Doctor of Philosophy in Biostatistics

Degree Awarded: Ph.D.
Unit: GH
Program Webpage:

Program Information


Biostatistics involves the development and application of statistical techniques to scientific research in health-related fields, including medicine, epidemiology, and public health. Students in the Ph.D. program receive state-of-the-art training in the latest statistical methodology in order to tackle the challenges associated with the study design and data analysis of modern research conducted in the health sciences. The Ph.D. program provides advanced training in biostatistical theory and methods, with the goal of enabling the student to carry out original research. In addition, students may elect to train with an emphasis in bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics requires the development and application of statistical methods for many of the areas covered by the field, including genomics, proteomics, statistical genetics, and metabolomics. Current biomedical research technologies generate high volumes of data that require extension of existing statistical methodologies and development of new methodologies in order to extract important information regarding biological processes. The emphasis on bioinformatics is designed to fulfill the expanding need for biostatisticians with advanced training in this area. Students in the bioinformatics emphasis gain a basic understanding of molecular and cellular biology, genetics, and bioinformatics and an in-depth knowledge of statistical theory and methods. Graduates are able to carry out original statistical research in genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and evolving areas of systems biology.

Students who complete the M.S. program in biostatistics with the Department of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics or who already possess the equivalent of an M.S. in statistics, biostatistics, or a related discipline may apply for admission to the Ph.D. program.


To graduate, a student must be able to demonstrate mastery of the following competencies:






Read, interpret, and critically review the biostatistics content of scientific and biomedical journal articles




Analyze moderately complex research data using statistical methods involving common linear statistical models




Analyze dichotomous, count, and time-to-event data using appropriate statistical methods, including logistic regression, log-linear models, Kaplan-Meier curves, and Cox proportional hazards models






Assist researchers in planning research studies, proposing and evaluating statistical methods and computing power analyses




Write statistical methods sections for grant proposals, clinical trial protocols, and journal articles




Manage data using spreadsheet and database software




Use standard statistical and graphics computer packages including SAS, R, and SPSS




Keep abreast of statistical methods literature to evaluate and utilize new statistical methods




Thoroughly understand the broad discipline of biostatistics, including its theoretic underpinnings, its history of development, current applications, and areas of active inquiry






Understand advanced biostatistical operations




Conduct independent research




Advance the field of biostatistics through original research




Students who elected to emphasize on bioinformatics must demonstrate the following additional competencies, many of which represent specialization of competencies cited above:






Analyze high-throughput, biological data, such as microarrays, SNP chips, and mass spectrometer data, and understand the special statistical considerations that such data require






Retrieve and leverage various types of biological information from online repositories




Understand the basic biological principles that underlie our biological knowledge, and how the various forms of high-throughput data are used to address specific biological questions and expand our knowledge






Advance the field of statistics in bioinformatics through original research




*Key for demonstration (method):
CE = Comprehensive examinations
SCP = Statistical consulting practicum
Dsrt = Dissertation


The Ph.D. program is available to students who are entering from the M.S. program or to students entering with a master’s degree in biostatistics, statistics, decision science, or a related discipline.

The following are additionally required for admission:

    • Graduate application
    • Non-refundable application fee
    • At least two letters of recommendation written within past twelve months, which may be submitted with the Graduate application
    • Submission of GRE Quantitative section score to graduate admissions
    • All postsecondary transcripts (may require foreign credential evaluation if not from an accredited U.S. institution)
    • Statement of goals, including the desired emphasis, if any.
    • If candidate’s primary language is not English, one of the following:
      • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam with a minimum score of 250 (after conversion for test type)
      • Passing the exit examination for the advanced level of the Intensive English as a Second Language Program at the University of Louisville
      • Degree from an accredited U.S. institution


    The curriculum consists of a minimum of 34 credit hours of coursework and a doctoral dissertation. The student is eligible to sit for comprehensive examinations upon completion of required coursework. Upon passing the comprehensive examinations and completing required and elective coursework, the student enters candidacy to work on the dissertation. After the dissertation is submitted and approved, including an oral defense, the student is eligible to receive the Ph.D. degree in Biostatistics.

    Award of a degree from an accredited School of Public Health requires successful completion of the equivalent of three (3) semester credit hours in each of:

    • Instruction that introduces the students to the breadth of public health
    • Instruction in epidemiology

    Either or both of these requirements may be determined to have been met prior to matriculation by approval of the academic Dean of a variance request submitted by the program director. The request for a variance in one or both requirements must be justified by one of: previous degrees received, such as an M.P.H. or Dr.P.H.; previous coursework successfully completed; or extensive experience in the public health workforce. In the absence of a variance for a requirement, the student’s program of study must include successfully completed coursework that satisfies the requirement. This coursework may be included in the program’s required coursework; if not, the student must complete appropriate coursework on a co-curricular basis.

    Faculty Advisor

    Upon admission to the Ph.D. program, each student is assigned to the graduate coordinator of the Ph.D. program for course advising. The graduate coordinator assumes the role of faculty advisor until the student chooses a dissertation advisor at which point this responsibility shifts to the dissertation advisor. If it becomes clear that a Ph.D. student will be working with a given faculty member prior to forming a dissertation committee, the student may request a change in course advisor by completing the form “Request to Change Academic Advisor.”

    Program of Study

    Upon admission to the Ph.D. program, a program of study is developed for each student by the faculty advisor and approved by the program director and department chair. Students who did not complete the M.S. program in Biostatistics with the Department of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics may be required to complete additional coursework normally offered in the M.S. program. Decisions regarding additional coursework are made by the student’s assigned faculty advisor and such courses become part of the program of study. This approach gives maximum flexibility for addressing differing student qualifications and interests.

    Degree Requirements

    Completion of the coursework is the prelude to sitting for the comprehensive examination. Successful completion of the comprehensive examination allows the student to enter doctoral candidacy. A doctoral candidate must then develop and successfully defend a dissertation proposal that describes an original and independent research project. Upon successful defense of the proposal, a student may then proceed to continue dissertation research. Upon successful completion of the research, defense of the dissertation, and demonstration of the required competencies listed below, a student is awarded the Ph.D. degree.


    34 total credit hours
    12 credit hours of required coursework
    22 credit hours of elective courses

    The student may be required to take one or more prerequisite courses for a required course if the student does not meet the prerequisites. These prerequisite courses become part of the program of study but are in addition to the number of coursework credit hours presented above.


    The nine (9) credit hours of Additional Electives listed in the table on the previous page must be taken from the following list. The student’s program of study specifies the particular courses permitted to be taken.

    "--" indicates the No emphasis option; "B" indicates the Bioinformatics emphasis.

    The student may be required to take one or more prerequisite courses for an elective course if the student does not meet the prerequisites. These prerequisite courses become part of the program of study but are in addition to the number of coursework credit hours presented above. Enrollment in other courses such as PHPH 701 may be required to maintain academic status for funding purposes.

    Sample Program of Study – Year 1

    All pre-candidacy Ph.D. students on support of any kind (Fellowship, GRA, TA, Hourly) must be enrolled in the Department’s seminar course (PHST 602) for one (1) credit hour during semesters they are supported.

    Comprehensive Examination

    At the beginning of the student's second year in the Ph.D. program, he/she will take a written Comprehensive Examination. The objective of this examination is for the student to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of statistical theory and methods as learned in the courses taken during the first year in the program. This examination is given over two consecutive days shortly before the start of the fall semester. Students will be notified of the dates and location at least one month in advance. Students must have passed PHST-691, PHST-710, PHST-762, and PHST-781 before they may take the comprehensive examination.

    The examination will consist of four sections, each corresponding to one of the required courses (PHST-710, PHST-762, PHST-781, PHST-691) and each given individually. Each section is designed to test the student's competency in a core area of the discipline and to assess his/her ability to apply this knowledge to solve new and/or complex problems.

      • The Statistical Inference (PHST-762) section will be a two-hour written examination given on the first day.
      • The Linear Models (PHST-781) section will be a two-hour written examination taking place on the first day.
      • The Bayesian Inference section (PHST-691) will be a one and a half hour written examination and a one and a half hour computing exam, both given on the second day.
      • The Computing section (PHST-710) will be a three-hour computing examination given on the second day.

    Material from courses corresponding to each section of the comprehensive exam will help students prepare for those sections. However, questions from any sources may appear that cover the same topics as listed in the syllabi of PHST 691, PHST 710, PHST 762, and PHST 781. Further, problems on the Computing section of the exam may draw on topics covered in PHST 691, PHST 762, and PHST 781.

    Each student receives a grade of either "pass" or "fail" for the entire comprehensive examination and each student must pass all four sections of the comprehensive examination to receive a "pass". Students that pass the exam will be eligible to enter doctoral candidacy upon completion of the remaining, second-year coursework. A failing grade indicates a deficiency in one or more areas, and a student with a grade of "fail" will have one opportunity to retake the full Comprehensive Examination (all four sections), typically in the following January. The results from a student’s first attempt at the comprehensive exam will not be considered in the grading of the second attempt and will not factor into the determination of a “pass” or “fail” score for the second attempt at the exam. Students that fail to pass the examination on their second attempt will be dismissed from the program without any further consideration.

    Neither scores nor graded copies of completed examinations will be shared with students. Students may review ungraded copies of their own completed comprehensive exams with the exam graders. The ungraded, completed copies will be held in the department office. Students will not be permitted to keep ungraded copies of the completed comprehensive exams.

    Special Notes on the Comprehensive Exam

      • For all the exams, the students will not have access to any course books, notes or any other materials (paper or electronic copies)
      • Students will write programs and run code in the Bayesian and non-Bayesian computing examinations of the second day. These examinations will be given either in a computer lab in the SPHIS building or the students will be required to bring their own laptop to run the programs.
      • The only materials which can be consulted for the second-day examination are R help menus locally available on the specific computer. Students will be asked ahead of time to upload all R packages needed to appear for the exam. Students will not be allowed to avail the internet by any means.
      • Any suspected cheating on the Comprehensive Examination will be addressed according to university policies provided in Section 5 of Dean of Students’ document, Students Rights and Responsibilities. Additionally, students found guilty of academic dishonesty on the Comprehensive Examination will be expelled from the Ph.D. program immediately.
      • More than one faculty members will grade all the examinations.


    In order to complete the degree, a candidate must submit and successfully defend a dissertation on a topic approved by his or her major professor and the dissertation committee. Dissertation work may be started following successful completion of doctoral comprehensive examinations.

    Dissertation Committee

    The dissertation committee is formed by the candidate’s proposing a major professor (or principal advisor) and at least four other committee members. The major professor (or at least one when there are co-major professors) must be from the Department of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics. One member of the dissertation committee must be external to the Department of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics. The committee is appointed by the Dean of the school upon the recommendation of the program director and chair of the department.

    Dissertation Proposal (Pre-Dissertation Essay)

    A dissertation proposal or pre-dissertation essay is submitted to the major professor and the dissertation committee. Students must make an oral presentation of the proposal to the dissertation committee, after which the members of the committee vote upon approval of the proposal (see below for guidelines regarding scheduling the proposal defense). The proposal must be approved by a majority vote of the dissertation committee before the candidate undertakes further work on the dissertation.

    The dissertation proposal is a typed document not exceeding 25 pages in length excluding topics (v) to (viii), below. The following formatting is used: Times New Roman 12-point font, margins of 1 inch on all sides and 1.5-line spacing throughout the body of the document. The Graduate School dissertation guidelines for citing references must be followed. The document is divided into the following sections and in the following sequence:

    (i) Introduction and Literature Reviews – general introduction to the area of proposed research and relevant literature reviews

    (ii) Specific Aims and Significance – short section describing the specific aims of the proposed research and their potential importance in the field

    (iii) Preliminary Results – summary of the research findings the student already has (e.g., simulation results) towards one or more of the specific aims. This is an important component of the proposal that demonstrates the feasibility of the proposed research by the student.

    (iv) Research Plan – detailed description of the research towards the specific aims to be undertaken during the rest of the doctoral study period

    (v) References – complete references to all the cited literature. Journal names should not be abbreviated

    (vi) Tables – including table headings

    (vii) Figures – one figure per page

    (viii) Appendix – copies (in PDF format) of published articles and preprints that are most relevant to the proposed research

    Dissertation Preparation

    The dissertation is to be prepared in a format according to the guidelines established by the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies. These guidelines are located at

    Dissertation Approval

    Final approval of the dissertation is voted upon by the dissertation committee after an oral defense of the dissertation by the student. Students submit their dissertations to members of their committee two or more weeks prior to the date of the oral defense. Approval of the dissertation is by a majority vote of the committee after the oral defense.

    Students are required by SIGS to provide two weeks’ notice when scheduling oral defenses ( This requirement permits those wanting to attend the oral defense adequate time to make arrangements for attending. Students must follow the below procedure for scheduling oral defenses:

    1. Identify a date and time for the oral defense in consultation with the dissertation advisor and members of the committee.
    2. Request a room reservation for the oral defense through the Department’s Administrative Assistant.
    3. Notify the Department’s Administrative Assistant of the date, time, and location of the oral defense as well as the title of the dissertation. The Department’s Administrative Assistant will circulate an announcement of the defense as well as notify the SPHIS Office of Student Services of the defense, who in turn will notify SIGS.
    4. Distribute technically and grammatically error-free copies of the dissertation to all committee members at least two weeks prior to the defense date.

    There are no exceptions to these requirements and students will not be permitted by the Department to schedule defenses with less than 2 weeks’ notice. Students are expected to be aware of university deadlines for dissertations ( and to ensure that the 2 weeks’ notice requirement is fulfilled within these university deadlines. Students are strongly encouraged to allow for even greater than two weeks’ notice to ensure that all deadlines and requirements are fulfilled.

    Dissertation Submission

    The following steps must be taken to submit the final copy of the dissertation electronically after oral defense and approval of the committee:

    1. Final document must be converted to a PDF (following the guidelines as noted above) and sent to the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies and the department’s administrative assistant.
    2. Submit as advised by the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies through the ThinkIR repository. Click here to download instructions on this process.
    3. The signature page within the electronic version must have the names of your committee members typed under the signature line; the signatures cannot be scanned into the document.
    4. Submit a signed signature page on white paper, with original signatures, to the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, attention Courtney Kerr.

    An electronic copy of the dissertation must be provided to the Department’s Administrative Assistant.

    Applying for a Degree

    Students are responsible for completing an “Application for Degree” form at the beginning of the semester in which they will defend their thesis or dissertation. Students may apply for their degree via ULink. The steps are as follows: 1. Log on to your ULink account. 2. Go to Student Services Page. 3. Scroll down and on the right of the screen you will find a column labeled "Registration". 4. Under Registration click on the Degree Application link. 5. Follow the Prompts to complete your application for degree. Once completed, you will receive an e-mail confirmation of submission in your University e-mail. Future deadline dates can be found on the Graduate Academic calendar.

    For any questions or concerns students might have during the semester in which they plan to graduate, students’ best resource is the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies. The Department of Bioinformatics and Biostatistics faculty and staff are also here to advise and assist you with any questions you might have.


    Jack Barnette


    Guy Brock

    Associate Professor

    Jeremy Gaskins

    Assistant Professor

    Bakeerathan Gunaratnam

    Assistant Professor

    Maiying Kong

    Associate Professor

    K.B. Kulasekera


    Doug Lorenz

    Assistant Professor

    Riten Mitra

    Assistant Professor

    Shesh Rai

    Wendell Cherry Chair in Clinical Trial Research

    Dongfeng Wu

    Associate Professor

    Qi Zheng

    Assistant Professor