Degree Division
Social & Behavioural Health Sciences Division
Program Contact
Lori Ross


The PhD course of study includes a set of common requirements with flexibility to enable the student to pursue a unique learning experience tailored to his/her learning needs and research problem focus.  The program permits students to pursue their area of interest from different levels of understanding and theoretical perspectives.

The program enables students to take advantage of what the university/program faculty has to offer, and assists them in tailoring their studies according to their own experiences, scholarly interests, career direction and aspirations.  This program also participates and encourages participation in a variety of interdisciplinary graduate University of Toronto Collaborative Specializations.

Features of the program:

  • Emphasizes the application of concepts, theories, models and methods concerned with
  • the structures and processes that underlie health and health promotion, illness,
  • premature mortality, injury and disability.
  • Emphasizes research methodology (philosophy and design) and research methods (techniques).
  • Seeks to develop substantive knowledge and critical analytic ability at multiple levels of analysis, from the “micro” individual level to the “macro” societal level.
  • Fosters a reflexive and critical perspective on theory and methodology.
  • Adopts a model of independent student scholarship.

The requirements of the PhD Program in Social & Behavioural Health Sciences (SBHS) include:

  1. Coursework
  2. Qualifying exam
  3. Thesis proposal defense
  4. Thesis defense:
    A) Departmental defense
    B) Final oral examination


See Application Process for information about the admission process.  Click here to view minimum application requirements for a PhD Program.

Additional Admission Requirements for the PhD

  • A match between the student’s research area and potential supervisor’s expertise
  • Background (course, experience) in social sciences and/or health sciences
  • Graduate level quantitative or qualitative methods courses/background

progress through the phd

The phases of the PhD program are identified by a set of accomplishments which the student generally will attain in order, and within a satisfactory time. These phases, which will be monitored by the Program Director of the PhD program, are the identification of the Supervisor and the Supervisory Committee, completion of required and elective course work, completion of the qualifying examination, defense of the research proposal, and defense of the dissertation (both Departmental and SGS). Full-time students are expected to complete the PhD within four to five years. Flex-time students may take longer, but not more than eight years; they must submit a revised list of milestones, for approval by the Supervisor and the Program Director.

 view the SBHS PhD Timeline


Successful applicants will have research interests congruent with those of one or more members of faculty. Thus, applicants are strongly encouraged to seek out potential supervisors, and discuss with them the possibility of studying under their supervision, prior to applying to the degree program. Applicants should note that identifying a potential supervisor does not guarantee admission. PhD students must be supervised by a faculty member who has an appointment in the Division of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences (SBHS) and Full Membership in the School of Graduate Studies (SGS).  A co-supervisor generally will be a faculty member with Associate Membership in the SGS. Other faculty in Public Health Sciences outside of SBHS  may be eligible to supervise with the approval of the Program Director.  The Program Director must approve the final selection of the primary supervisor and co-supervisor. The faculty supervisor may be confirmed prior to beginning the program, and should be in place by the end of the first term.  Students are encouraged to explore broadly and have wide-ranging discussions with potential supervisors.

Upon admission to the PhD Program, students and supervisors should review and complete the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences PhD Student-Supervisor Conversation Checklist.

Students have the right to appropriate assistance and guidance from their supervisors. Supervisors and students are required to meet on a regular basis throughout the program to discuss academic, financial and personal matters related to the student’s progress. Students should assume responsibility for contacting the supervisor, arranging meetings, and setting agenda for committee meetings.

In rare circumstances, it may be necessary for students to change their area of research and/or their supervisor. In these cases, the first step would be for students to discuss the potential change with their supervisor and/or PhD Program Director.

Supervisor Role and Responsibilities

The supervisor is responsible for providing mentorship to the student through all phases of the PhD program. Thus; to the extent possible, the supervisor will guide the selection of courses, dissertation topic, supervisory committee membership, and supervisory committee meetings; will assist with applications for funding; will provide funding to the student directly when it is possible for them to do so; and will provide references for the student on a timely basis. The supervisor also will provide feedback on the student’s selection of theories and reading lists for the qualifying examination. The supervisor will guide the development of the student’s research proposal, and the implementation and conduct of all aspects of the research; advise on writing the dissertation; correct drafts and approve the final dissertation; and attend the defense.

For more information about student and supervisor roles and responsibilities, please see the School of Graduate Studies Graduate Supervision Guidelines.

Supervisory Committee

With the assistance of the supervisor, and with the approval of the Program Director, the student will assemble a Supervisory Committee no later than the end of their second term in the program (i.e., by May of their first year).

Composition of the Supervisory Committee

The Supervisory Committee generally will comprise the supervisor and at least two members who hold either Full or Associate Membership in the SGS and may or may not hold a primary appointment in SBHS. Between these individuals and the supervisor, there should be expertise in all substantive, theoretical and methodological areas relevant to the Student’s research focus and dissertation proposal.


Supervisory Committee meetings will be held at least every six (6) months throughout the student’s PhD program. More regular meetings should be held with the supervisor. Under certain circumstances (e.g., during times of very rapid progress), the student and the Supervisory Committee may decide there is a need for more frequent meetings.


At the end of every meeting of the Supervisory Committee, the student and the Committee will complete the Supervisory Committee Meeting Report. All present must sign the report; in case some of the members participate via tele/videoconference, that person can endorse the supervisor/another committee member to sign on their behalf, or can e-sign the report. A scanned or paper copy of the report should be e-mailed/delivered to the SBHS Admin Assistant at

The Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences will keep a copy of the report in the student’s progress file.


Coursework (reflects minimum requirements)

Course Requirements (3.5 FCE)

Required Courses:

  • CHL5005H: Introduction to Public Health Research
  • 2 required theory courses
    • CHL5101H: Social Theory and Health
    • one of CHL5804H: Theories for Health Promotion and Public Health Intervention or CHL5102H: Social and Political Forces in Health Care
  • 2 required methods courses
    • To be selected according to the student’s interests and educational needs, in consultation with the supervisor.
    • By the end of their degree, students should aim to have working knowledge of both qualitative and quantitative methods, and to achieve proficiency in one of these approaches.
  • 2 electives


The purpose of the qualifying exam (QE) is to assess the student’s capacity to understand, apply, and compare theoretical perspectives that are taught in the Social and Behavioural Health Sciences (SBHS) core theory courses (CHL5101H, CHL5102H, and CHL5804H; the student will normally have taken two of these three courses). Specifically, the QE process will assess the student’s ability to theorize a topic using two different theoretical approaches and to propose theoretically sophisticated research questions that would advance the student’s topic area of interest and may be used for the dissertation. The qualifying examination is written during the months of May and June of the student’s first year.



The thesis proposal defense is a requirement for candidacy and for full-time students, should be completed by December of the second year.

The purpose of the proposal defense is to:

  • Ensure that the proposed research will result in a successful PhD dissertation.
  • Strengthen the thesis question, theoretical framework, design, and methods through critical feedback.
  • Assess the student’s ability to conduct independent and original research.
  • Assess the student’s knowledge base relevant to their thesis topic.
  • Provide a formal approval to proceed with the dissertation research.

DETAILED proposal defense GUIDELINES


The PhD dissertation must demonstrate an original contribution to scholarship. The nature of the dissertation is agreed upon by the supervisor and the student, in consultation with a Thesis Committee.  The Student should aim to defend the dissertation within four years of entry into the PhD program. The defense of the dissertation will take place in two stages: first, a Departmental defense, second, a formal defense (the Final Oral Examination) before a University committee according to procedures established by the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). The two defenses generally are separated by at least eight weeks.

A)Departmental Defense:

The Departmental defense will be held after the completed dissertation has been approved by all members of the student’s Supervisory Committee, and the completion of the final Supervisory Committee meeting report. The purpose of this defense is to rehearse the oral presentation for the SGS defense and to determine whether the student is ready for the SGS defense.

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILED departmental defense procedureS

B)School of Graduate Studies Final Oral Examination (FOE)

Arrangements for the PhD Final Oral Defense and for the preparation of the final thesis are given at length in the SGS calendar. The dissertation and the necessary documents must be submitted at least eight weeks prior to the oral exam. See the Graduate Department of Public Health Science academic policies for forms and information for thesis preparation and defense.

  • Click herefor Producing Your Thesis guidelines on SGS website
  • Click here for Final Oral Exam Guidelines on SGS website