Curriculum and Course Requirements

​PhD students are required to obtain  64 units of coursework from the following courses. For the MS degree the requirement is 52 units (48 units of required courses in Mathematical Statistics and Biostatistics and 4 units in Life Sciences). Full time graduate student must register for a minimum of 12 units per quarter. These 12 units can be made up of a combination of required coursework as described below, additional elective coursework if any, and special study courses (BST 251ABC). All student course programs, as well as any changes throughout the quarter, must be approved by a faculty advisor prior to registering for classes each quarter.

Required Courses (61 units)

  1. Required (Core) Courses in the Department of Mathematics (24 units)
    1. MATH 281 A, B,C (Mathematical Statistics I-II, 4 units each)
    2. MATH 282 A, B (Linear Models, 4 units each)
    3. MATH 284 (Survival Analysis, 4 units)
  2. Required (Core) Courses in Biostatistics (29 units) Each of:
    1. FMPH 221: Biostatistical Methods I (4 units)
    2. FMPH 222: Biostatistical Methods II (4 units)
    3. FMPH 223: Analysis of Longitudinal Data (4 units)
    4. FMPH 241: Biostatistics Rotation (2 quarters, 3 units each)
    5. FMPH 290: Biostatistics Seminar/Journal Club (3 quarters, 1 unit each)

    Two among the following courses:

    1. FMPH 224: Clinical Trials and Experimental Design (4 units)
    2. FMPH 225: Advanced Topics in Biostatistical Inference (4 units)
    3. FMPH226: Statistical Methods for Observational Studies (4 units)
    4. FMPH 227: Advanced Multivariate Methods (4 units)
    We note that all of the Biostatistics core courses except FMPH 290 carry a data analysis component. Students will be exposed to projects involving advanced data analyses to address complex life sciences problems. All courses except FMPH 290 are letter grade only.

  3. Required Life Sciences (8 units)
  4. Two courses at the upper division or the graduate level in Biomedical Sciences, Neurosciences, Epidemiology, Public Health, Biology, Systems Biology, Bioengineering, or Medicine, letter grade if possible. These courses are intended to provide the students with background in the life sciences and an introduction to complex life sciences problems that will constitute the area of application of their thesis and future research. The students are strongly encouraged to take further Life Sciences elective courses that are relevant to their research. Selection of all Life Sciences courses should be made in consultation with the thesis adviser.

Elective Courses (3 units)

Students are required to take at least 3 additional units of elective courses for letter grade from the following list.

  1. Biostatistics Elective Courses
  2. The Biostatistics elective courses are listed under one umbrella course number: FMPH 242, Advanced Topics in Biostatistics (3 units). This course is taught in rotation by the Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics faculty, and the curriculum will vary. Among the topics are:
    1. Random field theory and applications in image analysis
    2. Advanced Statistical Computing
    3. Bayesian methods
    4. Statistical collaboration in health sciences
  3. Statistical Methods Electives:
    1. MATH 280 ABC (Probability Theory, 4 units)
    2. MATH 287 B (Multivariate Analysis, 4 units)
    3. MATH 287 D (Statistical learning, 4 units)
    4. MATH 287A, C (Time Series Analysis, 4 units each)
    5. MATH 202A (Applied Algebra I, 4 units)
    6. MATH 240ABC (Real Analysis, 4 units)
    7. MATH 271ABC (Numerical Optimization, 4 units)
    8. MATH 285 (Stochastic Processes, 4 units)
  4. Computer Science Electives:
    1. CSE 202 (Algorithm Design and Analysis)
    2. ECE 273 (Convex Optimization, 4 units)
    3. CSE 250B: (Learning Algorithms, 4 units)
    4. CSE 255: (Data mining and predictive analytics, 4 units)
    5. CSE 260: (Parallel computation)
    6. CSE 283 (Genomics, Proteomics, Systems Biology, 4 units)

Biostatistics Rotations (FMPH 241)

The Biostatistics Rotations are a singular feature of this PhD program that takes advantage of the extensive involvement of the program faculty in collaborative and interdisciplinary work within the Life Sciences. Students will complete at least two and up to five quarter-length rotations before advancing to candidacy, each in the form of an interdisciplinary applied data analysis project. They may work in collaboration with any UCSD faculty researcher who conducts studies or experiments which generate data in the medical, biological, public health or pharmacologic sciences, and who will serve as a subject area mentor, under the primary mentorship of any Biostatistics or Statistics member of the interdepartmental program. Each practicum will last a minimum of 10 weeks and will involve the analysis of original data. The student will prepare or substantially contribute to a project report, which will be reviewed and signed off on by the mentor. The rotation may be conducted as part of employment as a Graduate Student Researcher or as part of the dissertation research. A report based on an internship of at least 10 weeks duration at a facility, government health office, institute or company outside of UCSD focusing on biological or medical research can also be used to satisfy this requirement.

Qualifying Examinations and Dissertation Requirements

Preliminary Written Statistics and Biostatistics Examination

The PhD Written Qualifying Examination has two parts: A statistical theory part, developed and scored by the Statistics Group within the Math Department; and a biostatistics part, developed and scored by the Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics within the Department of FMPH. The exam committees in charge may be different for each part of the exam. Whether or not students pass or fail is determined separately by the exam committees for the Statistical Theory part and the Biostatistics part of the exam. The student must pass at the PhD pass or provisional pass level. Each exam committee will forward its recommendation to the chair of the Graduate Program Committee, which will be the final arbiter of pass or fail.


Qualifying Examination Pass Levels​
​PhD Pass​Excellent performance, suitable for continuing towards doctoral work
​Provisional PhD Pass​Marginal performance at doctoral level
​MS Pass​Not suitable for continuing towards doctoral work, but satisfactory for terminal MS
FailUnsatisfactory for Master's level work

The PhD Written Qualifying Examination will be given at the end of each Spring Quarter and also at the beginning of each Fall Quarter. Students in the PhD program must attempt the exam in the Spring Quarter immediately after they complete both the Math 281 ABC and BST 221-223 core course series. A well-prepared student will take these exams during the first year of the program. Otherwise, they are expected to take the exams during the second year of the program. At least one of the exams must be completed with a provisional PhD pass or better by the end of the first year. Two failures to pass the examination at the PhD Level will result in a recommendation to the Dean of Graduate Studies for disqualification of the student in the PhD program.

Life Sciences Qualifying Examination

Students in the PhD program must also pass a Life Sciences Qualifying Examination. This consists of a seminar presentation of a statistical application in a particular area of life sciences. The presentation will be evaluated by an ad-hoc committee of three faculty members, including at least one outside (non-statistician) member with expertise in the area of application. The exam is taken Pass/Fail. The student is allowed two attempts at taking this exam. The student should pass this requirement prior to the end of the third year of study. The presentation will be evaluated on the students’ demonstration of a sufficient understanding of the area of application, and on the relevance of the statistical approach to this area.

Advancement to Candidacy

Students in the PhD program must also pass a Life Sciences Qualifying Examination. This consists of a seminar presentation of a statistical application in a particular area of life sciences. The presentation will be evaluated by an ad-hoc committee of three faculty members, including at least one outside (non-statistician) member with expertise in the area of application. The exam is taken Pass/Fail. The student is allowed two attempts at taking this exam. The student should pass this requirement prior to the end of the third year of study. The presentation will be evaluated on the students’ demonstration of a sufficient understanding of the area of application, and on the relevance of the statistical approach to this area.

Advancement to Candidacy
It is expected that by the end of the third year (9 quarters), students should have a field of research chosen and a faculty member willing to direct and guide them. A student will advance to candidacy after successfully passing the oral qualifying examination, which deals primarily with the area of research proposed. The student will also have successfully completed at least 64 units of required and elective courses within the Program.
Advisers must submit the Application for the Qualifying Exam (QE) four weeks prior to the exam date; exams taken before receiving Office of Graduate Studies approval may be deemed null and void. Students must be registered during the quarters in which they take any portion of their QE. To be eligible for the QE, the student must have:

  • A “B” average in all work done in graduate standing;
  • Satisfied all departmental or group requirements; and
  • Removed all academic deficiencies

The preparation for the exam will be done by working closely with a faculty mentor (independent study) who is a regular member of the interdepartmental Program in Biostatistics. The exam committee consists of the Doctoral Committee. The PhD Qualifying Examination examines a student on the breadth and depth of knowledge expected from the coursework taken, and a special research topic approved by the committee. The primary purpose of the QE is to validate that the student is academically qualified to conceptualize a research topic, undertake scholarly research and clearly communicate its results, and successfully produce the dissertation required for a doctoral degree. A forty-five minute presentation given by the student is followed by a question period that covers the special research topic as well as coursework in general.
Graduate Studies guidelines for PhD Qualifying Examinations apply. A student who passes the PhD QE is eligible for Advancement to Candidacy for the PhD degree. Title and abstract of the PhD QE presentation will be distributed to all faculty and students of the participating departments in the Program in Biostatistics, who are invited to attend the presentation portion of the examination. The subsequent question period is a closed session between the student and the committee. The student must file the appropriate paperwork with the Office of Graduate Studies and pay the candidacy fee to be promoted to Candidacy for the PhD degree.
Qualifying Exam: Outcomes. A committee, having reached a unanimous decision, shall inform the student of its decision as “Pass” (no conditions may be appended to this decision), “Not Pass” (the Chair’s report should specify whether the student is required to retake all or part of the exam, list any additional requirements, and state the exact timeline for completion of requirements to achieve a “Pass”) or “Fail”. If a unanimous decision takes the form of “Not Pass” or “Fail”, the Chair of the QE committee must include in its report a specific statement, agreed to by all members of the committee, explaining its decision and must inform the student of its decision. Having received a “Not Pass” or “Fail”, the student may attempt the QE one additional time. After a second exam, a vote of “Not Pass” is unacceptable; only “Pass” or “Fail” is recognized. Only one retake of the QE is allowed. A student who fails the QE on the second attempt will be recommended to the Dean of Graduate Studies for disqualification from the PhD program.

Doctoral Dissertation

The doctoral dissertation is an essential part of the PhD program. A topic will be selected by the student, under the advice and guidance of a Major Professor (thesis adviser) and a Dissertation Committee chaired by the Major Professor. At least one member of the committee must be a tenured faculty from outside the Biostatistics program; often this will be a member of the biomedical sciences faculty who can provide a motivating problem or data set from an area of application, in collaboration with the major advisor. Students are encouraged to begin some research activity as early as possible during the second year of their graduate studies, and to use the Biostatistics Rotation to assess potential thesis advisers. The dissertation must contain an original contribution of quality that would be acceptable for publication in the biostatistics literature that extends the theory or methodology of biostatistics, or extends biostatistical methods to solve a critical problem in applied disciplines.

Dissertation Defense

The entire dissertation committee will conduct a final oral examination, which will deal primarily with questions arising out of the relationship of the dissertation to the field of Biostatistics. The final examination will be conducted in two parts. The first part consists of a one-hour presentation by the candidate followed by a brief period of questions pertaining to the presentation; this part of the examination is open to the public. The second part of the examination will immediately follow the first part; this is a closed session between the student and the committee and will consist of a period of questioning by the committee members. Title and abstract of the oral presentation will be distributed to all faculty and students of departments that participate in the Biostatistics