Ph.D. in Biostatistics Program Details

In general, the Ph.D. in Biostatistics includes the following components:

  • First year that focuses on basic statistical theory and methods, communication and the biomedical context
  • Second year includes more advanced inference and theory of linear models, along with specialized training in categorical data analysis, survival analysis, generalized linear models, and analysis of correlated and longitudinal data
  • Five elective courses to broaden the breadth of knowledge with two courses in a ‘cognate’ field such as epidemiology, biology, biophysics, environmental health, genetics, etc., to complement the student's biostatistical area of interest

Important Components

Students are required to complete two research rotations before making a decision on a dissertation advisor. Each research rotation will have a predefined beginning and end, typically starting at the beginning of a semester and lasting until the semester’s end. During each rotation, the student will work with a faculty member on a methodological problem that is of interest to both the student and the faculty and that can be completed within the rotation period. The primary goal of the rotations is to provide students with exposure to different research areas and the ability to evaluate fit with potential dissertation advisors. The student’s initial advisor will assist the student in identifying faculty for research rotations. To balance between having sufficient theoretical knowledge to make the rotations productive and informative and the need to be able to affiliate with a dissertation advisor around the beginning of the third year, students are strongly encouraged to start the research rotations at the end of their first year. Students coming into the program with an appropriate theoretical background may be able to begin research rotations earlier with the approval of the DGS.

Students, with counsel of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), are expected to decide on the dissertation advisor around the beginning of the third year only after they have completed two research rotations. This timing would allow students sufficient time to develop their dissertation proposal and to pass the oral preliminary examination of their dissertation proposal by the end of the third academic year.

Once the dissertation advisor is selected, the student should work with the advisor to form dissertation committee as soon as the dissertation topic is decided. The dissertation committee must be appointed and approved by the associate dean at least one month (30 days) before the preliminary examination can take place. The committee consists of at least four members with one member, usually the dissertation advisor, designated as chair and majority of members from the student's major research area. At least two members of the committee, including the chair, must have primary or secondary faculty appointments in the Biostatistics & Bioinformatics department. One member of the committee must be from outside the student's main area of research. This designated "minor area representative" could be from another department or program, or from a different research subfield within the degree-sponsoring department or program. The minor area representative should not be directly involved in the student’s area of research focus. A majority of the committee members must be Duke faculty, while all committee members must have a current appointment on the Duke Graduate Faculty (whether employed by Duke or not). This committee, with all members participating, will determine a program of study and administer the preliminary examination.

Before the end of the third year (the end of the third spring term if you enter the program in the fall), PhD candidates will submit a short written proposal on their anticipated area of thesis research to be presented and discussed at the oral preliminary exam. The proposal usually consists of literature review, research questions, and proposed research methods on how the PhD candidates plan to complete the research. It is recommended that the candidate meets with the dissertation committee regularly and has the committee’s approval for the presentation of the preliminary exam. Successful completion of the preliminary exam qualifies the student as a PhD candidate in Biostatistics.   A candidate who fails the preliminary examination may be granted a single re-examination upon recommendation of the dissertation committee and approval of the Associate Dean no sooner than three months and no later than six months after the date of the first examination. The detailed procedures for the preliminary examination can be found here.

All Duke biomedical PhD students are required to complete 18 contact hours of Responsible Conduct in Research (RCR) training. RCR training is provided by the Office of Biomedical Graduate Education (OBGE). The required curriculum differs for students matriculating in Fall 2020 or later and those who matriculated prior to Fall 2020.

Distinguishing Features

The Duke program offers several novel features that extend the training of our students beyond that found in a traditional biostatistics program. The core curriculum contains the following novel courses:

  1. A course sequence (BIOSTAT 703 and BIOSTAT 706) emphasizing biomedical concepts and communication
  2. A survey course of modern inferential techniques and theory (BIOSTAT 911) targeted specifically to advanced graduate students
  3. A student-led seminar, Current Problems in Biostatistics (BIOSTAT 900). Students explore topics in blocks that involve student presentations and invited talks from faculty and other experts in the field