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University of Pittsburgh    
2018-2019 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jul 22, 2024
2018-2019 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Biostatistics, MS

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The MS in biostatistics degree program is for students with a background in mathematics and a strong interest in biology and public health. The program emphasizes statistical theory and methods so that students are prepared to be effective statistical collaborators in interdisciplinary studies; and lead the design and execution of studies.

Program Objectives

Students successfully completing the MS Program in Biostatistics will be able to:

  • Address health problems by appropriate problem definition, study design, data collection, data management, statistical analysis, and interpretation of results
  • Demonstrate mastery of the theory underlying statistical methods
  • Understand and implement innovative statistical approaches
  • Communicate biostatistical analyses to individuals with varying degrees of statistical knowledge
  • Apply research design principles to problems in public health
  • Recognize strengths and weaknesses of approaches, including alternative designs, data sources, and analytic methods
  • Determine the data best suited to address public health issues, program planning, and program evaluation

General Requirements for Master’s Degrees

For an overview of University-wide regulations for master’s students, see Regulations Pertaining to Master’s Degrees 



A minimum of 40 credits are required.

Full‐time students normally complete graduation requirements for the MS degree within three to five terms (18 to 24 months).


Students must complete Biostatistics elective credits to bring the total number of course credits to 40.  In situations where a student’s special interests or needs indicate an alternative, non-Biostatistics, course is more appropriate it may be substituted with the permission of the student’s academic advisor and department chair.

Master’s Comprehensive Examination

MS students must pass a written comprehensive examination that is given annually at the end of the first year of study in early May. The MS comprehensive examination consists of two short answer components: one for theory and one for applied methods. The examination is a proctored closed book exam.

Eligible students who fail the examination on the first attempt will be permitted to take the examination a second time during the summer. The summer examination is only for eligible first-year students who did not pass the examination on the first attempt in order not to delay graduation or decisions about continuation in the program. Eligible students who fail the examination on the first attempt may also choose to wait until the following May to retake the exam. Students who do not pass the examination on the second attempt will be released from the MS Program in accordance with the Pitt Public Health Probation and Dismissal Guidelines.

Once a student passes the preliminary examination, the student may begin working on his/her thesis. Students should not begin thesis work before they pass the comprehensive examination.


A student is eligible to take the comprehensive examination if the student:

  • is enrolled in the Department of Biostatistics MS Program with good standing (3.00 QPA or greater)
  • did not fail the comprehensive examination more than once
  • completed the required courses (listed below) with a B or better, or equivalent coursework which the student has obtained transfer credits or exemption for

Master’s Thesis

MS students can begin work on his/her thesis only after successful completion of the MS Comprehensive Examination requirement. MS students must register for a minimum of two Special Studies (BIOST 2021 ) credits (these credits DO NOT count toward the elective credit requirement) and meet the master’s thesis requirement.

MS students are required to write and defend a master’s thesis. The master’s thesis must be in accord with specifications stipulated in the Format Instructions for Pitt Public Health Essays, Thesis, and Dissertations.

Before the student’s thesis defense, the student’s thesis advisor proposes for the approval of the Department Chair and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, a master’s thesis committee.

The MS thesis committee will judge the adequacy of the MS thesis by an open oral examination covering the subject of the thesis. Successful completion of the MS thesis requires unanimous agreement by the MS thesis committee.

While not required, it is highly recommended that the student hold a proposal meeting with his/her committee shortly after starting the thesis work.  The purpose of this meeting would be to discuss the topic and scope of the thesis project and to allow the committee to be familiar with the student’s work prior to the defense.  It is highly recommended that all students follow the format instructions for Pitt Public Health essays, theses, and dissertations and work in the ETD template when they start to write their thesis.    

All students who plan to graduate in a certain term MUST check the Pitt Public Health graduation page at the beginning of that term. This page lists the deadlines for graduation requirements including thesis formatting checks and upload deadlines.  The defense MUST be scheduled no later than one week prior to the formal upload deadline for the thesis ETD document.   The defense will not be schedule with less than one week before the deadline.  In accordance with the Pitt Public Health School-Wide MPH Essay/Thesis Completion Policy, a complete final draft of the thesis MUST be submitted to the committee no later than two weeks prior to the date of the defense.  If less than two weeks are given, the committee will cancel the thesis defense and graduation will be delayed. 

The MS thesis committee will judge the adequacy of the MS thesis by an open oral examination covering the subject of the thesis.  Successful completion of the MS thesis requires unanimous agreement by the MS thesis committee. 

The final copy of the thesis must be prepared and submitted according to University Guidelines for Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD).


All MS students must register for at least one credit during the term in which they intend to graduate.

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