Health Sciences (PhD Program)

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The PhD in Health Sciences offers students the opportunity to develop an advanced level of understanding and training in any one scientific discipline, or a combination of scientific disciplines, related to human health, the processes (e.g., sociological, biological, chemical, physical) that influence human health. The PhD in Health Sciences promotes an integration of social, ethical, political, and cultural dimensions, and an understanding of basic biological, ecological and physical determinants of health. Students are expected to acquire a familiarity with the scope of disciplines that contribute to knowledge and practice in health sciences while developing expertise in a specific disciplinary area. Graduates from this program have an area of concentration, and a familiarity with other disciplines and are able to work constructively and show leadership within the increasingly complex multidisciplinary frameworks that are evolving across all parts of the health continuum.

Students must complete two mandatory interdisciplinary graduate seminar courses: HHSC 800-3 and HHSC 801-3. The seminar courses cover the areas of critical thinking, research skills development, debate and exchange of ideas on key issues important for health sciences, with emphasis on specific research themes relevant to the student cohort and faculty, peer learning through presentations and peer feedback, as well as the importance of team science and communication skills, leadership, and the process of knowledge mobilization.

Students must also complete a 12 credit hour dissertation: HHSC 890-12 PhD Dissertation to the satisfaction of their committee. In addition, they must take a minimum of 6 credit hours in elective courses relevant to their area of concentration as determined by their supervisor. At the discretion of their supervisory committee, students may be required to take additional courses within their area of concentration.

Students must pass three separate assessments of their academic progress towards a PhD: a qualifying exam, a defense of the dissertation proposal, and a defense of the dissertation. The qualifying exam is tailored to ensure a cross-disciplinary aptitude and tests the student’s grasp of the core interdisciplinary materials presented in the seminar series as well as core concepts of their area of concentration derived from elective coursework. The dissertation proposal defense ensures students have a grasp of their area of concentration and therefore examines the level of knowledge within that area of concentration.

Upon successfully passing both the qualifying examination and the dissertation proposal defense, students are granted candidate status and embark upon the dissertation work under the supervision of their faculty advisor. Following completion of the research, candidates must defend their dissertation before an examination committee.


HHSC 800-3 Graduate Seminar I 3 credit hours
HHSC 801-3 Graduate Seminar II 3 credit hours
Elective Courses 6 credit hours
HHSC 890-12 PhD Dissertation 12 credit hours
Total Required 24 credit hours


Students are normally expected to hold a Master’s degree from an accredited post-secondary institution. Normally, applicants must hold a cumulative GPA of 3.67 (A-) from the Baccalaureate and Master’s degree, to be calculated over the last 30 gradable credit hours.

In addition to a completed UNBC Graduate Application Form, applicants must provide official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended, a statement of intent indicating the student’s research interests, possible future career aspirations, and perceived fit within the Faculty mandate and research directions; three letters of reference; and a sample of written academic work. GRE scores are optional. Only students with high GPAs and innovative research interests are likely to be successful in their applications.

Application deadlines are found online at The Health Sciences PhD Program accepts students for the September semester.

For additional information about graduate admissions or to download application materials, go to the Office of Graduate Administration website at

Recommended Progression

First Year: Mandatory Interdisciplinary Seminar, Elective Graduate Courses, Qualifying Exam

During the first two semesters, students take the mandatory graduate seminar courses HHSC 800-3 and HHSC 801-3. Prior to entry into the program or in the first semester, students should consult with their supervisors about selection of elective courses.

Second Year: Area of Concentration, Defense of Dissertation Proposal

If students are required to take additional courses to address deficiencies within their area of concentration, they may select courses from relevant course offerings within the UNBC programs, or from other accredited graduate programs in other post-secondary institutions. In addition, students normally conduct some exploratory research in their area of concentration. Students in their second and third years are expected to present on their area of concentration to the interdisciplinary seminar series as an exercise in communicating their research field to a more general audience.

At the end of their coursework, PhD students normally take a qualifying exam consisting of written and oral components. The general part of the exam should demonstrate the student’s ability to synthesize and extrapolate from the core interdisciplinary materials presented in the seminar program. The specialty part of the exam assesses the student’s background knowledge and familiarity with the theory and methodology associated with their dissertation topic. Students normally take the qualifying exam upon completion of the 12 credit hours of required core courses.

Once coursework is complete, students work towards finalizing a dissertation proposal, which should demonstrate academic rigour and be of publishable quality. Students are expected to present the dissertation proposal before their committee, and to demonstrate their knowledge within their area of concentration. Normally, this defense is scheduled either at the end of the third semester or at the beginning of the fourth semester of study.

Third to Fifth Year: Dissertation

Upon successful completion of coursework, and the successful completion of the qualifying exam and the defense of the dissertation proposal, the student is officially designated as a PhD candidate, and proceeds to full-time work on the dissertation under the direct supervision of the advisor and any other designated committee members. Once the dissertation proposal has been approved by the committee, any major changes made to the dissertation proposal require further approval of the committee.

Under normal circumstances, students are expected to complete their research and the writing of the dissertation within three years of becoming a Doctoral candidate.

Updated: May 23, 2024