class analysis, multilevel modeling, growth curves, time series analysis, and structural equation modeling.

  • Competently convey research findings to scientific and lay audiences orally and in writing. This may include, but is not limited to, peer-reviewed journal articles, oral presentations and poster sessions at scientific conferences, presentations and reports to community-based organizations, legislators, granting agencies, or other stakeholders, and interviews with the media.

  • Write empirical and review papers for publication in scientific journals and complete the process of manuscript submission and revision for publication. Write grant proposals to NIH or other large funding agencies.

  • Use the principles of community-based participatory research (CBPR) as appropriate when working with underserved or vulnerable populations.

  • Use the latest technologies, as appropriate, to deliver intervention content and/or gather data.

  • Work as a member of a collaborative research team. Competently and effectively teach and mentor students and more junior members of research teams.