Ph.D. in Biostatistics, Genomic Biostatistics Concentration

Program Overview

Ph.D. in Biostatistics, Genomics Concentration

In the past decade, bioinformatics has emerged as a primary source of challenges for methodological researchers in biostatistics. The enormity of the size of the data that results from research in this field — specifically in DNA sequencing, microarrays and proteomic studies — has required statisticians to rethink their analytical strategies. The VCU Department of Biostatistics has established an area of concentration in the analysis of genomic data within the existing Ph.D. program in biostatistics. This concentration, genomic biostatistics, provides in-depth training in statistical theory and methods. In addition, the traditional Ph.D. course work is complemented by the requirement of course work pertaining to the recent developments in microarray data analysis, data mining/machine learning and sequence analysis, and requires out-of-track electives in biochemistry, molecular biology or genetics.

Admissions Requirements

Applicants must submit an application form, undergraduate and graduate (if applicable) transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and test scores from the verbal, quantitative and analytical writing sections of the Graduate Record Exam. Priority is given to applications received by January 15 prior to the fall semester of enrollment. All applicants are expected to hold at least a B.S. or B.A. degree.

The following four mathematics/statistics courses or their equivalents are required for admission:

  • MATH 307 Multivariate Calculus
  • MATH 309 Introduction to Probability Theory
  • MATH 310 Linear Algebra
  • STAT 210 Basic Practice of Statistics or STAT 212 Concepts of Statistics

The first-year graduate work builds upon the material covered in math courses. Students are advised to retake these specific courses if several years have elapsed since these courses were completed. Although not required, prior course work in additional mathematics (especially Real Analysis), statistics or computer science is helpful.

The departmental admissions committee evaluates all applicants for graduate work in biostatistics and arranges personal interviews when possible. The committee then recommends the most qualified candidates for admission.

For more information regarding the application process, please visit the VCU application page or the Graduate Bulletin.

Course Work

Ph.D. students will complete at least 58 semester credit hours of courses worth three or more credits. In addition to the first-year sequence and upper-level required courses, students can take at least four elective courses. Ph.D. students must take eight semesters each of BIOS 516 Biostatistical Consulting and BIOS 690 Seminar.

First-Year Experience

BIOS 513 Mathematical Statistics I 3
BIOS 514 Mathematical Statistics II 3
BIOS 524 Biostatistical Computing 3
BIOS 553 Biostatistical Methods I 4
BIOS 554 Biostatistical Methods II 4
BIOS 571 Clinical Trials 3
BIOS 572 Analysis of Biomedical Data I 3
BIOS 573 Analysis of Biomedical Data II 3

Second & Third Years

BIOL 540 Fundamentals of Molecular Genetics 3
BIOS 567 Statistical Methods for High-Throughput Genomics Data I 3
BIOS 615 Advanced Inference 4
BIOS 632 Multivariate Analysis 3
BIOS 647 Survival Analysis 3
BIOS 668 Statistical Methods for High-Throughput Genomic Data II 3
OVPR 601 Scientific Integrity 1

Students also need to take one of BIOS 667 (Statistical Learning and Data Mining) and BIOS 691, and may also select at least three elective 500- or 600-courses. For a list of potential elective courses offered by the Department of Biostatistics, please see the biostatistics courses in the online courses database.


Theoretical Qualifying Examination

All Ph.D. students must pass a Theoretical Qualifying Examination after completing all required first-year courses, the purpose of which is to gauge student readiness for conducting original methodological research. This examination is an in-class, closed-book test that covers material from the “theoretical” first year courses (BIOS 513, 514, 553 and 554) and is graded as pass/fail. A student who does not pass the exam can petition the Examination Committee to retake that part of the Qualifying Exam. Students may only retake the Qualifying Exam one time.

Applied Qualifying Examination

All M.S. students must pass an Applied Qualifying Examination after completing all required first-year courses, the purpose of which is to gauge each student’s readiness for conducting in-depth statistical analyses and clearly reporting statistical results and evidence. This examination is a take-home, open-book test that covers material from the “applied” first year courses (BIOS 524, 571, 572 and 573) and is graded as pass/fail. A student who does not pass the Applied Qualifying Examination can petition the Examination Committee to retake the exam. Students may only retake the Qualifying Exam one time.

Dissertation Proposal Defense

Students pursuing the Ph.D. degree who have passed both Qualifying Examinations must pass a Dissertation Proposal Defense to enter Ph.D. candidacy. This will include a written summary of the student’s proposed research that will constitute their doctoral dissertation. This document will consist of goals and hypotheses, a literature review, a summary of preliminary research, proposed methods and contingencies, a research timeline, and a manuscript and presentation dissemination plan. The student will orally present and defend the proposed research program to the student’s dissertation committee. The Proposal Defense is graded as pass/fail by the student’s dissertation committee. A student who does not pass the Dissertation Proposal Defense will be given the option to complete degree requirements for the M.S. degree.

Final Dissertation Defense

All Ph.D. students must create a written dissertation consisting of original research that the student will defend at a final oral examination. A public presentation will precede a closed session with the student’s dissertation committee. The Dissertation Defense will be graded as pass/fail by the student’s Dissertation Committee.

Training in Biostatistical Consulting and Collaboration

Research Assistantships

In return for stipend support and tuition relief, our Ph.D. students serve as collaborative biostatisticians on one of many research assistantships provided through the Department of Biostatistics. Our students will work on cutting edge research projects with all types of health sciences researchers and organizations, which often lead to collaborative, peer-reviewed manuscripts. Students are also welcome to develop dissertation topics from these experiences.

Biostatistical Consulting Laboratory

In addition to extensive course work, our students receive thorough training in collaborating with health sciences researchers. Thus our students will enroll in 1 credit of BIOS 516 (Biostatistical Consulting Laboratory) each semester. In this course students will be matched with appropriate research projects, where they will gain experience in designing studies, creating and maintaining research databases, conducting data analyses, and reporting statistical evidence.


In the summers following the first and second years in the program, students participate in the Summer Student Training Program (SSTP), where they are matched with faculty members to work on a health sciences or methodological research project. All students orally present either findings from their SSTP experience or provide an update on their dissertation research at the Biostatistics Student Research Symposium (BSRS).

Training in Methodological Development

Dissertation Research

Our Ph.D. students are expect to contribute to the scholarly biostatistical literature by conducting novel methodological research that is suitable for peer-review publication. Students often select a dissertation advisor during their second year of study, at which time they work together to create a training plan and course of research to suit the student’s career goals. This research generally leads to peer-reviewed publications before graduation.

Conference Attendance and Poster / Oral Presentations

Our Ph.D. students present their methodological and collaborative research at national and international conferences, such as the Joint Statistical Meetings of the American Statistical Association. In addition to oral or poster presentations, our students use these conferences to attend short courses and tutorials, attend plenary sessions, interview for employment beyond graduation, and network with alumni and peers. The Department of Biostatistics often supports this professional development by partially covering travel expenses.

Additional Information

For more information about the Ph.D. program in Genomic Biostatistics, contact:

Roy T. Sabo, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Graduate Program Director
Department of Biostatistics
Phone: (804) 828-3047