How do I get a Biostatistics PhD?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 June 2017
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Obtaining a biostatistics PhD is not always easy. There are number of universities that offer training in this area, but getting into a PhD program can still be difficult. It requires, at minimum, completion of a bachelor’s degree in related fields like statistics or applied mathematics. People should have completed all courses related to their major or to the sciences with B grades at minimum.

Once students are on their way or have met this requirement, they’ll need to start investigating the many schools that offer a biostatistics PhD. These degrees might come from a stand-alone biostatistics department or the doctorate in biostatistics may be offered by another university department like Public Health, Statistics, or Epidemiology. Students should read any information available about the program’s focus and compare this to their ideas for how they might use this degree. For instance those interested in applying the techniques of biostatistics to research on human health may be best served getting a biostatistics PhD from a program related to public health or epidemiology.


As students examine schools, they’ll want to consider costs, distance, program value, and school reputation. Ultimately students should plan to make applications to three or four schools. This will increase likelihood of getting accepted to at least one, so work on the biostatistics PhD can begin. Some schools may give preference to students with a master’s degree, and this might be considered as an alternate option first, if a student is unsure whether they want to commit to a PhD program.

It takes about four to five years, and sometimes longer to get a biostatistics PhD. At minimum, a student will spend three years working on this degree, but finishing in this short time is rare. Programs will likely require several years of classes, and may insist that students spend part of their time teaching or assisting in labs. For the student, these experiences may actually be beneficial. Students are usually paid for their work, which may reduce overall costs of attending school.

Many schools have an option to leave the program at master’s level. Prior to beginning work on the dissertation, students may choose to exit the program (though this isn’t always encouraged) and may have earned enough credits to receive a master’s degree. There is certainly work for people with master’s level studies in the field of biostatistics. However, the top jobs are likely to go to people with a biostatistics PhD.

Students who don’t opt at master’s level are likely to complete a dissertation or research study, which will be read and judged by members of the biostatistics department. Each school will have different requirements about length and subject of dissertation. Once this is graded as acceptable, students will officially be awarded their PhD.


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