Community Research and Action (Ph.D.)

Interested in community psychology, community development, social program evaluation, organizational change, health or mental health policy, prevention, urban change and social policy? Join an intellectual community that enhances your knowledge and field skills.

Columns on Peabody Campus at Vanderbilt University

Program Overview

The Ph.D. program in Community Research and Action is an interdisciplinary program combining community psychology, urban sociology, human geography, applied anthropology, and human and community development. It trains action-researchers committed to promoting social justice in rigorous theoretical analysis and research methods to prepare them for careers in academia, research, and public policy. The Ph.D. degree includes (a) a core set of courses covering inequality, diversity and social justice, community intervention and change, community inquiry (social research methods), public policy and advocacy, and organizational theory and change; (b) advanced research methodology covering quantitative, qualitative, and critical methods, action research, field research, and program evaluation; and (c) minor concentrations that are designed individually, drawing from Human and Organizational Development Department courses (in community organizing and development, community health, human development and prevention science) and from other departments and specializations within Peabody College (e.g., quantitative methods, urban education) and throughout the university (e.g., anthropology, divinity, gender and sexuality studies, global health, political science, sociology). Planning is done with the major professor and approved by the student’s committee. Students receive practical training and experience in teaching, grant-writing and applied research, and program or policy work in collaboration with nonacademic partners. In addition to the required courses listed below, students must complete a grant or graduate fellowship proposal and appropriate field experience.

All entering doctoral students receive financial support covering tuition, a stipend, and health insurance for up to five years, depending on their degree level (Bachelor's or Master's) when starting doctoral studies.

Program Facts

Director of Graduate Studies: Brian Christens
Admissions Coordinator: Tonya Beaird Brown
Admission Term: Fall
Credit Hours: 72
Application Deadline: December 1

Program Curriculum

The program is 72 credit hours structured into the following sections:

  • Core (15+ semester hrs)
  • Methods (15+ semester hrs)
  • Advanced Content/Minor(s)/Specialization Areas/Electives (30+/- semester hrs)
  • Individual Projects: M.S. thesis, Internship, Dissertation (12+/- semester hrs)

The core curriculum covers the theoretical and empirical bases of community research and action. Required research methods courses include both qualitative and quantitative approaches and emphasize an applied, field research orientation, including program evaluation, policy analysis, needs assessment, quasi-experimental, as well as more phenomenological designs. As ecological theory deserves commensurate methodology, multiple methods (e.g., survey, systematic and participant observation, existing records, social indicators, ethnography, and content analysis) and multiple levels of analysis (e.g., individual, family/group, organization/community, policy jurisdiction) are encouraged.

The program's interdisciplinary aims are reflected in the core curriculum, the required qualitative and quantitative methods courses, and the list of electives and possible minors. Minors are possible in virtually any field related to Community Research and Action, including (but not limited to) quantitative psychology, leadership and organizations, sociology, political science, religion, and economic development.

Basic Requirements

Out of the 72 required credit hours, a minimum of 42 semester hours in formal didactic coursework is required. The remaining credit hours may be met with electives and/or research and field hours. Specifics are determined by students in consultation with their advisor and program of studies committee. In addition, each student must pass all required core and methods courses, write a master's thesis by the fifth semester (or have a previously completed thesis approved), write a fundable-quality grant proposal, complete a fieldwork requirement, write and defend a major area paper (which serves as the qualifying exam for doctoral candidacy) and propose, complete, and defend a doctoral dissertation. The grant proposal will generally be focused on the dissertation topic and may elect to be submitted to one or more funding agencies to support the dissertation research.

Ph.D. Student Handbook

A copy of the handbook for doctoral students can be found here.

Cohorts and Graduate Placements

Photos of past CRA cohorts can be viewed here.

A list of program graduate placements is available here.

Newbrough Graduate Award

Each year the Department of Human and Organizational Development acknowledges the year's best scholarly work by a graduate student with the Newbrough Graduate Award. For more information on the award, click here.


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    Affiliated Faculty

    • Affiliates

      Brooke Ackerly, Professor of Philosophy in Political Science. Her research interests include democratic theory, feminist methodologies, human rights, social and environmental justice. She integrates into her theoretical work empirical research on activism.

      Joe Bandy, Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching and affiliated faculty in the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. He  oversees programs dedicated to public scholarship and community engagement in the academy, particularly junior faculty development, service learning and community engagement, sustainability education, and issues of difference and power in teaching. Joe also specializes in the sociology of development, globalization, and U.S. class relations and labor, as well as environmental problems and movements.

      Ted Fischer, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University . He is also the founder of Maní+. His research combines cultural anthropology and political economy with a geographical focus on highland Guatemala and Germany. His ongoing fieldwork is centered in the Kaqchikel town of Tecpán, and he has also worked extensively with the leaders of Guatemala's pan-Maya movement. His most recent research looked at consumer behavior, labor relations, and moral models in Germany.

      Gina Frieden, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Department of Human & Organizational Development. Her teaching and research interests are in adult development, life transitions and counselor training.

      Mark Lipsey, Research Professor, Department of Human & Organizational Development. His professional interests are in public policy, program evaluation research, social intervention, field research methodology, and research synthesis (meta-analysis). His recent research interests have been in the areas of risk and intervention for juvenile delinquency and substance use, early childhood education programs, and issues of methodological quality in program evaluation research.

      Richard Lloyd, Associate Professor of Sociology. His teaching and research interests are in urban sociology, sociology of culture, social theory, sociology of art, work and occupations, social change, and political sociology.

      Holly McCammon, Professor of Sociology. Her teaching and research interests are in social movements, women's legal rights, historical sociology, and political sociology.

      Melissa Snarr, Associate Professor of Ethics and Society, Graduate Department of Religion, Divinity School. Her interests are intersection of religion, social change and social-political ethics.