Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Below are some common questions about the Northeastern Personal Health Informatics Doctoral Program and research. If you have additional questions not addressed on the website, please contact us.

I have [this experience]. Will I be admitted to or seriously considered for the program?

The PHI faculty get many requests from students sending resumes or emails and asking if they have enough experience to be admitted to the program. We consider the entire application for each applicant, and therefore we cannot comment on admission likelihood without seeing the entire application (resume, transcript, scores, recommendations, and statement). If you are interested in the program, we suggest that you go ahead and apply and put yourself in the best light possible relative to our admission criteria. We will not able to asses your chances ahead of time.

Is it possible to enter the program in January?

In special circumstances, extremely strong applicants may be admitted to the program to start in January. However, in most cases students will be admitted to start in September. Applicants with special circumstances should feel free to contact us and inquire about options.

Is it possible to be in the Ph.D. program part time?

Completing any Ph.D. program is challenging, and doing it part time is even more so. The faculty in the Ph.D. program generally recommend against part-time Ph.D. study. However, in special circumstances for highly-qualified students, part-time options might be arranged. Part-time students will not, however, receive funding. Some of the core courses in the program are taught in the evenings to accommodate part-time students in other degree programs. Other courses, however, are likely to be taught during the day. Part-time students would need to be available on campus for those courses, as well as to fulfill research responsibilities.

Is it possible to participate in the program remotely taking online classes?

Much of the work involved with obtaining a Ph.D. degree is about interacting with advisors and other colleagues and learning from a research group. At this time, all students in the program must be able to attend classes and participate in research at Northeastern’s Boston campus. We recommend that potential students interested in this program but only available to take classes online consider the MS in Health Informatics. Courses in that program are available in hybrid and fully online formats, and we are adding a research track at this time that would provide opportunities to conduct research in personal health informatics.

Are all students accepted into the program guaranteed funding?

Our goal is to admit all students with funding, which includes tuition and a monthly stipend. Doing so, however, may constrain which students we can admit somewhat based on available grants. Students who have their own source of funding (e.g., NSF Fellowship, individual scholarship(s)) should therefore indicate this clearly on the application.

Where will the User Interface Practicum take place?

We will work with each student to find an appropriate placement based on the student’s research interests. Some students may work in a hospital setting, but others may work in community centers or other places where at-risk individuals and health-related behaviors and decision making can be observed.

What is the relationship between the M.S. in Health Informatics and the Ph.D. in Personal Health Informatics?

The M.S. in Health Informatics and the Ph.D. in Personal Health Informatics differ in their focus and the degree to which they empasize research, but students in the M.S. program may have the opportunity to take some of the courses in the Ph.D. program, and Ph.D. students may have the opportunity to take selected courses in the M.S. program as electives. Courses in the M.S. program prepare students to work with existing physician- or provider-facing technologies, such as the electronic medical record systems used today in hosptials and clinics. Courses in the Ph.D. program are designed to support students as they develop research programs on the next generation of person- or patient-facing personal health informatics technologies.

Can the M.S. in Health Informatics lead into the Ph.D. in Personal Health Informatics?

The M.S. in Health Informatics was originally designed as a professional degree focused primarily on hospital-based health informatics. We are developing a research track for this program that could lead into the Ph.D. program in Personal Health Informatics. Top students in the M.S. program who participate in research and wish to continue with doctoral studies may be encouraged by faculty to apply to the Ph.D. program.

When using the online application system, where is Personal Health Informatics listed?

Once you login to the online application system for Northeastern, you need to select a college and then a program. For college, select “Computer and Information Science.” For program, select “Personal Health Informatics”. The degree program is based out of both the College of Computer and Information Science and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, but unfortunately the application system can only list it under one category.

I am in computer science or electrical engineering without coursework in health. Is this required to be admitted?

Coursework in health is not a requirement for admittance into the program, but some type of strong demonstration of interest and dedication to health absolutely is — work in industry, volunteer work, etc. For all applicants, dedication to the health field should come through clearly in the admission statement and other admission and materials.

My background is in a health field and I do not have programming experience. Is this required to be admitted?

One goal of the PHI program is to graduate students who feel empowered to prototype and lead teams prototyping innovative health systems. This will require some technical skill, in particular the ability to program software. Potential students without programming skills will be strongly encouraged to take one or more courses before arriving on campus. Further, students without programming experience will need to be prepared to make a substantial effort in the early part of the program building this skillset in addition to the other work they will need to do as part of the program.

If I don’t have programming experience and would like to start building this skillset, what courses do you recommend?

Potential students will strengthen their applications the most by taking an introductory course in computer science at a solid research university and performing well. Following that up with a second course is even better. The next best option would be to take a class at a community college. Better than nothing is to take some of the good, free online courses that are now offered so applicants can determine if they like programming, but since there is no grade for these courses, they will not weigh heavily when faculty consider applications. We plan to add specific recommendations to the PHI website soon for courses that we recommend all incoming PHI students take and books we recommend that they read.

For international students who have been in school in the U.S., is the TOEFL required?

All international applicants from countries other than Canada, the UK, and Australia must submit TOEFL scores (or equivalent) unless the applicant has completed a four-year degree (e.g. BS) at a U.S. college or university.

Are official transcripts required for the application?

Official transcripts are required. Scans can be provided when submitting the online application and are sufficient for review. If you are accepted into the program, you will be asked to send official transcripts to Northeastern.

Do I need to use the WES service for my transcript?

If the key parts of your transcript can be understood by someone who knows English (i.e., what courses you have taken and your grades), WES translation is not required. Typically it is not needed.

If one of my scores is slightly below the requirements, can I still be admitted?

Exceptions can be made for exceptional candidates, so if you feel you are a great match for the program, you should still apply even if one of your test scores does not quite meet a requirement.

If one of my scores is out of date, do I need to retake the exam?

It is a university requirement that before you are admitted you have valid scores. If you have old scores that demonstrate that when you retake the exam you are likely to meet the requirements, then you should submit those old scores with your application and submit your new scores as soon as they are received. Exceptions can be made for exceptional candidates, so if you feel you are a great match for the program, you should still apply even if one of your test scores does not quite meet a requirement.

What percentage/how much of the student’s time in the program is funded?

We anticipate that students who are admitted with funding, who focus on research related to a funded faculty member’s interests, and who remain in good academic standing overall and with their primary advisor will be funded throughout their studies.

Can more than three letters of recommendation be submitted?

Three letters of recommendation are required. More can be submitted if the applicant feels additional recommendations will be helpful to the admissions committee. The most valuable recommendations are those from people working in health technology, computer science, health, or some other area of research who know the applicant very well and who can comment on the applicant’s abilities and suitability for graduate work using specific examples of the applicant’s prior work.

Will there be the opportunity to teach while in the program?

Students who are interested in teaching will have opportunities to gain teaching experience during their studies. In fact, although it is not a formal requirement, the PHI faculty believe that all students should have teaching experience as part of the doctoral training process.

Must a faculty advisor be identified and contacted prior to application?

Faculty members reviewing applications will identify the Northeastern faculty members who are best suited for a particular applicant based on the applicant’s state interests. However, applicants are encouraged to identify the faculty members that they are most interested in working with and learn about that faculty member’s research interests prior to admission.

Can students work with faculty not listed on the PHI website?

A student’s primary advisor must be listed on the Faculty page on the PHI website. Other faculty can participate in a student’s research (including faculty at other institutions), but students will be required to have faculty advisors from the PHI faculty. Students interested in working with faculty not on the list should contact us.

How many elective credits can students take in the program? Can electives not listed in the PHI curriculum be taken?

See the curriculum page. Electives not on the current list are not excluded but must be approved by petition to the PHI faculty. Students will be encouraged to select electives that support their research project(s).

Can a student get professional accreditation in a medical field while in the PHI program?

The focus of the PHI doctoral program is on research. Students interested in obtaining additional professional credentials other than the Ph.D. during the program would need to talk with his or her advisor about the options for doing so. In most circumstances, this would likely involve additional time and cost for the student.

When are GRE scores needed? Can someone apply before they have scores (with acceptance contingent on good standing)?

An application without GRE scores is incomplete. Materials can be submitted without GRE scores, which might help otherwise exceptional candidates. However, final decisions cannot be made until GRE scores are available. If a student has out of date scores, those scores can be submitted until the new scores are available.

Is there a hard deadline for admission?

Priority for applications for admission for 2014/2015 is December 15, but we continue to accept and review applications beyond that date.

When submitting an application, how strict is the 1-page limit for the personal statement?

Please use as much space as you need, keeping in mind that a well-structured and concise statement will probably make a better impression than a long, rambling one.

Where do I send my test scores?

All scores can be sent directly from ETS using the following INSTITUTIONAL CODE 3679, GRE Department Code 0402, and TOEFL Department Code 78.

Sometimes applicants have trouble entering a department code. So long as the institution code is correct, we will receive the scores.

What does funding cover?

Funding covers tuition and provides a monthly stipend of about $2,300 per month for 8 months of the year. If managed carefully, the stipend can cover cost of living, housing, and health insurance (purchased through the University).

What happens during the summer?

During the summer students typically either stay on campus and work on research projects (earning the same stipend as during the year) or they find jobs or internships related to their research. Faculty will often help facilitate these summer research experiences.

If a person’s position is funded (tuition, stipend), what percentage is taxed?

You will be taxed on the income you receive from the stipend, but not on the tuition remission.

Is there an opportunity to do exploratory research?

All research in the program is exploratory. In fact, we want our students to do research that fundamentally changes healthcare as we know it! Initially most students will gain experience by joining an existing research project because this is a great way to pick up research skills, but all students are strongly encouraged during their program to identify and pursue new research areas, and faculty will work very hard to help find funding to support innovative ideas and approaches.

When did the program start and what are the plans for growth?

The first cohort of students will enter the program in fall 2012, and we plan to add approximately 5-6 students a year for several years. Students in other degree programs (Computer Science, Engineering, Psychology, etc.) also participate in personal health informatics research, and we expect those numbers to grow over time as well.

What science or math courses are expected prior to enrollment?

We do not require specific courses other than strong evidence of an interest in health and technology. Please see the Admission Criteria and Process page.

Is it necessary to live right in Boston while completing this program? If I live within a 1-3 hour drive, can I commute to Boston for coursework and research?

Being in a Ph.D. program is a full-time commitment, and much of the learning takes place outside of the classroom when working with colleagues in research labs. This means students in the program must be prepared to be on campus daily, certainly during business hours and sometimes beyond. We also expect to students to take advantage of collaborators, talks, and other resources at the many universities and medical centers in metro-Boston as they learn and develop a research focus. We therefore recommend that students live close enough to campus to make all of this possible.

Exactly what times are the required courses offered so I can determine if they fit my schedule?

When courses are offered changes each semester. Most are offered during the day. A few may be scheduled in the evenings. That said, if your life is so constrained that you are making a decision about working on a PhD based on the class schedules, the program is probably not a good fit for you. We expect students to immerse themselves in learning and to be on campus full time, at least for the first several years of the program. The exact time of the required classes should not factor into your decision making about whether the program is right for you.

Is it possible to start research involvement part-time before entering the program?

Occasionally faculty will hire staff for projects who are not students, especially students who plan to matriculate into the program later that year, so if you think you have the skills to help a faculty member and you are interested in doing research before you enter the program, please contact the faculty member directly.

What types of careers do people typically pursue following completion of this degree?

This is a new program and therefore we do not have graduates with doctorate degrees yet. We anticipate they will follow one of three paths: faculty in academia or medical research centers, scientific advisors to companies doing PHI research and or development, and entrepreneurs.

Which specific projects have funded positions?

Applicants should base their application on what they most want to do for a Ph.D. and which faculty are the best fit for mentors, not based on which faculty/projects are most likely to have funding. Students will be most successful in their doctoral work if they work on a project that is a strong fit with their interests. It is a mistake to enter a doctoral program for any other reason.

Is the program accredited?

In general, graduate programs are not accredited on an individual basis. The graduate school and its programs fall under the accreditation of the College of Computer and Information Science and the Bouve College of Health Sciences and Northeastern University. As such, the program, colleges and university are all accredited both regionally and nationally.

Is there a teaching requirement?

At this time, there is not a teaching requirement. However, it is likely that students will gain some teaching experience at some point during the program as a teaching assistant.

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