Graduate Program Overview

Degree Offered

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degree

The Department

Biobehavioral Health (BBH) is an innovative interdisciplinary program that enables students to explore all factors—biological, behavioral, social/ cultural, and environmental—that influence the health of individuals and groups throughout the life span.

The Program

The graduate program in Biobehavioral Health applies an interdisciplinary, translational approach to training on biological, behavioral, sociocultural, and environmental influences on the health of individuals, groups, and communities. Biological and behavioral perspectives, in particular, are emphasized equally as fundamental and interacting influences on health and disease. Scholars and professionals who can bring this integrated perspective to their work are needed in research, teaching, and policy roles in a variety of settings, including the health care field, research laboratories, government agencies, universities, and medical schools.

The Penn State Difference

Penn State is one of the leading research universities in the United States. According to the National Science Foundation, it consistently ranks among the top 15 major U.S. universities in research expenditures in science and engineering fields. Its graduate programs attract students from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds and from more than 100 countries all over the world.

Penn State has an enrollment at its main campus—University Park—of nearly 45,000 students, some 7,000 of which are graduate students. The University invites students to consider its graduate programs, whether they aspire to conduct research that will contribute to global knowledge or to hold a leadership position in their field with government or industry.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degree

The Ph.D. program is designed to cultivate competence in basic and applied research, in the development and evaluation of intervention strategies, and in university teaching. Behavioral and biological issues have equal emphasis within the program and are seen as fundamental and interacting influences on health and disease. The program emphasizes both individual and public health issues.


Ph.D. graduates typically are employed in a wide variety of settings, including academic, government, and industry settings. Many move directly into positions as university/college professors, health scientists, research scientists, and scientific directors after completing postdoctoral training.


Through innovative research projects, faculty members explore all factors—biological, behavioral, social/cultural, and environmental—that influence the health of individuals and groups throughout the life span. Health and disease are examined in various populations, from cells to societies, using a multilevel approach.


Research levels include

  • Cellular, molecular, and genetic studies
  • Biological and preclinical studies using human and animal models
  • Population- and community-based studies
  • Global health studies
  • Family studies

Research areas include

  • Social and health behavior
  • Alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use/psychopharmacology
  • Stress and physiology (neuroscience/endocrinology/Immunology)
  • Development, aging, and families over the life span
  • Health promotion, prevention, and treatment
  • Nutrition and eating behavior


The Department of Biobehavioral Health has an excellent record of funding students who make regular progress toward their degrees. Offers of admission into the program are only made contingent upon the availability of some form of departmental support for the incoming student. (click here for Information on Graduate Student Assistantship and Fellowships in Biobehavioral Health)

Other Opportunities

Dual-Title Ph.D. Degree in Biobehavioral Health and Bioethics

The Dual-Title Ph.D. degree in BBH and Bioethics—the only one of its kind in the United States—provides BBH graduate students with the skills and knowledge necessary to address ethical issues within the field of biobehavioral health.

Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) Degree

Ph.D. students in BBH also have the opportunity to concurrently pursue a M.P.H. degree at the Penn State College of Medicine located in Hershey, PA.

How To Apply

The process of applying for admission to Penn State’s Graduate School requires the following application materials, some of which are submitted to the Graduate School (Part 1) and others of which are sent directly to the BBH graduate program (Part 2):

Part 1 - Apply to the Graduate School at Penn State

Every applicant is required to submit an online application to the Graduate School.

The online application can be accessed through the Graduate School Admissions and Program Information Portal.

Part 2 - Apply to the BBH Graduate Program

In addition to the items delivered to the Graduate School, formal admission to the doctoral program depends on satisfactory completion of the candidacy examination. Doctoral students must demonstrate competency in spoken English and in technical writing. In addition, they must demonstrate competence in one of the following areas:

  1. a foreign language
  2. computer science
  3. college teaching, or
  4. logic or philosophy of science.

All students must take five core courses in biobehavioral health and 12 additional credits in research methodology and statistical analysis.

The remainder of each student’s program is designed individually in consultation with the student’s adviser and committee.


Shannon Anthony

Graduate Program Staff Assistant
219 Biobehavioral Health Building
Phone: 814-863-7424
Fax Number: 814-863-7525