Ph.D. in Biostatistics

Program Overview

Ph.D. and M.S. in Biostatistics

Data are an abundant feature in nearly all professions, from medicine and public health to business and government. As the amount of data available to us increases in both quantity and complexity, the abilities to manage data, to analyze and make meaning out of data, and to communicate what data show, are becoming increasingly important. The trend of complicated data being drawn from progressively disparate sources has naturally necessitated the creation of more sophisticated methods that can handle such complexity. The VCU Department of Biostatistics has trained biostatisticians for over 40 years and continues to help students prepare for an ever-changing landscape. In addition to training in database management and analysis, our students are provided experiential training in biostatistical collaboration and consulting, where they work with real researchers on actual projects. Our Ph.D. students also conduct original and novel methodological research that helps address the complexities of modern data analyses. Our graduates are well-prepared to serve as leaders in academia, industry and state and federal agencies.

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 these 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 59 semester credit hours of courses worth three or more credits. In addition to the first-year sequence and four other required courses, students can take at least six elective courses and one additional course offered by another department. 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

BIOS 615 Advanced Inference 4
BIOS 631 Mixed Models and Longitudinal Data Analysis 4
BIOS 647 Survival Analysis 3
OVPR 601 Scientific Integrity 1
6 Elective Courses from BIOS, STAT or MATH 18
1 Elective Course from other Department 3

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 Ph.D. 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 Biostatistics, contact:

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