Systems Science for Health Equity PhD Concentration

Brown School PhD students typically develop an individualized research area through coursework and mentored training opportunities. The Systems Science for Health Equity (SS4HE) doctoral concentration provides an opportunity for students interested in the transdisciplinary field to complete relevant coursework and mentored research. The concentration aims to prepare next-generation public health and social work scholars in complex systems thinking and methods through the following SS4HE competencies:

  • Understand how organizational, community, and healthcare systems contribute to public health as complex systems.
  • Apply core systems science principles, such as complexity, feedback, emergence dynamics, evolution, endogeneity, social structures, and interactivity to public health research and intervention design.
  • Describe how systems thinking and systems science methods contribute to core research activities of description, prediction, explanation, and causal inference.
  • Design studies incorporating systems science tools, such as agent-based modeling, systems dynamics modeling, network analysis, group model building, etc.
  • Engage diverse partners in systems science research to ensure equitable public health processes and outcomes.

PhD students concentrate in SS4HE by completing SS4HE-related coursework, getting involved in the various SS4HE research training opportunities at Washington University, and conducting mentored dissertation research that contributes to the field.

Concentration Requirements

Coursework: Students complete concentration coursework with other PhD requirements in their first two years of the program. Concentrators complete one introductory course in systems science and select at least two additional SS4HE doctoral courses from the options presented below. Students who have already completed introductory courses prior to joining the doctoral programs may take another of the SS4HE courses.

Concentrators complete one (1) required SS4HE course (3 credits)
S90 5660 Systems Thinking in Health 3
Concentrators select at least two (2) courses (6 credits) from the following SS4HE options:
S90 5050 Community-Based System Dynamics 3
S90 6915 Introduction to Agent-Based Modeling 3
S90 5010 Social Network Analysis 3
S90 5661 System Dynamics Simulation for Strategic Design 3
SS4HE concentrators successfully propose and complete systems science-related doctoral research and dissertation

*Students can petition to complete course requirements through independent studies focused on additional areas in systems science.

SS4HE Training Opportunities: Concentrators are encouraged to participate in the various systems science training opportunities offered across the university, such as the quarterly meetings of the Systems Science Interest Group (SSIG), the annual Systems Sciences for Social Impact (SSSI) Summer Training Institute, and mentored research opportunities through the various funded transdisciplinary research centers using complex systems approaches, such as the Center for Public Health Systems Science, Center on Social Dynamics and Policy, Social System Design Lab, Center for Mental Health Services Research, Center for Advancing Health Services, Policy, and Economic Research, etc.

Mentored Systems Science Dissertation Research: Concentrators identify faculty mentors whose scholarship involved systems science. Typically, these faculty will supervise the completion of an Area Statement & Qualifying Exam. After finishing SS4HE and other required doctoral coursework and milestones, students conduct dissertation research in systems science under the mentorship of faculty working in the area.

Process: Students interested in the concentration work with their faculty advisor, the SS4HE Lead Faculty, and their Program Director to ensure interest alignment. The student and faculty develop and execute research that culminates in a dissertation that contributes to the systems science literature. The successful defense of the SS4HE dissertation is recorded in the student’s final academic transcript.

A team of faculty across Schools coordinates to support SS4HE concentrators. Dr. Douglas Luke, Irving Louis Horowitz Professor in Social Policy, member of the Institute for Public Health, Director of Evaluation for the Institute of Clinical and Translational Science, and founding member of the Washington University Network of Dissemination and Implementation Science Researchers serves as the Concentration Lead. Feel free to reach out with questions and suggestions. Other instructional faculty include:

Douglas Luke

Douglas Luke, PhD
Irving Louis Horowitz Professor in Social Policy

Ross Hammond

Ross Hammond, PhD
Betty Bofinger Brown Distinguished Professor of Public Health

Ellis Ballard

Ellis Ballard, MSW/MPH
Assistant Professor of Practice

Sara M Malone

Sara M. Malone, PhD
Assistant Professor of Surgery

Patrick Fowler

Patrick Fowler, PhD
Associate Professor,
Director, Doctoral Program in Public Health Sciences

Jean Francois Trani

Jean-Francois Trani, PhD
Associate Professor

Todd Combs

Todd Combs, PhD
Research Assistant Professor