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

Degree overview

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 Programs such as Aging Palliative and Supportive Care Across the Life Course, Aboriginal Health, Addiction Studies, Bioethics, Community Development, Environment and Health, Global Health, Health Care Technology and Place, Health Services and Policy Research, Sexual Diversity Studies, Women and Gender Studies, Women’s Health

DLSPH Collaborative Programs


  • Emphasizes the application of concepts, theories, models and methods concerned with illness and improvement of health and health care systems.
  • 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.

Admission Requirements

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

Additional Admission Requirement 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


The PhD Program in Social & Behavioural Health Sciences (SBHS), including:

  1.  Coursework
  2.  Qualifying exam
  3.  Thesis proposal
  4. Thesis defense:
    A) Departmental Defense
    B) Final oral examination – intended to give students depth and breadth in the theoretical and methodological foundations of Social and Behavioural Health Sciences.

It is expected that full-time PhD students complete the program within 4-5 years of enrollment. See the suggested progress report chart here. The requirements are briefly summarized below.

  1. Coursework (reflects minimum requirements)
  • 7 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.
      • To obtain methodological depth in either quantitative or qualitative methods, it is expected that the student will take at least 2 courses in one of these two areas.
      • For those interested in mixed-methods, in addition to taking 2 required methods courses, it is expected that the student will take other courses from qualitative and quantitative methods course offerings as necessary to achieve depth in both approaches.
    • 2 electives
  1. Qualifying Exam
    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 process of writing the QE and producing a final product should ideally contribute to the theory section of the student’s thesis proposal.

Click here for detailed qualifying exam guidelines

  1. Thesis Proposal
    The research proposal contains the following components: title page; abstract; problem statement and research questions; theoretical approach; critical review of relevant empirical research, including methods used; and research design.The thesis proposal must be reviewed and approved by the Thesis Committee before a student may proceed.

More Info

4. Thesis/Dissertation
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 ten weeks, although flexibility in timing may be possible.

4. 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 Departmental Oral Defense 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.

The Student should expect constructive criticism about the clarity and length of the presentation and the quality of visual materials, as well as about the dissertation itself. In particular, the Departmental defense will confirm that:

  • The Student has adequately met the requirements for a dissertation; and,
  • The Student has the required level of understanding of the scientific issues involved in the dissertation work.The Departmental defense is attended by the Student, the Supervisor and other members of the Supervisory Committee, and two reviewers with full SGS appointments. At least one reviewer should have supervisory experience in social and behavioural health sciences at the doctoral level. The second reviewer may be a substantive expert from another discipline. Eligible reviewers will have had no prior involvement with the design or conduct of the research, with the exception of providing references or other background material, and generally will not be the faculty who served as reviewers at the proposal defense. The presentation will be advertised within the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences, and other students and faculty are encouraged to attend.Click here for Departmental Defense Procedures
  1. B) PhD Final Oral Examination: 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 here for Producing Your Thesis guidelines on SGS website
  • Click here for Final Oral Exam Guidelines on SGS website


Successful applicants will have research interests congruent with those of one or more members of faculty, and may have identified a possible primary or co-supervisor, prior to admission.  Admission may otherwise be conditional upon identifying a supervisor.  Thus, applicants are strongly encouraged to seek out potential supervisors, and discuss with them the possibilities, 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 with DLSPH and Full School of Graduate Studies (SGS) status.  Students are advised to plan their courses in consultation with their supervisor, keeping their career aspirations and overall skill/training in mind.

As soon as a topic has been selected, the thesis committee should be formed with the addition of two other faculty members with full or associate membership in SGS and common interests and willingness to be a committee member. Generally the supervisor makes the final formal approach to prospective committee members, confirming their willingness to serve, and formalizing arrangements. The thesis committee should meet regularly (at least every six months). More regular meetings should be held with the supervisor.

Faculty outside the core SBHS group may be eligible to supervise with the approval of the program director and/or graduate co-ordinator.  Students who change their area of interest and wish to change supervisors should discuss this with their supervisor and program director.

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, setting agenda for committee meetings and taking minutes of the discussion.  A copy of the signed minutes is to be provided to the supervisor.

In addition, all PhD students and their supervisors are required to complete an annual progress review and an annual funding agreement.  They should review and comply with the SGS Graduate Supervision Guidelines for Students, Faculty and Administrators.