Philosophiae Doctor (PhD) in Public Health
- Community Health
- Environmental Health
- Health Systems
- Public Health
The Philosophiae Doctor (PhD) degree course is aimed at professionals who wish to advance their careers in research. In the case of the PhD degree offered through the School for Health Systems and Public Health (SHSPH), the scientific orientation is toward the health sciences and, in particular, the field of public health.
The research methods used depend on a solid understanding of epidemiology, biostatistics, and on an advanced knowledge of the content area in which research will be conducted. These three components form the basis of the structure of the PhD degree. The final outcome is that a student should be able to conduct health research, substantially on his or her own, that will add new knowledge to the field of public health.
Basic outline of the PhD degree
The student follows the steps outlined below from application to completion of the degree;
The student applies. A first appointment with a relevant staff member must be set up through the office of the Academic Programme Coordinator. The purpose of this first interview is to assess the previous education, experience, and research interest of the student. The student is expected to have thought seriously about a research topic, and should send a draft protocol outlining his or her research to the supervisor prior to the first meeting.
All PhD students at the School are required to register as a ‘special’ doctoral student for the first academic year. This allows the student the time to complete any required coursework and to prepare a pre-final protocol.
Students will meet with their supervisor within four weeks of the academic year and should complete their annual plan. This then forms the ‘contract’ against which the student will be evaluated at the end of the year.
The Oral Defence of the Protocol will be done by a School committee and is based on the following:
- Supervisor's annual review of general progress
- Three 15-20-page papers on topics relating to the general area of their thesis – this will form the review of the PhD topic. One of the topics should focus on issues of underlying theory, one on methodology and one on a policy issue.
The review may be an oral presentation of protocol or evaluation of written protocol and is at the discretion of the Chairperson of the School.
Students who have made adequate progress will be invited to apply for doctoral studies in the next academic year.
The protocol is submitted to the Academic Advisory Committee for approval, after which it is submitted to the Health Sciences’ Research Ethics Committee.
The research project is initiated and completed under supervision of the study supervisor appointed formally by the SHSPH / Faculty of Health Sciences.
One or more (draft) papers are submitted to the study supervisor for approval to submit for publication. (The study supervisor determines the authorship listing of any papers submitted. This decision must be recorded in the protocol.)
The penultimate research publication(s) are presented to staff and students of the SHSPH, and a final presentation, Oral Defence of Thesis, is delivered as a public presentation, which includes the supervisory committee for the research project. Any suggested changes are then incorporated in the final thesis. For the PhD thesis, the review panel to whom the thesis is presented will include expert staff from outside the University, and where possible, staff from international institutions.
The thesis is then submitted via the SHSPH to the Faculty of Health Sciences. No thesis will be submitted for approval and awarding of the degree before at least two acceptable papers (i.e. publishable in international journals) have been handed in.
During the time of their studies, PhD students are considered to be part of the staff of the SHSPH, and will be allocated academic responsibilities by their supervisors.
Duration of PhD studies
The minimum period of study is 12 months and the maximum four years.
The PhD degree is a research degree, and students enrolling for this programme are already advanced in the field in which they want to do research. Should this knowledge be broken down into components, the School would expect that, in previous training, all PhD students would have adequately passed courses in such fields as:
- community health
- health systems
- public health
- environmental health
Students will normally first complete a MSc degree in the SHSPH before enrolling for a PhD degree. In such cases, students will have completed most coursework requirements of the PhD already. Depending on the PhD research to be conducted, attendance of some further courses may be required. Each PhD student and his or her research supervisor will determine these further courses.
Students who completed master's degrees elsewhere will need to convince the Chairperson of the SHSPH that they have done sufficient coursework or have obtained sufficient relevant experience. As a minimum requirement, this previous training or experience should be equivalent to the MSc degree coursework requirements.
There is no minimum or maximum limit on coursework as students will be required to convince their supervisor that they have sufficient knowledge of quantitative and qualitative research methods and specialist knowledge of the content of their area of research. The supervisor decides which modules are required during the annual review of progress.
Review of progress
Supervisors review the learning needs of the students within the first six months of study and a specific learning plan is agreed on with each student. A copy of this learning plan is kept on the student’s file and forms the basis of the annual review of the student’s progress by his or her supervisor.
Guideline: How to complete a PhD at the SHSPH