Doing a PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health

What Does a PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health Involve?

Studying a PhD in Epidemiology or a PhD in Public Health allows you to gain expert knowledge in the public health field and conduct original research into various aspects of the public health issues and preventative medicine. This is something which provides societal value and can help support your future career. Depending on the focus of your research project, you may spend your time developing novel approaches in population health, or evaluating current statistical models used to prevent and treat illnesses. Most PhDs in Epidemiology and Public Health involve data analysis, laboratory study, population based study or qualitative research.

Below is a list of the range of topics your research project may focus on:

  • Public health policy
  • Biostatistics
  • Health economics
  • Social influences on health
  • Health inequalities
  • Medical and Social Statistics
  • Psychobiology
  • Public health systems and health services
  • Health behaviour
  • Social care
  • Urban health
  • Human diseases

Within each of the topic above, there is a wide range of specialist areas your postgraduate study could focus on. For example, research students studying determinants of diseases could investigate chronic diseases, infectious diseases, respiratory diseases or cardiovascular diseases.

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Minimum Entry Requirements for A PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health

The entrance requirements for prospective students applying to a PhD in Public Health are typically an upper second class (2:1) honours degree in a relevant subject, such as biology or medicine. However, many universities also consider applicants with a lower second class (2:2) honours degree if they also hold a Master’s degree with a Merit classification. Occasionally, academic supervisors want you to demonstrate competence in a particular field prior to admission into a doctoral programme. This may be through achieving certain grades on specific university modules or through preparing a research proposal on your topic.

Equivalent international qualifications are also accepted. However, beyond the academic requirements, international doctoral students who have not recently studied in the UK are likely to be asked to provide proof of their English Language ability. Commonly accepted English Language Qualifications include IELTS, TOEFL (iBT) or Pearson PTE scores. The exact score requirements differ between institutions, however the table below presents the typical requirements for international applications:

English Level Exam Typical Score Requirement
IELTS Overall score of 6.5+
With no subtest below 5.5
TOEFL (iBT) Overall score of 90+
With no subtest below 20
Pearson PTE Overall score of 58+
With no subtest below 42

Due to the nature of some Public Health research projects, you may be required to undertake a disclosure and barring service (DBS) screening check. More information on this process can be read here.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health?

Epidemiology and Public Health PhD programmes in the UK usually involve up to 4 years of full-time study. Part-time study can take PhD students up to 8 years to complete.

Some PhD programmes include online courses covering theoretical concepts such as Research Design or Practical Research Ethics. The majority of the time will be spent conducting original research and completing a written thesis, before undertaking the Viva Voce, an oral examination where you will present your original contribution to an examination panel.

You may also have the opportunity to attend a training programme in transferable skills to support your professional development and career progression. These training courses are catered for early career professional and allow you to develop your commercial awareness, project management, technical writing and public engagement skills.

Costs and Funding for a PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health

Tuition fees for a UK doctoral student applying to a 2021/22 PhD programme in Epidemiology and Public Health are around £4,000 to £5,000 per annum. For EU and overseas students, annual tuition fees are normally around £20,000 to £30,000. Part-time tuition fees are normally proportioned according to the research programme length. The nature of the research project you apply for will influence costs greatly. Specialist research projects which are technically intensive or require large amounts of consumables typically have additional costs and thus higher tuition fees.

Many universities have Centres for Doctoral Training in Medicine, Public Health or Epidemiology. These CDTs often offer fully funded PhD programmes in Public Health and Epidemiology from the UK Research Councils e.g. Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Funding is also available through other internal awards, UK Research Councils, charities and industry including:

  • Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Wellcome Trust
  • British Heart Foundation

These PhD in Public Health and Epidemiology scholarships, studentships and grants cover tuition fees, and can provide a maintenance stipend and research travel expenses. International students are also eligible for several funding opportunities. Competitive scholarships are reserved for exceptional students who have excelled during their graduate study.

Postgraduate research students may also be eligible for a Postgraduate Doctoral Loan overseen by the UK Government, which can provide up to £25,000 for course fees and living costs associated with your research project.

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PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health Salary and Career Paths

Career outlook for epidemiology and public health doctorates is excellent. According to HESA Graduate Outcomes 2020, 90% of postgraduates from the School of Medicine secured graduate level employment or further study within 15 months of graduation.

Many postdoctoral researchers in epidemiology and public health typically go into clinical roles within medicine, biostatistics and pharmaceuticals. Here, you can use your doctoral degree to actively address epidemical and public health challenges. For example, a biostatistician may use statistical methods to review data and identify possible determinants of health conditions. Typical employers in these fields include the NHS, hospitals and clinical trial units.

However, other public health professionals remain in research, either in industry or in academia (e.g. as a lecturer). Academic careers are ideal for those who wish to contribute to the training of future professionals. Here, you can join a supervisory team, propose your own postgraduate research programme, and supervise a postgraduate student during their doctoral study.

Other PhD in public health and epidemiology jobs include advisory roles in public health sciences and management careers within government departments, public health organisations or independent trusts, such as Public Health England. Having an advanced degree in epidemiology or public health shows to employers that you have expert epidemical and public health knowledge, which allows you to transition into leadership roles.

If you are wondering what you can do with a PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health, we have produced a detailed article on the different career options available, typical employers, and salaries. You can read this article here.


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