Biostatistics Graduate Program

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Doctoral Qualifying Oral Examination


To qualify for PhD candidacy, a pre-doctoral student must complete all required first- and second-year courses, be in good academic standing (GPA ≥3.0), pass both the first-year and second-year comprehensive exams at the PhD level, and pass the doctoral qualifying oral examination. The doctoral qualifying oral examination should be completed during the student’s third academic year, preferably before June of the third year.


The goals of the oral examination are to determine (1) if the student is prepared to engage in independent methodologic research and (2) if the student can communicate, to both statisticians and non-statisticians, a general competency with applied and theoretical concepts in biostatistics. The exam will assess the student’s ability to synthesize and communicate advanced statistical concepts in an area of the student’s choosing. It may also examine the student’s depth and breadth of general knowledge in biostatistics and biomedicine. Of note, the examination is not intended to be a dissertation proposal defense nor it is intended to re-assess a student’s technical competency. Rather, the intent of the examination is to gauge the students’ preparedness for pursuing doctoral research and ability to communicate statistical concepts.

Documents and Presentation

To help focus the examination, the student will prepare and present a brief literature review, or an active exploration, of an advanced statistical method. The presentation should take around 30 minutes. The student will also prepare a brief document that summarizes their review or exploration and demonstrates synthesis of the topic by outlining potential avenues of research. The student must submit the document 14 days in advance of the examination. The student is not required to pursue research in this area after the examination. The student will work closely with a faculty member to prepare this document and that faculty will serve as an advisor and advocate for the student throughout this process.


Examinations are closed to the public and will last approximately two hours. The chair of the committee will be the most senior Biostatistics faculty who is not the student’s advisor. Immediately before the exam begins, the committee members will meet in private to determine how questioning will be conducted (e.g., order, timing, topics, scope). The student will then present their work. During the presentation, questions will be limited to clarifications. After the presentation, the committee will commence with questioning. After questioning is concluded, the committee will deliberate in private. Then the student will be asked to come back into the room to discuss the committee’s decision.

Committee Composition

The committee must have a minimum of four voting members. Voting members must hold a PhD, ScD, or DrPH and be graduate school faculty in good standing. Of the four voting members, three must be faculty from the Department of Biostatistics. At least one voting member must be from a department other than the Department of Biostatistics. School of Medicine faculty who hold a MD are encouraged to participate in the examination and in the committee’s closed deliberations, but are not eligible to vote. The committee’s composition must be approved by the DGS. Students are encouraged to discuss the composition of the committee with their faculty advisor. Please submit the committee request form to Linda Wilson, the form can be found at PhD Committee request.

Examination Criteria

The student must demonstrate (1) excellence in communication skills, (2) proficiency with the core PhD curriculum, (3) refined critical thinking skills, and (4) the ability to synthesize key concepts in the topic of the student’s choosing. There are three possible outcomes of the examination: Pass; Conditional pass (conditions to be set by the doctoral qualifying committee and subsequently approved by the DGS); Fail. On satisfactory completion of the examination (i.e., pass or conditional pass with conditions met), the student is admitted to candidacy. In the case of failure, the student has four months to retake the examination. The doctoral qualifying committee, with approval of the DGS, will determine the date of the second examination. Failure in the second examination will result in dismissal from the doctoral program.

[1] ‘PhD Biostatistics faculty’ includes departmental faculty with a PhD, ScD, or DrPH in Biostatistics or Statistics

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