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
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 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 Pitt Public Health Detailed Essay, Thesis, and Dissertation Rules. Thesis work, including analysis, writing, defending and presenting is done within Capstone.
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 are 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 register for the Capstone Prep (BIOST 2021 , 1 credit). This prep will occur with one of the course instructors to discuss possible data sets, potential research questions, prepare preliminary data and complete a project prospectus. As part of the prep, students will be required to take a free writing tutorial such as ones on Coursera or EdX. This prep time will also be used to request a Pitt faculty member who is 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 finalize their data set and write thesis research question(s). Also during this time, the Capstone director requests approval from the Department Chair and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, for a master’s thesis committee for each student enrolled in Capstone. This committee will be the instructors of Capstone, the thesis advisor, if applicable, as well as a Pitt faculty member who is not on the Biostatistics faculty core. Students may select a Biostatistics faculty member other than Capstone instructors as their thesis advisor. This is not required, but if a different thesis advisor is selected, the 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 will occur in the final week of Capstone. Successful completion of the MS thesis requires unanimous agreement by the MS thesis committee.
It is required that all students follow the Pitt Public Health Detailed Essay, Thesis, and Dissertation Rules 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).