Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy

Doctor of Philosophy in Social Policy

Research into Action

U.S. News and World Report Best Public Policy Graduate Schools

The Heller School’s PhD in Social Policy

Are you interested in applied research, where the audience for your findings expands beyond colleagues and peers at academic conferences?

Are you interested in producing work that informs policy changes because it is rigorous and timely?

Do you believe in interdisciplinary research, where your lens is broader than a single discipline?

Do you value diversity not only in your academic pursuits but also in the community around you?

If these elements ring true and you see doctoral work as an attractive and worthwhile challenge, the Heller School’s social policy PhD program could be in your future.

We are looking for passionate, smart, analytical, creative, socially conscious students who seek to pose thoughtful questions – and engage in rigorous research to develop solutions – aimed at creating an equitable society.

A unique interdisciplinary approach

An interdisciplinary perspective is woven into the fabric of the Heller School. Students benefit from an academic environment where disciplines and ideas merge, and where thought leaders converge. Our faculty and researchers – trained in political science, economics, social work, anthropology, public policy and sociology – are well-versed in working across disciplines because they and their predecessors have been doing so since Heller’s founding in 1959. 

Heller is also where opportunity abounds in the enormous amount of funding pouring in for social policy research. This creates a myriad of research projects for doctoral students that align with Heller’s nine research/policy centers and institutes. These institutes cover the fields of:  

  • Poverty alleviation
  • Health
  • Behavioral health
  • Children, youth and families
  • Disabilities
  • Philanthropy
  • Aging
  • Global health and development

A veritable candy store for the aspiring researcher, the Heller School enables you to be a colleague in the investigation of some of the most exciting, current and groundbreaking social policy questions under consideration.

An intellectual and ambitious community

The Heller School’s top-ten standing in U.S. News & World Report reflects the excellence and rigor of the training and mentoring we provide to students. The talent and skill one finds in this active, inquisitive environment offers the serious researcher exceptional learning and career opportunities related to social policy.

Our social policy doctorate program gives students many chances to connect with the broader Heller and Brandeis communities as well as the vibrant, intellectual community of university-rich Boston. Doctoral studies at Heller also provide a portal to diverse opportunities in the larger universe of social policy research.

As a PhD in Social Policy student, you will:

  • Master applied research methods taught by faculty with significant expertise in econometrics, longitudinal and time series analyses, case study research, survey research, intervention studies and mixed-method research. The opportunities to work closely with talented professors and research staff are numerous. If you enjoy learning alongside others, and collaborating in teams, Heller is likely a place where you can flourish.
  • Connect with students who are committed to social justice and to creating new insights to solve pressing societal issues within nine policy research institutes. Heller students have experience in a variety of fields, including nursing, public health, social work, law and economics, and often come to Heller from the not-for-profit sector. They share a commitment to acquiring the skills to analyze evidence for social change, and an eagerness to build a strong social policy knowledge base. If you have been frustrated by the limitations of your field or your own skill base, and want to use research skills to advance social justice, Heller may be the perfect place to begin.
  • Receive preparation to succeed in all sectors of the economy. Heller alumni make a difference in every type of organization, including universities across the U.S. and around the globe, research collaboratives, think tanks and consulting firms. In all of these settings, alumni use the research skills acquired at Heller to contribute to solutions to social problems, particularly those affecting vulnerable populations.

PhD Campus Visits & Webinars

PhD Campus Visits & Webinars

Attending a PhD Campus Visit Day is an excellent way to experience the Heller community. Observe a class, meet with an admissions staff member, and discuss the PhD program in greater detail with faculty and current students. Let us answer your questions about admissions, financial aid, our research specialties, and the Heller PhD experience. To register, click the date you wish to visit and sign up:

If you're unable to visit campus, we encourage you to engage with us online through our upcoming PhD Webinar:

Unable to join us at one of the above events? Request an Individual PhD Campus Visit and we will do our best to accommodate you.

Heller Faculty

Thomas Shapiro

Pokross Professor of Law and Social Policy and Director, Institute on Assets and Social Policy

"Even when African-Americans do everything right -- get an education and work hard at well-paying jobs -- they cannot achieve the wealth of their white peers in the workforce, and that translates into very different life chances."more

Susan Parish

Nancy Lurie Marks Professor of Disability Policy, Director, Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, and Associate Dean, Research

"What the country needs is a revolution in how we structure disability policy."more

A.K. Nandakumar

Professor of the Practice; Director, PhD Program; Director, Institute for Global Health and Development

"The U.S. actually spends a very small proportion of its GDP on international assistance. Even so, the U.S. is the single largest financier of donor-to-global health in the world. I think this aid has been instrumental in dealing with major global health problems, such as maternal/infant mortality and AIDS, over time."more

Walter Leutz

Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Personnel

"Elders need help with both their everyday living and their health care, but the two systems are very separate." more

Peter Kreiner

Scientist and Principal Investigator, Prescription Monitoring Program Training and Technical Assistance Center

Prescription drug abuse is rising at alarming rates. To combat the problem, prescription monitoring programs are becoming more sophisticated, aiming to put the brakes on abusers and, in some cases, incorporate rehabilitation programs. Scientist Peter Kreiner explains how the programs work and what they hope to accomplish.more

Nina Kammerer

Senior Lecturer

"Across years, disciplines, and continents, I have been involved in research that touches on all the concentrations in the PhD program."more

Constance Horgan

Professor and Director, Institute for Behavioral Health

"Health plan decisions can dramatically affect the lives of people with substance abuse and mental health conditions."more

Anita Hill

Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women's Studies

"I don't believe that you can have equality without first securing that place where you can live out your dreams and all the opportunities the country has to offer."more

Jody Hoffer Gittell

Professor and Executive Director, Relational Coordination Research Collaborative

"Work is most effectively coordinated through relationships of shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect."more

Deborah Garnick


"With more people covered by health insurance, it is imperative to measure the quality of care people receive, to create incentives for providing good care, and to implement programs focused on quality improvement."more

Michael Doonan

Associate Professor and Director of the Master’s in Public Policy Program (MPP); Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum; Director of the Council for Health Care Economics and Policy

"My interests are at the intersection between political science and health services research."more

Diana Bowser

Scientist, Lecturer and Director, MS Program in Global Health Policy and Management

“One of the aspects of directing Heller’s MS Program that I truly enjoy is the interaction with students. I love to hear what they like about the program and what they think is important for their careers and I enjoy tailoring the curriculum to meet the students’ changing needs.”more

Janet Boguslaw

Scientist and Senior Lecturer; Associate Director, Master of Public Policy Program; Associate Director, Institute on Assets and Social Policy

"My work focuses on driving policy and practice to advance long-term economic opportunity."more

Stuart Altman

Sol C. Chaikin Professor of National Health Policy

"What [my] book intends to do is to trace the history of U.S. attempts to create universal coverage, going back to Teddy Roosevelt." more

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice

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