Program Components

The distinguishing feature of the Scholars' research experience at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program at the University of Wisconsin is its blending of academic and practice elements, designed to provide the Scholars with solid and innovative training in research on the health of populations. The breadth, depth, and interdisciplinarity characterizing the University of Wisconsin's scholarly activities have been marshaled to provide for a training curriculum and academic mentoring, combining for a research experience second to none. UW-Madison academic mentors and colleagues in the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program at Wisconsin will work alongside the Scholars to provide exposure to, and immersion in, state-of-the-art ideas and methodologies that will become the core of population health scholarship in the next generation.

Our educational approach involves

Shared Curriculum

The shared curriculum of the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program at Wisconsin involves two primary components:

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Seminar

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Seminar meets once a week throughout the 9-month academic year. The primary goals of this seminar are to:

  1. create an intellectual community in which inter- and cross-disciplinary learning can occur,
  2. provide an introduction to core areas of population health (social and environmental context, behavior, and biology across the life course) and,
  3. model cross-disciplinary research, dialogue, and leadership.

In order to provide an introduction to core areas of population health, our first semester curriculum, in particular, focuses on covering core areas of population health. We aim to develop shared knowledge and language about the social, behavioral, environmental, and biological determinants of health and their interactions. Each seminar (or each module involving multiple seminar sessions) is designed both to expose all scholars to the breadth of research on a particular domain (to establish at least introductory knowledge about core areas), and to talk in depth about at least one aspect or issue of research in a given domain. Depending on the topic, these seminars might be led by seminar faculty and scholars, or we might invite a guest for presentation and discussion.

In order to model cross-disciplinary research, dialogue, and leadership, we use the seminar to model productive, interdisciplinary conversation and debate. We also have scholars responsible for designing and leading some seminars, primarily in the second semester. We spend the latter part of the second semester with scholar presentations and feedback on their annual meeting presentations.

Professional Development Seminar

The Professional Development (PD) seminar is scheduled once a week for about an hour, and it meets as necessary (usually 2 out of every 3 weeks). The goals of the PD seminar are:

  1. to introduce Scholars to non-academic practice and policy professionals and organizations that put population health knowledge and research into practice,
  2. to develop knowledge of how to conduct Knowledge Transfer (KT) at multiple levels,
  3. to develop leadership skills,
  4. to address professional issues (such as work/life balance, diversity issues in academia, and job search preparation), and
  5. to provide a venue for presentation and feedback of scholar research.

To achieve these goals, we invite non-academic practice and policy professionals to the PD seminars in order to speak to the scholars (and we encourage individual scholars to meet with professionals in their particular area of interest). Also, we discuss research/manuscripts on knowledge transfer and invite experts on this topic. Regarding leadership, we hold seminars specifically on leadership issues, and discuss leadership issues in other seminars, particularly when outside speakers come and we can take advantage of their perspectives on leadership as well as on the scholarly topic they were invited to speak on. We hold special seminars on other professional issues, sometimes initiated by directors, and sometimes initiated by scholar interest. Finally, we use PD seminar time to have scholars present and receive feedback on presentations they have prepared for conferences, job talks, or early work in progress.


Although scholars also develop academic mentors across campus, strong mentorship internal to the program with the directors is a key component of our program. Before the scholars arrive on campus, we encourage them to contact faculty with whom they connected during the interview process, so that they might "hit the ground running" once they arrive. Upon arrival, each scholar has a meeting with the directors where we discuss the scholar's initial goals and develop a plan for how to accomplish those goals. This plan includes helping the scholar determine: how to balance finishing old projects with starting new ones, which faculty the scholar should meet to expand to new projects and directions, and which resources on campus will be appropriate for the scholar (seminar series, institutes and centers, etc.). The individualized plan sometimes includes auditing optional graduate classes (such as a population health class or a methods class), depending on the background and goals of the scholar.

In terms of mentorship beyond that offered by the directors, we encourage a range of mentorship arrangements, depending on the particular needs and goals of the scholar. Some scholars develop more formal mentorship relationships on a faculty member's project, particularly if they are new to a field. Other scholars develop mentorship relationships that are more collaborative or consultative. We work with the scholars to develop these relationships, and to expand their exposure to a broad range of population health approaches through these relationships. One way we facilitate interdisciplinary collaborative or mentorship relationships is by using some of our separate Research and Training funds to provide seed money for scholar-initiated research projects. Ideally, scholars will include faculty from other disciplines in these projects. Each Scholar is also provided a research fund to use at his/her discretion for research-related items such as: a student research assistant, purchase of data, and purchase of books.

As part of the mentorship plan, we discuss with each scholar his/her level of interest in being exposed to policymakers and to exploring various types of knowledge transfer relationships. The scholars have had a range of interest in such activities, and we are prepared to encourage and facilitate their interests. For example, one scholar collaborated with state public health and environmental leaders on a study of bureaucratic relationships, and another is working on a Madison community health project. There are a wide variety of practice settings in the area where scholars can apply their interests:

Examples of Practice Settings