PhD Curriculum


PhD students are required to spend six quarters in residence and generally to take 8-12 units per quarter for a total of 52 units. A written and oral qualifying examination is needed to advance to candidacy, as required by the UCSF Graduate Division. Applicants can take advantage of UCSF’s strengths in biomedical and clinical research as part of our transdisciplinary approach to training and research.

Overall students are expected to develop expertise in epidemiologic theory and methods, biostatistics, and a “third area” (i.e., not epidemiology or biostatistics) designated by the student that is relevant to her or his research interests (e.g. demography, anthropology, oncology, behavioral science, virology). To accomplish this, doctoral students will take a series of advanced doctoral level courses during their first two years in the PhD program.

A student, in consultation with his or her advisors, decides which thematic area to follow and which courses to take. Doctoral students will generally take courses offered in the School of Medicine and other UCSF professional schools. Course opportunities also exist at UC Berkeley and Stanford.

Sample 4-Year Plan of Study:

Year 1          
Fall   Winter   Spring  
EPI 203* – Epi Methods I (4) EPI 207* – Epi Methods II (4) BIOSTAT 209* – Biostats III (3)
EPI 204* – Clinical Epi (3) BIOSTAT 208* – Biostats II (3) EPI 270* – PhD Seminar (1)
EPI 270* – PhD Seminar (1) EPI 270* – PhD Seminar (1) EPI 265 - Epi Methods III (3)
BIOSTAT 200 – Biostat I (3) Elective Course (?) Rotation (4)
        Elective Course (?)
Year 2          
Fall   Winter   Spring  
BIOSTAT 210* – Biostats IV (2) EPI 270* – PhD Seminar (1) BIOSTAT 215* – Causal Inf. (3)
EPI 270* – PhD Seminar (1) EPI 205 – Clinical Trials (1.5) EPI 270* – PhD Seminar (1)
Elective Course (?) BIOSTAT 226* – Biostats V (1) Rotation (4)
EPI 296 – Teaching Assist. (?) Elective Course (?) Elective Course (?)
EPI 268 - Economic Methods for Causal Inference  (3)         
Year 3          
Fall   Winter   Spring  
EPI 299D – Dissertation  (8) EPI 299D – Dissertation  (8) EPI 299D – Dissertation  (8)
EPI 270* - PhD Seminar  (1)  EPI 296 – Teaching Assist. (?) EPI 270* - PhD Seminar (1) 
    EPI 270* - PhD Seminar  (1)     
Year 4          
Fall   Winter   Spring  
EPI 299D – Dissertation  (8) EPI 299D – Dissertation  (8) EPI 299D – Dissertation  (8)
EPI 270* - PhD Seminar (1) EPI 270* - PhD Seminar (1) EPI 270* - PhD Seminar (1)


Research Team Rotations

Students are required to complete two quarters of “Research Team Rotations” (4 units each), similar to the Lab Rotation requirement in other established PhD Programs at UCSF (e.g., BMS, BMI and PSPG). The objective of these rotations is for the student to have the opportunity to:

  •     Apply concepts taught in formal classes
  •     Learn practical aspects of conducting research, including how to work within a multidisciplinary team
  •     Acquire exposure to areas of research other than the student’s primary area
  •     Launch projects with potential for developing into qualifying examination or dissertation research topic
  •     Decide on a dissertation mentor, if not already identified.

Research Team Rotations are categorized as focused on either analysis (Analytic Rotations) or generation of data (Non-Analytic Rotations). In Analytic Rotations the experience should include direct manipulation of data including drafting of statistical analysis code. In Non-Analytic Rotations, the focus will be on non-analytic aspects of conducting research including design, start-up, recruitment, measurement (in wet lab or other setting), data management, and/or regulatory and financial tasks. PhD students are required to complete one Analytic and one Non-Analytic rotation.

Qualifying Examination

In the UCSF Epidemiology and Translational Science PhD program, doctoral students must take and pass a two-part written qualifying examination. This generally occurs after completing the requisite first year coursework, which requires at least three quarters.


Doctoral students conduct original epidemiologic/translational research that will produce publishable results. Students are strongly encouraged to carry out primary data collection for at least one component of their dissertation research. All students are expected to have had experience in all of the key phases of epidemiologic research (e.g. conceptualization of the question; critical review of the existing literature; preparation of a grant proposal; collection, management, and analysis of epidemiologic data; and writing of one or more manuscripts for publication) and will have been tested on these essentials in their qualifying examinations. It is recognized that many of the students in the doctoral program, most of whom enter with substantial prior research experience, have actually performed one or more of these tasks before beginning the doctoral program. Furthermore, it is acknowledged that the Graduate Division of UCSF assigns to each student’s Dissertation Committee the ultimate authority to determine what constitutes an acceptable dissertation and to certify that the student has successfully completed that task. As a result, some doctoral students may conduct analyses of previously collected data for one or more components of their dissertations. In instances when students use previously collected data in their dissertations, they will be asked to demonstrate their proficiency in field methods by writing a summary of their fieldwork-related activities during the two “Research Team Rotations.” The Graduate Committee will then evaluate the student’s training in writing survey instruments, designing databases and other aspects of original data collection.

Given the approval of their Dissertation Committee, doctoral candidates have the option of submitting for their dissertation requirement either a single dissertation or three (or more) publishable first authored articles based on their doctoral student research. If one or more of these papers has already been published before the dissertation is filed, the Graduate Division requires that all co-authors of the paper give written permission for the paper to be submitted as part of the dissertation. Research completed and scientific papers written before the student has entered the doctoral program cannot be used as a part of the PhD dissertation under any circumstances.


Policy on Student Progress

Policy on Student Progress: Requirements, Notification, Remediation, and Review

1. Criteria for satisfactory academic progress
The policy regarding satisfactory academic progress in the Epidemiology and Translational Science PhD program is as follows:

First and Second Year Students
First and second year students meet with their graduate advisors once a quarter. Student progress is assessed at the end of the year on the basis of course grades and rotation reports, plus additional comments from course directors and advisors about students who might be struggling.

Second year students who have completed all required coursework  and have a cumulative  GPA of 3.00, are eligible to take and must pass a two –part Qualifying Examination starting in June (at the end of spring quarter) .. Part I of the QE will assess mastery of core epidemiological methods and Part II will establish a level of expertise related to the student’s area of concentration. Part I of the QE is taken over one day with six testing hours at a computer with no internet connection or other resources and covers the following competencies: 
1) study design and sampling, 2) measurement and validity, 3) bias e.g., confounding, selection bias, information bias and random error, 4) statistical analysis, and 5) surveillance, outcomes, and cost-effectiveness. Students who have passed Part I of the QE may then take Part II which consists of topic specific expertise questions prepared by the student’s QE Committee. Students will have two weeks to complete Part II of the open book, take-home, four question exam. Part II of the exam may start at any point within three months of successfully completing Part I of the QE. The Chair of the QE Committee shall report the results of the Qualifying Exam, upon successful (passing-grad) completion of Parts I and II, to the Graduate Division via the ‘Admission to Candidacy’ form. Provided that student’s QE results have been confirmed by the Graduate Admissions Dean and that all requirements have been met, student may then advance to PhD candidacy. Students who do not pass the Qualifying Exam, can retake the exam the following year.

Third Year Students and Beyond 

Students will select a dissertation advisor and nominate faculty for the dissertation committee consisting of at least three faculty Academic Senate members within one academic year of passing their qualifying exam. The goal of the dissertation is for the PhD candidate to have conducted original epidemiologic /translational research that will produce publishable results. With Dissertation Committee oversight, the doctoral candidate is required to produce three (or more) publishable first authored articles subject to the approval of the dissertation committee. The student should expect to meet with the committee, at a minimum, once for each paper (a minimum of three times for a three-paper dissertation format). At least one paper should be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal by the time of dissertation completion.  The role of the dissertation committee and the Research Advisor (Committee Chair) is to oversee the development of the dissertation. The dissertation committee supports students with feedback and guidance throughout the process with the most interaction expected to be between the student and advisor/committee chair. In addition to completing the dissertation, students are expected to complete all PhD degree requirements within two years of having completed the qualifying exam. 

Unsatisfactory progress indicators include:
- Falling below a 3.0 GPA
- Failing grades in any course
- Unsatisfactory work in the research group (rotation or dissertation, as reported by the PI or dissertation advisor).
- Unprofessional conduct in the – research group (rotation or dissertation, as reported by the PI or dissertation advisor).
- Failing the qualifying exam the first time
- Disciplinary problems and other conduct and professionalism infractions that fall within the scope of UCSF’s Code of Conduct.

2. Process by which failing students will be notified and remediated
Students whose progress is unsatisfactory (according to one or more of the criteria listed above) will be notified and will meet with the advisor and the program director to develop an individualized remediation plan to address the deficiencies. This meeting results in a memorandum of understanding that clearly outlines specific steps and associated deadlines that the student must fulfill in order to receive a satisfactory report. The report is then signed by the following parties: the student, the PhD dissertation advisor (or graduate advisor if no PhD thesis advisor has been chosen), and the program director. At this point, the report is filed in the student’s academic file within the program, and the Assistant Dean for Graduate Programs is notified.

Should the student be unable to fulfill the expectations according to the timeline outlined in the letter, the student will be subject to dismissal from the program. The process for in-depth review of a student’s eligibility for dismissal will follow the UCSF Divisional Procedure for Student Grievance in Academic Affairs, section 4.0, and will be conducted by the following in-depth ETS Program Committee:

3. Composition of the in-depth review committee, should one be necessary
ETS PhD Program Ad-hoc committee (student’s advisor and/or dissertation committee chair, program director, one uninvolved DEB faculty member, and 1 PhD Program Steering Committee member selected by the program director.