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University of Pittsburgh    
2019-2020 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  May 29, 2024
2019-2020 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).


* Pitt Public Health Core Course

Health Data Science Concentration Required Courses (7 Credits)

Health Data Science Concentration Electives (9 Credits)

Statistical and Computational Genomics Concentration Electives (12 credits)


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 must register for Capstone (BIOST 2099 ) after successful completion of the MS Comprehensive Examination requirement. Capstone is a required two-credit course that meets the master’s thesis requirement.  Capstone credits cannot be used to fulfill elective credit requirements.  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 (ETD).  The thesis work, including analysis, writing, defending and presenting are done within the Capstone course.

Capstone is a heavily directed, mentored, fast-paced and intense data analysis/writing course with the goal of producing an ETD formatted thesis document containing rigorous analytic methods, appropriately summarized analysis results with logical, statistically and scientifically valid conclusions.  Capstone projects may be based on student work with a faculty member, access to a dataset with a research question from an outside source, or work done on a student internship.  In addition, if none of these options apply to an individual student, open access datasets from previously funded research projects in the department or open access databases will also be available for students to use.  All projects must have a public health focus.

Because of the fast pace and rigor necessary to complete Capstone within one term, it is critical that students prepare in advance of the course.  In the semester prior to taking the course but only after passing the MS Comprehensive exam, students must meet with one of the course directors to discuss possible data sets, potential research questions and Pitt faculty members who are not on the Biostatistics faculty core to serve as an external reviewer as required by Pitt Public Health. 

In the first two weeks of Capstone, students will finalize their data set, complete a project prospectus and write thesis research question(s).  Also during this time, the Capstone director requests the approval of the Department Chair and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, a master’s thesis committee for each student in the Capstone.  This committee will be the instructors of the Capstone course, the thesis advisor (if one is selected) as well as a Pitt faculty member who is not on the Biostatistics faculty core.  Students may select a Biostatistics faculty member other than the Capstone instructors as their thesis advisor.  This is not required, but if a different thesis advisor is selected, this faculty member must sign a memo of understanding in which they agree to adhere to the pace of the course.  It will be the students’ responsibility to gain the faculty members signature.

The MS thesis committee will judge the adequacy of the MS thesis by the final oral presentation/examination covering the subject of the thesis which occurs in the final week of the Capstone course. Successful completion of the MS thesis requires unanimous agreement by the MS thesis committee.

It is required 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. 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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