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University of Pittsburgh    
2021-2022 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  May 29, 2024
2021-2022 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Bioengineering, PhD

PhD Requirements

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

Total number of credit hours: 72 credits minimum (not including credits from foundational courses, if applicable.)

Of the 35 credits allocated for research, students must register for a minimum of 18 research credits, of which at least 12 credits must be from BIOENG 3999 , an option that is available only after advancing to candidacy; the remaining 6 credits are generally used for BIOENG 3997 . The remaining 17 (or more) credits may be applied toward research classes (3997, 3999) or, with approval from research advisor and graduate program director, other didactic courses relevant for the student’s professional objectives.

PhD students are also required to complete two teaching practicums before presenting their PhD proposal (comprehensive ex­ amination). No more than one practicum can be undertaken in a semester. There is no course registration for this educational experience, and fulfillment is monitored by the department.

Students typically take the PhD preliminary exam after their first year in the program, and PhD proposal (comprehensive examination) is presented generally by the middle of the third year. A final public PhD defense is made by each PhD candidate based on the student’s research work. All students must always maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA to remain in good standing in the program.

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 and in good academic standing 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 exam tests the student’s ability to think, present, and defend in an academic environment, as well as demonstrate a sufficient background in the biomedical science and engineering aspects of the chosen problem. It explores a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and breadth of knowledge in relation to the proposal as well as assesses the student’s potential to become an independent investigator. The examinations will be coordinated within the current graduate tracks. The scheduling will be handled by the track coordinators, who will also determine the suitability of the research question (having both engineering and biomedical science components).

The basis of the examination is a specific research question (problem), chosen by the student and communicated through both written and oral formats. The written proposal conforms to the NIH R03 grant format. The oral presentation focuses on presenting and defending the proposed research question and the approach to its solution. The student is encouraged to focus on one to two experiments and note both alternatives and potential limitations in each experiment. Proper referencing of sources is required for both the oral and written components. The research proposal may be supported by preliminary data, but this is not a requirement. The student may seek assistance from their advisor or any other faculty member for choosing the question but must observe the usual strict standards on plagiarism. In addition, students must provide a written statement, signed by their advisor, that clarifies the student ‘s contribution in developing and writing the proposal.

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. Conditional pass will be accompanied by specific corrective actions, such as remedial courses to be taken by the student. A minimum of B grade must be achieved in each condition-contingent course; otherwise, the conditional pass is converted to fail outcome. In the case of failure from the first exam, the candidate may retake the Preliminary Exam one additional time in the following year.

Dissertation Committee Selection 

Each PhD student’s Dissertation Committee must have at least four faculty, and the following restrictions must apply: (1) The student’s advisor is the Chair of the committee. (2) The majority of the Committee members must hold Graduate Faculty status. (3) At least three Committee members must have appointments in Bioengineering (primary or secondary). (4) At least one Committee member must have a primary appointment in Bioengineering. (5) At least one Committee member must have a primary appointment 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.

PhD Proposal and Comprehensive Exam

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 R01 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.

Upon successfully proposing the dissertation project, the student must obtain signatures from the committee members on the “Admission to Candidacy” form. This document can be obtained from the Graduate Administrator, and the completed form must be returned to the Graduate Administrator for submission to the school for approval. Furthermore, the student must meet with the committee at least annually during the remainder of their PhD program culminating in the Dissertation Defense. The outcome of the annual meeting and the student’s dissertation progress must be documented in the “Graduate Student Annual Dissertation Committee Meeting Update” form.

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 they propose before the end of the add/drop period of the semester in which they complete their proposal.

Graduation info

SSOE policy requires a minimum of 2 terms to elapse between the student’s approval of a PhD proposal and the first attempt of defending the dissertation.  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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