Guidance on DPH Exams and the Dissertation, Academic Year 2019-20
Table of Contents
Students should refer to the School Catalog and website for information about the School, policies, courses, and student services. This document is a guide for students on the First Exam, the Second Exam and the dissertation process.
See the SPH Catalog for the policy on doctoral levels. There is a process for changing levels for students when completing milestones. However, it is the responsibility of the student to ensure they are advanced levels. Students should first verify their level status with the student record system. If the status has not changed from levels as expected, then the student should ask the Department DPH Director for support.
The First Exam is intended to assess students’ capacity to synthesize material, apply knowledge and to analyze current public health issues and come to well-reasoned conclusions.
The First Exam is offered once per year two weeks before the start of the Fall semester. Students apply to take the First Exam before the end of the Spring semester. The application due date is announced at the start of the Spring semester. Application to the First Exam must be completed by students and reviewed by the DPH Director from the student’s department.
Students must be in good academic standing to sit for the exam. In addition, students must have completed (earning a grade of B or better) the following courses listed below or their equivalent, or be registered in the course at the time of application. We expect full time students to take the first exam during the summer of their first academic year, and part-time students to take this exam during the summer of their second academic year. Students must take the exam in a timely manner. Students will not be allowed to register for classes if they have not taken the exam by the time they complete 36 credits.
The First Exam follows a take-home format, and includes questions based on peer-reviewed articles that are provided to the student at the start of the exam. The exam focuses on the application of key DPH competencies and critical analysis of public health issues in theoretical frameworks, methodological frameworks, and research methods. Students write three essays in response to three questions (one from each of the above three domains). Responses are expected to demonstrate critical analysis skills, a solid understanding of public health theory, research methods, clear writing skills, and, at times, knowledge of specific content areas. Students are expected to draw on content from core courses, as summarized in a First Exam reading list provided. The student’s understanding should be expressed in depth in a well written and organized answer in which selected relevant information is thoughtfully presented with appropriate citations from the literature. All assertions of fact are to be documented with references to published peer-reviewed literature.
While students may prepare for the exam with other students, they are required to work completely independently after the exam is distributed. Students may refer to relevant class notes and reference materials when writing the answers to the examination questions. Reading lists for the First Exam are updated annually. Members of the DPH First Exam Committee include representation from each department. All questions regarding the First Exam should be forwarded to the DPH Program Director.
Students have two weeks to complete and submit the exam. The instructions for the exam include due date and time and required formatting. Students must submit an electronic version by the due date and time and a copy signed statement of academic integrity. Failure to submit the exam by the due date and time will result in a failing grade for the entire exam. Students must keep a record of their sent e-mail in the event that there are any questions regarding the timing of submission. Students who need accommodations due to a documented disability must request documentation of any necessary accommodations or changes from the Disability Office one month prior to the distribution of the first exam.
Exams are coded with a unique identifier for anonymous grading. A first reader (inside the student’s department) and second reader (outside the student’s department) are designated for each exam. An administrator is the only person who knows the pairings of student exams to exam readers. Readers independently read and grade the exam. Ratings are based on how well the student demonstrates the capacity to apply knowledge and skills gained in the required coursework and synthesize information. Each question is rated using the following scale:
Satisfactory – adequate understanding of and written communication about the subject matter. Responses to a given question on the First Exam that meet the above criteria are judged “Satisfactory.” Please be aware that for each answer that meets this standard, detailed feedback is not given to the student.
Unsatisfactory – fundamental misunderstanding or inadequate mastery of or poor written communication about key concepts or principles; inadequate response to the question being asked on the exam; additional work needed to meet program expectations.
“Unsatisfactory” response to only one question on the First Exam:
Students with answers that receive an “Unsatisfactory” rating from both readers for one answer are given the opportunity to rewrite it within a 2-week period. For answers to a given question that receive an “Unsatisfactory” rating from only one of the two readers on one answer, a third reader is asked to rate that answer. If the third reader also judges the response to be unsatisfactory, the student is given broad feedback on the problems with their responses, and the opportunity to rewrite that answer within a 2-week period. Students are allowed only one chance to rewrite an answer to a question that received an “Unsatisfactory” rating. Failure to rewrite the answer within the given timeline or the receipt of an unsatisfactory grade on the rewrite will result in a failure of the exam. Students who fall into this category must work with their Department Chair or a designee to develop a plan for preparing for a one-time retake of the entire First Exam the next time it is offered, which must be approved by the Department Chair and DPH Director within one month of the notice of the unsuccessful completion of the First Exam. Students must pass all questions in the retake exam; students are not allowed to rewrite any question from a retake examination. Students are allowed to retake the exam only once and students who fail even one question on the retake or do not retake the exam at the next offering of the First Exam will be withdrawn from the program.
“Unsatisfactory” responses to more than one question on the First Exam:
Students who are given an “Unsatisfactory” rating on more than one response by both readers (or by the third reader in the event that the first two readers give discrepant grades) are allowed one opportunity to retake the First Exam at the time of the next scheduled administration of the exam. Students who fall into this category must meet with their Department Chair or a designee to receive broad feedback regarding the problems with their responses. They must then develop a plan for preparing to retake the First Exam, which must be approved by the Department Chair and DPH Director within one month of the notice of the unsuccessful completion of the First Exam. Students must pass all questions in a retake exam; students are not allowed to rewrite any question during a retake examination. Students are allowed to retake the exam only once and students who fail even one question on the retake or do not retake the exam at the next offering of the First Exam will be withdrawn from the program.
The Second Exam assesses the student’s preparation and readiness to engage in dissertation research. The Second Exam has both a written and an oral component. It examines mastery of theory, evaluation of empirical evidence, and advanced methods relevant to the student’s department and future dissertation research.
Full time students should aim to complete their second exam at the beginning of their third academic year, and part-time students during their third or fourth academic year.
If the student has completed all coursework needed for the Second Exam, but has not yet taken the exam, s/he must register for Maintenance of Matriculation in order to stay active in the program while working on the Second Exam. Failure to maintain matriculation results in unapproved leave and readmission is not guaranteed.
Students must be in good academic standing to sit for the second exam.
Students work on the Second Exam only after successfully completing the First Exam and all required and elective courses, with the exception of PUBH 816 Advanced Research Seminar II, PUBH 898 Dissertation Seminar, and PUBH 900 Dissertation Supervision. In order to take PUBH 816 Research Seminar II, students need to have defended the Second Exam or, by permission of the instructor, have the defense scheduled to occur within the first two weeks of the semester. Students must then successfully defend the Second Exam within the first two weeks of the semester in order to continue in the course. Students that successfully complete PUBH 816 Research Seminar II will be advanced to Level III by the Registrar.
The Second Exam Committee consists of 3 members: Second Exam Chair and two members.
Committee Members must be approved by the Department Chair and the Director of the DPH Program via the Second Exam application. The Second Exam Chair must be a member of the GSPHHP Faculty or an Affiliated Faculty from the same department as the student. One member should be from the same department as the student and the third member from outside the department of the student (this is optional for Epidemiology students). This third member may also be outside the School or CUNY and may be from a different discipline (if not an Epidemiology student). For students in Epidemiology, all three members should be from within the GSPHHP (not external to the School), all three can be from within the department, but one member can also be from another department.
Second Exam Committee Members may also serve on the student’s Dissertation Committee. We recommend that there is some overlap between the Second Exam and Dissertation Committees. Students in cohorts prior to Fall 2016 may follow an alternative committee structure with approval by the departmental DPH Director.
The Second Exam Chair works most closely with the student in preparing the Second Exam application and reading list and in developing a well-developed draft of the exam. The student and Second Exam Chair discuss possible Committee Members, and these members are approached and invited to the Committee by the Second Exam Chair. The Second Exam Chair serves as the primary liaison with the other Committee Members. The Second Exam Chair works with the student to develop a working target date for the final submission of the written component of the exam. The Second Exam Chair must approve the final readings list, and work closely with the student to develop the written exam, approving the mature draft of the Second Exam before it is shared with the other Second Exam Committee Members. Students should expect to work through a number of drafts before the written exam is deemed ready for the oral defense. Students should allow for 2-4 weeks time to review to receive written feedback from faculty.
The Second Exam Chair schedules and runs the defense meeting, is responsible for ensuring that all procedures are properly followed, presides over deliberations regarding the final outcome, and communicates the final outcome of the defense to the Department Chair and the Departmental DPH Director. The Second Exam Chair and Committee must approve the final reading list. The Second Exam Chair and Committee members are responsible for providing written feedback to the student on a mature draft of the written component of the Second Exam before the defense, and for reading the final version of the Second Exam prior to the defense.
Second Exam Committee Members
The preliminary reading list, developed by the Second Exam Chair and student, is submitted to the Committee Members who provide feedback and approve the final reading list. The Second Exam Committee Members are responsible for providing written feedback to the student on a mature draft (read and approved by the Second Exam Chair) of the Second Exam. The student works with the Second Exam Chair to incorporate revisions accordingly, and the Second Exam Chair approves a draft that can be shared with the Second Exam Committee Members. The Second Exam Committee Members review the revised draft, provide feedback to the student as needed until they, together with the Second Exam Chair, approve the revised Second Exam as ‘defense-ready.’ Once the Committee has approved the revised Second Exam as ‘defense ready,’ it is disseminated to the Committee in its final format and a defense date is scheduled. The timeline for the defense allows one month for the Committee to read the final version of the Second Exam prior to the defense.
Second Exam Committee Chair:
Second Exam Committee Members:
Second Exam Chair:
Second Exam Committee Members:
Each committee member rates the written and oral components based on the following:
Caveats: This assumes a fall defense. Rework dates if targeting a spring defense. Remember that your committee may have little availability over the summer.
12/1 Student starts to form committee
2/15 Committee finalized
3/1 Student finalizes topics for second exam
3/15 Student starts to prepare reading list
4/15 Student submits reading list to committee for feedback
4/30 Reading list is approved by committee
5/1-9/15 Student writes second exam. Works with Chair and committee members as appropriate
9/15 Chair receives entire exam to be reviewed
10/1 Chair “signs off” on exam to be reviewed by entire committee if edits are addressed
10/20 Committee receives full exam to provide feedback to student
11/15 Student receives feedback from committee on exam. Believes student will be ready if edits are addressed
11/30 Student submits “defense read” exam to committee
12/15 Second Exam Defense
1/30 Student registers for PUBH 816 to write their dissertation proposal.
After completing all coursework and exams, students that are in good academic standing complete an original dissertation research project.
Within the first year of coursework, students should discuss possible dissertation topics and research questions with their advisor and other faculty members. By the end of the first year of coursework, students should have possible research topics and research questions identified. And by the end of PUBH 815 Advanced Research Seminar I, students should have made substantial progress toward identifying a topic, research questions, possible methods, and source of data for the dissertation (i.e. planned self-collection, a publicly available data source, or data from a research study already conducted by the student, a faculty member, student’s workplace, or some other source).
Once an area and initial research questions are selected, students should determine if the appropriate data can be acquired and if s/he has the requisite research skills to analyze the data correctly or can gain the expertise to do so. As each student’s dissertation is unique, it is not possible for the required program coursework to cover every research method that might be used for a dissertation. Therefore, students are expected to plan their elective courses and doctoral training to prepare for the independent dissertation research and associated analytic techniques they plan to employ to successfully complete the dissertation.
Students must complete all coursework, pass the First and Second Exams, identify a Dissertation Chair, and convene a Dissertation Committee approved by the Chair before registering for PUBH 900 Dissertation Supervision and PUBH 898 Dissertation Seminar. PUBH 900 Dissertation Supervision and PUBH 898 Dissertation Seminar are non-credit required course numbers that students must be registered for every semester they are working on the dissertation. The student must be registered for PUBH 900 and PUBH 898 in the same or preceding semester that the student deposits the dissertation. Students that are not registered for PUBH 900 and PUBH 898 during the semester of dissertation deposit must maintain active student status by registering for Maintenance of Matriculation. Note that students on maintenance of matriculation cannot receive financial aid and/or defer loans. Please speak to a financial aid officer for more information.
The name of the student as noted on the dissertation to be deposited must match the official name on record in the CUNY student record system.
The Dissertation Committee consists of at least three faculty members: a Dissertation Chair and at least two other faculty members.
The Chair must be a member of the GSPHHP Faculty or an Affiliated Faculty from the same department as the student. One member should be from the same department as the student and the third member from outside the department of the student (this is not required for Epidemiology students). This third member may also be outside the School or CUNY. Any additional members on the Committee are at the discretion of the Chair and student. For Epidemiology students, we require one committee member to be external to the School (the committee generally consists of four people for Epidemiology students).
Students in cohorts prior to Fall 2016 may follow an alternative committee structure with approval by the Department DPH Director.
The Chair is the faculty member who works most closely with and mentors the student to guide research content, study design and conduct, data analysis, writing, interpretation of results, and helps to foresee and solve problems. When a student registers for PUBH 900 Dissertation Supervision, they do so under their Chair’s name. The Chair identifies and recruits other Dissertation Committee Members, usually in consultation with the student. The Chair is responsible for providing feedback on early drafts of the proposal and dissertation and approving the draft that is provided to the other members. The Chair also works with the student to manage any revisions to the dissertation proposal and the dissertation itself requested by other Committee Members.
The Chair oversees the process, convenes meetings, including the proposal defense and dissertation defense, and works to resolve any differences that might arise in the committee. The Chair presides over the dissertation proposal defense and dissertation defense, and reports on the outcome of the defense to the Department Chair, Department DPH Director, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.
Committee Members read several Chair-approved drafts of the proposal and dissertation, providing comments on the aims, design, and analytic approaches. Members must read and provide thorough feedback on the first Chair-approved draft of the proposal and dissertation in addition to the final versions, but may provide comments on drafts between these two versions as well if needed.
The dissertation proposal is a detailed plan that describes the content and methods of the planned dissertation. It is to be prepared in the NIH R01 proposal format and includes a statement of the problem; aims and research questions; a brief summary of relevant literature that explains the background and significance of the topic and describes the gaps that will be addressed by the dissertation; and describes in some detail the study design, data sources, methods of data collection, and data analysis methods. Students are expected to describe and explain the theoretical framework for the study and include a power or sample size calculation for all quantitative analyses. The methods proposed should be both rigorous and feasible as it relates to achieving the aims and answering the proposed research questions as definitively as possible without major limitations that undermine or threaten the validity of the proposed research. The proposal should include a thorough description of the strengths and limitations of the proposed approach and a realistic timetable for completing the dissertation. It must also address human subjects issues related to your proposed research.
Elements of a Dissertation Proposal in the NIH format
Students should use the full 13 pages for their dissertation proposal, but no more than 13 pages.
1. Specific aims (1 page, single spaced)
2. Research Plan (12 pages, single spaced not including Human Subjects, citations and appendices)
2.a. Background and significance, with 1 paragraph conclusion (no more than 2 pages)
2.b. Innovation (about half a page)
2.c. Approach (about 9.5 pages)
2.c.1. Conceptual/Theoretical Framework w/ diagram (about 1 page)
2.c.2. Preliminary data (if applicable, no more than half a page)
2.c.3. Research design (6-7 pages, must address all proposal aims)
2.c.3.1. Study design
2.c.3.2. Study population and eligibility criteria (about 1-2 paragraphs)
2.c.3.3. Data sources, collection, and management (about 1 page)
2.c.3.4. Sampling/Recruitment procedures (if applicable)
2.c.3.5. Primary and secondary outcome definitions
2.c.3.6. Data analysis plan for each proposal Aim (i.e., statistical analysis/modeling or qualitative analysis)
2.c.3.7. Statistical power and sample size for each Aim (if applicable, no more than half a page)
2.d. Study timeline (1 paragraph or table)
2.e. Generalizability (1 paragraph)
2.f. Limitations and threats to the validity of the proposed research and how they will be managed (1 page)
3. Human Subjects (no page limit). For instructions, review Part II of NIH’s Supplemental Instructions for Preparing the Protection of Human Subjects Section of the Research Plan
5. Appendices (may include draft data collection instruments)
There are no established times for the dissertation defense. The timing depends on the readiness of the student and the availability of Committee Members. It may be challenging to secure availability of Committee Members during the winter or summer breaks, and students should inquire about availability during those times, as well as upcoming sabbaticals, in advance and plan accordingly.
Three Article Dissertation Model
This guidance is intended for students who choose to pursue a three article dissertation model. Students, Dissertation Chairs, and other members serving on the Dissertation Committee should refer to this guidance in deciding whether the three article model would be appropriate for a given dissertation project, and subsequently when the dissertation is being written. This model is an option for DPH students and does not replace the traditional dissertation model that has been used in the past and which remains as the alternate option. Some dissertation projects fit well under the three article model, and others are better written in the traditional format. The choice of which model to work under for a given dissertation research project should be based on a discussion between the student and their Chair, and the amount and complexity of the new research required for a dissertation would be similar no matter which format is chosen.
The DPH dissertation that conforms to the three article model comprises three separate papers (articles) of discipline-specific journal length that would be considered a ‘publishable’ research manuscript in a peer reviewed scientific or professional journal. The independence of the three papers reflects the fact that the articles may be read and understood without reference to one another; nevertheless, the papers must support an overarching research theme as outlined in the dissertation proposal. In addition, an overall introduction and conclusion to the dissertation in which the topics addressed in the three articles and, for the conclusion, their findings, are synthesized together to provide an overall picture of the implications of the research to the field.
The three papers are preceded in the dissertation document by an abstract and an introductory chapter, and are followed by a concluding chapter.
Specific Guidelines to Follow:
Dissertation Committee Members or external reviewers that serve as ‘examiners’ for the purposes of quality control cannot serve as co-authors, but should be thought of more as ‘peer reviewers.’
Traditional Dissertation Model
This guidance is intended for students who choose to pursue a traditional (book format) dissertation model. Students, Chairs, and other faculty serving on the Dissertation Committee should refer to this guidance in deciding whether the traditional dissertation model would be appropriate for a given dissertation project, and subsequently when the dissertation is being written. This model is the format that has been used in the past and remains as an alternate option for DPH students who do not choose the three article format. Some dissertation projects fit well under the traditional model and others may be better suited to the three article model. The choice of which model to work under for a given dissertation research project should be based on a discussion between the student and their sponsor, and the amount and complexity of the new research required for a dissertation would be similar no matter which format is chosen.
The DPH dissertation that conforms to the traditional model comprises multiple chapters together in a book format. Unlike the three separate article format, the literature review, methods and conclusions are presented all together each in its own, single chapter (rather than repeated at the beginning of each of the three articles). The results are also presented together in one, or if more appropriate, a few chapters. In addition, an overall introduction and conclusion to the dissertation are included in which the topics addressed in chapters are synthesized together to provide an overall picture of the implications of the research to the field.
The traditional dissertation is organized into sections (see below). Each section may be a single chapter or may include a few chapters, depending on the amount of information being presented and the optimal organization of that information. It is likely that the results section will include more than one chapter as the quantity of analysis required for this dissertation format is similar to that of the three article format.
Specific Guidelines to Follow:
The dissertation must be based on student analysis of data, either quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods. It may include a conceptual, theoretical, or methodological section as well. A systematic review or meta analyses may be included as part of the dissertation, but is not, in itself, sufficient and additional data analysis is required. Below is a brief description of what to include within each section of a dissertation written in the traditional format.
Section 1. Introduction
This section should introduce the aims of the study, including its justification within the field and its significance, both to the department and to public health overall. As well, this section should present the dissertation aims, guiding research question(s), and hypotheses to be tested. This section might also be used to specify the bounds of this study and its relationship to other ongoing research (if it is an analysis of a large data set that is at the center of multiple studies, for example).
Section 2. Literature Review
This section provides a thorough, critical, and analytical overview of existing literature and scholarship relevant to the aim(s) and research question(s) guiding this study. Ideally, a literature review should be comprehensive, balanced, up-to-date, and organized so as to flow logically.
Section 3. Methodology
The methodology section should clearly and minutely detail the methods of sampling, data collection, and data analysis used. Population and instrumentation should be explained. Where standard instruments are used, they should be appropriately referenced and a discussion of their evaluation in terms of reliability and validity included. This section should also discuss any and all ethical considerations, procedures, and approvals or limitations as well as how reliability and validity are assured for this study in specific. It is imperative that this section be thorough, detailed, and logically organized and clearly presented.
Section 4. Results & Interpretation
Ideally, findings should be presented in subsections. Tables and figures should be included when appropriate for clarity. All interpretation of the results may either be saved for a separate chapter of the dissertation (within this section), or the interpretation may be included in the same chapter as the results in a subsection following the presentation of the results. The results might all be presented within a single chapter or, if they are extensive, the results might be organized into a series of shorter chapters by topic. Results should be summed up in the simplest form first before presenting analysis, in tables if possible, and then interpretation as to significance and conclusions.
Section 5: Conclusions, Discussion, and Evaluation
The fifth and final section should begin by summarizing the study, its aims, any hypothesis, and methods. Then, in referring back to the results presented in section 4, this section should summarize the analytic findings and interpretations, concluding with a discussion of the signification of the findings, whether any hypothesis was proven, partially proven, or disproven. As well, this chapter should look back on the overall study critically, both making the case for its strengths and importance and also discussing any weaknesses or limitations. Finally, the public health relevance should be discussed, including any policy recommendations or practical intervention suggestions. This is a particularly important chapter, as it is the best opportunity to offer a comprehensive view of the study and its lasting significance and to leave the reader with any parting thoughts.
Dissertation Committee Members or external reviewers that serve as ‘examiners’ for the purposes of quality control cannot serve as co-authors, but should be thought of more as ‘peer reviewers.’
The dissertation defense is open to the public. All Committee Members must be in attendance at the defense. All Committee Members will have read the full dissertation prior to the defense and will be prepared to pose questions and provide feedback and comments at the defense.
Caveats: Below does not account for the dissertation proposal or proposal defense, nor does it account for data collection or data cleaning. This assumes a fall defense. Rework dates if targeting a spring defense. Remember that your committee may have little availability over the summer.
2/1-9/1 Writing/Analysis: Student works with Chair to clear chapters. Consults committee members as necessary
9/1 Student Submits entire dissertation to Chair for review and sign off
9/15 Chair returns feedback to student on entire dissertation. Gives thumbs up to send to committee pending edits are addressed
10/1 Student submits entire “chair approved” dissertation to committee for feedback
10/30 Committee returns feedback on full dissertation. Believes student will be ready if edits are addressed
11/15 Defense ready dissertation submitted to committee. Defense Scheduled
12/13 Successful Defense (minor edits)
12/20 Deposit Dissertation (note that actual deadline may be earlier! Check calendar)