Program Requirements

Academic Requirements. Students should have a master’s degree in epidemiology, biostatistics, or another approved field, along with strong analytic and quantitative GRE scores. Whether the student’s master’s degree is appropriate to meet the requirements for program entry will be determined by the Oversight Committee. At a minimum, the master’s degree should include two semesters of statistical methods, at least one semester of computer programming, and two semesters of epidemiologic methods.

Required Hours. A typical student will complete 42 credits of core required courses, five to six electives, five to 10 dissertation credits, for a total of 72 credits minimum (including 6 to 12 transfer credits). This includes the required methods curriculum, content-area courses (electives and advanced methods), ethics training, and scientific writing.

Progress Form. Each incoming student will be assigned a faulty advisor who is a member of the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center and/or holds a PhD in epidemiology. The student is required to meet with his or her advisor at least once a semester to complete a progress report and obtain their advisor’s signature, and is encouraged to meet more often as needed to discuss dissertation progress, plan course work, and/or discuss career plans. It is the student’s responsibility to initiate these meetings.

Teaching Experience. Program graduates will often take academic positions upon completion, and it is critical that they have teaching experience prior to graduating. All students will be strongly encouraged to participate in the teaching of a methods course or seminar, and may choose from a list of teaching opportunities maintained by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).

Intradepartmental Review. The intradepartmental review (IDR) will examine the student’s coursework and ensure that their remaining semesters are used to appropriately prepare them for graduation. The IDR will take place during the first semester of the second year and is conducted by a committee of three faculty members, including the student’s doctoral advisor. The committee reviews the student’s CV, educational record, and dissertation idea and recommends additional coursework and direction for the duration of the doctoral training period. The committee also ensures that the student has met or has a plan to meet all requirements of the doctorate, including teaching, ethics, and writing training.

Comprehensive Examination. A comprehensive examination will be administered at the end of the second year focusing on the methods knowledge gained during the foundational and mid-level methods portion of the degree. This take-home examination will include short answer questions, computations, interpretation of computations and analyses, and data analysis.

Dissertation Committee. Once a student has passed the comprehensive examination, he/she will select a dissertation committee. The committee must include two members of the Epidemiology faculty other than the mentor, and at least one member from Biostatistics. The dissertation committee guides the student’s research and career development, with the dissertation advisor primarily responsible for overall guidance of the student’s research and training. The dissertation committee is responsible for administering the final Ph.D. examination and determines whether the candidate has presented an acceptable dissertation.

Oral Proposal Defense - Doctoral Qualifying Examination. To qualify for candidacy, a student must complete all required first- and second-year courses, must be in good academic standing (GPA ≥3.0), must pass the comprehensive examination, and must pass an oral qualifying examination. The examining committee is the student’s dissertation committee. There are three possible outcomes of the examination: pass, conditional pass and fail. In case of failure, the student will be given up to four months to retake the examination. Failure to pass a second examination will result in dismissal from the doctoral program. On satisfactory completion of the oral examination, the student will be admitted to candidacy.

The Doctoral Dissertation. Candidates for the PhD in Epidemiology must present an acceptable dissertation that adds to or modifies the body of knowledge. Professional achievement must be evident and should include presentation of research at one or more national meeting(s). Prior to dissertation defense the student MUST have at least one first-authored publication submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The doctoral dissertation will include: critical review of the literature, a methods chapter to include hypotheses tested and methods applied, two to three manuscripts intended for publication, and a summary chapter with proposed next research steps in the field.

Human Subjects Training. Training in “Responsible Conduct of Research” (RCR) is offered by the Biomedical Research Education and Training program (BRET). The program includes: 

  • institutional and NIH policies regarding scientific misconduct and conflicts of interest
  • ethical considerations of research involving human and animal subjects
  • data management, record keeping, and intellectual property
  • responsible authorship and review of scientific publications and grants

Academic Performance. All students must maintain an overall B (3.0) grade point average (GPA) in their didactic coursework. If a student’s GPA drops below 3.0, he/she will be placed on academic probation. If the GPA is still below 3.0 after two more semesters, the Oversight Committee will evaluate the student’s overall performance, and he/she may be dismissed from the program. Continued financial support is contingent upon maintaining an overall GPA of 3.0 and taking a full course load each semester.

Feel free to contact epi.phd@vanderbilt.edu with any questions.