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Become a Leader in the Field of Safety Sciences

You’re a professional working in the sciences, and you’re looking to advance your skills without interrupting your career. The Safety Sciences PhD program at IUP will prepare you to become a leader in the field, developing safer workplaces and protecting employees, property, and the environment.

Through hybrid learning that combines part-time distance education with a summer workshop program, you can earn this applied research science degree without taking a break from work.

The 54-credit program, including the dissertation, can be completed in three to eight years, with 24 credits through distance education courses, 18 credits of summer workshop courses, and 12 credit hours of dissertation. See more about the Classes and Requirements.

A Degree That Leads to a Future of Options

IUP’s Safety Sciences PhD program prepares you for a higher level of professional performance. You’ll learn how to anticipate, recognize, evaluate, control, and prevent safety, health, and environmental hazards in work environments. You’ll also be ready to teach safety sciences at academic institutions and conduct independent research.

You’ll be learning alongside a diverse group of fellow students—our PhD student population is composed of 20 percent minorities and 50 percent women. Some students enter the program to advance their careers. Some want to gain qualifications for academic instruction. Others pursue the degree to change the direction of their career or to plan for a second career after retirement.

How You’ll Learn

A new student group is admitted into the program every odd-numbered year and remains together as a cohort to complete the program. In the fall and spring, you’ll attend evening classes online, and in the summer, you'll gather on campus with your cohort for a two-week workshop.

Imagine Your Future

When you envision the pinnacle of your career, what do you see? Depending on where you are in your safety and environmental health career path, an IUP Safety Sciences PhD can open doors to managerial and director positions, and even C-suite roles in the public or private sector.

If your goal is to educate the next generation of safety science professionals, this degree will prepare you to enter academia as a full-time, tenure-track or part-time adjunct professor.

Graduates of the PhD in Safety Sciences program have gone on to excel in their careers in positions such as:

  • Assistant professors
  • Corporate managers
  • Directors
  • Superintendents

A Credential for Problem-Solvers

To function and compete in today’s business dynamic, organizations are looking for professionals with a higher level of safety science knowledge, skills, and abilities. Most private sector companies are required to adhere to OSHA regulations that protect workers across the United States. Many companies have unique safety programs in place to reduce their company-specific hazards and risks to acceptable levels.

Additionally, workplaces are being developed with increasingly sophisticated and complex designs and functions, and the coronavirus pandemic has underscored the importance of workplace safety professionals who can control exposures in these environments.

A PhD credential in the field demonstrates that you have the expertise to rise to the challenge.

Career Opportunities in Safety Sciences

The safety sciences field employs approximately 132,400 individuals, with opportunities projected to increase through 2031, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job outlook as a whole is positive, with an average annual occupational growth rate of 5 percent.

In a field with a wide variety of positions and skill sets, safety science professionals have the freedom to work almost anywhere in the world. You’ll use new technologies to make a difference in the health and welfare of workers.

New Challenges for More Advanced Professionals

New technologies, techniques, and materials are creating new health and safety challenges in the workplace. Organizations are under greater pressure to identify hazardous conditions and prevent workplace injury or harm. Additionally, reputation management and a desire to uphold good corporate citizenship are driving employment growth in safety sciences.

It’s your time: seasoned professionals like you will have room to advance as more than half of occupational safety and health professionals are approaching retirement age.

Safety sciences professionals who earn a doctoral degree are poised for a fulfilling and rewarding career.

Median Annual Salary


Safety professionals holding a PhD

Classes and Requirements

Upon graduation, you’ll be able to:

  • Anticipate, recognize, evaluate, control, and prevent safety, health, and environmental hazards in the work environment.
  • Conduct independent research.
  • Teach safety sciences at academic institutions.

The program can be completed in three to eight years. A minimum of 54 semester hours of credits is required, including:

  • 24 credits (eight courses) earned through distance education courses online (six credits each fall and spring term for two consecutive years).
  • 18 credits (six courses) in six one-week summer workshop courses on the IUP campus (six credits over a two-week period in the summer semester for three consecutive years).
  • 12 hours of dissertation supervision.

To earn your degree, you must satisfactorily complete a comprehensive written examination, an oral defense of your dissertation proposal, a dissertation, and an oral defense of your dissertation.

The total minimum time to complete the degree is approximately three years; the average time to complete the degree is approximately five years.

Full Academic Catalog Listing

The course catalog is the official reference for all our degree and course offerings. Check it out for a full listing of the classes available and requirements for this degree.

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Student Demographics

The field of safety sciences is predominantly male at present; approximately 80 percent of jobs in the field are held by men. However, the demographic of the student population in IUP’s Safety Sciences PhD program reflects a changing picture.

More than 75 percent of the current program cohort includes women, minorities, and international students ranging in age from 26 to 60.

Almost all our students currently work in the safety, health, and environmental field, and approximately half work for employers that are paying for their education. Most students reported that they see themselves eventually moving into academia to teach full- or part-time. A very limited number of our students are currently working in academia.

Program Outcomes

In this program, you’ll develop sophisticated research, analytical, and problem-solving skills that will position you for safety science leadership careers in industry, government, and academia. As a graduate, you will be prepared to:

  • Apply appropriate quantitative and qualitative research methods to solve safety, health, and environmental problems.
  • Conduct independent research in the safety, health, and environmental field.
  • Demonstrate advanced knowledge of safety, health, and environmental management techniques.
  • Effectively develop, implement, and evaluate a safety education curriculum.

Strengths of the PhD in Safety Sciences Program

As a doctoral student in the safety sciences at IUP, you’ll enter a program that can take you to the top of your field, without interrupting your career. This is the only hybrid safety science program in the nation, allowing you to pursue your degree on a part-time basis.

Our PhD program is also one of few in the general field that is not affiliated with an engineering school, public health school, or business school. While our program includes courses in these disciplines, the curriculum is intentionally balanced to appeal to a broad student base and reflect the reality of safety science as a generalized field that spans almost every industry and workplace type.

A Practical Education with Purpose

IUP’s program attracts working professionals because it’s structured as an applied research science degree. Unlike programs that focus on theory, our PhD in Safety Sciences equips you with knowledge that is immediately applicable in the workplace.

Some students leverage their dissertations to resolve specific workplace problems, increasing their visibility and potential for career advancement and creating value for employers who may be funding their education.

During the on-campus, two-week summer experience, you’ll build lifelong friendships and professional bonds with professors and fellow students in your cohort. Many students bring years of field knowledge to campus, further enhancing the quality of the program.

Recent PhD Graduate Awards

We take great pride in our graduates who continue to distinguish themselves in the field of safety science. Recent graduates have gained outstanding field recognition with awards that include:

  • American Society of Safety Professionals Professional Safety Article of the Year
  • Industrial Hygiene Officer of the Year
  • Rising Star of Safety, awarded by the National Safety Council
  • Safety Professional of the Year, awarded by ASSP Region VI
  • Uniformed Services University’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine Dean’s Impact Award

Program Graduate Survey Results

The Department of Safety Sciences at IUP is committed to continuous improvement of our education programs, with the goal of providing a learning experience that meets the expectations of students and aligns with current industry demands.

As part of that effort, our faculty solicit input to gain insight into students’ experience in the Safety Sciences PhD program. In the survey results, students noted the quality of program professors. They describe professors as:

  • Accessible to students
  • Adaptable to different learning styles
  • Attentive to students’ concerns
  • Committed to providing valuable feedback
  • Dedicated to helping students learn and grow
  • Motivated to help students succeed
  • Passionate about teaching
  • Supportive with dissertation assistance
  • Top notch in their field, with private sector experience

Comments about the program and curriculum design include praise for:

  • A beneficial combination of distance and live classroom learning
  • Coursework that introduces complex issues and safety, health, and environmental (SHE) problem-solving methods
  • Dissertations that use specific safety and environmental health examples
  • Exposure to critical thinking, reasoning, and detailed analysis of problems and solutions
  • Intensive academic writing requirements that are indispensable for scholarly research and writing
  • Preparing students to become future educators, with an emphasis on pedagogy and teaching
  • Program flexibility and professors who accommodate the schedules of working professionals
  • Statistics and research courses that are appropriate for the safety sciences field
  • A transformational dissertation process that motivates further interest in research
  • A well-rounded and field-relevant curriculum that enhances and builds on students’ technical abilities

Selection and Type of PhD Dissertations

Choosing a topic for your dissertation must be a carefully considered process. This is a crucial component of your doctoral studies that takes months to complete, and it requires deep immersion into the subject matter.

Based on feedback from program graduates and current students, the selection of dissertation topics is founded on five primary considerations:

  • A newly discovered topic of interest drawn from a PhD class or lesson
  • Corporate interest, particularly if the student’s employer is funding tuition
  • Faculty interest
  • Personal interest
  • Urgency, based on the availability to certain data or information to the student and limited time or resources to complete a dissertation

Most dissertations in the field of safety science are mixed method studies, a combination of quantitative and qualitative research. These dissertations are founded on survey results, physical experiments, and epidemiological studies. To date, graduates of IUP’s PhD in Safety Sciences program have most frequently conducted surveys for their dissertation, followed by physical experiments, and then epidemiological studies.

PhD Dissertation Titles

  • Rodriguez-Franco, Oscar. 2021. “Contributing Factors to Serious Injuries and Fatalities in Electrical Occupations Due to Contact with Electricity.”
  • Mullins-Jaime, Charmane. 2021. “Assessing the Effects of a Communication Intervention on Climate Change Action Motivation Using a Health and Safety Risk Management Framework.”
  • Schoolcraft, Steven G. 2021. “Factors Influencing the Perceived Social Theories Associated with Motivating Safety Performance in a Global Organization.”
  • Reed, Patricia A. 2021. “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Chemical Exposure Training in Improving Employee Risk Perception with a Case Study in a Bleach Processing Plant Filling Department.”
  • Pugh, Cynthia T. 2020. “Characterization of Occupational Exposures to Engineered Nanomaterials in an Electronic Recycling Facility.”
  • Hunter, Pamela A. 2020. “An Evaluation of the Efficacy of Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in Reducing Workplace Violence Injuries to Registered Nurses in Connecticut.”
  • Diehl, Francene S. 2020. “An Evaluation of Social Marketing Delivery Modes Aimed at Teen Smartphone Use While Driving: An Application of the Theory of Planned Behavior.”
  • Mulroy, John M. 2020. “An Investigation of Occupational Safety and Health Management Attributes on High-Hazard Small Enterprise Safety Outcomes for Use in Modifying OSHA Consultation's Safety and Health Assessment Worksheet (Revised Form 33).”
  • Armstrong, George. 2020. “Assessing Manufacturing Employee Perceptions of Supervisor Occupational Health and Safety Competencies and Potential for Occupational Health and Safety Training Facilitation.”

Steps to Complete Your Dissertation in Safety Sciences

Completing Your Dissertation: Standard Process

  1. Complete your program coursework.
  2. Formulate an idea for your dissertation topic or experimental approach.
  3. Form a dissertation committee with approval from the program coordinator.
  4. Discuss your topic with your dissertation committee members.
  5. Take the comprehensive/candidacy exam (similar to writing the first three chapters of your dissertation).
  6. Present an oral defense of your dissertation proposal.
  7. Complete and submit your research topic approval form (RTAF), generate institutional review board (IRB) documentation, and receive approval from the graduate school.
  8. After you receive a written receipt of research topic approval from the School of Graduate Studies and Research, begin writing your dissertation. You may not begin dissertation research activity—other than preliminary steps such as background research, an IRB or IACUC (research animal care and use) approved pilot study, or a three-chapter writing/review)—until you have received notice of approval from the School of Graduate Studies and Research.
  9. Conduct formal research.
  10. Write your dissertation.
  11. Present an oral defense of your dissertation.

Completing Your Dissertation: Alternate, Expedited Process

  1. Formulate an idea for your dissertation topic or experimental approach.
  2. Form a dissertation committee with approval from the program coordinator.
  3. Discuss your topic with your dissertation committee members.
  4. Complete and submit your research topic approval form (RTAF), generate institutional review board (IRB) documentation, and receive approval from the graduate school.
  5. After you receive a written receipt of research topic approval from the School of Graduate Studies and Research, begin writing your dissertation. You may not begin dissertation research activity—other than preliminary steps such as background research, an IRB or IACUC (research animal care and use) approved pilot study, or a three-chapter writing/review)—until you have received notice of approval from the School of Graduate Studies and Research.
  6. Take the comprehensive/candidacy exam (similar to writing the first three chapters of your dissertation).
  7. Present an oral defense of your dissertation proposal.
  8. Conduct formal research.
  9. Write your dissertation.
  10. Present an oral defense of your dissertation.
  11. Complete program courses any time before graduation.

Safety Leadership Hub

IUP’s Safety Leadership Hub is founded on five pillars: Research, Education, Training, Consultation, and Partnerships. Hosted by the Department of Safety Sciences, it represents the university’s holistic approach to being a regional leader in safety, health, and environmental sciences.

Through our vision to be the premier institution for education and research and the program of choice for industry partnerships in the global safety, health, and environmental profession, the IUP Safety Leadership Hub will serve as a portal to explore our education programs, current research, collaboration opportunities, consultation services, and training.

How Many Safety Professionals Hold Doctoral Degrees?

Each year, the Board of Certified Safety Professionals conducts a safety field salary survey in collaboration with the National Safety Council to learn what type of academic degrees safety professionals earn and the median compensation by degree.

The yearly report generated from data gathered in this survey includes an expansive variety of demographic information. Review the most recent full report (pdf).

Percent of Safety Professionals Who Hold Various Educational Degrees

  • Associate’s degree: 6%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 45%
  • Doctoral degree: 2%
  • High school diploma/GED: 3%
  • Master’s degree: 32%
  • Some college but not a degree: 9%
  • Vocational/trade school diploma or certificate: 2%

Annual Median Safety Professional Compensation by Educational Degree

  • Doctoral degree: $118.5K
  • Master’s degree: $105K
  • Bachelor’s degree: $93K

About Our Faculty

The Safety Sciences faculty members bring to the classroom their professional experience in industries such as insurance, consulting, manufacturing, healthcare, construction, government, and others.  All faculty are certified safety professionals and/or certified industrial hygienists, and many hold multiple certifications.

  • Our professors are active in safety sciences research, publishing, and service to the profession.
  • Their focus is on the student. All graduate students have an advisor who mentors them throughout their graduate program.
  • Safety Sciences hosts an annual departmental career fair.  An average of 75 companies attend the career fair, and it's here that you can find co-ops, internships and full-time employment.

Student Opportunities


IUP Chapter of American Society of Safety Professionals

The Department of Safety Sciences has had a student section of the American Society of Safety Professionals for more than 20 years and has won the Outstanding ASSP Student Section five times. All students are encouraged to participate, and about 100 students currently are involved.

Rho Sigma Kappa

The Alpha Chapter of Rho Sigma Kappa was inaugurated at IUP in 1993. This honor society recognizes exemplary performance in the safety sciences. Graduate student membership is based on nomination by program faculty and requires completion of at least 15 credits in the major and meeting minimum grade point averages, as well as other evidence of superior performance. Typically, only 5 to 10 percent of Safety Sciences students qualify for membership in Rho Sigma Kappa.

Safety Sciences Career Fair

Our career fair is widely recognized as one of the crown jewels of the Safety Sciences Department. With our outstanding national reputation, we attract some of the largest employers in many industries who are seeking to hire personnel with safety expertise. We host the Safety Sciences Career Fair in October each year at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex. All students are invited.