Doctor of Philosophy Programs

Doctor of Philosophy in Biostatistics

The department offers a degree program leading to the Ph.D. in biostatistics. The program is designed to produce biostatisticians who will have in-depth knowledge of statistical theory and methodology and the ability to apply this knowledge creatively to statistical problems in the biological and health sciences.

Course Requirements

A minimum of 60 units of graduate study is required for the Ph.D. degree; a maximum of 19 of these units may be from research and dissertation. In preparation for the screening examination, all students must take the required and elective courses for the M.S. in Biostatistics (33 units). In preparation for the qualifying examination, all students are required to take PM 610 (at least two semesters). The student is also required to take at least six units from the following sequence: PM 543L, PM 544L, PM 550 or PM 552.

Screening Procedure

A student failing the screening examination will either terminate or will terminate with the M.S. degree upon completion of an acceptable thesis.

Guidance Committee

A formal guidance committee consisting of five faculty members — four from within the department (one of whom is designated as chair), and one from an outside department offering the Ph.D. degree — will recommend courses in preparation for the qualifying examination.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination will test the student’s integration of knowledge in biostatistics, mathematical statistics and the health sciences. An oral examination will ascertain the student’s competence in orally communicating this knowledge. Students must pass the written portions and the oral portions in order to pass the qualifying examination.

Dissertation and Oral Defense

Upon passing the qualifying examination the Ph.D. 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 theoretical-methodological application to a problem area in the biological or health sciences. The oral defense is based on a rough draft or final version of the dissertation. The defense is administered by the dissertation committee, with other faculty invited to attend.

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology

The department offers a degree leading to the Ph.D. in epidemiology. This program may be an extension of the applied biostatistics and epidemiology M.S. program and is especially aimed at persons with a strong background in medicine: in particular, students enrolled in the M.D. program of the Keck School of Medicine who wish to interrupt their M.D. studies after two years to complete a Ph.D. 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.

Course Requirements

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 M.S. 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 guidance 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 guidance committee from courses in the biological sciences or from the medical school. For students in the M.D./Ph.D. program in epidemiology, satisfactory completion of the first two years of the M.D. program will be considered to provide 20 units toward the Ph.D. degree.

Guidance Committee

A formal guidance committee, consisting of five faculty members, with at least three from the Department of Preventive Medicine (one designated as chair) and one from a department offering a Ph.D. outside of the Department of Preventive Medicine, will recommend courses in preparation for the qualifying examination.

Qualifying Examination

The written portion of the qualifying examination will test the student’s integration of knowledge in biostatistics and medicine. In general, the qualifying examination will present plans for implementation and completion of three components: an independent and complete data analysis arising from ongoing epidemiological study, a “review” paper on an area of epidemiological research, and a grant application for a new epidemiological study.

Dissertation

Upon passing the qualifying examination, the Ph.D. 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.

Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular Epidemiology

The Doctor of Philosophy in molecular epidemiology combines molecular and population-based research. The objective of the Ph.D. program is to produce a molecular epidemiologist with in-depth laboratory, statistical and analytical skills in both epidemiology and the molecular biosciences. Applicants who have undergraduate or master’s degrees in quantitative biological sciences or other related fields and graduate students in the PIBBS program at USC are encouraged to apply. The program is jointly administered by the Departments of Preventive Medicine and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Course Requirements

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 guidance 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.

Prerequisites: PM 510 Principles of Biostatistics or the equivalent. INTD 571 Biochemistry or the equivalent.

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Core Courses (16 units): BIOC 543, INTD 531, INTD 561, INTD 504 or INTD 555.

Preventive Medicine Core Courses (17 units): PM 522aL, PM 512, PM 517a, PM 518a, PM 533.

Suggested Electives (at least 7 units) from: MICB 551, PM 511bL, PM 517b, PM 523, PM 527, PM 529 and PM 534.

Preparation for Screening Examination

The screening examination will be taken after two years in the program. Prior to the screening examination a mentor who will serve on the guidance committee must be identified. The screening examination will consist of a written component and an oral component. The written component will be drawn from the core courses. A student failing the screening examination may be given a second opportunity to retake either one or both portions. Students failing the examination for the second time will terminate with the M.S. degree upon satisfactory completion of 37 units and an acceptable master’s thesis.

Annual Research Appraisal (ARA)

Beginning in the second year, each student must register for PM 610 (1 unit) and present an annual progress report to the program oversight committee. Once a dissertation topic has been selected, the annual progress report is presented to the student’s guidance committee. Once the student has passed the qualifying examination and is appointed to candidacy, the annual progress report is presented to the student’s dissertation committee. The student will meet annually with the dissertation committee, until he or she graduates from the program. The oral portion of the screening examination as well as the qualifying examination and the defense examination will count as ARAs.

Guidance Committee

A formal guidance committee will be formed, consisting of five faculty members: two from the Department of Preventive Medicine (one member designated as co-chair); two from the basic science departments (one designated as co-chair with an appointment in biochemistry and molecular biology) and one from an outside department offering a Ph.D. degree (neither preventive medicine or biochemistry and molecular biology). The guidance committee will recommend courses in preparation for the qualifying examination based on the student’s research and dissertation topic.

Qualifying Examination

The dissertation topic should be both population-based and functional-based; the molecular/epidemiological nature of the dissertation topic must be agreed on by the guidance committee co-chairs.

Dissertation and Oral Defense

Upon passing the qualifying examination, the Ph.D. candidate and his or her chair will recommend a dissertation committee (typically all five members of the guidance committee). However, the university requires only three members; a three-member dissertation committee must consist of the co-chairs and the outside member. The dissertation should be completed within two years of the qualifying examination. The oral defense examination is based on the final version of the dissertation and will be administered by the dissertation committee and other invited faculty and students. The defense examination should contain a summary of the review article, the completed research and data analyses and the finalized grant proposal.

Doctor of Philosophy in Preventive Medicine (Health Behavior Research)

The Department of Preventive Medicine, Division of Health Behavior Research, offers a degree program in preventive medicine (health behavior), leading to attainment of the Ph.D. The program is designed to train exceptional researchers and scholars in the multidisciplinary field of health behavior research. Students receive a thorough grounding in academic and research experience, encompassing theoretical and methodological training in such allied fields as communication, psychology, preventive medicine, biostatistics, public health and epidemiology. Students receive research experience by participating in projects conducted through the USC Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (IPR). The doctoral program is full-time: students are expected to enroll for fall, spring and summer semesters.

Assistantships

Financial and educational support is provided to qualified doctoral students in health behavior research. Graduate (research and/or teaching) assistantships are half-time (20 hours per week) and provide tuition remission as well as a monthly stipend.

Computer Language Requirement

Sufficient familiarity in computer languages to operate major software packages for data management and analysis is required.

Course Requirements

The doctoral program in health behavior research is structured as a four to five year course of study for students entering with a bachelor’s degree. Time requirements are subject to review and approval by the division’s Graduate Program Committee and the Graduate School.

A total of 60 units of graduate study is required for the Ph.D. in health behavior research. Students are required to complete nine core courses: PM 500, PM 511abL, PM 515, PM 530, PM 601, PM 602, PM 604 and PM 756 (total of 37 units). Other requirements include: two elective PM courses, one not offered by health behavior faculty (minimum of 7 units); and a minimum of 4 units each in PM 590, PM 690abcdz, PM 790 and PM 794abcdz.

For students entering with a bachelor’s degree, one of the directed research projects will be equivalent in scope to a master’s thesis. All research experiences/projects must be completed before registering for 794abcdz Doctoral Dissertation.

Screening Procedure

The progress of each student is reviewed at the end of every academic year. At the end of the second year of study, students who have not made satisfactory progress are advised that they will be dropped from the program unless their progress improves during their second year.

Guidance Committee

Each student’s guidance committee consists of five members, including: no more than three health behavior faculty members; one other member from the Department of Preventive Medicine; and one member from a doctorate-granting program outside the Department of Preventive Medicine, representing the student’s minor field.

Qualifying Examination

Following course work and prior to beginning the dissertation, students must demonstrate written and oral mastery of the general field of health behavior research as well as of their chosen area of specialization. The qualifying process includes a written examination on theory and literature relevant to a selected content area. The examination is administered by the student’s guidance committee.

In addition to the qualifying examination, each student is expected to produce the following as evidence of qualification to conduct dissertation research: an academic dossier consisting of a summary of the student’s academic record, teaching and research experience, and professional presentations and publications; at least one original empirical research paper of publishable quality, produced in connection with one of the student’s courses or research experiences or developed independently; a dissertation proposal; and an oral defense of all the preceding materials.

Doctor of Philosophy in Statistical Genetics and Genetic Epidemiology

The program gives students a solid background in the methodological aspects of biostatistics and statistical genetics as well as solid grounding in molecular/laboratory science. The objective of the Ph.D. program is to produce a statistical geneticist or genetic epidemiologist with in-depth statistical and analytic skills in biostatistics, computational methods and the molecular biosciences. The program combines biostatistics, epidemiology, statistical and molecular genetics and computational methods in order to develop new and cutting-edge statistical methodology appropriate for human genomic studies.

Course Requirements

Graduation requires the completion of a minimum of 60 units, with a maximum of 20 units of research and dissertation, passing of screening and qualifying examinations, completion of the dissertation and the dissertation defense examination. Because the background of applicants varies widely, the program oversight committee consults with each student to design an individualized schedule of recommended courses. Electives may be selected (with the approval of the chair) from courses in preventive medicine, biological sciences, mathematics, and computational biology. For students in the M.D./Ph.D. program in statistical genetics and genetic epidemiology, satisfactory completion of the first two years of the M.D. program will be considered to provide 20 units toward the Ph.D. degree. After passing the screening examination, each student should register for at least two semesters of PM 610. Prior to passing the qualifying exam, each student must present an annual progress report (the Annual Research Appraisal, ARA) to the program oversight committee.

Core Courses (25-26 units) units
PM 511abL Data Analysis 4-4
PM 518a Statistical Methods for Epidemiological Studies I 3
PM 522a Introduction to Theory of Biostatistics (E), or 4
MATH 541a Introduction to Mathe-matical Statistics (S) 3
PM 533 Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology 3
PM 534 Statistical Genetics 4
PM 570 Statistical Methods in Human Genetics 4
Recommended Elective Courses units
BISC 478 Computational Genome Analysis (S, E) 4
BISC 505 Genomics and Molecular Genetics (S, E) 4
BIOC 543 Human Molecular Genetics (S, E) 4
INTD 504 Molecular Biology of Cancer (E) 4
INTD 531 Cell Biology (E) 4
INTD 555 Biochemical and Molecular Bases of Disease (E) 4
INTD 561 Molecular Genetics (E) 4
INTD 571 Biochemistry (E) 4
MATH 505a Applied Probability (S) 3
MATH 541ab Introduction to Mathe-matical Statistics (S) 3-3
MATH 577ab Computational Molecular Biology Laboratory (S) 2-2
MATH 578 DNA and Protein Sequence Analysis (S) 3
PM 510L Principles of Biostatistics (S, E) 4
PM 512 Principles of Epidemiology (S, E) 4
PM 517ab Research Methods in Epidemiology (E) 3-3
PM 520L Advanced Statistical Computing (S) 3
PM 538 Introduction to Biomedical Informatics (S, E) 3
PM 544L Multivariate Analysis (S) 3
PM 610 Seminar in Biostatistics/ Epidemiology (S, E) 1, max 4
PM 611 Advanced Topics in Epidemiology (S, E) 3

(S) Statistical genetics track

(E) Genetic epidemiology track

Screening Procedure

The screening examination will be taken after two years in the program. Prior to the screening examination, a mentor who will serve on the guidance committee must be identified. The screening examination will consist of a written and oral component. The written component is a two-day examination that tests the student’s knowledge of both theory and applications, drawn from the core courses. The oral portion comprises a one-hour presentation of a research plan that encompasses the student’s own ideas and will constitute the annual research appraisal. A student failing the screening examination may be given a second opportunity to retake either one or both portions of the screening examination. Students failing the examination for the second time will terminate with the M.S. in Applied Biostatistics and Epidemiology upon satisfactory completion of 37 units (33 course units and 4 units of PM 594ab) and an acceptable master’s thesis.

Guidance Committee

A formal guidance committee will be formed, consisting of five faculty members; at least one member from the Department of Preventive Medicine designated as chair, and one from an outside department offering a Ph.D. degree. The guidance committee will recommend courses in preparation for the qualifying examination based on the student’s research and dissertation topic.

Qualifying Examination

Prior to the qualifying examination, a written draft of the dissertation proposal must be submitted to the Guidance Committee. The dissertation topic should be both population-based and functionally-based. The dissertation for the statistical genetics track will typically consist of (a) a “review” paper on current statistical genetic methods, (b) a proposal for a new methodological approach, (c) evaluation of the new methodological approach from a theoretical and/or computational perspective, and (d) application to real data arising from genetic research. Typically, the dissertation proposal should contain a near-completed draft of (a) and (b) and preliminary results from (c) and (d).

The dissertation for the genetic epidemiology track will typically consist of: (a) a “review” paper on an area of genetic epidemiological research, (b) an independent and complete data analysis arising from an ongoing genetic epidemiological study and (c) a grant application for a new genetic epidemiological study. The review paper (a) typically will provide the rationale and context for the data analysis (b). Typically, the dissertation proposal should contain a nearly completed draft of (a), preliminary results from (b) and preliminary plans for (c).

Dissertation and Oral Defense

Upon passing the qualifying examination, the Ph.D. candidate and his or her chair will recommend a dissertation committee (typically all five members of the guidance committee; however, the university requires only three members. (A three-member dissertation committee must consist of the chair and the outside members). The dissertation should be completed within two years of the qualifying examination. The oral defense examination is based on the final version of the dissertation and will be administered by the dissertation committee and other invited faculty and students.