The RWJF Health & Society Scholars Program at Harvard University is an interdisciplinary university initiative that integrates activities from four schools, each with a national reputation for academic excellence: the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Based on a foundation of five core disciplines — social epidemiology, public policy, sociology, psychology, and neuroscience — our training program brings together some of the world’s most renowned academics in those fields.
The two-year program at Harvard is structured to provide each scholar with the following competencies:
•Knowledge of theories, research and analytical tools that integrate environmental, behavioral and biological conditions to address the determinants of population health.
•Collaborative competence, by which we mean the ability to utilize and apply shared language, methods and techniques to conduct transdisciplinary research. This competence is necessarily grounded in a historical perspective on how scientists and policymakers have conceptualized causation and determinants of health over time.
• Ability to plan effective interventions to improve population health, ranging from public policy approaches to community-based interventions.
•Understanding of life course approaches to population health research.
Current scholars have primary offices at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies (HCPDS), where the program is administered. The HCPDS is located in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge. The Boston campus, where the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and affiliated hospitals are located, is a 20 minute ride across the Charles River.
Intensive training in transdisciplinary research is organized through a dual mentor approach. Each scholar is matched to one mentor from their own discipline, as well as one mentor from another area. The program is anchored by a bi-weekly seminar series drawing on faculty from each of the four Harvard schools. In addition to the seminars, the Harvard program emphasizes close contact between the program directors and scholars throughout the year. On alternating weeks, the co-directors meet collectively with the cohorts to discuss ongoing research progress and career development issues such as grant writing, managing staff, prioritizing workloads and other select topics.
Each scholar will have the opportunity and resources to start an original research project based on their interests in population health. The Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies is home to a population science research platform. Studies are tightly harmonized so that critical comparisons across studies (or countries) can lead to important insights. The HCPDS also houses highly sensitive data that need to be enclaved (social security and medicare data, for instance) and has data managers and analysts available to RWJ Scholars to help in their research efforts. Scholars have access to the Research Computing Environment maintained by the Harvard-MIT Data Center that provides a full-featured user environment with a wide range of research tools and a secure virtual network computing (VNC) connection. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health also maintains a psycho-physiology laboratory run by Dr. Laura Kubzansky (RWJF HSS associate site director at Harvard).
The two co-directors of the program are Lisa Berkman, PhD, director, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, and the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology and Ichiro Kawachi, MD, PhD, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Social Epidemiology and Chair, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Professor of Social Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School. The associate site director is Laura Kubzansky, PhD, MPH, professor of social and behavioral sciences and director, Society and Health Psychophysiology Laboratory, Harvard T.H. Chan School.
The program’s core faculty includes: Gail Adler, MD, PhD, FAHA, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and associate clinical research center director of the Harvard Catalyst Clinical Research Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Jason Beckfield, PhD, professor of sociology and director of graduate studies, Harvard; Jason Block, MD, general internal medicine physician and assistant professor in the Obesity Prevention Program of the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School/Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute; Amitabh Chandra, PhD, professor of public policy and director of Health Policy Research, Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Nancy Krieger, PhD, professor of social epidemiology and director, Women, Gender, and Health (WGH) interdisciplinary concentration, Harvard T.H. Chan School; Aaron Mauck, PhD, lecturer on the History of Science, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Joyce Rosenthal, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of urban planning, Harvard Graduate School of Design; SV Subramanian, PhD, professor of population health and geography, Harvard T.H. Chan School; and Alexander C. Tsai, MD, PhD, research scientist at the Center for Global Health at Massachusetts General Hospital and lecturer at Harvard Medical School . An additional 40 faculty from all corners of Harvard serve as mentors and collaborators.