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. There is no thesis element; students are assessed through coursework and comprehensive examination.

MS Program Planner (pdf)
Degree Requirements, approved by Graduate Council August 11, 2020
Master's Program Coordinator: Amy McFarland (

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 & Minimum Requirements
  • 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
           - 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 49 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 (49 units) for the Master's degree are as follows.

    Required Courses


    Allowed Substitutes

    STA 200A (Introduction to Probability Theory, 4 units)

    STA 231A (Mathematical Statistics I)

    STA 200B (Introduction to Mathematical Statistics I, 4 units)

    STA 231B (Mathematical Statistics II)

    STA 200C (Introduction to Mathematical Statistics II, 4 units)


    STA 206 (Statistical Methods for Research I, 4 units)

    232A (Applied Statistics I)

    STA 207 (Statistical Methods for Research II, 4 units)

    232B (Applied Statistics II)
    STA 135 (Multivariate Data Analysis, 4 units) 232C (Applied Statistics III)
    STA 243 (Computational Statistics, 4 units) STA 141A (Fundamentals of Statistical Data Sciences)
    BST 290 (Seminar in Biostatistics, 1 unit each for 3 quarters)  
    STA 260 (Statistical Practice and Data Analysis, 3 units) Data Analysis Project under BST 299 (Individual Study)
    Students desiring to replace a required course for the M.S. program with an allowed substitute (see Table above) must first get pre-approval by the Master Graduate Advisor. The substituting course cannot be used simultaneously to satisfy any of the other courses requirements.

    Biostatistics Core Courses (8 units):
         Two courses chosen 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).

    Electives (7 units)
    Biostatistics and Methods electives (4 units):
    One course with a substantial biostatistical data analysis component at the graduate level. Possible courses include the following (although they may not simultaneously satisfy any other Biostatistics core courses requirement):

           - BST 222 (4 units)
           - BST 223 (4 units)
           - BST 224 (4 units)
           - BST 225 (4 units)
           - BST 226 (4 units)
           - BST 227 (4 units)
           - STA 237A or STA 237B (4 units each)
           - STA 250 (4 units)
           - STA 251 (4 units)
           - STA 252 (4 units)

    Life Sciences elective (3 units):
    One course selected from any upper division or graduate offering in biology; epidemiology; or the environmental, agricultural or medical sciences. The intention is to provide a base of knowledge in molecular, cellular, organismal, and population biology, epidemiology or environmental sciences. 

    Further elective units at the upper division or graduate level, although not required, may be taken in the following areas when a student wishes to do so to enhance their education and career preparation:
    (a) Statistics, (b) Fields of Biostatistical application (e.g., epidemiology, genetics).
  • Summary
  • A minimum of 49 units is required; 42 units of core and 7 of elective coursework. A minimum course load is 12 units per academic quarter. Per UC regulations students cannot enroll in more than 12 units of graduate level courses or more than 16 units of combined undergraduate and graduate level courses per quarter.
  • Comprehensive Examination
  • Students in the M.S. program must attempt the comprehensive exam when nearly all coursework is complete, typically in the last quarter in the program. Every M.S. student needs to pass the comprehensive exam in a maximum of two attempts. If a student fails the first attempt, the second attempt must be made before the end of the next quarter; in particular, if the first attempt is made in Spring, the second attempt must be made over the summer. Failure to pass the comprehensive exam at the second attempt will result in a recommendation to the Dean of Graduate Studies for disqualification of the student from the graduate program.

    The M.S. Comprehensive Examination consists of a written technical report and an oral defense on a scientific project involving the application of Biostatistical theory and methods. 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 real-life study design and/or data analysis. The student will have at most four weeks to complete the project and write the written technical report. The final written report should be submitted to the comprehensive exam committee at least one week prior to the pre-determined exam date. The exam committee will schedule an oral defense with the candidate in which the candidate presents the project and answers questions about the work. After this oral defense, 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.

    As an alternative to satisfy the MS comprehensive examination requirement, students who pass the PhD preliminary written examination (see the PhD degree requirements, section 8.a for details) at the masters level (a threshold set by the preliminary written examination committee) will meet this requirement. Any attempt to pass the PhD preliminary written examination by a MS student will be counted as a first attempt to pass the MS comprehensive exam at the MS level and also the PhD preliminary written examination at the PhD level. Failure at the PhD level counts as a failed first attempt of the PhD preliminary written examination, and failure at the MS level as a failed first attempt at the MS comprehensive exam. Any graduate student has at most two attempts at this exam, regardless of the program the student is enrolled in.
  • 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) prior to advancing to candidacy. 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. 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.
  • 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 200A

    STA 206

    STA 141A/Life Science Elective


    STA 200B

    STA 207

    STA 135/Life Science elective

    BST 290


    STA 200C

    STA 135/Elective

    STA 243

    BST 290

    Year 2



    BST 222




    BST 223

    STA 260


    BST 290

    MS Exam

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