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University of Pittsburgh    
2021-2022 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Apr 20, 2024
2021-2022 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Human Genetics, PhD

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The Doctoral Program in Human Genetics prepares students for careers leading genetics and genomics research in academia or industry. The flexible curriculum provides a broad background in the field while allowing customized emphasis on molecular genetics/genomics, statistical genetics and genetic epidemiology, or genetic counseling. Typically four to ten doctoral students are admitted each year, including external applicants and internal applicants currently pursuing Master’s degrees within the department. In addition to core coursework and advanced classes in a chosen area of interest, doctoral students pursue mentored research projects culminating in the production and defense of a dissertation.  


The doctoral program offers training in molecular genetics, statistical genetics and genetic epidemiology, and genetic counseling. This includes advanced coursework and outside-of-the-classroom training and research experiences. For example, during the second year and beyond, doctoral students will choose advanced courses in Human Genetics and elective courses across the Schools of the Health Sciences pertaining to their area of interest. Across all years, students will participate in workshops, laboratory meetings, and scientific conferences, and attend seminars offered to the University community, that enhance knowledge and skills in their chosen area of study. Research experiences including dissertation research will provide in-depth, hands-on training in the chosen area.

Students entering the doctoral program can tailor their training based on their research interests and career goals:

Molecular Genetics

Students pursuing training in molecular genetics or cytogenetics will carry out research projects performing benchtop experimental studies in laboratories within the department or across the Schools of the Health Sciences. Students can further customize their training by choosing among many elective courses in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology, Cellular and Molecular Pathology, Immunology, Molecular Genetics and Developmental Biology, Molecular Pharmacology, and Molecular Virology and Microbiology.

Statistical Genetics, Genome Bioinformatics, and Epidemiology

Students pursuing training in statistical genetics, genome bioinformatics, and genetic epidemiology, will carry out applied analysis or methodological research projects related to clinical or epidemiological studies. Students will work as members of statistical and computational research groups within the department or across the School of the Health Sciences. Students can further customize their training by choosing advanced coursework in Biostatistics, Biomedical Informatics, Computational and Systems Biology, and Epidemiology.

Genetic Counseling

Students holding a MS-GC degree who wish to pursue a doctoral degree with a focus in genetic counseling will carry out original research in their area(s) of interest. In addition to addressing basic science or clinical research questions, students’ projects will explore the medical, psychological, and familial implications of genetic contributors to human health and disease. Students can further customize their training by choosing elective courses from across the Schools of the Health Sciences in consultation with the Director and Assistant Director of the Genetic Counseling Program.


Students will gain proficiency in the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to begin a career as an independent scientist. These educational goals are organized into seven doctoral program competencies. After successful completion of the doctoral program, students will be able to:

  • Describe basic genetic mechanisms and how they affect proteins, chromosomes, cells, individuals, and populations of organisms in normal and disease states
  • Describe mechanisms by which genes and the environment interact to affect the distribution of health and disease in human populations
  • Apply a broad range of molecular and analytical methodologies to design genetic studies.
  • Use their conceptual and methodological knowledge to analyze data and interpret research results.
  • Analyze and communicate published research in human genetics at the level needed for effective research and teaching
  • Apply fundamental principles of ethical research practice.
  • Query bioinformatic resources to facilitate clinical decision-making or interpret research results.

More information about the program can be found by visiting the Pitt Public Health website, Department of Human Genetics, and accessing the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Human Genetics program designation.

Required Human Genetics Courses


Coursework for doctoral students is typically undertaken during the first two years in the program, although advanced courses may be taken in later years. All doctoral students will complete the core Human Genetics courses as well as the core Public Health curriculum. Advanced courses offered through Human Genetics and other departments will provide students instruction in their chosen area of concentration. Certificate programs offered through the Graduate School of Public Health can be pursued to further customize the education of doctoral students.

A minimum of 72 credits is required.

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