University of Nebraska Medical Center

Program Information

Program Description

The PhD in Biostatistics is designed to provide students with the instruction and research experience necessary to become high quality academic faculty members, researchers and leaders in biomedicine and public health throughout Nebraska, the country, and the world. They may also choose careers as scientists in government and private research agencies. The curriculum design of this program is consistent with the core competencies of Biostatistics and strongly emphasizes the acquisition of applied skills as well as the theoretical mathematical foundations of Biostatistics.

The primary focus will be in the following areas of Biostatistics: clinical trials; study design; survival analysis; generalized linear models; longitudinal analysis; survey methodology; and analysis of microarray gene-expression data and other high-dimensional data.

Degree Requirements

The expected completion time for the PhD in Biostatistics is four to five years. The PhD program requires:

  1. Successful completion of 60 semester hours of courses beyond the Masters Level (including core, required, elective, cognate, and dissertation hours);
  2. Passing a qualifying exam at the PhD level based on the core courses;
  3. Passing a comprehensive exam related to the proposed PhD dissertation and advancement to candidacy;
  4. Writing a PhD dissertation;
  5. Oral defense of the dissertation.

No more than one-third of the credit hours for the PhD may be 800 level or “introductory” courses (800-level with 600- or lower level counterparts). The 800-level courses that may be taken by PhD students, for example, may be those in a cognate field, as well as the 800-level courses from the Biostatistics MPH program, the latter being prerequisites for some of the PhD-level courses

At least 50% of the coursework for the doctoral degree must be completed at the University of Nebraska. No graduate credit will be accepted for transfer unless earned at an institution fully accredited to offer graduate work; nor should the student expect any graduate credit to be transferred unless the Graduate Committee evaluates the quality and suitability as equivalent to the offerings available at the University of Nebraska. A candidate must maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 for all graduate courses completed for the PhD degree. Failure to maintain a 3.0 GPA will result in suspension or termination from the PhD Program. Students must conform to all scholarship requirements specified in the University of Nebraska Medical Center Graduate Studies Bulletin. Students are expected to complete the courses listed below or their equivalent. These courses are subject to change, and other courses can be substituted at the discretion of the supervisory committee.

Advisor and Supervisory Committee

At admission, students will be assigned a temporary advisor by the Chairperson of the Biostatistics Department. No later than the end of the first year of coursework, students should choose a permanent advisor.

After admission to the Graduate College and prior to completing half of the total hours for the degree (i.e. 30 credit hours), a doctoral student must work with their advisor and form a Supervisory Committee. The Supervisory Committee must consist of at least four members who are University of Nebraska Graduate Faculty Members. The Dean of Graduate Studies, upon recommendation of the department Graduate Committee, will appoint the Supervisory Committee. The Supervisory Committee will approve a proposed program of study for the PhD student. The committee also approves the PhD dissertation and final oral examination of the dissertation.

Program of Study

Within four weeks of its appointment, the Supervisory Committee shall meet to designate and subsequently file with the Graduate Studies Office a proposed program of study, including designation of all required and elective courses and also the general area of research for the PhD dissertation. Furthermore, any subsequent changes in the PhD program or in the dissertation topic shall be approved by the Supervisory Committee, and the action should be reported to the Graduate Studies Office.

Training in the ethical conduct of research

Documentation of completion of approved training in the conduct of research with human subjects must be submitted prior to advancing to candidacy.


Electives are selected to complement the student’s prior training and area of research emphasis. Students are expected to work with his/her supervisory committee to determine the appropriate elective courses to take during the student’s study period. The selected elective courses should contribute to the student’s doctoral study and scholarship development.

Cognate Field Courses

It is expected that all students completing the PhD Program in Biostatistics will have successfully completed 6-15 credit hours of courses in biomedicine or public health outside of biostatistics/statistics (i.e., in a cognate field). Cognate courses are used to strengthen the program of study for the doctoral student by expanding students’ horizons, and helping them identify the quantitative aspects of important scientific problems in the cognate field. It is expected that the doctoral student in concert with his/her Supervisory Committee will identify the cognate field and the courses to be taken. Examples of cognate fields, among others, are cancer biology, epidemiology, and genetics.


After passing the comprehensive exam and admission to candidacy, the student must register for at least one credit hour of dissertation each semester and summer session until the completion of the degree. It is expected that all students completing the PhD Program will have successfully completed a minimum of 12 hours of dissertation research.

As required of all PhD programs at UNMC, the dissertation must be of publishable quality and the student must demonstrate that a manuscript based on the dissertation has been submitted for publication.

The following elements must also be completed, in addition to the required coursework and the dissertation.

Qualifying Examination

All students must successfully pass a two-part, written qualifying exam based on the core courses. Part one of the qualifying exam focuses on theory and part two focuses on practical application.. A failed examination may be repeated once. The timing of re-examinations is specified by the department. Students who do not take the re-examinations at the specified time forfeit their right to re-examination. The qualifying exam will be written, administered and graded by the Qualifying Exam Committee.

Oral Comprehensive Examination

The Oral Comprehensive Examination is taken before advancement to candidacy. Within one year of successfully completing the qualifying exam, the doctoral student will propose his/her dissertation research to the Supervisory Committee in writing. The comprehensive examination is administered by the student’s Supervisory Committee, and usually consists of a preliminary defense of the dissertation proposal.


At least one half of the course requirements after the Master’s degree (other than PhD dissertation) must be completed within a consecutive 18-month period.