The department offers a degree leading to the PhD in epidemiology. This program may be an extension of the applied biostatistics and epidemiology MS program and is especially aimed at persons with a strong background in medicine: in particular, students enrolled in the MD program of the Keck School of Medicine who wish to interrupt their MD studies after two years to complete a PhD degree. This program is designed to produce an epidemiologist with in-depth statistical skills. The program requires a solid core of courses in methodological aspects of statistics and in statistical thinking as applied to medicine, as well as a solid grounding in epidemiological methods and in certain medical disciplines.
A minimum of 60 course units with a maximum of 20 units of research and dissertation; passing of screening and qualifying examinations; and completion of dissertation and final oral are required. In preparation for the screening examination the student must take the required core course and elective 33 units of master’s level applied biostatistics and epidemiology courses. A student failing the screening examination will either terminate or terminate with the MS degree upon satisfactory completion of a master’s thesis. In preparation for the qualifying examination, the student is required to join an on-going research project under the direction of the chair of the qualifying exam committee and directly participate in the conduct of that project. Credit will be given as PM 790 (4 units, two semesters). In addition, it is recommended that the student take PM 610 (at least two semesters). Electives may be selected with the approval of the chair of the qualifying exam committee from courses in the biological sciences or from the medical school. For students in the MD/PhD program in epidemiology, satisfactory completion of the first two years of the MD program will be considered to provide 20 units toward the PhD degree.
Qualifying Exam Committee
The student, in consultation with his/her mentor, will nominate five faculty members to serve on the Qualifying Examination Committee. Three of the faculty must be from the Epidemiology Program and one from another department (the “External Member”). The Committee should reflect a diversity of expertise and typically will include one member from a different division of the Department of Preventive Medicine (e.g., one with subject-matter expertise in the proposed application portion of the dissertation). The role of the Qualifying Examination Committee is to guide the student on development of an appropriate dissertation project, both in content and time commitment, and to evaluate the student’s knowledge of the topic, epidemiologic and biostatistical methodology, and readiness for completing the dissertation research.
A written and oral qualifying examination will be completed after the student has completed all general and track-specific course requirements and passed the written screening examination. The written portion of the qualifying examination requires the submission of a qualifying examination document written by the student that summarizes the current state of knowledge of the research topic, the epidemiologic questions addressed by the work, the work completed to date, and student’s proposed plan and timeline to complete the research. The oral portion will be a seminar-style presentation to the Qualifying Exam Committee, focusing on the dissertation proposal, followed by questions from the Committee on both the proposal and the student’s general mastery of the field. This exam is open to other interested students and faculty.
In case of failure, the student will have 60 days in which to reschedule and successfully pass the oral exam. A second failure will be grounds for dismissal from the Program.
Annual Research Appraisal and Program Activities
After advancing to candidacy, progress on dissertation research is evaluated annually with an Annual Research Appraisal (ARA) by the Annual Dissertation Committee. A key element is participation in PM 610 : Graduate Seminar in Epidemiology and Biostatistics for at least two semesters after passing the Screening Exam. It is recommended that students take PM 610 to gain presentation experience and feedback before completing the qualifying examination and again before completing the final dissertation defense. Students give seminars and research updates that encompass both a global view of their area of investigation and a focus on the problem they are addressing. Having both epidemiology and biostatistics students in the seminar provides valuable experience in communicating their work to a diverse audience. All students provide feedback by filling in a feedback form and by active discussion.
Upon passing the qualifying examination, the PhD candidate and his or her chair will recommend a three-member dissertation committee. The dissertation should be completed within two years and should be oriented toward a methodological application to a problem area in the biological or health sciences.
The Oral Defense
This examination is based on a draft or final version of the dissertation and will be administered by the dissertation committee with other faculty invited to attend.
Language and Other Requirements
Proficiency in the English language is essential.
Students must complete a minimum of 60 units, with a maximum of 20 units of research and dissertation; pass screening and qualifying examinations; complete the dissertation and the dissertation defense examination. In addition the student is required to join a research project under the direction of one or both of the chairs of the qualifying exam committee and directly participate in the conduct of that project. Credit will be given by the department (DPT) conducting the research project DPT 790 Research (4 units, 2 semesters). In addition, at least two semesters of PM 610 is recommended.