A PhD in Nutrition is a highly flexible doctorate degree focused on research and implementation. Students will be expected to complete 1 to 2 years of core coursework and electives, followed by 1 to 3 additional years completing a research dissertation in their chosen topic area. Core coursework typically includes human nutrition, research practices, data analysis techniques, and emerging methods in the nutritional field.
Depending on their topic area, students can then cater elective choices to build the skills they need to successfully complete their chosen project. Programs vary in requirements for degree completion, but most doctorate programs have at least one preliminary examination, an oral defense of the dissertation topic, and a final dissertation defense. Some PhD programs may require additional examinations or prerequisites to advance through the program.
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Are there online PhD in Nutrition programs?
Yes, there are online PhD in Nutrition programs. However, most PhD in Nutrition programs require students to be in person to complete core coursework, work in laboratories with their faculty advisors, and fulfill in-person teaching and research requirements during their studies. In some cases, in-person programs may be able to be continued virtually after the first 2-3 years of coursework, as long as the student and their advisor have an agreement that the research is able to be conducted virtually.
A PhD is an academic doctorate degree, requiring students to complete an extended research project of their own choosing. PhD in Nutrition programs differ in prerequisites courses, coursework design, and interaction with faculty, but most programs will follow a similar progression. PhD in Nutrition programs typically take 4 to 5 years to complete, depending on your chosen dissertation topic and pace of study. When choosing a degree program, students should assess their research interests, career trajectory, and the design of each program.
Who should consider a Doctor of Nutrition degree?
This type of degree is best suited for students who would like to enter leadership positions in research or industry. Because a PhD is a highly research-focused degree, students are expected to have a strong interest in research methods and progressing the nutritional field forward through their own research studies. Many students go on to take high-level roles in academia, government agencies, private sector industries, and non-profit organizations. When choosing a program, students should look closely at required milestones, available faculty to collaborate with, in-person or distance requirements, and program duration.
Top PhD in Nutrition degrees
There are many available PhD in Nutrition programs in the US, each of which differs slightly in program design. The following programs were chosen to showcase different program styles and concentration areas that may help you identify the right type of program for you.
University of Illinois (UI) at Chicago - PhD in Human Nutrition (HN) or Nutritional Sciences (NS)
The University of Illinois at Chicago offers two PhD in Nutrition offerings: Human Nutrition (HN) and Nutritional Sciences (NS). Human Nutrition is offered in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, while Nutritional Sciences is in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. Students decide between these concentrations based on their interests, faculty availability, and funding availability.
In general, the human nutrition concentration will include research in areas such as pediatric nutrition, geriatric nutrition, energy metabolism, epigenetics, the influence of diet on cancer, ingestive behavior, molecular mechanics of food, and related topics. Students interested in nutrition education, dietetics, and general wellness are also encouraged to choose this concentration. Students take interdisciplinary core coursework including classes in biochemistry, principles of food technology, seminars in foods and nutrition, and regulation of metabolism.
For students interested in academic careers of careers in medicine, the Nutritional Sciences PhD program is recommended. Many alumni from this program go on to hold faculty positions or complete their Medical Degree (MD) to work directly with patients. Students are required to complete core coursework such as a Nutritional Sciences Seminar, Topics in Nutrition Research, Regulation of Metabolism, and elective courses in their area of interest. Students usually work with their advisor to identify a topic area and choose electives based on their intended projects.
In both programs, students are required to complete qualifying examinations, preliminary examinations, and a dissertation defense to complete their doctorate. For those interested in becoming an RDN, UI offers an ACEND-accredited Distance Dietetic Internship and DPD Program coursework that can be completed alongside the Nutrition PhD.
Saybrook University - PhD in Integrative and Functional Nutrition
While not many fully online PhD in Nutrition programs exist, Saybrook University offers a fully online PhD in Integrative and Functional Nutrition degree. Students may either apply directly to the PhD program if they hold a Master's degree, or they may apply to the Master's to PhD pathway program. Students must have courses in nutrition, biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology to apply for the program. This program is 62-76 credits, depending on whether you are on a direct PhD or Master's to PhD tract, and is designed for students who are interested in learning how to apply functional biochemistry to help patients heal through integrative care plans. This program is best suited for existing nutrition professionals that would like to deepen their knowledge and develop their skill set to utilize the latest nutritional science to take their professional practice to the next level.
This program is flexible and students can choose between full-time or part-time course loads. Many students in this program work outside of their studies, and courses are offered asynchronously to maximize convenience. Students typically take 6 credit hours per 15 week semester and spend around 16 hours of time per week on their studies. While this program is designed for nutrition professionals that are outside of dietetics, there are options to modify the program to complete ACEND requirements to revise the Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) verification statement after the completion of the program.
Oregon State University - PhD in Nutrition
This PhD in Nutrition program is designed for students interested in research careers in the nutrition field. Students are expended to have taken biochemistry, human nutrition, and physiology before entering the program, but coursework after admission can be tailored to student interests. Students who would like to focus on human nutrition generally take elective courses in areas such as exercise science and epidemiology, while students with a molecular nutrition focus take courses such as cell biology, advanced biochemistry, advanced biophysics, and molecular biology.
To complete the PhD program, students must take 108 credits following their Bachelor's degree, including a core curriculum. This curriculum includes nutritional seminars, advanced coursework in macronutrient and micronutrient metabolism, responsible research conduct, and dissertation credits. Students must also complete a professional oral presentation, pass their oral preliminary examination, and defend their PhD Dissertation.
Cornell University - PhD in Nutrition
The PhD in Nutrition at Cornell University is highly customizable, with four concentrations available for students. To advance to candidacy, students are expected to take six semesters of full-time coursework in nutrition and two additional graduation programs. Following advancement, students must defend their dissertation based on their own research. Students can choose a concentration in Community Nutrition, Human Nutrition, International Nutrition, or Molecular Nutrition.
When choosing Community Nutrition, students will focus on the causes of population-based nutritional issues and work to develop solutions. This can include areas such as understanding food choices, designing nutritional interventions, and understanding disparities between communities. The Human Nutrition Concentration is designed for students who are interested in how individual nutrition choices affect health and life quality. This includes maternal and child nutrition, metabolism, supplementation, the bioavailability of nutrients, and food intake studies. The International Nutrition Concentration explores widespread nutritional issues such as malnutrition, food availability, and chronic disease across communities, including food-borne illnesses. For students interested in the biological processes of nutrition and nutritional biochemistry, the Molecular Nutrition Concentration is a great option. This is a great option for students interested in being on the cutting edge of modern nutritional science, including exciting areas like nutrition genomics, transgenics, nutritional metabolomics, and epigenetics.
Johns Hopkins University - PhD in Human Nutrition
The PhD in Human Nutrition from Johns Hopkins University is designed for students who want to hold leadership roles in research and policy-type positions such as those in academia, private-sector, and government industries. Recent alumni spotlights include past students who now hold positions such as a Senior Epidemiologist at the CDC, a Nutrition Specialist at The World Bank, a Scientist at the Melinda Gates Foundation, and an Associate Professor at UC Davis. The program consists of four parts, including a non-thesis research project, a comprehensive exam, 2 oral exams, and 1 dissertation project. Students generally complete the program is four years of full-time study and leave the program with strong skills in four core competencies: Critically evaluating determinants of public health problems, qualitative and quantitative evaluation, ethical research practices, and professional skills needed to succeed in diverse environments.
Applications are due each December 1st for an August start date the following fall. When students matriculate into the program, they must take core academic course requirements to build their subject-matter expertise and research skills before embarking on their own research projects. Core courses include classes such as Principles of Human Nutrition in Public Heath, Food and Nutrition Policy, Nutrition and Life Stages, and Cellular Biochemistry of Nutrients. Students must also take research method classes such as Statistical Methods in Public Health 1-4.
University of Alabama - PhD in Human Nutrition
For those looking to complete their degree in a shorter time span than the traditional 4-5 years, this might be a great option for you. This program is designed to be completed over three years and is made up of 74 credit hours. This program meets objectives set by the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). Students are trained to perform community research that can be implemented effectively Ito the community, using bench-to-bedside-to-community approaches. Students who complete this program are expected to be competent in translational research, communication methods, nutrition research practice, independent research, and skills needed to effectively educate diverse audiences.
Applications for this program are due February 1st each year and decisions for the Fall term are released mid-February. To apply for this program, students must have a Master's degree with a GPA above 3.5 or a GPA above 3.3 with a GRE score over 300. In some cases, students will a Bachelor's degree are admitted with a GRE score above 300. If a student's Master's degree is in a discipline outside of the nutritional field, certain prerequisite courses in nutrition must be taken in the first year of study in the program.
To complete their PhD, students in this program will need to take core coursework in Human Nutrition and maintain a GPA of over 3.0. Students then have to take a written comprehensive exam that covers the material of 5 core courses: (1) Contemporary Research Nutrition Sci, (2) Methods of Integrative Nutrition Access, (3) Nutritional Intervention, (4) Nutritional Epidemiology, (5) Secondary Analysis of Survey Data. Students must pass this exam to advance to candidacy. After passing this exam with at least an 80%, having their dissertation topic approved, designing a dissertation committee, defending the dissertation proposal through an oral exam, and completing core coursework, students can officially advance to candidacy. At this point, students complete their dissertation research under the guidance of their committee and committee chair. Once their research is complete, they defend their dissertation topic and receive their degree.
University of Wisconsin - PhD in Nutritional Sciences
The University of Wisconsin offers an Interdepartmental Graduate Program in Nutritional Sciences (ICPNS) program that focuses on how students can apply nutritional knowledge across broad research fields. There are opportunities for students to connect with faculty across 19 different departments and take part in nationally-recognized research projects. The diversity of this program makes it ideal for students who are interested in taking a multidisciplinary approach to their research and would like to combine nutritional skills with skills in other fields. To encourage students to explore their interests, each PhD student will rotate through three labs during their first semester to explore different research and mentoring fits.
Students in this program are required to take 51 credits, 26 of which must be graduate-level. To complete this program, students must achieve a 3.0 GPA in the core coursework, pass a preliminary examination, and successfully defend their dissertation. While doctoral minors and Graduate/Professional certificates are not required, it is a great way for students to further customize their studies and boost their resumes for potential employers after graduation. Doctoral minors can be completed in two ways, either as an external doctoral minor or a distributed doctoral minor. Each requires 9 credits in an approved topic area with a GPA of at least 3.0. If you are intending to go into a specific field after graduation, a doctoral minor can help set you apart from other doctoral students. For example, if you plan on going into animal nutrition, completing a doctoral minor in veterinary sciences could be beneficial.
To enter this program, students are required to have completed prerequisite courses in general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, mathematics, and physiology. If these requirements are not met, certain students may be admitted on the requirements they complete the courses during their first year. Master's degrees in Nutrition are recommended but not required for this program, and applications are due each year on January 1st.
Top courses for an Online PhD or Doctorate in Nutrition program
PhD programs are research oriented, meaning the majority of your time will be spent working with your research mentor to design and implement a research project in your chosen area.
However, the first two years of most PhD programs have a core curriculum that is designed to help students build the skills needed to successfully complete their own projects and work in leadership positions within the field.
While each PhD in Nutrition program will have different core requirements, core courses you are likely to see will cover principles of nutritional sciences, food science, biochemistry, statistics, and research methods. Students also typically take at least one Doctoral Seminar, where they can discuss their ideas and learn from professors and students in the program. Though course names and numbers will vary, the topic focus will stay similar. Common core courses include:
Principles of Human Nutrition in Public Health
This course is often taken in the first semester of PhD in Nutrition programs and prepares students to integrate nutritional knowledge into their research and public health practice. For many students, this course is a great way to explore available topic areas and connect with faculty who can help them find a mentor in their focus area. This course also may cover historical practices o human nutrition, current assessment techniques, ethical practices, and emerging topics in the field.
Food and Nutrition Policy
Food and Nutrition Policy courses are designed to teach students how to interpret current nutrition regulations and advocate for effective change. This course introduces students to potential career areas in policy advocacy and government positions. This course also goes over systematic influences on food choices, how certain communities may be impacted differently, and the steps needed to implement new programs.
Cellular Biochemistry of Nutrients
Whether or not your focus area is in biochemistry, many PhD in Nutrition programs expect students to take at least one introductory course. Understanding the underlying biochemical principles of nutrients can deepen your understanding on human nutrition. Biochemistry of nutrients uses biological, chemical, and physical principles to explore metabolism, energy, genomics, and clinical nutrition.
Statistical Methods in Public Health
After deciding on a research question and collecting data, nutrition professionals need to be able to appropriately analyze the information and draw inferences. If you do not know how to correctly analyze subject matter information, your results may be biased or draw incorrect conclusions. Most PhD programs have a statistical methods course to introduce students to proper analytical procedures.
Qualitative Research Theory
Qualitative research theory courses help students learn how to design qualitative studies. Many nutritional research areas use qualitative research, which involves non-numerical data such as concepts, opinions, and experiences. Learning how to work with this type of data can set students up to enter diverse careers in the nutrition field. These courses draw on concepts from humanities and social sciences and often utilize interdisciplinary approaches.
Doctoral seminars vary widely in their focus, but most programs will have at least one seminar for students to ask questions, discuss ideas, and learn from others in the program. These seminars are designed for students to prepare themselves for upcoming milestones in the program. For example, one week the seminar might go over how to pick dissertation topics, while the next will cover how to apply for funding.
What can you do with this degree?
There are many applications for a PhD in Nutrition degree. PhD professionals often work in academic institutions, research settings, public agencies, or private industries. During their PhD program, most PhD students will angle their research and studies toward their career area. For example, a student who would like to become a Professor may seek out teaching opportunities during their program and focus their research in the area they hope to teach. A PhD student who plans to go into nutritional pharmaceutical industries might seek out internships with potential employers and develop a dissertation in a pharmaceutical area.
PhD in Nutrition degrees typically prepare students to enter leadership positions in their field. Leading public health research, managing teams of professionals, overseeing the implementation of a new program, and advising industry leaders are common areas students go into after graduation.
Nutritionist educator and career and salary info
Salaries for PhD in Nutrition graduates vary widely depending on the industry, location, and focus area of the position. Those who go into postsecondary education can expect a median annual wage of $79,640, while Nutritionists bring in a median annual wage of $61,650. For those going into scientific research professions, Agriculture and Food Scientists average around $74,160 per year, Epidemiologists make around $78,830 per year, and Microbiologists bring in around $79,260 per year. While these are median salaries reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, having an advanced degree such as a PhD often raises these salaries above the median wage.