Frequently Asked Questions

What is the typical student timeline?

Our students typically complete two years of coursework, including two rotations with active faculty research teams at UCSF or elsewhere in the Bay Area. At the conclusion of coursework, students take a qualifying exam to advance to “doctoral candidacy,” at which point they launch their dissertation research. Completing dissertation research usually takes 1–2 years, depending on the student and the project.

What are the topics of students’ dissertation research projects?

Our students pursue diverse research topics at the intersection of epidemiology and translational science. Some recent dissertation topics include:

  • Diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline in elderly populations
  • The effects of air pollution on asthma in Latino and African American children
  • Substance use and alcohol among key populations at risk for HIV: Novel approaches in intervention development
  • Physical education time in San Francisco public schools

What kind of students are you looking for?

The PhD Degree Program in Epidemiology and Translational Science is a 3 to 5-year course of study for individuals who wish to pursue independent research careers in epidemiology and translational science and who have completed training at the Master’s level in epidemiology, public health or related fields. We seek applicants who have a commitment to public health research and a passion to use rigorous scientific tools to improve health for all people. Our admissions process prioritizes candidates with a strong background and interest in pursuing research in the broad range of epidemiology and translational science including epidemiologic and biostatistical methods, genetic, social, and clinical epidemiology, and disease-specific training in cancer, infectious, neurologic (Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias), cardiovascular or stroke, musculoskeletal and other diseases. We also value evidence of a strong quantitative background, for example in statistics or computation, linked to commitment to health research.

Because of the importance of a close mentoring relationship between faculty advisors and PhD students, we particularly invite applications from candidates whose interest mesh closely with the areas of expertise of our faculty.

My background is different. Would I be competitive for admission?

We won’t know unless you apply! Public health research is challenging, and we need people with diverse perspectives and skill sets to most effectively address these challenges. What is important in the application process is that you articulate how your experiences prepare you to excel in the training program and emerge with the skills and insights to lead high-impact projects. We will have an information session for potential applicants in the fall (date to be determined) and you are invited to join us with any specific questions.

What are some examples of career outcomes for the ETS PhD program?

The PhD Program in Epidemiology and Translational Science will welcome its 13th entering cohort in 2023-24. To date, our graduates have had excellent professional outcomes, including post-doctoral and faculty research positions at UCSF, UC Berkeley, the CDC, and the San Francisco Department of Health. Our graduates are prepared to seek research and leadership positions in the public/private sector in public health, pharmaceutical research, and other related health industries. See our alumni page for more information.

When can I apply?

Online applications are available in September each year via the Graduate Division online application system. The application deadline each year is December 1.

Can I receive an application fee waiver?

Requesting the Application Fee Waiver is done by selecting the Application Fee Waiver option in the Payment Area of the online application. Please see to check your eligibility for this waiver.

What are the selection factors?

Final admissions decisions will be based on a composite evaluation of interviews, academic record, interest and potential in Epidemiology and Translational Science, letters of recommendation, research focus, and common interests with department faculty members.

What are the admission requirements?

  • Prior education must include a bachelor’s degree (BA/BS), or the equivalent, from an accredited institution, with a GPA of 3.0. We will consider applicants with a GPA of less than 3.0 if the circumstances are explained in the Statement of Purpose.
  • A Master’s degree in epidemiology, public health, clinical research, or a related field is typically required for admission to the PhD program, although we make rare exceptions for individuals with exceptionally strong research backgrounds. These students will be required to complete the first year of departmental based Training in Clinical Research (TICR) courses or their equivalent. Continuing enrollment in the PhD Program will be contingent on successful completion of this year of didactic training.
  • Submission of GRE scores is not required for the Fall 2023 application cycle.

We also ask for three letters of recommendation, essays that reflect your personal experiences, career goals and reasons for choosing this degree program. The essays serve as an example of your writing skills and allow us to assess whether UCSF ETS is a good fit given your interests and goals.

What percentage of applicants do you accept?

We select approximately 30% of applicants to interview and offer admission to about 15% of the total applicant pool.

Can I defer my admission?

We do not defer admission. If you decide not to join our program after accepting our offer, you will have to reapply and pay the fee; we cannot guarantee admission on the next round. If you reapply within one year, you will not have to resend your transcripts, resume, statement of purpose or reference letters unless significant changes have occurred.

Are there additional requirements for international students?

International applicants from non-English speaking countries must demonstrate English language proficiency by completing one year of study with a minimum GPA of 3.00 at an accredited college or university in the United States, OR by obtaining the following minimum scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). You must have taken the TOEFL within the last two years from the date of application. Please request that scores are sent to UCSF (code 4840).

Test Type

Minimum Score

TOEFL Paper Based Test


TOEFL Computer Based Test


TOEFL iBT (Internet Based Test)













What is the cost of the program?

The student tuition and fees for the PhD program are posted by the Office of the Registrar and is subject to change each year. It does not include the cost of books, software, housing, or personal costs.

Graduate student stipends for the 2022-23 academic year is currently $44,000, with the expectation of approximately half-time work (20 hours/week) with a faculty member. Students use a range of sources to support their training, including our institutional training grants for students interested in aging and chronic diseases or using advanced data analytics for health disparities research, departmental support, UCSF Graduate Division fellowships, federal and foundation research/dissertation grants, and part-time work as graduate student researchers with current faculty. Our students have over a 90% success rate in their applications for federal training grants. We will work with accepted students to try to find sources of funding and we encourage applicants to alert us to potential faculty mentors. To date, our students have a very strong track record of successful funding, with nearly all receiving full tuition and stipend.