As a joint doctoral degree between Khoury College and Bouvé College of Health Sciences, the Personal Health Informatics PhD program takes a truly transdisciplinary approach that combines computer science, design, and health. It offers a strong curriculum in human-computer interface technology and experimental design in health sciences, while focusing on:
- Patient-facing interactions within different health settings and experiences, such as a hospital, clinic, home, workplace, or community.
- Individual and team-based experiential learning, which enables evaluation of technologies in field settings and exposes students to a range of health professionals.
- The health science perspective, not the “medical” or physician-oriented perspective.
- Explorations of wellness, healthcare, and recovery.
- Development and rigorous evaluation of technologies in real-world settings.
Curriculum By Year
The PHI PhD curriculum is designed to provide all students with a strong foundation in principles critical to the design and evaluation of personal health interfaces.
- Core courses in theoretical foundations of health interface design, software engineering, human-computer interaction, and research methods.
- A self-directed usability evaluation practicum requirement, where students gain experience observing or interacting with at-risk people or patients related to their research interests, and then develop a proposal for improving patient care and enhancing wellness using patient-facing technology.
- Core course (statistics requirement) plus an elective to support research.
- Personal Health Interface Design, Development, and Evaluation, a two-semester course building upon coursework in Year 1, where students work on an extended project to assess needs in the field and collaboratively design, develop, deploy, and evaluate a personal health interface technology—either in a local clinical setting or an at-risk population associated with one of Bouvé’s centers.
- This research provides practical experience working in the field with consumers and patients, creating sophisticated technology, conducting formal needs assessment and evaluation, and writing high-quality publications.
- Course modules provide additional core material, such as running clinical trials, health dialogue systems, and computerized sensing systems.
- Students will also engage with representatives from the industrial consortium affiliated with the PhD program to solve health science problems within the organizations.
- Two final electives to support research.
- Qualification exam completed.
- Dissertation proposal developed.
- Individual research projects.
- Program graduates will have multiple strong publications showing proficiency in building and deploying novel technologies for consumer- or patient-focused care.
Explore a sample Plan of Study.
A student is considered a PhD degree candidate upon:
- Completion of core courses with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
- Completion of qualifying examination.
Each student will have one primary advisor from the core Personal Health Informatics doctoral program faculty.
The committee will consist of at least three members, including:
- Dissertation advisor.
- One additional Personal Health Informatics doctoral program faculty member.
- One member external to Northeastern who is an expert in the specific personal health informatics topic of research.
The committee shall include experts with both health and technology backgrounds. The dissertation advisor must be a full-time member of the Northeastern University faculty.
The three-part qualifying exam is conducted by a committee of three Personal Health Informatics doctoral program faculty members, each overseeing a specific component:
- Research – Fulfilled when the student submits a high-quality paper to a strong peer-reviewed conference or journal.
- Health – Fulfilled when the student passes a written exam developed by a Personal Health Informatics doctoral program faculty member with a health sciences background.
- Technical – Fulfilled when the student passes an exam developed by a Personal Health Informatics doctoral program faculty member with a technical background.
The content of the written exams and paper topic is developed in consultation with each faculty member.
A PhD student must submit a written dissertation proposal to the dissertation committee. The proposal should identify the research problem, the research plan, and its potential impact on the field. A presentation of the proposal will be made in an open forum, and the student must successfully defend it before the dissertation committee.
A PhD student must complete and defend a dissertation that involves original research in personal health informatics.
A minimum of 48 credit hours of coursework beyond a BS is required for the PhD in Personal Health Informatics. Five core courses (20 SH) are taken by all students, with an additional practicum (1 SH). Students must also fulfill:
- Programming fundamentals requirement (4 SH).
- Statistics fundamentals requirement (3 SH); course selection can be tailored based on background and experience.
- Readings course (4 SH); taken in the second semester of the second year to assist students with completion of the qualification exam.
- Two additional research electives (8 SH); selected from the Personal Health Informatics PhD program electives list based on research interests (see below).
In addition, students are expected to attend the Personal Health Informatics Seminar Series each year.
Electives are used to build skills in a student’s research area and can be selected from the following categories:
- Communication Sciences and Disorders
- Software and Security
- Computational Tools
The PhD in Personal Health Informatics is a research-oriented degree that prepares students for excellence in a specific research area of personal health informatics. As such, some learning outcomes will differ from student to student. However, all program graduates must achieve the following learning outcomes:
- Acquire a broad understanding of personal health informatics fundamentals across several core areas, including behavioral change and health technology, human-computer interface design and development, research methods and statistics, and research challenges in personal health informatics.
- Gain significant expertise in at least one research area of personal health informatics.
- Produce and defend original research in an area of personal health informatics.
Communicate research results effectively in both oral and written forms.
MS in Health Informatics Research Track
For students who are interested in the PhD in Personal Health Informatics, but who need to gain more course or research experience before starting doctoral work, the MS in Health Informatics at Northeastern University has a research track. The research track allows students in the MS program to fulfill some requirements of the MS degree by taking some PhD course requirements and starting to work on research projects. As they do so, the students gain skills and experience that will strengthen a future application to the PhD program, and they will have the opportunity to interact with faculty who teach in the PhD program.
Students who complete the MS in Health Informatics with the research track who are subsequently admitted to the PhD program may cut up to 1.5 years off the PhD program, depending upon which courses are taken while in the MS and the quality of the student’s MS thesis work.
The research track does not change the credit requirements or timeline for the MS in Health Informatics. It is only available for on-campus students at this time, because students are expected to work directly with faculty and some recommended courses are not offered online. Graduate research assistantships are available for students in the MS in Health Informatics.
All Personal Health Informatics PhD program applicants are asked to specify whether they are interested in being considered for the MS program in the PhD program application. Students who do so but who are not admitted to the PhD program will be referred to the MS program directly for consideration. Any student in the MS program may participate in the research track, with faculty approval.
Students in the MS in Health Informatics who follow the research track would typically have the following coursework:
- Introduction to Health Informatics and Health Information Systems (3 SH)
- The American Health-Care System (3 SH)
- Knowledge Management in Healthcare (3 SH)
- Choose 1:
- Database Design, Access, Modeling, and Security in Health Care (3 SH)
- Key Standards in Health Informatics (3 SH)
- CS 5340: Human/Computer Interaction (4 SH)
- Computer science graduate-level programming or data mining course (4 SH)
- Choose 1:
- PHTH 5200 Theoretical Foundations in Personal Health Informatics (On campus only) (4 SH)
- CS 6350: Empirical Research Methods (On campus only) (4 SH)
- PHTH 5210 Biostatistics in Public Health (Online course in development) (3 SH)
- MS Research Thesis Part 1 (3 SH)
- MS Research Thesis Part 2 (3 SH)