PhD in Social Sciences: Program Options and Degree Information

Mar 31, 2021

Essential Information

A student who pursues a Ph.D. in Social Science could gain interdisciplinary knowledge through coursework and participation in seminars on a variety of topics. A student in an M.D.-Ph.D. program combines the study of medicine and the social sciences in exploring healthcare issues. Students can choose from a broad range of study areas such as cognitive neuroscience, behavioral economics or political theory. Most programs require a dissertation.

Applicants to an M.D.-Ph.D. program usually must have a bachelor's degree and complete requirements for acceptance into medical school, including attaining a certain score on a standardized exam. Students in these programs generally choose to focus on a subject relevant to medical practice, such as health policy or medical anthropology, but there are other options.

Graduates with Ph.D. degrees in the social sciences can pursue careers in academia or research. They may also take on leadership roles in public service or government policy administration. A graduate of an M.D.-Ph.D. program might consider a career as a professor or as a researcher in a hospital or pharmaceutical company.

Ph.D. in Social Sciences

In this degree program students can examine the traditions, controversies and issues found in social sciences. Seminars might include subjects like public policy, statistics, science, theory, methodology and ethics. Coursework might include cognitive neuroscience, behavioral economics, law and social policy, political theory or mathematical finance. Early in the program, students may develop the foundational knowledge and skills needed to participate in research that will be completed throughout the program. Generally, such a program requires a dissertation.

Students might pursue a Ph.D. in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences; an interdisciplinary program integrating the study of human behavior and applicable mathematical approaches. Generally, students are able to focus their studies on a specific area within the social sciences field. These areas of study might include:

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Political science
  • History
  • Law
  • Public policy
  • Geography
  • Sociology
  • Public administration

M.D.-Ph.D. in Social Sciences

These degree programs typically include a combination of research, the study of medicine, clinical training and graduate studies in the social sciences. Through the integration of the social sciences, students might develop various perspectives and methods for use in health care, as well as learn how to solve contemporary problems and issues in medicine. Throughout the program, students might participate in a variety of interdisciplinary seminars. On average, students should expect to complete the combination degree program in eight years.

In addition to receiving a satisfactory score on the MCAT exam, students could be required to meet the admission requirements set by both the medical school and the social sciences program in which they wish to enroll. Admissions requirements typically require that a student hold a bachelor's degree. However, some programs might consider a student with college experience who does not have a bachelor's degree. Students might also complete prerequisite coursework in the humanities, sciences or mathematics.

Students might consider a program with relevance to clinical medicine, such as medical anthropology, health policy or the history of science. However, students could pursue a program in a number of areas within the social sciences. Such programs might include:

  • Statistics
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Political science
  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • History
  • Philosophy

Popular Career Options

Program graduates might pursue a profession as a university professor or in nonacademic research. They might also find themselves in leadership positions in public service or government. Career options might include:

  • Anthropologist
  • Historian
  • Geographer
  • Sociologist
  • Political scientist

Employment Outlook and Salary Info reported in 2021 that most people employed as social scientists earned an average salary of $85,000 annually. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), family and general practitioners earned a mean annual salary of $214,370 in 2020 ( and pediatricians earned $184,570. The BLS anticipated a 4% increase in employment opportunities for physicians and surgeons from 2019-2029.

Social science is a very broad field so a Ph.D. in this subject can lead to a variety of different career options. You can also chose a dual M.D./Ph.D program depending on your career goals. Students interested in this program should consider which specific research areas and career paths they are interested in before applying.

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