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PhD study at the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine

Meet with us to discuss your PhD plans

If you wish to explore the possibilities for a PhD in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, you should meet with the Research Student Convener early in the process. This applies to all students, even if you are already involved with one of the research groups or involved in an existing project.

International students

If you are an overseas student wishing to enrol in a PhD in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, you should first contact the International Office for advice about studying at the University of Otago:

University of Otago International Office enquiry form

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Research opportunities and areas

References from previous supervisors

Students seeking admission to PhD study in the Department will usually be asked to arrange for their master's or other appropriate supervisor to send a confidential reference to the Research Student Convener.

The referee will be asked for an outline of their experiences with supervising the student and opinion on suitability for PhD study. The Research Student Convener or HOD may request the reference if the student is not comfortable doing so.

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PhD scholarships and other financial support


The University of Otago offers many scholarships to PhD students. Applications can be made to the University of Otago for a PhD scholarship at any time of the year.

Search the University of Otago scholarships database

Additional financial help

Once a student is enrolled in a MPH, the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine can offer financial support for students to attend one scientific conference each year. Some supplementary funding may also be available to support students' PhD research.

Requests for support need to be endorsed by supervisors.

Request for additional support form (Microsoft Word 50 KB)

Division of Health Sciences conference travel funding for PhD students

Every PhD student at the University of Otago is offered NZ$2,000 towards the costs of presenting their research at a relevant international conference.

The Division of Health Sciences will accept applications for this scheme at any time of the year. Applications must be received at least three months prior to the date of travel.

Conference travel funding information (Division of Health Sciences website)

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Research Advisory Committee review of PhD proposals

The Research Advisory Committee (RAC) is a committee of senior researchers from the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, which meets each month (except January). The RAC is responsible for the Department's policy on postgraduate research students, including their admission and supervision.

This is a positive process, designed to ensure that the proposed research is feasible and properly planned. The process provides a further safeguard for students' best interests.

Submitting research proposals

Proposals are usually submitted as part of the application process. However, in some instances students may be able to prepare and submit a proposal prior to applying.

PhD students based in the Department must submit a research proposal to the RAC. The research proposal should be based on the Department's template:

Research proposal template (PDF 80 KB)

Students should submit proposals to the Research Student Convener by email, cc'd to the Administrator. Submissions must arrive by the Monday morning preceding the RAC's monthly Thursday meeting.

Contact the Administrator for the RAC meetings dates:


Supervisor endorsement

All named supervisors must endorse any proposal that is submitted to the RAC. Supervisors can confirm their endorsement by email to the Research Student Convener.

Feedback will be provided from the RAC by letter to the supervisors and/or verbally within a week of the meeting. This can then be discussed with the student.

Students based in other departments

Students based in other departments or universities—but who are co-supervised by staff in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine—also have their projects reviewed by the RAC, but using a different process.

The supervisor from the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine is responsible for submitting the proposal to the RAC. The Committee's feedback then goes to the research team via this person.

In this instance, the RAC review is aimed at offering constructive feedback on the project.

Biostatistical advice for quantitative research projects

Biostatistical advice should be sought early in the planning phase of quantitative research projects. Depending on the nature of the project, it may be appropriate to:

  • Have a biostatistician named as a supervisor or advisor on the proposal
  • Include a data analysis plan in the proposal for the RAC


The benefits of further coursework as part of the research degree should always be considered. In some instances, the RAC may recommend that students take an epidemiology, biostatistics, or other relevant paper as part of their overall degree.

This would particularly apply in cases where it is felt that the student had insufficient skills or background in an important aspect of their project, or where there is an opportunity to enrich the public health training of the student.

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Memorandum of understanding for PhD supervision

A PhD represents a significant investment in time and other resources from both student and supervisors. While the production of a good quality thesis and subsequent degree is the prime focus for the student, the publication of research papers is also expected. There is also an ethical imperative to make the findings of publicly funded research available. The need to plan for publication should be discussed early in the supervisory arrangements.

The Department expects a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for supervision to be completed between each new research student and their supervisor(s).

The template includes information about the expectations that the Department has of students and supervisors, and should be used in preference to the University MOU.

Students and supervisors should look at the MOU independently before coming together to complete the MOU at a meeting.

Download the Memorandum of Understanding template (Microsoft Word 50 KB)

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Further information

Comprehensive information about PhD study

PhD self-review guidelines  (Word format, 18KB)

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Research Student Convener/Research Advisory Committee Chair

Professor Sarah Derrett
Preventive and Social Medicine

Administrative support