Special FAQs for Social Science Applicants
1. What is the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program at HMS and when was it established?
For over two decades Harvard Medical students have had the opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree in a social science discipline concurrent with their medical education. In recent years it became clear that this group of students would benefit from additional intellectual, professional, and funding support. As a result, the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program was established in 2005 on the model of the Basic and Translational Sciences MD-PhD Program but was specifically devoted to the needs of the students combining doctoral training in social sciences with their medical education at HMS.
The primary goal of the Program is promote cross-disciplinary training in social sciences and medicine through strong mentoring, fostering an intellectual community, and providing practical support. There are currently ten students pursuing MD-PhDs in the social sciences at Harvard. The program seeks to educate future leaders in medicine and the social sciences who will integrate social science perspectives and methods for theoretical and practical application to health and health care delivery.
2. What are the time frame and sequence for completing an MD-PhD in the social sciences?
Students who come to Harvard to do a joint degree in medicine and in one of the social sciences generally spend the first two years enrolled at HMS. At the beginning of their third year they begin doctoral work in their respective social science departments. Whereas timing varies considerably depending on one’s discipline and dissertation research, students typically spend 3-4 years on their doctoral studies before returning to HMS to complete the final two years of their undergraduate medical training. Advisors assigned in the first year work with students to identify a pathway and timetable that best fit with their clinical and research interests.
Although formal study in a doctoral program does not usually begin until the third year of the Program, advisors also work with students in the first year to address academic issues relating to their future work in the social sciences. In addition, students are encouraged to identify potential mentors early, to seek a summer field or lab research experience that matches their interests, and to avail themselves of the numerous lectures, seminars, and conferences held within Harvard University that will introduce them to faculty and future colleagues in their field of graduate study.
3. How do I apply for the program?
Applications to the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program are handled somewhat differently than for the basic sciences MD-PhD Program. Specifically, students must make simultaneous application both to HMS and to the specific social science doctoral program of interest (e.g., anthropology, sociology, health policy).
Separate applications to HMS and a Harvard GSAS doctoral program that follow all the specific requirements of each program are necessary. These applications are completely separate, and it will not be possible for the respective admissions offices at HMS and GSAS to share recommendations or other materials. Whereas it is acceptable to request that the same individuals write letters of recommendation for both programs, separate letters must be sent to each school. Generally GSAS programs have application deadlines in December and January. Details for each department are available at http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/. HMS supplemental applications are due October 22, 2013.
If you intend to apply for the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program at HMS, you must also indicate this on the AMCAS application form by clicking on the box for MD/PhD applicants and responding to the additional questions found there. In addition to responding to these program specific questions on the AMCAS application, you will be asked to respond to questions concerning your interest in the Program within the materials for the secondary HMS component of the application.
4. What doctoral programs can be considered in the application for the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program?
Applicants to the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program can choose to apply to any of the social science doctoral programs at Harvard to combine with their medical training. This is straightforward for applications to some of the departments that have hosted Social Science MD-PhD Program students (e.g., anthropology, sociology, and psychology). For other departments, we encourage prospective students to inquire as to flexibility in their program to allow for deferment of matriculation as well as a scholarly focus that relates to their medical education. Applicants should clarify through their application materials what their social science disciplinary area will be, what their research interests and experiences are, how they intend to integrate this with their medical education, and how they anticipate developing their career utilizing their joint degree training.
5. How do I apply to a doctoral program?
We encourage you to visit http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/ for details on the application process to departments within the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Please note that deferment policies vary across departments and applicants who are admitted to the GSAS who plan to matriculate to HMS are required to negotiate deferment terms with their respective departments.
Summary of the Social Sciences MD-PhD Application Process:
- Complete AMCAS application and
- Click on the MD-PhD box and respond to these additional questions
- Complete the Harvard Supplemental Application (Deadline: October 22, 2013)
- In the section on MD-PhD Supplemental Information, indicate that you are applying for the Social Science Program (Question 10) and respond to Questions 11 and 12.
- Complete the application materials for the relevant social science department at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (Deadlines range from December until early January depending on the department)
- Remember that you must request a separate set of letters to
support your GSAS application (persons writing letters may be the same
or different from those writing letters for your HMS application)
- Complete financial aid application materials as directed by the GSAS
- If you are accepted to both HMS and GSAS, speak to your GSAS department right away about a two-year deferment that would allow you to matriculate at HMS;
- Contact the MD-PhD Program if you need help in planning this part of trajectory of your graduate studies
6. Will I have an MD-PhD Interview?
NO. If you are selected for an interview by either New Pathway and/or HST offices for your medical school interview(s) you will be notified. Unlike applicants for the MD-PhD basic and translational sciences track, however, applicants to the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program do not have an interview with the MD-PhD Program.
7. Is funding available to support MD-PhD candidates in the Program?
Funding is available to support part or all of medical school tuition for qualified students, but is highly competitive. In addition, students admitted to a graduate program in the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) often qualify to receive funding offer to cover the Ph.D. segment of their program. http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/prospective_students/financial_aid.php
Whereas the Social Science MD-PhD Program is affiliated with the HMS MSTP program (which has traditionally funded candidates in the basic and translational sciences) and does utilize some MSTP funds, the majority of the available funding for the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program is from other sources.
8. Do I need to make a separate application for funding?
Considerations for funding will be made by the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program steering committee shortly after HMS and GSAS admissions decisions are made in the spring. This selection process is initiated automatically for applicants who have been accepted and does not require further application to the MSTP program.
However, applicants do need to file the appropriate financial aid materials as requested with their GSAS application. Under most circumstances, candidates will be notified about funding decisions prior to the deadline for accepting an offer of admission to HMS.
9. Is it possible to enter the program after matriculating at HMS?
Yes. A number of students in the Program began medical school at HMS and only then decided to apply to a doctoral program (usually after their first or second year). There are no specific restrictions to applying to do a Ph.D. in a social science discipline during one’s studies at HMS. Students applying from HMS may compete for available funding, usually when they reenter HMS in years III and IV.
Thank you for your interest in the Social Sciences MD-PhD Program at Harvard Medical School. If you have additional questions, please feel welcome to contact:
Anne E. Becker, M.D., Ph.D., Sc.M.
Director, Social Sciences MD-PhD Program
Harvard Medical School
Updated: May 7, 2013