Behavioral Nutrition PhD

Doctor of Philosophy in Behavioral Nutrition


Doctoral Seminar

The high prevalence of chronic disease and obesity worldwide, and increasingly of diabetes, has added urgency to the need for qualified researchers trained in understanding the complex interaction of biology, environment, and personal behavior, as well as skilled in the development of interventions to potentially attenuate the high rates of these conditions. At the same time, there is increasing recognition of the high impact of behavior and food policy on the sustainability of the food systems on which humans depend for their sustenance.

The Ph.D. prepares graduates to conduct research, evaluation and intervention studies in Behavioral Nutrition, an emerging field dedicated to understanding the interaction between the biology and personal behaviors of individuals and their environments that contribute to health and disease and to the sustainability of food systems, and to designing and implementing interventions based on these understandings. The program draws on the strong research agendas of faculty at the College in health behavior studies and health education, psychology, behavioral nutrition, nutrition education, nutritional epidemiology, nutritional ecology, and exercise physiology as well as of faculty in other units of Columbia University, such as the Mailman School of Public Health and the School of Medicine.

In particular, the degree program prepares graduates to conduct research on the critical issues related to:

  • Determinants of health behaviors related to nutrition and to physical activity
  • Relationships among food and nutrition-related behaviors, health outcomes, and the environment
  • Design and implementation of theory-based behavioral nutrition and physical activity interventions
  • Methodological considerations in the design and evaluation of interventions.

There are three specializations:

  • Behavioral Nutrition
  • Nutritional Epidemiology
  • Nutrition and Physical Activity

Graduates holding this degree are leaders who assume research, evaluation, and intervention roles in universities and colleges as well as other settings on a variety of issues related to behavioral aspects of nutrition and environmental factors affecting these behaviors. The program prepares researchers with strong quantitative and qualitative evaluation skills as well as basic and applied behavioral skills within an educational context.

Research Training and Apprenticeship

The primary modality for training for Ph.D. students is working with their sponsor in some ongoing research project: Students will work closely with one faculty member on an ongoing research project to gain practical experience in the development of study instruments, intervention protocols, data collection, data management and analysis, manuscript preparation and submission, and presentation of results at relevant scientific meetings. During their first year after completing basic core courses, students will also participate in two semester-long part-time internships with other Columbia research labs or other organizations to gain additional research perspectives.

Read more about our recent doctoral graduates in the Doctoral Student Update.

Read the titles of recent doctoral dissertations.

Two students chat inside a faculty member's office at Teachers College

Admissions Information

Doctor of Philosophy

  • Points/Credits: 75
  • Entry Terms: Spring/Summer/Fall

Application Deadlines

  • Spring: November 1
  • Summer/Fall (Priority): December 15
  • Summer/Fall (Final): Rolling

* For details about rolling deadlines, visit our admission deadlines page.

Supplemental Application Requirements/Comments

  • GRE General Test, MCAT, GMAT, or DAT
  • Academic Writing Sample

Additional Information

Entering students should have a master’s degree in nutrition or a closely related discipline from an accredited institution, along with the necessary prerequisite undergraduate courses in general, organic and biochemistry, nutrition, statistics, and human physiology. Admissions will be based on prior academic performance, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and an appropriate match between the applicant’s interests, the research work of the faculty, and funding availability. The student should place within the top one-quarter of those completing the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). The student will generally be expected complete the doctorate full-time and to work on ongoing research projects with the faculty.

Requirements from the TC Catalog

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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

With the increasing appreciation of the importance of nutrition for health promotion and disease prevention and the widespread interest in the sustainability and social equity of food systems, there is a need for highly qualified nutrition professionals who understand the complex interaction of biology, environment, and personal behavior, and are skilled in conducting research and in the development and evaluation of interventions, programs, and policies in a variety of settings. 

The program prepares scholars to conduct research on the critical issues related to:

  • determinants of health behaviors (biological, personal, social, and environmental) related to nutrition and to physical activity;

  • relationships among food- and nutrition-related behaviors and health outcomes using techniques of behavioral epidemiology;

  • design, implementation, and evaluation of theory-based behavioral nutrition and physical activity interventions

  • methodological considerations in the design and evaluation of interventions. There are three specializations:

    1. Behavioral Nutrition

    2. Nutritional Epidemiology

    3. Nutrition and Physical Activity

The graduates from this program will be leaders who will assume professorial and research roles in universities and colleges within departments of nutrition epidemiology, foods and nutrition, and physical activity, as well as assume research roles in centers for research on behavioral aspects of obesity, chronic disease prevention, and health promotion. Thus, the program aims to prepare researchers with basic and applied behavioral skills within an educational context.

Admission Requirements

Admission to the Ph.D. program involves completing the application form available online and submitting all regular admission materials, such as transcripts from all institutions attended, three letters of recommendations, and writing sample, which can be a thesis, substantial paper, or published article.

The student should have a master’s degree in nutrition or a closely related discipline from an accredited institution, along with the necessary prerequisite undergraduate courses in general, organic and biochemistry, nutrition and statistics, and human physiology. Admissions will be based on grades, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and an appropriate match between the applicant’s interests, the research work of the Ph.D. faculty, and funding availability. The student will generally be expected to be full-time and to work on ongoing research projects of the faculty.

Program of Study

The general requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy include a minimum of 75 graduate credits, of which at least 45 must be taken under Teachers College registration.

For the Ph.D., the total classroom course requirement is 45-51 credits, including prior master’s degree work and 24-30 credits (advanced topical seminars, research seminar and dissertation advisement) devoted to research-related courses and activities. Students will also be expected to pass a certification examination and an advanced seminar and to write a dissertation.

Students will be expected to take courses in the following categories:

  1. Core courses: 33 points

  2. Courses to develop depth within each specialization: 15-21 points

  3. Research preparation: 21-27 points

The specific courses selected will depend on the student’s particular background, interests and goals. In consultation with a faculty advisor, students should develop a program plan early in their course of study to provide a rational basis for their course selection.

Research Training and Apprenticeship

The primary modality for training for Ph.D. students is working with their sponsor on some ongoing research project. Students will work closely with one faculty member on an ongoing research project to gain practical experience in the development of study instruments, intervention protocols, data collection, data management and analysis, manuscript preparation and submission, and presentation of results at relevant scientific meetings. During their first year after completing basic core coursework, students will also participate in two semester- long part-time internships with other Columbia research labs to gain additional research perspectives. Visit the website for the Program in Nutrition for more detailed descriptions of the Ph.D. requirements.

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