About Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology

The program requires a solid background in the methodological aspects of epidemiology, and in statistical thinking as applied to medicine, as well as, a solid grounding in epidemiological methods and in relevant medical disciplines.

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology Admissions Information

Admission Requirements:

Students enter the Epidemiology program by one of three routes: 1) competitive application to the program following review by the Department Epidemiology Admissions Committee (and approval by the KSOM Doctoral Programs Committee), or 2) by direct admission to the research group of an investigator with secure funding who specifically requests admission on behalf of the student; student is still required to submit a full application and qualifications will be reviewed by the Epidemiology Admissions Committee and the KSOM Doctoral Programs Committee, or 3) after completing a rotation year in PIBBS and review of students qualifications by the Department Epidemiology Admissions Committee.

a) Prerequisites:

As a condition of admission, students must hold a Masters degree in a related discipline (e.g., mathematics, statistics, epidemiology, public health) and have completed a Masters thesis. Students entering the program with a relevant Masters’ degree that does not require a thesis (e.g. Masters of Public Health) will be assigned an administrative or research mentor upon entering the program who will evaluate their quantitative and writing skills before the student takes the screening exam. All students are required to pass the program screening examination before being fully admitted as a doctoral student in the program. It is preferred that all students admitted to the program have successfully completed a minimum of one class in epidemiology and one class in biostatistics before entering the doctoral program. Some students may be admitted to the program without meeting the Masters’ program requirements (e.g., if they have a strong research background and clear evidence of ability in the health research field or were admitted through PIBBS), but will be expected to complete PM510 and PM512 and pass the screening examination prior to being considered fully admitted as a doctoral student in the program.

b) Deficiencies:

Deficiencies, such as American Language Institute requirements, should be made up by the end of the first academic year following initial enrollment by earning a letter grade of “B” or better.

USC admission requirements

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology Curriculum Information

Course Requirements- Core and specific (minimum total 25 units)

  1. Core courses (14 units; 22 units with PM510/PM512) for preparation for the screening exam
    Required if not completed through MS*
    PM510: Principles of Biostatistics (4 units)
    PM512: Principles of Epidemiology (4 units)

    *recommend that students TA or re-take these courses if credit taken at separate institution prior to starting program at USC Required for screening exam (end of year 1)
    PM511a: Data analysis 1 (continuous outcomes) (4 units)
    PM518a: Statistical Methods for Epidemiologic Studies (4 units)
    PM517a: Research Methods in Epidemiology 1 (3 units)
    PM517b: Research Methods in Epidemiology 2 (3 units)

    In addition to these required courses, the remaining 38 required units may be selected from any of the following:

    PM512 Principles of Epidemiology (3); PM515 Behavioral Epidemiology (3); PM516a or b Statistical Problem Solving (1); PM517a or b Research Methods in Epidemiology (3); PM518a Statistical Methods for Epidemiological Studies; PM522 Introduction to the Theory of Biostatistics; PM518b Statistical Methods for Epidemiological Studies; PM522 Introduction to the Theory of Biostatistics (3); PM523 Design of Clinical Studies (3); PM527 Epidemiology of Infectious Disease (3); PM529 Environmental Health (3); PM530 Biological Basis of Disease (3); PM522 Introduction to the Theory of Biostatistics (4); PM522 Introduction to the Theory of Biostatistics (4); PM530 Biological Basis of Disease (4); PM533 Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology (3); PM534 Statistical Genetics (4); PM534 Statistical Genetics (4); PM538: Introduction to Bioinformatics (3); PM549 Human Molecular Genetics (4); PM544L Multivariate Analysis (3); PM552 Survival Methods in Clinical Trials (3); PM570 Introduction to Statistical Genetics (4); PM571 Applied Logistic Regression (3); PM575 Statistical Methods in Environmental Epidemiology (3); PM579 Statistical Analysis of High-Dimensional Data (4); PM599: Concepts and Methods in Environmental Epidemiology (3); PM599: Implementation of epidemiologic designs (3); PM599 Methods and Application of Meta-Analysis (3); PM599 Statistical Methods in Genome-Wide Association Studies (3); PM603 Structural Equation Modeling (4); PM604 Health Behavior Research Methods (4); PM610 Seminar in Epidemiology (1); PM611 Advanced Topics in Epidemiology (1); PM790 Doctoral Directed Research (1-12); PM794ab Doctoral Dissertation (2,2,2,2); SSCI581 Concepts for Spatial Thinking (4); SSCI 582 Spatial Databases (4); SSCI 583 Spatial Analysis and Modeling (4); SSCI 585 Geospatial Technology Project Management (4); SSCI 586 GIS Programming and Customization (4); SSCI 587 GPS/GIS Field Techniques (4); SSCI 588 Remote Sensing for GIS (4); SSCI 589 Cartography and Visualization (4); SSCI 591 Web GIS (4). INTD561 Molecular Genetics/Biology (4); INTD571 Biochemistry Biochemistry (4); BIOC602 Current Topics in Human Molecular Genetics (2); MICB551 Procaryotic Molecular Genetics (4); PHBI581 Cellular & Molecular Mechanisms in Physiology (4); PSCI665 Drug Delivery (4); MPTX511 Introduction to Medical Product Regulation (3); MPTX Regulation of Medical Devices (3); RSCI531 Drug Discovery (4); RSCI532 Earlty State Drug Development (3); RSCI533 Safety Evaluation during Drug Development (3); GERO520 Life Span Developmental Psychology (4); PSYC524 Research Design in Developmental Psychology (4); PSYC514 Psychopathology (4).

    Electives will be determined by the student’s needs and interests. When appropriate, courses not listed above may be chosen from the University course offerings with approval from the student’s advisor and Program Director. Sufficient familiarity in computer languages to operate major software packages for data management and analysis is required.

  2. Responsible Conduct of Research (INTD 500) – 1 unit (Summer)

  3. General electives: The Ph.D. program in Epidemiology requires a total of 60 units, which may be selected from any of those on the above list (and see attached appendix) or from University courses not offered by the Department of Preventive Medicine with approval. Additional electives not listed may be selected with the approval of the student mentor and Program Director.

  4. Summary of course requirements:

    Fourteen units of core coursework are required in year 1 as preparation for the screening exam (assuming student has completed PM510 and PM512 or comparable classes from MS training). An additional 17-21 units of track-specific coursework are required in year 2 or after. A total of 60 units are required for completion, which may be fulfilled by any approved electives, plus dissertation research units. After passing the screening exam, all students much enroll in at least two semesters of PM610: Graduate Seminar in Biostatistics. The first semester of PM610 is typically taken before the Qualifying Examination and the second semester of PM610 before the final dissertation defense.

  5. Special Requirements:
    By the end of the first semester, the student should have selected a faculty mentor who will verify the student’s readiness for the screening exam (e.g., have passed the first semester’s core courses and be registered for the second semester’s courses or have equivalent prior training) and must sign the application for the screening exam. The mentor will also work with the student to identify a suitable dissertation chair and explore possible topics. Identification of the dissertation chair and formation of the student’s Qualifying Exam Committee is expected to be done by the end of the second year.

Doctor of Philosophy in EpidemiologySpecial Requirements


Executive Committee:

The Epidemiology Executive Education Committee will review mentors, as well as approve changes in the curriculum and qualifying exam. They will also ensure that required courses are taught, will make decisions on which electives are continued, added, or removed, and will work with the course organizers to collect and summarize course evaluations. Members of the Epidemiology Executive Education Committee are represented on the Preventive Medicine Education Committee, chaired by the Vice Chair for Education (currently Dr. Richard Watanabe), which is charged with establishing general department-wide policies.

Admissions Committee:

The majority of applications first come directly to the department and are reviewed by the Epidemiology Admissions Committee. Candidates recommended for admissions and funding are then presented to the KSOM PhD Programs Committee for approval. Direct admissions to the individual faculty member’s research team are handled in the same way, must meet the same standards and be approved by the Epidemiology Admissions Committee. PIBBS students may elect to join the Epidemiology PhD program, provided they have done at least one rotation with an epidemiology faculty member who agrees to support that student and the students acceptance is approved by the Chair of the Epidemiology Admissions Committee.

Course Guidance or Advising Committee

The student will decide along with their mentor and dissertation committee chair which, if any, additional coursework will be undertaken.

Qualifying Examination Committee:

The student, in consultation with his/her mentor, will nominate five faculty members to serve on the Qualifying Examination Committee. Three of the faculty must be from the Epidemiology Program and one from another department (the “External Member”). The Committee should reflect a diversity of expertise and typically will include one member from a different division of the Department of Preventive Medicine (e.g., one with subject-matter expertise in the proposed application portion of the dissertation). The role of the Qualifying Examination Committee is to guide the student on development of an appropriate dissertation project, both in content and time commitment, and to evaluate the student’s knowledge of the topic, epidemiologic and biostatistical methodology, and readiness for completing the dissertation research.

Dissertation Committee:

The Dissertation Committee is typically drawn from the membership of the Qualifying Examination Committee and includes the student’s primary mentor as Chair, an External Member, and at least one other member of the Epidemiology Division. All Qualifying Examination Committee members may be retained if preferred by the student. The role of the Dissertation Committee is to advise the doctoral student on the research topic and methods, and then to review the final completed dissertation for acceptance. Students are expected to meet with the dissertation committee at least once per year to discuss progress; more frequent meetings will typically be needed as the student approaches the final defense of the dissertation. Dissertation committee members are expected to read and comment on a dissertation within 2 weeks from its submission. The student and faculty will coordinate a timeline for the student to present the dissertation to the committee. This timeline must allow all dissertation committee members enough time to fulfill their responsibilities within the two-week deadline.

Advancement to Candidacy:

Before advancing to candidacy for a doctoral degree, a student must have satisfied all requirements set by the graduate program, must have maintained a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 (B grade), with no grade lower than a B in the required program-specific 2nd year courses, have passed the Screening Examination, and identified a faculty Mentor. Normally, students advance by the beginning of their 2nd or 3rd year.

Screening Examination:

The screening exam is taken at the end of the first year for students that have completed their core classes and covers material learned in these classes and the core knowledge of epidemiologic theory and applications. Students who have not completed introductory epidemiology or biostatistics courses (i.e. comparable to PM510 and PM512) prior to starting the PhD program, may be delayed and need to take the screening exam after completion of the second year in the program. The exam is conducted in class over three days (two days for the applied section and one day for the theory section). The applied portion involves analysis of real data on the computer and interpretation of the findings. Each day of the applied exam is graded blindly by two to three faculty members and reviewed by the entire Screening Exam Committee. The theory portion of the exam involves interpretation of epidemiologic data and discussion of epidemiologic principles. The theory portion of the exam is graded individually by each member of the Screening Exam Committee blinded to the students’ identities and then discussed by the entire Screening Exam Committee to assign final scores. Each portion may receive a grade of Pass, Marginal Pass, or Fail. A student receiving a Marginal Pass on any portion may remedy this defect by completion of additional assignments set by the Committee, to be completed before the end of the following spring semester and reviewed by the Screening Exam committee. A student failing either or both portions of the exam or not fulfilling the additional requirements from a Marginal Pass may retake that (those) portion(s) one time the following summer. A student failing the Screening Exam twice may not advance to the Ph.D., but has the option to terminate with a Masters degree upon completion of a Masters thesis.

Qualifying Exam

A written and oral qualifying examination will be completed after the student has completed all general and track-specific course requirements and passed the written screening examination. The written portion of the qualifying examination requires the submission of a qualifying examination document written by the student that summarizes the current state of knowledge of the research topic, the epidemiologic questions addressed by the work, the work completed to date, and student’s proposed plan and timeline to complete the research. The oral portion will be a seminar-style presentation to the Qualifying Exam Committee, focusing on the dissertation proposal, followed by questions from the Committee on both the proposal and the student’s general mastery of the field. This exam is open to other interested students and faculty.

In case of failure, the student will have 60 days in which to reschedule and successfully pass the oral exam. A second failure will be grounds for dismissal from the Program.

Annual Research Appraisal and Program Activities

After advancing to candidacy, progress on dissertation research is evaluated annually with an Annual Research Appraisal (ARA) by the Annual Dissertation Committee. A key element is participation in PM610: Graduate Seminar in Epidemiology and Biostatistics for at least two semesters after passing the Screening Exam. It is recommended that students take PM610 to gain presentation experience and feedback before completing the qualifying examination and again before completing the final dissertation defense. Students give seminars and research updates that encompass both a global view of their area of investigation and a focus on the problem they are addressing. Having both epidemiology and biostatistics students in the seminar provides valuable experience in communicating their work to a diverse audience. All students provide feedback by filling in a feedback form and by active discussion.

The Dissertation

Written Dissertation: The research conducted by the student must be of such character as to show ability to pursue independent research. The dissertation reports a scholarly piece of work of publishable quality that solves a significant scientific problem in the field and is carried out under the supervision of a faculty member of the program while the student is enrolled in the program. Required components of the dissertation include a scholarly introduction, three research chapters (describing either three research papers or two research papers and a grant application) and a concluding section describing how the research has advanced the field and what important questions still need to be resolved. Published first-author manuscripts from the student may be used as chapters. However, each chapter that includes work from multiple authors should include a description detailing what the student contributed and the contribution of co-authors. The dissertation must be submitted to each member of the dissertation committee at least one month before the student expects to make final revisions; committee members are expected to respond within 2 weeks. It is encouraged that students have at least one first author publication accepted in a peer-reviewed journal before the defense.

Dissertation Seminar and Defense. The Dissertation Seminar is a formal public presentation of the student’s research before the program faculty and students. The Dissertation Committee will meet with the student immediately following the Dissertation Seminar for a final defense of the dissertation. It is expected that the Dissertation Seminar will be widely publicized at least 2 weeks in advance and that a suitably large conference room will be arranged. Dissertation approval: If the written dissertation and final defense are satisfactory, the dissertation will be approved and signed by the dissertation committee.

Normative Time to Degree

Normative Time to Advancement to Candidacy: 4 semesters Normative Time to Degree: 10 semesters (5 years)

A minimum of 60 units is required, consisting of formal courses, seminars and research credits. At least 33 of the 60 units are to be formal graduate course work (lecture or seminar courses).