Seeking SDOH & Geography PhD Students in 2023-2024

I’m recruiting 1 or 2 new PhD students to start in Fall 2023 who are interested in the structural determinants of health; how social and spatial networks influence health outcomes; and/or developing spatial infrastructures for advancing environmental justice applications. PhD positions are funded, with an expected ~4 years to graduation.

About the Lab

The Healthy Regions & Policy Lab is housed at the Department of Geography & Geographic Information Science @University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign & integrates innovative GIScience, public health, & statistical approaches to explore, understand, and promote healthy regions and policies. (Check out project overviews, read recent publications, or review our latest toolkits, workshops, or web applications.)

We focus on how the social, spatial, and structural determinants of health both produce and perpetuate health environments, with current applications to the opioid epidemic, COVID pandemic, legacies of racism in the US, and environmental justice within Illinois. A new project will delve deeper in SDOH Data Discovery & building resources to support a community of practice around spatial SDOH data in particular.

We strive to ensure that all kinds of places are included in this work — rural, suburban, and urban — and calibrate methods to make the most meaning out of each spatial regime.

My Advisor Approach

I recently joined UIUC as an assistant professor, after serving as Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago’s Center for Spatial Data Science for the past several years. I like to position the lab with a multidisciplinary approach; we’ve hosted students and staff that were aspiring geographers, physicians, economists, statisticians, policy scholars, computer scientists, and designers. We work on “big problems” that require big teams; though, this can be intensive as each project requires a fully Open and transparent approach, with some translation back to the public (as a web application, research brief, communications campaign) required to meet our standard.

As an advisor I seek to be collaborative, transparent, and respectful of boundaries. We all work at different times, and flex schedules are accommodated so we can get our best work done. That also means that independence is an asset, and time management & organization is something we all strive towards to keep our group in sync.

Gaining experience in coding, statistics, and communications are critical in this space. We don’t use ArcGIS in the lab, preferring a suite of opensource tools like QGIS, GeoDa, R (sf & tidy frameworks), and occasionally Python and/or Javascript.

Application Process

Please review the complete admissions instructions for PhD application at with more info about the degree program at These sites will include more details than I am able to provide. I may work with up to 1 Masters student next year, though funding preference will go to PhD students.

A geography PhD application tends to require more work upfront in matching with an advisor according to research interests and complementary directions. I thus strongly encourage you to consider the following in applying to work with me as your advisor:

  • Research Statement: I am interested in what you want to do next; research question(s) and themes you have in mind; commitment to your development as an independent scholar. Reviewing some basic readings in the field can help.
  • Research Familiarity & Advisor-Advisee Fit: Be sure to review recent work published by lab members and myself to get an idea of the type of work that I do. Most if not all is freely accessible through this website and/or Google Scholar. If your goal is GIScience work broadly, or a focus on physical/environmental GIS by itself — that is wonderful but won’t be a fit with me as your advisor as that’s not my scholarly focus. While you may work on projects in our lab as a research assistant, as a PhD student you will start to develop your own project ideas. Your application materials should take that into account.
  • Skills & Skill-Building: As noted above; coding, statistics, and communications (ex. writing for various audiences) are critical to research in our lab. You may not excel in all (none of us really do!), but should have a documented interest (and already some demonstrated effort) in learning and working towards these as necessary skills for your PhD experience in our lab. You may think about emphasizing where your strength is now, and what goals you have for the future in skill building.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: