PhD Program
School of Public and Community Health Sciences
University of Montana
Updated: February 27, 2018
PhD in Public Health Degree Program Standards
General Description

Ph.D. degree training typically consists of two years of course work and one-three years of research leading to the completion and defense of a Ph.D. dissertation.

Graduation Requirements
  1. Successful completion of all Graduate School requirements for the Ph.D. Current Graduate School requirements for the Ph.D. degree are found on the Graduate School web site (
  2. Successful completion of at least 90 graduate semester credits. No more than 36 credits of research and dissertation may be applied toward the 90-credit requirement for the Ph.D.
  3. Successful completion and defense of a research dissertation as defined by the Graduate School.
  4. Please note other Graduate School requirements for graduation:
  • Filing of application for graduation (due Jan 16 for May Graduation).
  • Electronic submission of dissertation thesis one week prior to defense; the Committee Chair signifies committee approval for defense.
  • June 19- Final deadline for completion of all requirements for May graduation.
Transfer Credits - Advance Standing

Students may petition the Graduate School for transfer of graduate credits into their graduate program at UM.  After one semester of satisfactory work at the University, the student may request the Ph.D. Program Coordinator to submit the application to the Graduate School to accept transfer credits.  An official copy of the student's transcript of the courses for transfer and catalog course descriptions should accompany the recommendation.  Students entering the doctoral program with a Masters of Public Health degree could transfer up to 15 credits of successfully completed public health classes.

Course Waivers

Students may petition the Ph.D. Program Coordinator for waiver of course requirement for which they have equivalent preparation.  Waiver of a course does not reduce total credit requirements for the degree.

Academic Standing - Progress Towards the Degree

Students should refer to The University of Montana Graduate School policies

A graduate student who fails to maintain the required minimum GPA will:

  1. Be warned by the Ph.D. Program Coordinator.
  2. Be placed on probation if the GPA is less than 3.0.
  3. Be dropped from the graduate program during the first year if the deficiency exceeds 9 grade points, or in the second year or thereafter, if the deficiency exceeds 6 grade points.

Reinstatement can be made on the basis of a petition approved by the Ph.D. Program Coordinator, SPCHS Chair, and Graduate School.

Students receiving financial aid must register for a minimum of 7 credits per semester.  Students not receiving financial aid must register for a minimum of 4 credits per semester.  Students must register for at least 3 credits, or petition the Graduate School to take only one credit in their final term.

In addition, progress towards the completion of their dissertation will be regularly assessed by the student’s Advisory Committee and Ph.D. Program Coordinator.  Failure to make adequate progress towards completion of this degree requirement could lead to warnings, probation, and ultimately to dismissal from the program.


General Information
  • Students will take a total of 90 total credits. This includes 54 total didactic credits, and 36 total research/dissertation credits. The didactic credits include current core classes taught within the SPCHS (, and/or approved elective classes (  Students may take other classes on campus if approved by the Ph.D. Program Coordinator or their Research Advisor.
  • Graduate students typically register for 10 to 14 credits per semester during the first two years of the program when they are enrolled in academic courses. In later years, students register for a maximum of 9 credits of research or dissertation each semester. Students do not need to enroll during the summer session.
  • Graduate students should not enroll for more than 9 credits in any semester in which they are enrolled in PUBH 690 or 699 (Research or Dissertation credits).
  • Graduate students may enroll for a course as Audit only with prior approval of the Ph.D. Program Coordinator.
  • With permission of the course instructor and the student’s Research Advisor, graduate students may enroll in complimentary courses (those taken in addition to the requirements for the degree) on a Credit/No Credit basis.
  • Students who complete the requirements for the Ph.D. during summer session must enroll for 3 credits of dissertation during summer session. Students who miss the deadline for completion of degree requirements at the end of a semester and will defend early in the next semester may register for 3 credits of dissertation for that semester.
Notes on Special Courses
PUBH 694 (Seminar)
  • All graduate students are required to attend the seminars. Student attendance at scheduled seminars is monitored. While everyone will miss an occasional seminar due to certain conflicts, a consistent record of attendance is expected.  Students are especially encouraged to attend seminars outside their area of specialization.
  • Students register for 3 credits of Seminar, 1 credit for each semester in which they give presentations:
  1. An informational topic approved by the student’s Research Advisor. This seminar normally is presented during the second year in the program.
  2. A progress report of the student’s dissertation research. This research update seminar normally is presented during the third year in the program.
  3. Dissertation defense seminar.
  • PUBH 594 is taken on a Credit/No Credit basis.
PUBH 692 (Independent Study / Research Mentorship Rotations)

The Research Mentorship Rotation experience is designed to introduce graduate students to research being conducted within the SPCHS, as well as assist students with selecting a Research Advisor.  Students benefit the most when they obtain a variety of experiences in their rotations.

  • Ph.D. students register for 3 credits of PUBH 595 in their first semester only, and complete three 6-8 week rotations.
  • Following completion of each rotation, the student prepares a one-page report summarizing the rotation experience. The student then has the faculty with whom the research was conducted sign it and turns it into the Ph.D. Program Coordinator for placement in their file. The report is submitted within a month after the completion of the rotation.
  • Grades are submitted after all of the research experience write-ups have been received by the Ph.D. Program Coordinator and placed in the student’s file. Students who do not complete their rotations by the end of the semester are assigned a grade of N (course work continued into later semesters) until the requirements are met. At that time the Ph.D. Program Coordinator will submit a grade change form accordingly.
  • PUBH 595 is taken on a Credit/No Credit basis.
PUBH 690 (Research) and PUBH 699 (Dissertation)
  • Ph.D. students enroll in PUBH 599 (Dissertation) after completing the Comprehensive Exam. Prior to that, the appropriate research course to enroll in is PUBH 597 (Research). Students who do not complete their dissertation activities by the end of the semester are assigned a grade of N (course work continued into later semesters).  Upon successful defense of the dissertation, the N grades for all semesters are converted to CR by the registrar.

Students are expected to maintain “reasonable progress towards the degree” which includes not only the completion of coursework in a timely fashion with a 3.0 GPA or above, but also a series of procedures by certain deadlines eventually leading up to graduation.  Below is a summary of those milestones.  Regular annual progress towards the degree are assessed by the student’s Research Advisor, the student’s Advisory Committee, and the Ph.D. Program Coordinator.

Suggested Timeline Towards Graduation

Event                                                                                                              Guideline/Deadline

Selection of Research Advisor                                                                 End of 2nd semester

Appointment of Advisory Committee                                                  Prior to 3rd semester

Plan of Study                                                                                                 Prior to 3rd semester

Research Proposal                                                                                       Middle of 5th semester

Comprehensive Exam                                                                                End of 6th semester

Application for Graduation                                                                      1 semester prior to graduation

Dissertation Draft to Committee                                                           2 weeks prior to defense

Public Notice of Defense                                                                          1 week prior to defense

Defense / Final Dissertation to Graduate School                             To meet Graduate School Deadline

Final Dissertation to Graduate Program Coordinator                     Following successful dissertation defense

Research Advisor
  • Serves as Chair of the Advisory Committee.
  • Assists the student in assuring that all deadlines and procedures are followed. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that these requirements are met.
  • Reports, in writing to the Ph.D. Program Coordinator, the date and outcomes of Advisory Committee meetings, and the progress of the student toward the degree.
  • Reviews and approves the dissertation draft prior to its submission to the Advisory Committee, at least 14 days prior to the final defense.
  • In conjunction with the Ph.D. Program Coordinator, maintains a current file on the student.
  • The Research Advisor must hold a terminal degree of Ph.D. In addition the Research Advisor may be located outside of the University of Montana.
Advisory Committee
  • Ensures that the student understands all University, Graduate School and SPCHS regulations. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure these requirements are met.
  • Offers advice and approves the student’s Plan of Study.
  • Offers advice and approves the dissertation topic and research proposal.
  • Provides research advice as individuals and in regular (at least yearly) meetings of the full committee with the student. A student has the right, with the consent of her/his Research Advisor, to request a committee meeting at any time.
  • Approves the topic for the written qualifying exam, and administers the oral qualifying exam.
  • Reviews the completed dissertation and makes recommendations for its revision.
  • Conducts the final dissertation defense and certifies to the Graduate School whether the student has passed/not passed this examination.
  • The Advisory Committee will consist of five members, with one member outside the student’s field of study, or outside the list of program faculty.
Selection of Research Advisor and Advisory Committee

Prior to selection of a Research Advisor and appointment of the Advisory Committee, students will be advised by the Ph.D. Program Coordinator.  Following completion of rotations, each student will arrange to work with a faculty member (Research Advisor) as soon as possible after visiting with faculty within their chosen program area.  The Research Advisor should be selected by the end of the student’s 2nd semester in the program.  Through discussion and mutual agreement, the student and Research Advisor select an area of research interest and persons to serve on an Advisory Committee.  The Advisory Committee should be appointed prior to the 3rd semester in the program.  The Ph.D. Advisory Committee is composed of a minimum of five members, at least four of who are full-time or affiliated faculty within the School of Public and Community Health Sciences.  One member must be from outside the Program.  The student is responsible for approaching these persons and requesting that they serve on the Committee.  After completing an Advisory Committee Form, the student submits the form to the Ph.D. Program Coordinator for approval.  Except during the Comprehensive Qualifying Exam and Dissertation Defense Committee meetings, the Research Advisor will serve as the Chair of the Committee.

Change of Personnel on the Advisory Committee

Until the time a dissertation proposal has been approved by a student’s Advisory Committee, replacement of committee members may be made without prejudice at any time at the request of the student and the Research Advisor or by resignation of a committee member, and with approval of the Graduate School.     

For the student who wishes a change of Research Advisor, that student’s program will be re-evaluated and the change will be subject to approval by the Ph.D. Program Coordinator and SPCHS Chair.  In such cases, the SPCHS Chair shall serve as ombudsman on behalf of the student.  If the student’s dissertation proposal has been approved by the Advisory Committee and a replacement or substitution of the Research Advisor or a committee member is requested, the Graduate School must investigate the propriety of the request.  The original approved proposal must be unequivocally approved by the new Research Advisor or committee member.  If it is not, the student must submit a new or revised proposal and once again follow the procedures for proposal approved by all members of the Advisory Committee.

Program Governance – Ph.D. Program Coordinator

The Ph.D. Program Coordinator acts as the initial coursework advisor for the first year of all students prior to the selection of a Research Advisor, oversees student progress in the doctoral Public Health Program for the duration of the degree, and conducts annual review of all student files.
It is he student’s responsibility to contact the Ph.D. Program Coordinator prior to scheduling major milestones such as the qualifying exam and dissertation defense.  The Ph.D. Program Coordinator has the right to bring deficiencies to the attention of the Advisory Committee.  If corrective action is deemed necessary, it will be referred to the SPCHS Chair.

Plan of Study

Prior to the 3rd semester in the program, the student and Research Advisor will prepare a plan of study that includes all courses to be taken.  The plan of study must subsequently be endorsed by the Advisory Committee. Any changes in the plan of study, once approved, requires approval of the Research Advisor and Advisory Committee.

Research Proposal

The dissertation research proposal for the project to be undertaken by the student should be completed and endorsed by the student’s Advisory Committee no later than the middle of the 5th semester in attendance. 

Notes on Comprehensive Qualifying Exam

All Ph.D. students must successfully pass a Comprehensive Qualifying Exam (both Written and Oral) by the end of the 6th semester in order to achieve Ph.D. candidacy status and advance in the program.  If not, the student will be placed on probation.  A maximum of two semesters of probation is allowed before the student is dismissed from the program, unless the reason for delay is deemed justifiable by the student’s Advisory Committee.  Prior to the Written Exam, the Advisory Committee will appoint a substitute to replace the student’s Advisor throughout the Comprehensive Qualifying Exam process. 

The purpose of the Comprehensive Qualifying Exam is:

  • To evaluate the candidate’s general knowledge of the scientific discipline.
  • To evaluate the candidate’s ability to apply that knowledge:

                -in the research setting

                -in written and oral communication of research and scientific ideas.

In general there are two parts to the exam: written and oral. 

Written exam:  The student will submit three abstracts to the Committee to serve as the basis for an “in field” proposal.  The Committee will then choose one of the three abstracts to be further developed into a full research proposal.  This research proposal will be in the style of a National Institute of Health (NIH), National Research Service Award (NRSA) proposal.  Depending on the Advisory Committee, an equivalent proposal mechanism may be substituted.

The written exam is completed first, and the oral within a month following the written.  A score of 70% will be required to pass the written examination.  If the score is less than 70%, a second attempt will be allowed within two weeks of the first attempt.  Failure to pass on the second attempt will result in dismissal from the Ph.D. program with an option to be considered for an MPH degree.  If this is the case, the student would have to complete all MPH degree requirements.

Oral exam:  If the written portion is passed, the oral portion of the exam will take place within a month.  Certain parts of the oral exam are based on the topics covered in the written exam, but can also be on any topic within the discipline (but primarily related to the student’s public health field of interest). 

Each Committee member must decide if the student passes or fails, with only one failing vote allowed for the student to pass the exam.  Occasionally the student may be asked to retake part, but not all, of the oral exam.  If the student fails the first attempt at the oral portion of the exam, then written feedback will be provided to the student within one week and the exam will be repeated within four weeks.  Failure to pass the oral exam the second time results in dismissal from the program with an option to be considered for an MPH degree.

Application for Graduation

At least one semester before the Ph.D. degree is to be awarded, the student must submit to the Graduate School three copies of an Application for Graduation Form and a graduation fee.  The Graduate School will conduct a degree audit and send two copies of this form back to the graduate program (one SPCHS copy and one student copy) early in the graduating semester.  The Ph.D. Program Coordinator and student should note any problems and rectify them at least two weeks prior to the end of the final semester by using a Graduation Amendment Form.  If the student fails to meet the original graduation date as requested on the form, the student may request the application be reactivated for the following semester by notifying the Graduate School one semester prior to the revised completion date by using a Request of Extension of Graduate Program Form.

Dissertation Draft

The student will initially submit a dissertation draft to their Research Advisor for revision and approval.  At least 14 days (2 weeks) prior to the defense, the student will submit the Advisor-approved draft to the student’s Advisory Committee members for review.

Dissertation Defense

A public presentation of the results of dissertation work will occur as the final experience for the doctoral degree.  One week prior to their defense, the student must post an announcement of their seminar.  This announcement should contain the dissertation title, and place and time of their defense.  The department administrative associate can assist with this posting.

Following the public presentation, the Advisory Committee will meet with the student to discuss the dissertation.  A committee member other than the Chair of the Advisory Committee will be nominated by the Committee to direct the examination/defense.  A student will pass with only one negative vote with the remaining Committee members judging the performance to be satisfactory.  In case of failure, one repeat examination is permitted.  The examination/defense relates to both the dissertation and to the content of the discipline.  A Dissertation Defense Approval Form needs to be signed by all members of the Committee once a successful defense has occurred.

Once the student has successfully defended their dissertation, the Chair of the Advisory Committee will sign the SPCHS copy of the Application for Graduation Form and return it to the Graduate School.  Receipt of the signed SPHCS copy of this form by the Graduate School indicates that the student has successfully completed the degree requirements.  The degree will be awarded after receipt of the final electronic submission of the dissertation and all other Graduate School requirements have been met.

Final Dissertation Submission

The Committee Chair will submit the final dissertation (Word or PDF format) electronically to the Graduate School office after a successful defense, and the necessary revisions have been made.


Students are strongly encouraged to have at least three published (or submitted) manuscripts by the time they graduate.