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Psychology PhD vs Public Health PhD


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Hello all!

I am currently trying to hash out a last minute decision here. I have narrowed it down to two programs: a Psychology (non-clinical, developmental psych) PhD program and a Public Health PhD program. Both programs are funded with a stipend. 

My interests, broadly speaking, are psychosocial determinants of health and community-based prevention programs.

Current researchers and faculty who share my interests are trained as psychologists (mostly clinical) and now work in departments of public health.

Program 1 - Psychology: Concentration in Developmental Psychology.

Pros: advisor has similar interest, very productive and supportive advisor, opportunity to also earn MPH (free), ample opportunities for research, balance of research and practice, great weather, lower COL, interactions with school have been great

Cons: lower ranking program (still an R1), majority of graduates go into applied/industry settings (not academia), not an exact research match (though I could make it work), 10 hour drive/1 hour flight home, don't know anyone in the area, I would be much older than cohort


Program 1 - Public Health: Concentration in Behavioral and Community Health Science

Pros: Top 15 program, many in department share my interests (though not my advisor), ample opportunities for research, close to family and friends, similar aged cohort

Cons:  advisor is a younger/new faculty member, advisor couldn't meet before April 15 (visit day cancelled) about $8,000 year cost in fees and tuition differential (not covered by waiver, ugh), higher COL, harsh winter

I would greatly appreciate any insight - especially if anyone has any thoughts on psychology vs public health or if certain factors should weigh heavier than others when considering an academic career.

Thank you in advance! Best of luck to everyone else still deciding.


Edited by LisaNucar
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Hello! Congrats on your acceptances- it sounds like you have 2 great options. In this case- a hard decision is actually a good thing :) 

I would encourage you to consider your career path after PhD to help you make your decision. Obviously the networks you will build during either program will be vastly different (Public Health setting vs. Psychology)- so will that impact you? Do you see yourself working more with PH or Psych collaborators on future projects?

From my perspective, the Developmental Psych route would give you more versatility in the long run (especially if you also do your MPH). While the PH route would give you more hands-on community program experience quickly. Another important factor to evaluate- which program would give you more exposure to the populations/types of programs you're interested in? (i.e. kids, adults, nutrition, cancer-prevention, sexual health, substance use, etc)


I have my MPH and strongly considered a PhD in public health but ended up going the Clinical Psych route because I valued the flexibility. I was also fortunate to find a lab that matched my research interests and uses some population/ecological variables in their psych studies- so it really does feel like a mix of both disciplines (which I love!). 


But in your case, I think it depends on what you hope to get out of the program and your post-PhD goals. 


Best of luck in making your decision! It sounds like you can't go wrong either way.

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