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University of Pittsburgh    
2017-2018 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 18, 2024
2017-2018 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Program in Computational Biology

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Joint Pitt-CMU PhD Program in Computational Biology

James Faeder and Russell Schwartz, Directors

Computational biology is defined as the development and application of data-analytical and theoretical methods, mathematical modeling, and computational simulation techniques to the study of biological, behavioral, and social systems.* It is an interdisciplinary approach that draws from specific disciplines such as mathematics, physics, computer science and engineering, biology, and behavior science.

The Joint CMU-Pitt PhD Program in Computational Biology is an intensive, interdisciplinary training program that provides students with a deep understanding of the current state of the art in computational biology. Students in this program acquire the quantitative background and research skills needed to advance the field of computational biology. In addition, they develop the critical thinking skills needed to appreciate the potential, strength, and limitations of computational, mathematical, and engineering tools for tackling biological problems.

*NIH Working Definition, July 17, 2000

Contact Information

  University of Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University:
Directors: James R. Faeder, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of
Computational and Systems Biology
School of Medicine,
University of Pittsburgh
3501 Fifth Avenue, BST3,
Room 3082
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
412-648-8171 (phone)
412-648-3163 (fax) 
Russell Schwartz, PhD
Professor of Biological
Sciences, and Computer Science
Carnegie Mellon University
654B Mellon Institute, 4400 Fifth Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
412-268-3971 (phone)
412-268-7129 (fax)
Associate Directors: Nathan Clark, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of
Computational Biology
School of Medicine,
University of Pittsburgh
3501 Fifth Avenue BST3
Room 3080
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
412-648-7785 (phone)
412-648-3163 (fax)
Carl Kingsford, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Computational Biology
School of Computer Science, Carnegie
Mellon University
Gates Hillman Center,
Room 7705
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
412-268-1769 (phone)
412-268-2977 (fax)
Program Coordinators: Kelly M. Gentille
Educational Programs Administrator
Department of
Computational Biology
School of Medicine,
University of Pittsburgh
3501 Fifth Avenue, BST3,
Room 3067
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
412-648-8107 (phone)
412-648-7819 (fax)
Nicole Stenger
Academic Programs Manager
Computational Biology Department
Carnegie Mellon University
4400 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
412-268-2474 (phone)
412-268-2977 (fax)
Program Website:


The interdisciplinary character of the program is unique and distinct from many other programs that are focused toward a specific discipline. The program seeks outstanding students from the biological, physical and computational sciences, and engineering. For example, computational biology majors, or double majors in biology and quantitative sciences, are ideal candidates.

Recommended Prerequisites

For students planning their undergraduate course schedules in anticipation of applying for the PhD in computational biology, prerequisites in life sciences, computer science, physical sciences, mathematics, statistics, and computational biology are recommended. Students whose background does not include these courses may be admitted with the additional requirement to take appropriate compensating classes. For more information on prerequisites, see


REQUIRED MATERIALS - Deadline December 15, 2017

  1. The Online Application
  2. Statement of Purpose
  3. Three letters of Recommendation
  4. Unofficial Transcripts (submitted online)
  5. Conversion of GPA (for international students only)
  6. Unofficial GRE Scores (submitted online)
  7. Unofficial TOEFL Scores (submitted online)
  8. Application Fee

Applications are reviewed by the Joint CMU-Pitt PhD Program in Computational Biology. Each admitted student is assigned an initial university of matriculation, and receives an admissions offer letter from that university. Incoming students can be placed directly in a laboratory (if mutual interest exists between a student and an advisor), or go through a period of three rotations, after which the student chooses an advisor. Students have the ability to change advisors (subject to agreement of the new advisor and availability of support) and to transfer between the two universities to reflect advisor changes.

For more information on application process, see

Financial Aid

All students are provided with a stipend and full tuition remission. Assistance is also provided for health insurance.

Teaching Assistantships

Although all students are supported as research assistants throughout their time in the program, there are opportunities to assist in the teaching courses of the program. Students are also encouraged to develop teaching skills by mentoring other students and passing on their knowledge to lab mates and fellow students.

Terminal Masters Degree

The program does not admit students whose goal is to attain a Master’s of Science degree. However, it might become necessary for a PhD student to transfer to an MS track for academic reasons or reasons beyond the student’s control, e.g., medical circumstances or a change in family circumstances necessitating a long-distance move.


Training Faculty

The program provides students with cross-disciplinary training in established as well as newly emerging fields of computational biology. Students have access to a community of faculty mentors from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, which not only provides a breadth of research areas for investigation, but also offers the technical and intellectual resources to make rapid progress toward their doctoral degree.

For a list of training faculty, see



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