Public health is a cross-disciplinary field and draws on theoretical and applied research in the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities. The Public Health Program at Williams consists of at least one introductory course devoted to the field as a whole (PHLH 201) and one course in statistics, supplemented by a myriad of electives that cover topical areas such as demography; environmental health; global health; individual and institutional decision-making; maternal, child, and reproductive health; science and medicine; and bioethics. It also includes field experience and a capstone course that provides opportunities to reflect upon and synthesize the practical with the theoretical aspects of the education and to learn to work collaboratively to address pressing concerns in population health.
Admission to the Program
To be considered for admission to the Area of Concentration in Public Health, students should complete an application (see link above) via email to the Chair of Public Health (currently Tara Watson). The application includes a narrative proposal describing the portfolio of future courses, possible study abroad, and experiential learning component(s) they intend to pursue. This proposal is due in the spring of the sophomore year, and should be prepared in consultation with a member of the advisory committee. A fundamental purpose of the proposal is to encourage the student to concretely consider how s/he will engage with socio-cultural, behavioral, policy, and/or biomedical aspects of health within and across populations.
In the proposal, candidates for the concentration should provide
- a description of your intellectual goals and interests in Public Health (and, if relevant, how these relate to your professional goals),
- the intellectual theme that will structure your path through the concentration,
- a list of proposed courses and what semesters they will be taken, subject to availability
- proposed experiential component(s) that will incorporate hands-on experience into the Public Health curriculum, and how the experience(s) relate to the proposed theme, and
- an overview of how your major field of study and any study abroad plans relate to the Public Health curriculum.
Concentrators are required to revisit and update their proposal prior to registration in the spring of the junior year, and to provide documentation of their experiential component experience both prospectively and retrospectively. Each student generates a final portfolio that will typically include major papers written for electives within the concentration and may serve as a resource for students to draw on during their capstone course.
Students should consult the course requirements when writing their proposal for admission to the Area of Concentration of Public Health.
2 Core Courses
- PHLH 201 Dimensions of Public Health (formerly PHLH 150)
This class introduces students to core concepts and methods within the discipline of public health. It examines the variety of disciplines that contribute to the broader public health agenda of preventing disease and injury and promoting health and longevity within and across populations. Students will examine the pathology, epidemiology, and socio-economic disparities that influence several major global health concerns today, including HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria, and Maternal Mortality, among others. Students interested in public health should take the introductory course ideally during their sophomore year.
- PHLH 402 Senior Seminar in Public Health
The capstone seminar provides concentrators with the opportunity to reflect upon and synthesize their experiential learning in the context of understanding gained from a cohesive set of elective courses, and through the lens of a variety of intellectual and disciplinary frameworks. A second goal is to give concentrators experience working in a multi-disciplinary team to address a real world and, in many cases, very daunting public health problem. Students pursuing a concentration in Public Health take this course during their senior year and unfortunately no substitution can be made if there is a conflict with another required course.
1 Statistics Course
Statistical analysis is at the heart of the quantitative tools necessary to study the health of populations. See the courses page for a list of courses from which to choose. Note that the upper level statistics courses have multiple math pre-requisites in addition to introductory statistics, Stat 201.
3 Elective Courses
Students must take three courses, with at least two different prefixes. Elective courses are grouped by category, but these clusters are not meant to constrain students to a single ”track” within the program. Instead, each student is free to determine, with the guidance of an advisory committee member(s), a set of electives that provides an intellectually coherent exploration of his/her particular areas of interest within the field of public health. See the courses page for a list of courses from which to choose.
Because many public health challenges cannot be fully appreciated until one has hands-on experience with actual populations or communities, each concentrator must have at least one relevant field-based educational experience with a research component. This requirement may be met through participation in an approved study abroad program, an approved field-work Winter Study course (AFR 25, PSCI 21, SPEC 24), a WS99 project, or a not-for-credit summer or academic-year internship. See the experiential opportunities page for ideas and examples. In every case, the advisory committee must approve the project in advance. This experiential component will serve as a focal point for the student’s work in the capstone course.
Learning Objectives for the Program in Public Health
Public health seeks to understand, and also to protect and improve, health at the level of a population, by incorporating theory and applied research in the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities. The overarching objective of this program is to prepare students to contribute to a rapidly changing health landscape by inculcating critical and creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork, inquiry and analytical skills, ethical reasoning, quantitative and information literacy, written and oral communication of complex ideas, and intercultural knowledge.
To this end, students who complete this area of concentration will:
- Understand the interrelationship of individual and social choices with demographic and biological factors and their effect on health.
- Engage with socio-cultural, behavioral, policy, and/or biomedical aspects of population health.
- Understand how to reason, think critically, analyze, and draw conclusions using data and gain familiarity with qualitative and quantitative methods involved in public health research.
- Appreciate the real-world challenges inherent in public health through a relevant field-based educational experience.
Think deliberately and repeatedly about how different strands of their education inform each other, by reflecting upon and synthesizing experiential learning in the context of a cohesive set of elective courses that draw on multiple intellectual and disciplinary frameworks.