Emerging PhD, Graduate School, and Interdisciplinary Career Options

Society needs interdisciplinary thinkers, doers, communicators, and activists. The list of potential graduate training programs  below will help you find a new path forward, but it is  a partial list and showcases ju only some of the many possible careers.  A great example of people who have trained in these interdisciplinary spaces can be found at this site by perusing the speaker list of Wonder Women in STEM 2019.  .  These women have launched social media campaigns, organizations, youtube channels, and films to inspire the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists to take the lead in making social change possible.  The number of graduate programs supporting science communication is blossoming so take a look at their backgrounds.

Planetary Health

  • What is Planetary Health? 
    This link above provides an overview of planetary health, sometimes referred to as eco-social health. This approach has taken many forms over the last half century but has garnered more attention as of late given rapid population growth, urbanization, and inequitable approaches to health and natural resources management. Increasingly, attention has been focused on sustainable development that can maintain the balance of biogeochemical cycles essential for life. The Interdisciplinary Science Major is aligned with this approach and specifically examines the intersection of  global environmental change and human health. For example, our courses investigate the influence of environmental factors (built, social, and natural) on gene expression and how the structure of the water molecule makes it essential to life, renders it easily contaminated,  and thus, a critical factor of healthy ecosystems.The scalar nature of planetary health highlights the interrelatedness of local, national, and global activities, and physical, chemical, and biological processes that shape communities, nations, organisms, and the planet.
  • Resources: There are a number of new journals, special issues and emerging graduate programs focused on Planetary Health. The Lancet has taken the lead with a new journal in this area and a Countdown: Tracking Climate Change and Health Connections (video)  as well as a published manifesto.
  • George Washington University Global Environmental Health MPH program is aligned with the Planetary Health approach and there are no specific pre-requisites for entering the program, other than a bachelor’s degree or higher degree. This program is a good fit for anyone with an interest in the connection between the natural world, human activities, and human health. In particular, students who are especially interested in focusing on these issues in resource-poor settings, often outside the U.S. The differences between the MPH in Global Environmental Health and the MPH in Environmental Health Science and Policy are described here.

One Health

  • What is One Health? 
    One Health is a collaborative, multisectoral, and trans-disciplinary approach – working at local, regional, national, and global levels – to achieve optimal health and well-being outcomes recognizing the interconnections between people, animals, plants and their shared environment. Projects in this area are related to antimicrobial resistance, vector control of infectious diseases, climate change and the impact on vector reservoirs, and more. One Health graduate programs often have strong links to state health and agriculture agencies and other partners, CDC, emerging disease programs, disease mapping organizations, climate change organizations, homeless health care organizations, conservation medicine sites, and wildlife health organizations, both in the US and internationally. Often these programs are titled One Health, or can be located in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Programs. A List of fully funded Masters programs put together by alumna Carlie Leary can be accessed here 

Renewable Energy and Sustainable Systems

  • Undergraduate Bioenergy Scholars 
    This program supports scholarships and Summer REUS for students seeking to address planetary health challenges through renewable energy approaches. There are many locations and this is the link to the PennState program which  can feed  into the graduate program below.
  • Bioenergy Online Graduate Certification and Masters Program Scholarships 
    This program offers scholarships for graduate professional courses in bioenergy – take a look at the bioenergy courses that are available, and envision how you could benefit from taking one of these graduate level, credit-bearing courses. Students who complete all four graduate bioenergy courses are potentially eligible for a graduate certificate in bioenergy from Penn State. In addition, outstanding students may be eligible to continue onward for a Masters of Professional Studies in Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems at Penn State.

Public Health

  • What is Public Health? 
    This link above, provides an overview of public health training and career options and the distinction between public health and medicine. The menu at the top offers more advice on resources, FAQs, and information for prospective students. Please note that almost all MPH programs accept students with at least one, if not more, year (s) of experience in the field.There are many resources (PHCareers, Salaries ) that explain what a career in public health will provide and the various concentrations with some very new such as the PhD program in Health Policy  with an emphasis in Bioethics at John Hopkins U, and the combined MA and MPH in Public Health and Bioethics at Emory. Many graduate programs do not typically accept recent graduates of BA/ BS programs and they also do not have much in the way of financial aid as they are considered professional programs. That said, you may want to consider location for in state tuition or state schools to lower costs. To get the work experience and get paid, you may want to consider the CDC train/work programs as a stepping stone, or look at the alumni biographies of Alexa Riggs, Steven Houang, Alisha Racho Jansen,  Nayaab Khawar, Tammy Ha, Kimberly Libman, and Alana Proctor. Undergrads that complete the NYCDOH HRTP  (summer and academic year internship program) or any of the internships listed here  are more competitive candidates and that experience can help you determine if  the MPH, social work,  health advocacy, genetic counseling, or environmental policy grad programs might be more suitable for you. Each year in honor of National Public Health Week the  American Journal of Public Health  publishes articles on health equity and policy and a webcast event specifically for students occurs first week of April – join APHA and students from American University’s public health capstone class for a special event for public health students. This event will feature early- and mid-career public health professionals discussing how they made the jump from public health students to public health workers. From finding internships to building a resume and working your way up in an organization, public health students will get real, useful information on what to do once they have their diploma. Past webcast here 
  • Public Health at Hunter in NYC: The best part of doing an MPH trough the CUNY system is that it is inexpensive, is well connected to the NYCDOH, has several different  well developed tracks , for instance nutrition which is most science based while communication is less so, and  they offer courses at night, which means if you become a research assistant at CUNY or Hunter, you can complete the MPH going part time, tuition free ,as part of your employee benefits. Alumna Alexa Riggs is doing this and available for advising (see her bio under About Our Program in the menu).  They also offer a certificate program that can be applied to the MPH later


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes epidemiology as the basic science of public health, but it is so much more — involving not only an understanding of the occurrence and distribution of health-related events and processes in different populations, but also a focus on the critical determinants of health that influence them. Epidemiology plays a vital role in applying this knowledge to the control of health problems. Each year NYC hosts an Epidemiology Forum at the end of February (NYCEF) to provide regular contact and exchanges between epidemiologists working in academic and other institutions in the New York City Metropolitan Area, with a special focus on junior researchers, including junior faculty, post-docs, fellows, and doctoral students from nearly 20 academic and other public health institutions from the New York City metropolitan region present their work  The forum provides an opportunity for epidemiologists at these institutions yo present their work, discuss opportunities for collaborative research, and enhance professional networks. During this day-long forum, epidemiologists present research in two oral sessions – one focusing on international and national topics, and the other on those specific to New York City – and in two poster sessions and “flash science presentations,” with a short oral presentation and an accompanying poster.  Topics included examining gentrification and health in NYC; multisystem biological risk and cancer mortality; housing instability and opioid use; patient and health system factors related to early and late breast cancer presentation in Tanzania; documenting the feasibility of integrated, multilevel care for cardiovascular diseases, and HIV in low- and middle-income countries. See 2019 at NYU here for presentations recordings etc, and for 2020 the event will be hosted at Columbia on Feb 28. Abstracts due in December

Environmental Studies and Policy

  • The New School MS programs in Environmental Policy and Sustainable Management   and the MS in Design and Urban Ecologies   present opportunities for students to to do a combined BA/MA five year program.
  • Graduate programs in environmental studies, policy, planning and management. These graduate programs are interdisciplinary with entrance requirements varying depending on the focus of the programs.  The IS degree requirements provides sufficient natural science and quantitative background for these programs.  In addition, depending on interest, students should consider taking courses during their undergraduate studies in areas such as ecology, economics, environmental policy and planning, and urban studies.  Please note that some graduate programs may expect an undergraduate level Calculus course. Climate and Society at Columbia and the dual program at Tufts University in Water: Systems, Science and Society are examples.
  • A comprehensive list of programs in Environmental Studies 
  • Alumni of Lang who complete the Alaska Tishman Environmental Scholars Summer Experience ( Paid) or any of the internships listed here  are likely to be more competitive for programs in policy, and resource management. See alumni Allan Robles, Erik Johansson, and Eva Brill , all of whom completed the Alaska program or Steven Houang who completed the  SEA Semester.

Lab Science, Population Science, and Computational Sciences: 

Molecules 2 Man at Emory : M2M students must be admitted to an existing PhD program at Emory in order to be eligible for the M2M pathway.  Because this is a science-based program, students accepted receive full tuition and stipend for living expenses. Preference will be given to applicants who meet the criteria for admission in advanced standing (having completed at least one year of relevant postgraduate courses). We wish to recruit students with exceptional aptitude for and interest in the sciences, who also have a broad view of the context of biomedicine and a broad general worldview. We seek applicants that have a breadth of scientific and social interest that will contribute to their success in the M2M program. Students combine learning through lab bench science, population sciences, and computational sciences through one of four tracks: Biomarkers for Acute and Chronic Diseases, Predictive Health and Society, Public Health Genomics, or  Population Processes and Dynamics of Infectious Diseases.

Narrative Medicine

Narrative Medicine is not an emerging field, but an established one and goes back centuries. Many physicians have used the art of story telling to convey the challenges of living with disease, health inequity, and environmental health challenges. In the last 50 years, as the field of genomics has expanded this art and craft has evolved to include comic books, zines, and film, and has been subdivided into Narrative Genetics, and other specialities. Moreover, the field is comprised of those living with disability and disease, as well as genetic counselors, physicians, health care providers, family members, health advocates, social workers, and artists.  Columbia University offers a Narrative Medicine MS, and hosts public events, programming, and Grand Rounds (Link).  Temple University also has a program  and their medical students publish a literary journal, The Pulse.  Most people enter these  graduate programs after having already secured employment or advanced degrees in a health-related, or arts-oriented field.  Two leaders in Narrative Medicine have shared their views on the evolution of the field in a  three-part journal article series in the Canadian Family Physician published in 2018 in March, April and May .   The field is also finally beginning to be critical of itself, and this caters to the training of the students in the Interdisciplinary Science Program. Josephine Ensign, an educator and practioner of Narrative Medicine, has a series of blog posts about the vital role that critical analysis of narrative plays in the fields of public health and medicine. Sayantani DasGupta is another socially just Narrative Medicine scholar and her Ted Talk about Humility and Social Justice and her Website get at this. Holly Kuzcinski, alumna of the Interdisciplinary Science Program completed the Columbia U program and is now teaching as an Associate Faculty Member in the program.

Science and Social Justice 

  • Science and Justice Graduate Certificate Program USCS 
    This program is one  supported by NSF and provides training and support to graduate students seeking a PhD in science  by asking them to consider issues of justice not after the work is produced but while the work is produced in an effort to develop scientists that are responsive to community needs and social justice efforts
  • Economic Botany, Ethnobotany, and Pharmacognosy CUNY Grad Center
    This program focuses on the integration of indigenous knowledge and resources in the context of scientific innovation that promotes health, wellness, and conservation of biodiversity.See Ina Vanderbroek’s website link for more on this program. Other programs like this one can be found under the keywords ” Plant Science.”  Other programs cater to undergraduate degrees in anthropology, conservation biology, mathematics, and chemistry. The requirements vary depending on the program and students find that they can enter these programs directly after Lang or after some post-bac study. Examples include the University of Hawaii and University of Kent Masters in Science programs within Anthropology Departments.

Science Communication Programs 
These programs are located around the world with different range and focus.Robin Arnette writes about careers in Science communication and the degree granting programs in a 2005 article in Science. where the MIT, UC Santa Cruz, and Boston Programs are reviewed. Also the Wonder Women in STEM 2019 speaker line up, has great biographies, that highlight blogs, YouTube Channels, and career trajectories in this area.  These women have launched social media campaigns, organizations, youtube channels, and films to inspire the next generation of interdisciplinary scientists to take the lead in making social change possible.

Science Art and Design
A number of new programs and companies are emerging in this area ranging from molecular modeling, medical illustration, molecular animation, and information design.  See Nature Magazine Sept , 2011 and this SEED Article on the Art of STEM… STEAM… and this series of links  in an article by Kiera Heikes about ArtScientist collaborations  from the ASCB

Big Data Programs

  • Data Science MS At Berkeley
    New online program that includes data organization storage, visualization etc.  This is part a growing number of analytics and data science programs, to read about 23 such programs and the 140,000 jobs that require these skills see this site  and for more on where these programs reside ( business, computer science, or statistics departments) and the kinds of questions you should ask yourself before pursuing look here 

Human Genetics, Reproductive Health,  Health Advocacy, and Genetic Counseling Programs 

  • Genetic Counseling/ Human Genetics Masters Program At Sarah Lawrence College These are specialized programs that require students to have a partial pre-med program completed (specifically chemistry) and some psychology and statistics. The same can be said for medical and nursing schools that have stringent requirements including one year of each of the following with lab (gen biology, gen chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, math). Students interested in these programs must complement their IS courses with summer courses, post-bac programs that offer traditional courses, Cooper courses, or Sarah Lawrence Exchange. The Sarah Lawrence Genetic Counseling  Program requires perquisites in developmental psychology, developmental biology, but they are very interested in our IS graduates. We can organize a lunch outing and they have a boot camp each summer , and a Career Info Day each June.

Bioethics, Law, Health Policy

Bioethics programs tend to cater to those with a professional or graduate degrees. However, many professional schools are now offering combined degrees or certificates. Penn State offers a Masters Program in Bioethics (MBE) and has a law school. The Harvard Petrie Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics offers a post-doctoral fellowship for those with law degrees. There is also the Summer Program/Certificate open to students and professionals interested in exploring this field.

John Hopkins has a PHD in Health Policy and Management with a focus on Bioethics and Health Policy

The Ph.D:  What to do with one? 

  • NatureMagazineSerieson WhattodowithaPhD
    This series in Nature Magazine points to PHD programs that IS majors would be well suited and alternatives to the PhD that still promote deep scientific research. This particular piece is written by Alison McCook
  • Fix the PhD Editorial in Nature 
    This piece is a bit doomsday but places emphasis on choosing wisely, and getting into the workforce before diving into a long term PhD. Please note that all is not bleak, and they mention some really interesting integrative programs in business, science, and industry, as well as not for profit.
  • What to do with a PhD workshops every year.  A great two day event with workshops, events and more hosted in NYC.