NIEHS Research Training Program

Transdisciplinary Training at the Intersection Environmental Health and Social Science

Directed by Phil Brown and Julia Brody
Joint Project of the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, Silent Spring Institute, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and Department of Health Sciences

“Transdisciplinary Training at the Intersection of Environmental Health Science and Social Science,” will prepare scholars to be future leaders in social science-environmental health science collaborations. This transdisciplinary training program trains doctoral and postdoctoral trainees in how to build connections between social sciences and environmental heath, to collaboratively respond to complex environmental health challenges of the future. It is essential that emerging professionals understand how complex combinations of genetics, environments, everyday exposures, and industrial, social and cultural histories shape our health. Collaborations between social sciences and life sciences are beginning to reveal how we can rethink disease models, remediation strategies, bench research, and social science to better identify and tackle pressing environmental health concerns. This training program provides an exceptional and multi-faceted training experience for doctoral students in Sociology and postdoctoral fellows from both Sociology and Environmental Health.  Trainees not only participate in on-campus Northeastern and Silent Spring Institute learning, they also complete externships at community-based organizations.

This training program is unique in that is co-directed by an academic institution – Northeastern University’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI) and a non-academic institution – Silent Spring Institute, a science-based/community-based participatory research (CBPR) environmental non-profit organization.  Postdocs, from either social science or environmental health science training, spend 2/3 of their time at Silent Spring Institute and 1/3 on campus. Predoctoral trainees, in the Sociology Ph.D program, spend 2/3 of their time on campus and 1/3 at Silent Spring Institute.

This training program integrates environmental health and social science and prepares trainees to operate at the intersections of environmental health science, sociology, and science studies, while working in harmony with community organizations. Trainees will have a “tool box” to implement and address the challenges associated with collaborative environmental health research projects, CBPR, conducting biomonitoring and environmental monitoring projects, reporting results back to participants, and translating environmental health research to inform public health and regulatory practice. Trainees will be equipped to improve environmental health, particularly among underserved populations, by being introduced to: 1) coursework covering a broad range of environmental health science and social science, with some core courses and others tailored to students, 2) dedicated seminar series for trainees, 3) community-based organizations that use novel tools for robust exposure and dose estimates, 4) new methods for environmental health and environmental justice using participatory methods (i.e. community-based participatory research, citizen science), 5) hybrid qualitative-quantitative research that combines environmental health and social science analysis rooted in community collaboration, and 6) reflexive research ethics.

Trainee Candidates

To be eligible for this training program, predoctoral applicants must first be accepted by NU’s Sociology PhD program. Applicants must submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores and a writing sample, and have foundational coursework in Theory and Methods. Predoctoral trainee admittance is based on the rigor of academic preparation, grade point average, GREs, prior research experience, and applicant’s research goals and career aspirations. Recommendations from former instructors and advisors are reviewed carefully and carry significant weight. If the student meets the entrance requirements, we will then ask the applicant if they are interested in the proposed training program, and if they are, to submit an application responding to specific questions about the Training Program. This doctoral training will be extremely distinct from general sociology, since they will take many environmental health courses, will spend a significant amount of time at Silent Spring Institute, will be mentored by environmental health scientists and environmental engineers, and will have internships based specifically on the Training Program. Hence their special interest in this type of curriculum will be a major aspect of the selection process. We will convene the Core Faculty to determine the applicant’s eligibility, and personal or Skype interviews will be conducted with all finalists.

For postdoctoral eligibility, candidates will hold doctoral degrees in sociology, anthropology, biomedical sciences, environmental health, or environmental science. We seek to recruit postdoctoral applicants immediately or one year after graduation and to retain the postdoctoral trainees in the program for two years. Selection of trainees is based on the applicant’s prior academic performance, research experience, peer-reviewed publications, career aspirations, letters of recommendation, and presentations at scientific meetings.  Applicants for postdoctoral fellowships in this program must articulate a strong interest in a research career at the intersection of environmental health and sociology. Postdoctoral trainees can apply directly to the core faculty or mentors, who will then correspond with the directors concerning the availability of a postdoctoral position.  Typically, a postdoctoral applicant will identify a mentor and a potential research project before their appointment in the training program. Personal or Skype interviews will be conducted with all finalists.