Epidemiology PhD Vs. Biostatistics PhD

May 23, 2019

PhD programs in epidemiology and biostatistics may have some overlap in coursework and topics, but are quite unique. Explore the differences and learn about common application procedures.

Although a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Epidemiology usually includes topics in biostatistics for data analysis and a PhD in Biostatistics often includes applications to epidemiology, the 2 degrees are distinct programs that train students in different areas of expertise. Both programs are typically offered on campus, but usually prepare students for research-oriented careers with different focuses. Compare the 2 options and graduation requirements below.

Comparing a PhD in Epidemiology to a PhD in Biostatistics

Doctor of Philosophy in Epidemiology

A PhD in Epidemiology is a terminal degree in the field and trains students in current research, theories, and methods in epidemiology. These degree programs may require as much as a minimum of 135 units and typically take 4 or more years to complete. Students must complete a dissertation, comprehensive exams, and usually must attend various epidemiology-related seminars throughout the program. Core coursework may include topics in epidemiologic methods, clinical trial design, analysis, biostatistics, data mining, clinical research methods, and epidemiology research. Graduates usually become faculty members at institutions for higher education or epidemiologists, independent researchers, and investigators in various organizations in the private sector or government.

Doctor of Philosophy in Biostatistics

A PhD in Biostatistics trains students in the theories behind biostatistics and data science methods, as well as how to apply these in real-world scenarios within the field of public health or other biology-related fields. These programs may require 64 to 72 credits beyond a bachelor's degree and can be completed in 4 to 5 years. Students must complete comprehensive exams, a dissertation, and usually work as teaching and/or research assistants throughout the program. Students may take core coursework in topics such as hypothesis testing, linear models, applied data analysis, epidemiological methods, probability, and Monte Carlo experiments. Graduates may pursue careers in higher education or industry, including the biomedical and pharmaceutical fields, as professional biostatisticians and researchers.

Common Entrance Requirements

Students interested in applying to either a PhD in Epidemiology or PhD in Biostatistics program typically need to have at least a bachelor's degree, but some schools may require a master's degree. Depending on the program, students may need to meet a minimum GPA to be competitive as well. Several of these doctoral programs, especially those in biostatistics, require applicants to have prior coursework in calculus and linear algebra. Applicants usually need to take the GRE and submit their scores to the institution. Other common application materials for both PhD programs include transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, and/or a personal statement. Some programs may also require applicants to identify faculty members they would like to work with for research purposes.

Both a PhD in Epidemiology and PhD in Biostatistics usually take 4 or more years to complete, but an epidemiology program focuses on epidemiological concepts while a biostatistics program focuses on statistical methods and how they apply to biology-related fields. Both programs typically require a dissertation and prepare students for careers in research or academia.

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