Ph.D. Program in Biostatistics

2015-16 Biostatistics Graduate Handbook

The Biostatistics Doctoral Program offers students a program which emphasizes biostatistical modeling and inference in a wide variety of fields, including bioinformatics, the biological sciences and veterinary medicine, in addition to the more traditional emphasis on applications in medicine, epidemiology and public health. This feature takes advantage of unique UC Davis strengths, including the unparalleled diversity of the UCD campus in the life sciences. Biostatistics group faculty are researchers with widely varying backgrounds, espousing a wide variety of methodological approaches.

Degree Requirements, Ph.D.

The Graduate Program in Biostatistics offers the Ph. D. degree under Plan C. According to this plan, the Dissertation Committee consists of three faculty members who guide the student in his or her research and pass upon the merits of the dissertation. The complete degree requirements are listed below.

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 Ph.D. 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.

For more information about the program's application requirements , please see our Admissions Page.


In addition, applicants are expected to have the equivalent of the following UC Davis courses:
MAT 25 (Advanced Calculus) and MAT 125A (Real Analysis) and MAT 167 (Applied Linear Algebra).


Course work deficiencies should be made up by the end of the first academic year following initial enrollment by earning a letter grade of “B” or better.


Program of Study

The program of study will be adjusted to individual needs by the Biostatistics Graduate Adviser. A minimum of 58 units is required. Every 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 299’s.

The Course Requirements (58 units) for the Ph.D. degree are as follows:

Required Statistics Courses (39 units)

  • STA 231 A, B, C (Mathematical Statistics I-III, 4 units each)
  • STA 232 A, B, C (Applied Statistics, 4 units each)
  • STA 141 (Statistical Computing, 4 units)
  • BST 290 (Biostatistics Seminar, for three quarters, 1 unit)
  • STA 390 (Methods of Teaching Statistics, 2 units)
  • STA 401* (Methods in Statistical Consulting, required twice, 3 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 may be used to substitute the STA 141 course requirement: STA 242 or 243. If STA 141 is substituted in this way, the substituting course cannot be used to simultaneously satisfy any other requirement.

Biostatistics Core Courses (12 units)

We note that all of these courses carry a data analysis component and include a computing laboratory. Students will be exposed to projects involving advanced data analyses to address complex life sciences problems.

  • BST 222: Survival Analysis (4 units)
  • BST 223: Generalized Linear Models (4 units)
  • BST 224: Analysis of Longitudinal Data (4 units)

Biostatistics and Methods Electives (4 units)

One course from the following list:

Biostatistical Electives:

  • BST 225 (Clinical Trials, 4 units)
  • BST 226 (Statistical Methods for Bioinformatics, 4 units)
  • BST 252 (Advanced Topics in Biostatistics, 4 units)

Methodological Electives:

  • STA 250 (Advanced Data Analysis, 4 units)
  • STA 251 (Advanced Statistical Theory, 4 units)
  • STA 237 A, B (Time Series Analysis, 4 units per course)
  • STA 235 A, B (Probability Theory, 4 units per course)

Life Sciences Courses (3 units)

One course at the upper division or the graduate level in Biology or Life sciences. This course should be approved by the graduate advisor. The intention is to provide a base of knowledge in molecular, cellular, organismal, and population biology, epidemiology or environmental sciences. The students are strongly encouraged to take more courses in Biology, Life Sciences or Environmental Sciences that are relevant to their research. Selection of such courses should be made in consultation with the thesis adviser.

For a full list of Life Sciences courses, please consult the Biostatistics handbook.


A minimum of 58 units is required; 51 units of core and 7 of elective coursework. A minimum course load is 12 units per academic quarter.

Biostatistical Practicum

Students will complete a practicum in the form of an interdisciplinary applied data analysis project. They will work in collaboration with any UC Davis faculty researcher (not required to be a member of the Graduate Group) who conducts studies or experiments which generate data in the medical, biological, veterinary medical, epidemiological, agricultural or environmental sciences, and who will serve as a mentor. The practicum will last a minimum of six weeks sometime before completion of the dissertation and will involve the analysis of original data. The student will prepare or substantially contribute to a project report. The practicum 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 a duration of at least six weeks at a facility, government health office, institute or company outside of UC Davis focusing on biological or medical research can also be used to satisfy this requirement. In this case the mentor will reside at the institution where the internship is carried out.

Qualifying Examinations and Dissertation Requirements

Preliminary Written Examination

The Ph.D. Preliminary Written Examination will be given at the beginning of each Spring Quarter and also at the beginning of each Fall Quarter. Students in the Ph.D. program must attempt the exam in the Spring Quarter immediately after they complete both the STA 231AB, BST222 and BST223 core course series. A well-prepared student will take this exam during the first year of the program. Otherwise, they are expected to take the exam during the second year of the program. If a student does not attempt the examination at the first time they are eligible to take the exam, it will be recorded as a failure. Every Ph.D. student needs to pass the examination in a maximum of two attempts. In case of failure at the first attempt, the second attempt must take place at the next time the examination is offered, and if a student does not attempt the exam at that time, it will be counted as a second failure. Two failures to pass the examination will result in a recommendation to the Dean of Graduate Studies for disqualification of the student in the Ph.D. program.

The Ph.D. Preliminary Written Examination is a written exam with two parts: a statistical theory part and a biostatistics part. The duration of each part is about 3-4 hours. The exam committees in charge may be different for each part of the exam. Pass or fail is determined separately by the exam committees for the statistical theory part and the biostatistics part of the exam. The chair of the GGB will appoint an exam committee that will be responsible for preparing, administering and grading the examination for the Biostatistics part of the exam. This committee will forward its recommendation to the chair of the GGB.

Qualifying Exam

The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is an oral exam. The exam will be attempted as soon as the Ph.D. Preliminary Written Examination has been passed and all required coursework for the Ph.D. degree in Biostatistics has been completed. In accordance with university rules, students are requested to take their qualifying examination, within two quarters of passing the Ph.D. Preliminary Written Examination, but no later than the end of the third year (9th quarter) to remain eligible for academic appointments such as GSI. Advisers must submit the Application for the Qualifying Exam 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 Qualifying Examination. To be eligible for the Qualifying Examination, 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 GGB. The exam committee consists of five faculty members, at least three but no more than four of which are members of the GGB. The Major Professor can be one of the members of the committee, but not its Chair. The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination examines a student on the breadth and depth of knowledge expected from the coursework taken, and a special research topic assigned 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 successfully produce the dissertation required for a doctoral degree. A forty-five minute presentation given by the student is followed by a question period which covers the special research topic as well as coursework in general. The examining committee will be appointed by Graduate Council at the recommendation of the Master Graduate Adviser who consults with the student prior to making the recommendation.

Graduate Studies guidelines for Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations apply. A student who passes the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is eligible for Advancement to Candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Title and abstract of the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination presentation will be distributed to all faculty and students of the Graduate Group 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 Ph.D. 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 too 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 program.


The doctoral dissertation is an essential part of the Ph.D. 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. Students are encouraged to begin some research activity as early as possible during the second year of their graduate studies. The dissertation must contain an original contribution of publishable quality to the knowledge of Biostatistics that may expand the theory or methodology of Biostatistics, or expand or modify Biostatistical methods to solve a critical problem in applied disciplines.

Acceptance of the dissertation by three designated members of the dissertation committee follows Graduate Studies guidelines (Plan C). The dissertation must be completed and submitted to the dissertation committee prior to taking the final examination described below.

Final Examination

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 GGB, who are invited to attend the presentation portion of the examination.

Ph.D. in Biostatistics Sample Study Plans

Every full-time student at UC Davis is required to take 12 units of coursework per quarter.
In addition to the coursework outlined below, students will take Statistics 290 and generally will take additional electives later on, in consultation with their Major Professor.

The following track will be a typical program for a well-prepared student seeking a Ph.D. degree.

Year One




BST 222 (4 units)
STA 231A ( 4 units)
STA 232A (4 units)
STA 390 (2 units)
STA 290 (2 units)

BST 223 (4 units)
STA 231B ( 4 units)
STA 232B (4 units)
STA 290 (1 unit)
STA 260 (3 units)
Ph.D. Preliminary Written Exam

BST 224 (4 units)
STA 231C ( 4 units)
STA 232C (4 units)
STA 290 (2 units)

Year Two




STA 141 (4 units)
STA 260 (3 units)

Dissertation Research

Dissertation Research

Years Three, Four

Complete requirements for the Ph.D. degree, including Dissertation and Defense

Normative Time to Degree

The normative time to degree is four to five years.

PELP, In Absentia & Filing Fee Status

Information about PELP (Planned Educational Leave, In Absentia (reduced fees when researching out of state), and Filing Fee status can be found in the Graduate Student Guide:

Leaving the Program Prior to Completion of the Ph.D. Requirements

Should a student leave the program prior to completing the requirements for the Ph.D., they may still be eligible to receive the Master’s if they have fulfilled all the requirements (see Master’s section). Students can use the Change of Degree Objective form available from the Registrar’s Office:

Degree Requirements approved by Graduate Council May, 2010

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