UC Berkeley Biostatistics UC Berkeley Biostatistics UC Berkeley UC Berkeley
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree

A PhD degree in Biostatistics requires a program of courses selected from biostatistics, statistics, and at least one other subject area (such as biology, environmental health, epidemiology), a qualifying examination, and completion of a dissertation. Courses cover traditional topics as well as recent advances in biostatistics and in statistics. Since graduates with doctorates often assume academic careers in research and teaching, a high degree of mastery in research design, theory, methodology, and execution is expected as well as the ability to communicate and present research findings and area of expertise in a clear, understandable manner. The PhD degree program requires a minimum of four semesters of registration.
All students in the Biostatistics PhD program hold a master's degree in biostatistics or a related field and those applying for PhD study who do not already hold a masters degree are considered for admission to the Biostatistics MA program. This practice does not prolong the time to the doctorate since the first two years of both the MA and PhD programs for students coming from the baccalaureate are identical.


PhD students are expected to have completed the MA course requirements, either as part of their prior MA degree or upon joining the PhD program at UC Berkeley. A program of courses appropriate to a student's background and interests may be developed in consultation with the faculty advisor.

A complete list of courses offered in Biostatistics, Statistics, and other fields of interest can be found in the Course Catalog.

The Qualifying Examination

The oral qualifying examination (QE) is scheduled for three hours. The primary purpose of the exam is to test both a candidate's general competence in the field of biostatistics and the ability to apply biostatistical methods to a subject-matter area. The exam is designed to measure the candidate's breadth nd depth of knowledge as well as provide a determination of the candidate's readiness to enter the research phase of study. The exam is conducted as follows:
  1. The candidate is expected to begin with a 30 minute presentation of a proposed dissertation topic that includes a sound research strategy that the candidate can defend.
  2. Following this presentation, the candidate will be asked to demonstrate an ability to synthesize the methods and techniques learned through coursework and to apply this knowledge to areas and problems suggested by the committee members. To achieve this goal, committee members are likely to ask questions that delve into subjects that go beyond the chosen area of dissertation research.
Students are encouraged to take the qualifying exam after they have identified a dissertation advisor and a research topic. In preparation for the exam, the candidate should meet with the Chair of the qualifying examination committee to discuss the details of the structure of the exam and any other pertinent issues.

The Dissertation

After completion of coursework and the Qualifying Examination, a doctoral student must apply to advance to candidacy for the PhD. Before this is possible, a student must have identified:
  1. a dissertation topic
  2. a dissertation advisor
  3. and a dissertation committee.
Advisors and committee members are particularly interested in working with candidates who have demonstrated an ability to perform original research and doctoral students are encouraged to explore dissertation research topics early in the program. Topics for research are selected from biostatistics and statistics, public health, biology, computing, and other areas (see dissertation topics of some recent graduates).

Career Paths

Since the inception of the program in 1955, the Group in Biostatistics has produced more than 100 doctoral graduates. A number of these have gone on to teaching careers at colleges and universities, both here in the US and internationally. Others have pursued careers as biostatisticians in the pharmaceutical/biotech industries, health care delivery organizations, medical schools, and schools of public health across the US and abroad. The demand for biostatisticians with advanced training is high, particularly for those seeking teaching and research careers.