Master's Program in Biostatistics

The Master's Program in Biostatistics primarily prepares students to carry out state-of-the-art data analyses appropriate for dealing with data arising in life sciences problems. The first year of study is very similar to the Ph.D. program, and both programs share courses STA 232AB in the second year. There is no thesis element; students are assessed through coursework and comprehensive examination. An M.S. student can easily transfer into the Ph.D. program in the second year.

Master's Program Coordinator: Jillian Hancock (, Tel: 530-554-1367)

Degree Requirements, M.S.

The Graduate Program in Biostatistics offers the M.S. degree under Plan II, for which there is no thesis. Students are assessed by Comprehensive Examination.

Undergraduate Preparation

An undergraduate major in mathematics or statistics is typical for Biostatistics graduate students, but is not required. However, because of the mathematical nature of some of the graduate coursework, students should be able to demonstrate good mathematical ability. Students should also demonstrate some exposure to courses in the life sciences (biological, environmental, medical and agricultural sciences). The minimal background for entrance into the master's program is: a bachelor's degree with a 3.0 overall grade-point average; one year of calculus; a course in linear algebra; facility with a programming language; and upper-division work in mathematics and/or statistics.
Applicants without this minimal background will not be considered for admission in the Graduate Group. Applicants must complete the online Office of Graduate Studies application, and provide three letters of recommendation; applicants whose native language or language of instruction is not English must achieve the minimum TOEFL score of 80. The program does not accept part-time students.

Program of Study

The program of study will be adjusted to individual needs by the Biostatistics Graduate Adviser. This is a M.S. Plan II program which requires a comprehensive exam (no thesis). A minimum of 50 units is required (graduate and upper division), of which at least 18 must be graduate courses in the major field (according to university regulations). Not more than 9 units of research (299 or equivalent) may be used to satisfy the 18-unit requirement.

The Course Requirements (50 units) for the Master's degree are as follows.

Required Courses (35 units):

  • STA 131 A, B, C (Probability Theory and Mathematical Statistics, 4 units each)
  • STA 135 (Applied Multivariate Analysis, 4 units)
  • STA 141 (Statistical Computing, 4 units)
  • STA 232 A, B (Applied Statistics, 4 units each)
  • BST 290 (Biostatistics Seminar, taken twice, 1 unit each)
  • STA 401* (Methods in Statistical Consulting, 3 units)
  • STA 390 (Methods of Teaching Statistics, required once, during the first year of residence, 2 units)

*Note: STA 401 is no longer offered but has been replaced by STA 260 - Statistical Practice and Data Analysis (course description can be found here), which must be taken instead of STA 401.

The following courses courses can be used to substitute required courses STA131A, B, C, STA135, STA141, STA401/260:

  • STA 231 A, B, C for STA 131 A, B, C
  • STA 232 C for STA 135
  • STA 242 or STA 243 for STA 141
  • a data analysis project conducted under BST 299 (independent study) for STA 401/260

If a required course for the M.S. program is substituted in this way, the substituting course cannot be used to simultaneously satisfy any other requirement.

Biostatistics Core Courses (8 units):

Two courses taken from the following:

  • BST 222 (Survival Analysis, 4 units)
  • BST223 (Generalized Linear Models, 4 units)
  • BST224 (Longitudinal Data Analysis, 4 units)
  • BST225 (Clinical Trials, 4 units)
  • BST226 (Statistical Methods in Bioinformatics, 4 units).

Biostatistics and Methods Electives (4 units)

One course with a substantial biostatistical data analysis component at the upper division or the graduate level. Possible courses include the following (although they may not simultaneously satisfy any other Biostatistics core courses requirement): BST222 (4 units), STA237 A, B (4 units each), BST223 (4 units), BST224 (4 units), BST225 (4 units), BST226 (4 units), STA250 (4 units), STA251 (4 units), STA252 (4 units);

Life Sciences Elective (3 units)

One course selected from any upper division or graduate offering in biology, epidemiology, environmental, agricultural or medical sciences.

Further elective units at the upper division or graduate level, although not required, may be taken in the following areas if a student wishes to do so for furthering his or her career objectives:
(a) Statistics, (b) Fields of Biostatistical application (e.g., epidemiology, genetics).


A minimum of 50 units is required; 43 units of core and 7 of elective coursework. A minimum course load is 12 units per academic quarter.


Comprehensive Examination

Students in the M.S. program must attempt the exam at the end of all coursework, typically in the last quarter in the program. If a student does not attempt the exam at that time, it will be recorded as a failure. Every M.S. student needs to pass the exam in a maximum of two attempts. If a student fails the first attempt, the second attempt must be done before the end of the next quarter; if the first attempt is made in Spring, the second attempt must be made over the summer. Two failures to pass the exam will result in a recommendation to the Dean of Graduate Studies for disqualification of the student in the graduate program.

The Graduate Group Chair will appoint two permanent members to the M.S. comprehensive exam committee. The third member, who will be named the Chair of the committee for a given student, is identified by the Master Graduate Adviser in consultation with the student. This committee will be in charge of administering the M.S. comprehensive exam and reporting the result to the chair of the GGB. The chair of the committee is responsible for guiding the student in preparation for the exam. The M.S. Comprehensive Examination consists of a written report and an oral defense on a scientific project involving Biostatistical data analysis. This project should be well written and should have the potential to be publishable in a scientific journal. The chair of the committee will provide the student with a scientific project involving data analysis. The student will have at most three weeks to complete the project and write the written report.

After the report is submitted, the committee will schedule an oral examination with the candidate in which the candidate presents the project and answers questions about the work. , After this oral examination, the committee will make a decision on whether to pass the candidate. Each student will receive a written evaluation on the performance on the examination, which will be discussed with the Biostatistics Master Graduate Adviser.

Advancement to Candidacy

Plan II M.S. Candidates must file an Advancement to Candidacy form ( prior to taking the M.S. comprehensive examination. Candidates must have taken at least half of the required coursework for their degree requirements (25 units). Students are expected to apply for advancement to candidacy by the end of the third quarter in the program, and then advance by the end of the 6th quarter. A completed form includes a list of courses the student will take to complete degree requirements. If changes must be made to the student’s course plan after s/he has advanced to candidacy, the Master Graduate Adviser must recommend these changes to Graduate Studies. Students must have the Master Graduate Adviser sign the candidacy form before it can be submitted to Graduate Studies. If the candidacy is approved, the Office of Graduate Studies will send a copy to the program and the student.

If the Office of Graduate Studies determines that a student is not eligible for advancement, the program and the student will be told the reasons for the application’s deferral. Some reasons for deferring an application include: grade point average below 3.0, outstanding “I” grades in required courses, or insufficient units.

M.S. in Biostatistics Sample Study Plan

Two life sciences courses are included in the sample plan to indicate that a prerequisite may have to be fulfilled for students without prior exposure to coursework in the life sciences.

Year One




STA 131A (4 units)
STA 106 or 108(4 units)
STA 141 (4 units)
STA 390 (2 units)

STA 131B (4 units)
STA 106 or 108 (4 units)
BST 290 (1 unit)

STA 131C (4 units)
MAT 167 (4 units)
STA 135(4 units)
BST 290 (1 unit)

Year Two




BST 222 (4 units)
STA 232A (4 units)

BST 223 (4 units)
STA 232B (4 units)
STA 260 (3 units)
M.S. Comprehensive Exam

Degree Requirements approved by Graduate Council May, 2010

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