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University of Pittsburgh    
2019-2020 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 22, 2024
2019-2020 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Bioengineering, PhD

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PhD Requirements

The course requirements for the PhD in Bioengineering include the following:

Total number of credit hours: 72 credits (plus the credits associated with the remedial courses, as applicable.) Students typically take the PhD preliminary exam after their first year in the program, and PhD proposal (comprehensive examination) is presented generally at the end of the second year. A final public PhD defense is made by each PhD candidate based on the student’s research work. All students must maintain a 3.0 GPA at all times to remain in good standing in the program.

* Please note that the total of 33 credits is not necessarily the total number of credits of BIOENG 3997  that must be taken, as other courses/credits in other areas may be taken as long as the total number of credits adds up to 72 total. Students are required to take a minimum of 12 credits of BIOENG 3999  after their PhD proposal defense, as these credits cannot be taken before. Total number of credit hours: 72 credits.

Preliminary Exam

The PhD Preliminary Exam is given once a year, typically in early June, and is to be taken by students pursuing the PhD degree after their first two semesters of full time course work. A student is allowed no more than two opportunities to take the preliminary examination. 

The purpose of the preliminary examination is to evaluate the student’s ability to use fundamental principles of biomedical science and engineering approaches to investigate solutions to bioengineering problems.  The basis of the examination is a specific research question (problem), chosen by the student to write a proposal on.  The student may seek assistance from his/her advisor or any other faculty member for choosing the question.  The examination will consist of an oral presentation and accompanying written proposal in NIH RO3 format.  The written document and oral presentation should demonstrate the student’s ability to think, present, and defend in an academic environment, as well as a sufficient background in the biomedical science and engineering aspects of the chosen problem.

The examinations will be coordinated within the current graduate tracks.  They will typically take place at the end of the first year of graduate studies.  The scheduling of the examinations will be handled by the track coordinators, who will also determine the suitability of the research question (problem) (having both engineering and biomedical science components).  The student may get help from anyone in preparing the oral presentation, but must observe the usual strict standards on plagiarism in preparing the written document.  Students are encouraged to focus on one to two experiments and note both alternatives and potential problems in each experiment.  Proper referencing of sources is required for both the oral and written components.  One important paper in the field must be identified in the references and made available to the reviewers, who may ask for an explanation or critique of any aspect of the paper. The research proposal may be supported by preliminary data, but this is not a requirement.   In addition, students must provide a written statement, signed by their advisor, to state what the student’s contribution to their research was in the proposal document.

Rather, the examination committee is expected to probe the student with challenging questions to establish the depth of his/her creative and analytical thinking, as well as knowledge in appropriate background areas. 

The final result of the preliminary examination will be based on the combined evaluation of the written and oral components, with three possible outcomes: unconditional pass, conditional pass, and fail.

Committee Selection 

Committees for PhD students should consist of the student’s advisor (who will act as Chair of this committee,) at least two additional faculty members from within the Department of Bioengineering and at least one faculty member from outside the Department of Bioengineering. For MS students, the committee will need to consist of three faculty members total and at least two need to be member of the Bioengineering faculty. However, all three can be Bioengineering faculty as there is no requirement to have one member from outside of Bioengineering. Students are required to receive approval from the faculty Graduate Coordinator of the committee, ideally 1-2 months prior to the proposal defense. After this takes place, the student will need to obtain a “blue form” (admission to PhD candidacy form) from the Graduate Administrator, and obtain the necessary signatures at the student’s proposal. After this occurs, the form will need to be returned to the Graduate Administrator for submission to the school for approval.

Formal admission to candidacy for the Doctor of Philosophy degree (typically in the 3rd year) constitutes a promotion of the student to the most advanced stage of graduate study and provides formal approval to devote essentially exclusive attention to the research and the writing of the dissertation.  Note that it is a departmental requirement that students complete their proposal by the end of their third full year in the program. To qualify for admission to candidacy, students must have obtained full graduate status and have satisfied the requirement of the preliminary examination.  Note that a student does not necessarily need to have all coursework completed before completing their proposal.  The student should submit the written proposal in NIH RO1 format to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the oral defense to the approved committee. The approval of the proposal and defense of it constitutes passing the proposal and Comprehensive Examination. The committee will meet at least once a year during the remainder of his or her PhD program culminating in the Dissertation Defense. 

Once a student has completed the proposal and comprehensive exam, they may then register for 3999 credits, or “post-proposal” research credits. After the student completes 12 credits of 3999, which can easily be completed in one semester, they can then register for FTDH, or Full Time Dissertation Hours, up to and including the semester in which they graduate. Please note that no courses can be taken once a student registers for FTDH. It is important to note that students may switch into 3999 credits if the propose before the end of the add/drop period of the semester in which they complete their proposal.

Graduation info

Students are expected to be prepared to announce their dissertation defense date at least two weeks before their defense by emailing the information including the dissertation date, time, and location, the name and full title of their advisor, along with an abstract of no more than 400 words, to the Graduate Administrator, after which a notice will be sent out to the school. At the defense, the student is to prepare the ETD approval forms, the abstract, a copy of all publications (including journal articles, presentations, and proceedings,) and a copy of the PhD rubric form for each member of their dissertation committee.

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