Public Health Sciences: Specialization in Epidemiology (PhD)

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health Sciences, specialization in Epidemiology 
Unit: School of Public Health and Information Sciences (GH)
Department: Epidemiology and Population Health 
Program Website 
Academic Plan Code(s): PHSCPHDEPI

Program Information

The specialization in Epidemiology in the PhD program in Public Health Sciences is designed to develop academic researchers in population-based epidemiology.


To graduate, students in the PhD specialization in Epidemiology must demonstrate the following competencies in addition to those for the MS degree:

  • In-depth knowledge of the history and philosophy of epidemiology
  • Mastery of experimental and observational study designs and the ability to identify optimal designs for specific hypotheses
  • Ability to develop and apply:
    • Questionnaires
    • Biomarkers for health status, exposure, and susceptibility
  • Mastery of multivariable analytic methods for evaluating risk and prognosis
  • Ability to critically evaluate the published epidemiologic research
  • Expertise in one or more epidemiologic specialties such as nutritional, molecular, clinical, genetic, cancer, or chronic disease epidemiology
  • Practical knowledge of issues in research management including:
    • Formation and leadership of multidisciplinary teams
    • Staffing, budgeting, tracking
    • Subject recruitment and retention
    • Data quality control and data safety management
    • Funding mechanisms and grantsmanship
    • Research ethics and regulations
  • Professional quality peer-review, oral and poster presentation, report, grant, and manuscript writing
  • Mentoring of junior peers
  • Development, conduct, completion and defense of a dissertation on an original research project

Competencies are demonstrated by passage of the proficiency and candidacy examinations, by successful mentoring of master’s students or doctoral students not yet in candidacy, and by successful completion and defense of the dissertation.

Faculty Advisor

Upon admission to the specialization, each student is assigned a faculty advisor who works with the student to develop a program of study.

Program of Study

The program of study recognizes core elements of modern epidemiology as well as its breadth and multidisciplinary nature. This requires the selection of a minor field of specialization, such as biostatistics, environmental science, molecular genetics, behavioral science, health management and systems sciences, clinical research, or another relevant area of study, and the completion of at least six (6) credit hours of coursework in this field.

Admission Requirements

Students who have satisfactorily completed the MS degree in Epidemiology are eligible for the PhD specialization in Epidemiology. Students with a master’s degree in a related discipline or an advanced degree (for example, MD, PhD, DO) may be accepted also pending evaluation of appropriate training, experience, and coursework. Previous coursework in mathematics and/or statistics and biological or health sciences (for example, biology, biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, microbiology) is strongly recommended.

Students completing the MSc in Clinical Investigation Sciences or MPH with an Epidemiology concentration may be required to complete additional coursework to be accepted into the Epidemiology PhD specialization.

In order to submit an application to one of the School of Public Health and Information Sciences (SPHIS) degree programs, you must apply to the Graduate School.

Program Requirements

The Public Health PhD specialization in Epidemiology is designed to consist of 49 to 50 credit hours of coursework over a minimum of two years plus one to four years for completion of the dissertation. The coursework is organized into two blocks of 25/26 and 24 credit hours. Completion of the first block of coursework is prerequisite for sitting for the proficiency examination. After passing the proficiency examination, the student can proceed with the second block of coursework. Successful completion of the second block is prerequisite to sitting for the candidacy examination.

After passing the candidacy examination, the student is admitted to doctoral candidacy. A doctoral candidate must then successfully develop and defend a dissertation proposal that describes an original and independent research project. Upon successful defense of the proposal, the student may then proceed to dissertation research. Upon successful completion of the research, oral defense of the dissertation, and demonstration of the required competencies listed above, the student is awarded the PhD degree.

The coursework outlined below represents an ideal sequence for a full-time student. A part-time student may need to deviate from this sequence. As part of the first block, a student is expected to complete required courses in basic and advanced epidemiologic methods that cover core areas including study design, research management, and statistical analysis; the survey course in disease biology and pathophysiology; and a minimum of six (6) credit hours of epidemiology seminars. The student must pass the proficiency examination before proceeding to minor electives and individual studies in the second block, which must include an additional three (3) credit hours of epidemiology seminars. Exceptions may be granted upon approval by the student’s advisor and the department chair.


Required Coursework
Block 1
Fall I
PHEP 621Statistical Foundations for Epidemiology3
PHEP 648Data Management and Analysis for Epidemiology I1
PHEP 623Theoretical Foundations of Epidemiology3
PHEP XXX Epidemiology Content Course Elective 13
PHEP 750Seminars in Epidemiology3
Total Credit Hours13
Spring I
PHEP 618Epidemiologic Methods II3
PHEP 649Data Management and Analysis for Epidemiology II1
PHEP XXX Epidemiology Content Course Elective 12-3
PHEP 622Population Pathology3
PHEP 750Seminars in Epidemiology3
Total Credit Hours12-13
Block 1 Total Credit Hours 225-26
Required Coursework
Block 2
Fall II
PHEP 701Advanced Epidemiologic Methods3
PHEP 702Epidemiologic Research Management3
PHEP XXX Epidemiology Content Course elective OR PHST XXX Biostatistics Elective 33
PHEP 750Seminars in Epidemiology3
Total Credit Hours12
Spring II
PHEP XXX Epidemiology Content Course elective OR PHST XXX Biostatistics Elective 33-6
PHEP XXX Epidemiology Course Content elective 13
PHEP 778Doctoral Independent Study in Epidemiology and Population Health (3 credits required)3-6
Total Credit Hours12
Block 2 Total Credit Hours24
Degree Total Credit Hours 449-50

Students who have completed the MS degree and have been accepted to the PhD program will advance to Block 2 of the PhD curriculum upon matriculation.

Minor Elective Requirement

As a part of the approved program of study, the student is required to complete six (6) credit hours of coursework in a minor field of specialization. Areas directly relevant to the science of epidemiology are preferred, including, but not limited to, biostatistics, bioinformatics, medical geography, molecular or population genetics, environmental health, toxicology, microbiology, health management, health promotion and behavioral science, and clinical research. These courses may be selected from ones offered within the school, other departments within the university, or from sources outside the university with permission and acceptance of credit by the school and university.

Minor courses should be chosen by the student in consultation with his or her advisor and the respective course directors. Students may petition to take courses not on this list with approval of the instructor, program director, and the chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health. The student must provide a written rationale for the choice of minor coursework in the program of study. The following is a partial list of approved minor courses. Some courses may have prerequisites, and the student is expected to either meet these or obtain permission from the instructor before registering.

Approved Electives for Minor Requirement
PHPH 610New Drug & Device Development2
PHPH 632Ethical Conduct of Health Care Research2
PHEH 650Advanced Topics in Environmental and Occupational Health3
PHMS 650Advanced Topics in Health Management and Systems Science3
PHPB 650Advanced Topics in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences1-3
PHST 624Clinical Trials I: Planning and Design2
PHST 625Clinical Trials II2
PHST 650Advanced Topics in Biostatistics1-3
PHST 680Biostatistical Methods I3
PHST 681Biostatistical Methods II3
PHST 661Probability3
PHST 662Mathematical Statistics3
PHST 683Survival Analysis3
PHST 682Multivariate Statistical Analysis3
PHST 684Categorical Data Analysis3
PHST 750Statistics for Bioinformatics3
PHST 751High-throughout Data Analysis3
PHST 785Nonlinear Regression3

Proficiency Examination

Upon successful completion of the first block of required coursework, the student is eligible to sit for the written proficiency examination, which is administered by a committee of departmental faculty appointed by the chair. The timing of the proficiency examination is determined by the student’s faculty advisor and the department chair. The subject matter includes basic knowledge of disease biology and pathophysiology; theory and skills in epidemiologic research methods, including study design and management; and quantitative analytic methods. A student who does not successfully pass the proficiency examination is allowed a second opportunity to pass the exam. Failing the proficiency examination the second time results in dismissal from the program.

Candidacy Examination

After passing the proficiency examination and upon completion of the second block of coursework, the student is eligible to sit for the written and oral candidacy examination, which is administered by a committee appointed by the department chair and composed of graduate faculty. The subject matter includes knowledge of advanced epidemiologic methods; specialized knowledge pertaining to the minor field of specialization; disease biology and pathophysiology, which may be tailored to the student’s special area of interest; and knowledge of the research process. Successful passage of the candidacy examination admits the student to doctoral candidacy. A student who does not successfully pass the candidacy examination may be required to take additional or remedial coursework and is allowed a second opportunity to pass the exam. Failing the candidacy examination the second time results in dismissal from the program.


A dissertation is required of every candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health Sciences, specialization in Epidemiology. The dissertation is a scholarly achievement in research and presents an original contribution to knowledge. It should demonstrate a thorough understanding of research techniques in epidemiology and the ability to conduct independent research. The following sections summarize the basic requirements for the dissertation committee, dissertation proposal, and defense. Additional details are available in the department’s document “Student Advising, Thesis and Dissertation Committees.”

Dissertation Committee
The dissertation is read by a dissertation committee, chaired by the student’s faculty advisor and appointed by the Dean of the school on the recommendation of the program director and chair of the department. The committee consists of at least four members and must include one representative of an allied department. The dissertation must be approved by the committee and the chair of the department.

Dissertation Proposal
After successful completion of the qualifying examination, a doctoral candidate must submit a written dissertation proposal to the members of the dissertation committee. The candidate is then orally examined on the dissertation proposal.

Dissertation Preparation
The dissertation is prepared with the format and binding according to the guidelines of the Graduate School, available at

Dissertation Approval
The dissertation is submitted in completed form to the chair of the department at least thirty days before the end of the term in which the candidate expects to be graduated, and the candidate is not eligible for final examination until the dissertation has been received by the committee and chair.

The dissertation committee schedules an oral defense by the candidate. The time and place for the defense is published to the general academic community, members of which are free to attend the defense. The dissertation is approved by a majority vote of the committee and the concurrence of the department chair.

Dissertation Submission
The following steps must be taken to submit the final copy of the dissertation electronically after oral defense and approval of the committee:

  1. Final document must be converted to a PDF (following the guidelines as noted above) and sent to the Graduate School and the department’s administrative assistant.
  2. Submit as advised by the Graduate School through the ThinkIR repository. The directions on submission will be provided upon review of the dissertation by the Graduate School.
  3. The signature page within the electronic version must have the names of your committee members typed under the signature line; the signatures cannot be scanned into the document.
  4. Submit a signed signature page on white paper, with original signatures, to the Graduate School.

A copy of the final, signed dissertation must also be deposited with the department office.