2018 Doctor of Biostatistics Handbook

This handbook serves as an aid to faculty and graduate students in the PhD in Biostatistics program in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine. Information and degree requirements for the Penn State PhD in Biostatistics program and timeline for completing the program are provided.

Additional University requirements can be found in the Penn State Graduate Bulletin; both students and faculty are encouraged to consult the bulletin for additional information.

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General Information

Degree Program Expand answer

One of the degree programs offered by PHS at the Penn State University College of Medicine is the PhD in Biostatistics degree. The objectives of the PhD in Biostatistics program are to train students in the theory, methodology, and application of biostatistics. The PhD in Biostatistics degree can lead to careers in academic health centers, federal health research and regulatory agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and biotechnology companies.

Goals of Graduate Education in Public Health Sciences Expand answer

The mission of the Department of Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine is to advance health science through:

  • the design, conduct and analysis of population-based biomedical research;
  • the support of basic science and clinical research; and
  • the education of future generations of health professionals.

The mission of the PhD in Biostatistics program in Public Health Sciences is to fulfill the third arm of the departmental mission.

Completion of the degree indicates that the student will have:

  • mastered knowledge in the discipline of biostatistics to perform in a professional, academic or corporate setting;
  • demonstrated the ability to master current biostatistical theory and practice, and to develop new biostatistical methodology; and
  • demonstrated a work ethic that supports scholarship and promotes the highest standards of academic integrity.

Advisers and Committees

General Information Expand answer

Students in the program are all supported with full tuition and 12-month stipends. As part of receiving a stipend, students are expected to work for the Department up to 20 hours per week. In the first year, however, as students are diligently preparing for the candidacy exam, the required work load is reduced to up to 10 hours per week.

Students will be regularly rotated with different faculty members to support the research and teaching missions of the department. This could, for example, include working as an research assistant in a faculty member’s lab for a few months, followed by serving as a teaching assistant for a course, followed by working on a collaborative grant. During this time, students also are encouraged to discuss areas of research interest with their various faculty mentors and course instructors.

After the student has identified an area of interest for their PhD dissertation topic, a dissertation adviser will be identified as the primary point of contact and will provide academic guidance for the student regarding completion of the dissertation. The dissertation adviser should be identified soon after the student successfully completes the candidacy examination.

The candidacy examination is administered after completion of the first year of coursework.

The program is designed to be completed in four years, though it is possible for a student to complete the program in less time. Students planning to graduate in the spring must electronically file their intent to graduate with the Graduate School in January.

The PhD dissertation must be written and submitted according to the deadlines outlined by The Graduate School. The Graduate School, University Libraries and the graduate faculty of Penn State have established format standards that a dissertation must meet prior to receiving final approval as fulfillment of a graduate requirement. The Office of Theses and Dissertations is the unit of the Graduate School responsible for certifying that the thesis has been prepared in accordance with these established regulations.

The PhD Dissertation Committee for a candidate must consist of four or more active members of the graduate faculty, including at least two faculty members in the Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics in the Department of Public Health Sciences. At least one regular member of the PhD Dissertation Committee must represent a field outside of Biostatistics in order to provide a broader range of disciplinary perspectives and expertise. This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Field Member.” Further information about the structure of the PhD Dissertation Committee and other doctoral requirements at Penn State is available here.

When a PhD candidate has substantially completed all course work, a comprehensive examination is given. The student must be in good academic standing and must be registered as a full-time or part-time student for the semester in which the comprehensive examination is taken. The doctoral candidate who has satisfied all other requirements for the PhD degree will be scheduled by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services to take a final examination. Normally the final oral examination may not be scheduled until at least three months have elapsed after the comprehensive examination was passed.

Academic Requirements

Requirements for the PhD in Biostatistics Expand answer

Each student in the PhD in Biostatistics program is expected to acquire breadth of knowledge in biostatistics. Admitted students in this program already have graduate-level training in statistics/biostatistics such as a master’s degree in biostatistics or statistics.

Additional training in this program includes:

  • at least 31 graduate-level course credits as described elsewhere in this handbook; and
  • an original dissertation that involves new approaches to biostatistical design and/or analysis that is worthy of publication in peer-reviewed biostatistical journals.
Courses Expand answer

The PhD program requires 31 credits of graduate coursework, comprising seven three-credit required courses in biostatistics/statistics, one three-credit elective course in biostatistics/statistics, two three-credit courses in epidemiology and/or health services and behavioral research and a one-credit required research ethics course.

Other courses including special topics and thesis research are made available to students as needed.

Core Curriculum/Candidacy Exam Courses (15 credits)

  • PHS 523 Multivariate Analysis (3 credits)
  • PHS 524 Longitudinal Data Analysis (3 credits)
  • PHS 526 Categorical Data Analysis (3 credits)
  • PHS 527 Survival Analysis (3 credits)
  • PHS 528 Bayesian Methods (3 credits)

Other Required Courses (7 credits)

  • PHS 500 Research Ethics for Clinical Investigation (1 credit)
  • PHS 555 Statistical Methods in Public Health II (3 credits)
  • PHS 583 Asymptotic Tools (3 credits)

Two PHS Elective Course (selected from the following) (6 credits)

  • PHS 535 Quality of Care Measurement (3 credits)
  • PHS 536 Health Survey Research Methods (3 credits)
  • PHS 538 Mixed Methods (3 credits)
  • PHS 550 Principles of Epidemiology (3 credits)
  • PHS 551 Advanced Epidemiological Methods (3 credits)
  • PHS 554 Statistical Methods in Public Health I (3 credits)
  • PHS 570 Health Economics & Economic Evaluation (3 credits)

One Statistics Elective Course (selected from the following) (3 credits)

  • PHS 517 Mining Genomic Data (3 credits)
  • PHS 515 Omics and Precision Medicine (3 credits)
  • PHS 516 Statistical Genetics (3 credits)
  • PHS 555 Statistical Methods in Public Health II (3 credits)

After the completion of the first year of coursework, each candidate is required to take a candidacy examination, based on the coursework in PHS 523, PHS 524, PHS 526, PHS 527 and PHS 528. The decision to admit or not to admit a student to candidacy will be made by a committee of graduate faculty in the Biostatistics program.

In addition, a comprehensive examination is administered at the completion of all coursework. It is anticipated that the typical student will require two years to complete the coursework, so such a student will undergo the comprehensive examination during the third year.

Finally, a student will have a final oral examination in defense of the PhD dissertation, to occur at least three months after the successful completion of the comprehensive examination.

Transfer Credit Expand answer

Students are allowed to transfer up to 10 credits from an external graduate program to fulfill the 31-credit course requirements for the PhD in Biostatistics program.

However, credits earned to complete a previous master’s degree, whether at Penn State or elsewhere, may not be applied to a second master’s or doctoral degree at Penn State.

Additional details are available via The Graduate School.

English Competency Expand answer

All PhD candidates are required to demonstrate high-level competence in the use of the English language, including reading, writing, and speaking. The Graduate School requires the program to formally attest to a student’s English competency before the comprehensive exam can be scheduled. All students are evaluated for their English competency as part of their candidacy exam, participation in colloquia, and other components of the degree program. If the student does not demonstrate acceptable competence based on the above evaluations, then the student’s adviser will be responsible for providing mechanisms for improving these skills. If remediation is required, then the student’s Dissertation committee will reevaluate the student following completion of the required studies and the student’s adviser will notify the Program Chair in writing when the student has met the English competency requirement.

PhD Dissertation Expand answer

An original PhD dissertation is required for completion of the PhD in Biostatistics degree. Details about the dissertation requirements are found at the Graduate School website.

The Graduate School reviews the format of the dissertation and does not provide edits to the dissertation for spelling, grammar or punctuation. A PhD dissertation must be submitted electronically. See more information on electronic thesis (eTDs) submissions here.

Grade-Point Average/Unsatisfactory Scholarship Expand answer

A minimum grade-point average of 3.0 for all course work is required to fulfill the graduation requirements. One or more failing grades or a cumulative grade-point average below 3.0 may be considered evidence of unsatisfactory scholarship and be grounds for dismissal from the University; see the Graduate Programs Bulletin for details.

If, for reasons beyond the student’s control, a student is prevented from completing a course within the prescribed time, the grade in that course may be deferred with the concurrence of the instructor.

The period during which a grade may be deferred shall not extend, without further approval of the dean of the college, beyond the end of the sixth week of the next semester in which the University is in session. A deferred grade that is not changed to a passing grade by the instructor before the end of this period automatically becomes an F.

Academic Integrity Expand answer

Academic Integrity at Penn State is defined in Faculty Senate Policy 49-20 as “the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner.” The University’s Code of Conduct states that “all students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts. Academic integrity includes a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the University community and compromise the worth of work completed by others.”

Academic dishonesty (including, but not limited to cheating, plagiarism, or falsification of information) will not be tolerated and can result in academic or disciplinary sanctions such as a failing (F) grade in the course.