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Ph.D. Requirements

Requirements for Admission to the Graduate Program in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology

The student must meet all requirements for admission to the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) at The University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center.

Prior Course Requirements

  • Calculus (three semesters)
  • Linear algebra
  • Biochemistry
    A deficiency in biochemistry may be made up after admission.

It is strongly recommended that students have training in advanced mathematics courses such as real analysis, numerical analysis and abstract algebra. Applicants are expected to have a grade point average of 3.0 on a scale of 4.0 on all previous undergraduate and graduate level work, particularly in the prerequisites listed above.

The student is required to take the General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). A Subject Test is also recommended.

The student must be admitted to the GSBS at The University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center.

Application materials include a completed application form and fee, an application letter, three letters of recommendation, one complete certified transcript from each post-secondary institution attended (submitted directly to the Office of the Registrar by the college or university) and results of the GRE General Test (sent directly to the Office of the Registrar by the Educational Testing Service).

The student must submit a completed application to the Program Admissions Committee within the first two years of full-time enrollment in the GSBS. The Program Admissions Committee has the authority to accept students into the program outside these limitations under special circumstances.

Biomedical Science Core Curriculum: Area Requirements (12 Credit Hours)

The goal of requiring courses that satisfy the GSBS area requirements is to broaden the student's knowledge of the biomedical sciences outside of each student’s own area of interest. The following GSBS courses (with area of study in parentheses) will satisfy the associated area requirements.

Quantitative Sciences

  • Introduction to Biostatistics and Bioinformatics GS010033 (4 hours)

Cellular Biomedicine

  • Molecular and Cellular Approaches to Human Genetics GS110023 (3 hours)

    or

  • Cell Biology GS040013 (3 hours)

Molecular Biomedicine

  • Introductory Biochemistry GS030090 -- 4 hours

Systems in Biomedicine

  • Cancer Biology GS040063 (3 hours)

    or

  • Developmental Biology GS040073 (3 hours)

    or

  • Experimental Genetics GS040203 (3 hours)

    or

  • Cell and Systems Physiology GS120254 (4 hours)

Ethical Issues in Biomedical Research (1 Credit Hour)

In addition, all students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences are required to take a course in medical ethics. Most students will take the course on ethics (GS210051) during the fall semester of their first year.

Ethical Issues

  • The Ethical Dimensions of the Biomedical Sciences GS210051 (1 credit hour)

Research Tutorials (12 Credit Hours: Three tutorials at 4 credit hours each)

Students complete three research tutorials during the first year. The tutorial experience introduces the student to the research work of GSBS faculty in order to assist the student in determining an area of focus for his/her research. The student will work under a minimum of three different tutors during this phase of the curriculum. At least one of the research tutorials must be outside of the student’s primary area of concentration. Each research tutorial generally lasts 10 weeks, at 20 hours per week. One half of the student’s day for three semesters will be spent in research laboratories. Each student chooses the tutorial laboratory. If a student has completed the M.S. degree with thesis or if the student has had post-baccalaureate research experience equivalent to a tutorial rotation, the student may petition the GSBS Academic Standards Committee to waive one of the required research tutorials. A student who waives one of the three required tutorials must still identify a mentor. 

Tutorial periods for students in the Program in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology generally run from mid-September through mid-November, the first week of January through mid-March and mid-March to the end of May. The tutorials are graded as pass/fail. Students register for the following course:

  • Research Tutorials Tutorial Research Experience GS000514 (4 credit hours)

Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology Core Curriculum (35 Semester Hours)

Biostatistics Core Curriculum

The core course requirements provide the student with the basic methodologic tools and understanding of the theoretical basis for applying these tools in the design and analysis of biomedical studies. By taking these courses and the research tutorials during the student’s first two years, the student is prepared to begin working with faculty members on research projects. The current course requirements for the first two years of study:

Year 1

  • Introduction to Mathematical Probability GS010213 -- fall  (4 credit hours)
  • Introduction to Biostatistics/Bioinformatics GS010033 -- fall  (4 credit hours)
  • Introduction to Mathematical Statistics -- spring (4 credit hours)
  • Statistical Computing and Linear Models -- spring (4 credit hours)

Year 2

  • Stochastic Processes -- one semester  (4 credit hours)
  • Categorical Data Analysis or Survival Analysis GS010023 -- fall (4 credit hours)
  • Bayesian Data Analysis GS010013 -- spring (4 credit hours)
  • Topics in Biostatistics GS010011  -- (1 credit hour)

In addition, students may take elective courses (see below).

Seminar in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology

Students in the Graduate Program in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology take at least two semesters of this seminar, which involves scientific presentations by the students. Possible topics for presentation include journal articles or, in the case of more advanced students, current research. The course instructor and other students provide constructive comments regarding the presentation’s content and the presenter’s style. This course prepares students for presenting research at scientific meetings.

Bioinformatics and Systems Biology Core Curriculum

There is considerable overlap in the courses a student will take, depending on whether the student is primarily interested in biostatistics or bioinformatics and systems biology. Students primarily interested in pursuing bioinformatics and systems biology research, however, would normally take the following courses during their first two years:

Year 1

  • Introduction to Probability -- fall (4 credit hours)
  • Introduction to Biostatistics/Bioinformatics GS010033 -- fall  (4 credit hours)
  • Mathematical Modeling -- spring (4 credit hours)
  • Statistical Computing and Linear Models -- spring (4 credit hours)

Year 2

  • Stochastic Processes -- fall semester (4 credit hours)
  • Numerical Methods in Biomathematics -- two semesters (8 credit hours)
  • Mathematical Statistics -- spring semester (4 credit hours)
  • Seminar in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology (1 credit hour)

Elective courses available for advanced study include:

  • Applied Functional Analysis I and II
  • Complex Variables I and II
  • Transformation Theory
  • Expert Systems for Artificial Intelligence
  • Biological Systems
  • Mathematical Analysis in Bioinformatics
  • Digital Processing of Biomedical Images
  • Classification of Biomedical Images

Students who have completed equivalent graduate level courses in these areas may petition the program’s Steering Committee for advanced placement credit.

Elective Courses

Students will take additional graduate courses that are approved by the graduate advisor(s) for the program. The student is expected to complete six hours of an advanced practicum in statistics.

Advanced Statistics Courses Currently Offered

  • Advanced Statistical Inference 
  • Advanced Survival Analysis 
  • Bayesian Foundations of Statistical Inference
  • Branching Processes
  • Clinical Trials
  • Digital Processing of Biomedical Images
  • Experimental Design and Sampling Theory 
  • Financial Market Models
  • Generalized Linear Models
  • Genetic Epidemiology of Chronic Disease
  • Genetic Aspects of Epidemiology 
  • Genetics and Human Disease 
  • Introduction to the Analysis of Genetic Sequence Data
  • Introduction to Genomics and Bioinformatics
  • Introduction to Time Series Analysis
  • Longitudinal Data Analysis
  • Modern Nonparametrics
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Pattern Recognition and Cluster Analysis
  • Population Genetics
  • Simulation
  • Spatial and Temporal Dependent Processes
  • Statistical Computing
  • Statistical Genetics
  • Statistical Methods in Epidemiology
  • Stochastic Models in Genetics

In addition, cooperative arrangements with Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, Texas Women's University and the University of Houston provide students with excellent course and research opportunities for enhancing their academic backgrounds and determining their future career interests.

Comprehensive Examinations

Written and Oral Comprehensive Examinations

By the end of the third year of study (the sixth semester), the student shall have passed the written and oral candidacy examinations and have started formal research on his/her dissertation topic under the guidance of a faculty advisor and advisory committee. 

Written Comprehensive Examinations

After the fourth semester of study in the program, the student takes a written comprehensive examination. The examination will consist of written responses to questions on the principles and application of statistics to the biomedical sciences. The exam will also examine the student’s breadth of knowledge in general areas of biomedical sciences. All written responses will be evaluated by the Examination Committee to determine the acceptability of the student to proceed to the oral candidacy examination. Students may pass outright, pass with conditions or may not pass at all.

Oral Ph.D. Candidacy Examination

All GSBS students must petition to take the oral candidacy examination before the end of the first semester of the third year after admission to the Program in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology. This examination is designed to establish the student’s preparation for investigation of a specific research problem in biomathematics or biostatistics, as well as the extent of knowledge in primary areas of the program. The examination will consist of an oral presentation of the student’s proposal and a defense of the proposal and related background information, potentially including material from the written examination and background courses. Additionally, the exam will contain questions in general areas of biomedical science. The candidate’s examining committee (consisting of no more than three members of the candidate’s advisory committee, plus new faculty) will administer the examination and communicate the results to the Steering Committee and the GSBS. 

Dissertation

After successful completion of the first two years of study and passing the qualifying exams, students may begin to investigate possible dissertation topics. Students will continue to take courses. The program is designed to be completed in five years. 

  • Research in Biomedical Sciences GS000520 (one year minimum required)
  • Dissertation for Doctor of Philosophy GS000920 (one year minimum required)

Successful completion of the Graduate Program in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology will require the student to demonstrate that he/she has the ability to perform related research that will significantly contribute to the body of knowledge in these fields. As such, the student is given the opportunity to perform research and write a dissertation under the guidance of his or her advisor, who is a member of the program faculty, as well as that of four other faculty members, serving as members of the student’s advisory committee. While working on dissertation research and while writing the dissertation, students register for the appropriate courses.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Faculty Advisor

During the student’s first year, the program director will serve as provisional faculty advisor. By the completion of the first year of study, the student will select a full member of the program faculty of the biostatistical core program as his or her advisor. The selection should be mutually agreeable and must be acceptable to the program’s steering committee and to the GSBS Academic Standards Committee. The student may change advisors with the concurrence of the program’s steering committee and the GSBS Academic Standards Committee.

Advisory Committee

The student and the student’s faculty advisor will choose an advisory committee within the first year of study. The advisory committee will assist the student in directing his or her research. The advisory committee must comprise at least five members, including the student’s advisor, with at least one member who is not part of the Graduate Program in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology. The Program’s Steering Committee and the GSBS Academic Standards Committee must approve the composition of the committee. Following completion of the tutorials, the student chooses a laboratory in which to undertake thesis research.

Advisory Committee Responsibilities

  • Helping design the student’s course of study to ensure comprehensive training in the application of statistical methods and/or mathematics to biomedical research
  • Monitoring the student’s progress and making recommendations concerning continuation, probation or dismissal from the Program
  • Helping direct the student in preparing for the candidacy examination
  • Recommending the composition of the candidate’s Ph.D. Examining Committee. The Advisory Committee must meet with the student at least once every six months

Timetable to Complete Graduate Program in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology

Progress toward completion of the program of study and achieving the doctoral degree requirements will depend upon the individual student’s background and progress as monitored by the student’s advisor, the Advisory Committee and the Program’s Academic Affairs Committee (who report to the Program’s Steering Committee). It is anticipated that the student will complete the required core and the advanced elective courses within the first two-and-a-half to three years. By the end of the second year (but no later than the end of the first semester of the third year of study), the student shall petition for Ph.D. candidacy. By the end of the third year of study, the student is expected to have passed the written and oral candidacy examinations and to have started formal research on his or her dissertation topic under the guidance of the faculty advisor and Advisory Committee (see GSBS “Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines for Students”). Upon completion of the dissertation research, the student will write and defend the Ph.D. dissertation and present a public seminar to the GSBS faculty at large. 


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