Biostatistics

Director: Shing M. Lee, PhD

The Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree in Biostatistics prepares candidates to apply state-of-the-art statistical methods to the solution of significant public health problems. It is distinguished from the PhD degree at Columbia in its relatively greater emphasis on applications over the development of new statistical theory and methods.

The DrPH program is administered by the Standing Doctoral Committee of the Mailman School of Public Health, which oversees the processes for admitting students and awarding degrees.

Building on the foundation of the Master of Public Health (MPH), the DrPH program includes a minimum of 30 credit hours of additional course work, written qualifying and oral comprehensive examinations, and the completion and oral defense of an independent, original dissertation on an important issue in public health. The typical time for completion of the DrPH degree is four to five years - two years for course work and written qualifiers and two to three years for the dissertation. All students are expected to complete the program within seven years.

Admission

Well-qualified students are admitted to the program if they already possess an MPH degree, or its equivalent, with substantial course work in biostatistics. All MPH core curriculum course requirements are DrPH prerequisites and must be satisfied before any further course work is undertaken. Students with a master’s degree in biostatistics or a related field may be admitted with the understanding that they must take all core curriculum courses in MPH program not already taken and without credit towards the doctoral degree.

In addition to having fulfilled the MPH requirement (or its equivalent degree), DrPH applicants should have completed at least three semesters of calculus and a course in linear/matrix algebra prior to starting the program.

Applicants to the DrPH degree program should submit their completed online applications to the Mailman School of Public Health by December 1st to ensure full consideration for admission and funding.

Requirements

The DrPh and PhD doctoral program requirements include course work, written qualifying examinations, an oral comprehensive examination, and the completion and oral defense of a doctoral dissertation representing original research.

Course Work

The DrPH program builds on the foundation of the MPH degree.  Any course work or other requirements not included in a doctoral student’s previous master’s training must be completed before (and in addition to) the requirements for each doctoral program. The specific course requirements of the DrPH program is designed to prepare the student to take the doctoral qualifying examinations.

Students are encouraged to take full advantage of graduate course offerings in other departments of the Mailman School of Public Health, other departments and schools of the Columbia Medical Center (CUMC), and Columbia’s Morningside Heights Campus including, but not limited to the Department of Statistics, to extend their knowledge of theory and methods, develop an area of expertise, and familiarize themselves with the content and issues specific to the biomedical or public health problem or application of their research.

A grade of B or better is necessary in all required courses for both doctoral programs, but up to two elective courses may be taken on a pass/fail basis, especially to encourage students to take courses outside their field of expertise.

Competencies

DrPH students meet gain core and specific competencies of the MPH in Biostatistics and achieve additional competencies in the areas of data analysis and computing, public health and collaborative research, data management, teaching, and biostatistical research.

Upon satisfactory completion of the DrPH in Biostatistics, graduates will be able to:

Data Analysis and Computing

  • Identify and implement advanced statistical models for the purposes of estimation, comparison, prediction, and adjustment in non-standard settings;

Public Health and Collaborative Research

  • Describe the foundations of public health, including the biological, environmental, behavioral, and policy factors that affect the health of populations;

  • Develop and execute calculations for power and sample size when planning research studies with complex sampling schemes;

  • Formulate and prepare a written statistical plan for analysis of public health research data that clearly reflects the research hypotheses of the proposal in a manner that resonates with both co-investigators and peer reviewers;

  • Evaluate research reports and proposals for research funding on the basis of their scientific integrity, validity, and the strength of the quantitative analysis;

  • Prepare written summaries of quantitative analyses for journal publication, presentations at scientific meetings, grant applications, and review by regulatory agencies;

Data Management

  • Identify the uses to which data management can be put in practical statistical analysis, including the establishment of standards for documentation, archiving, auditing, and confidentiality; guidelines for accessibility; security; structural issues; and data cleaning;

  • Differentiate between analytical and data management functions through knowledge of the role and functions of databases, different types of data storage, and the advantages and limitations of rigorous data base systems in conjunction with statistical tools;

  • Describe the different types of database management systems, the ways these systems can provide data for analysis and interact with statistical software, and methods for evaluating technologies pertinent to both;

  • Assess database tools and the database functions of statistical software, with a view to explaining the impact of data management processes and procedures on their own research;

Teaching

  • Review and illustrate selected principles of study design, probability theory, estimation, hypothesis testing, and data analytic techniques to public health students enrolled in first and second level graduate public health courses;

  • Explain advanced concepts in the theory of statistical inference to graduate students in biostatistics and mathematical statistics;

Biostatistical Research

  • Identify and integrate new developments in the statistical literature for challenging research problems in public health; and

  • Generate original computer code for new statistical techniques.

Course Requirements

The curriculum of the DrPH builds on the foundation of the MPH. Candidates for the DrPH degree are required to take (or waive) the five core public health courses (which do not count towards DrPH credits) in: Biostatistics, Environmental Health Sciences, Epidemiology, Health Policy Management and Sociomedical Sciences. The Doctor of Public Health degree calls for completion of an approved program of study totaling not less than 30 credits after completing the MPH degree. As students will already have taken many of the required courses in their master’s programs, the 30 credits of course work will comprise any required courses not yet taken, plus courses which will provide additional biostatistical skills and/or a focus on a particular area of interest within public health.

Not more than 10 credits may be taken as tutorials, and not more than six credits may be earned at the master’s level (e.g., 6000-level courses at the Mailman School of Public Health or 4000-level courses at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Upon completion of 30 credits of course work, a student is permitted to take the written qualifying examination. In some instances it may be determined by the Department that a student needs more than 30 post-MPH course credits before the qualifying examination.

Consulting Experience

The consulting experience is designed to enable students to demonstrate their ability to integrate their academic studies with the role of biostatistical consultant/collaborator, which will comprise a major portion of their future professional practice. P9185 Doctoral Consulting Seminar is a course where students gain exposure to real world design, analysis, and report writing by helping CUMC investigators who come through the Biostatistical Consulting Service for design, data management, and statistical assistance. DrPH students are required to enroll in the Doctoral Consulting Seminar prior to taking the Statistical Applications Exam.  

Continuous Registration

DrPH students must maintain continuous registration every semester from the start of the program until completion of the doctoral dissertation. After completion of all coursework, students register for Doctoral Dissertation Research. To be continuously enrolled, DrPH students register for one tuition point in all spring and fall semesters in which they are not otherwise registered for course credits.

A list of required courses and electives is given below.

Required Public Health Core Courses (not counted towards DrPH credits)

Points
P6104Introduction to Biostatistical MethodsN/A
P6400Principles of EpidemiologyN/A
P6530Issues & Approaches in Health AdministrationN/A
P6040Determinants of Health (taken through Columbia MPH Core)N/A
P6051Public Health Interventions (taken through Columbia MPH Core)N/A

Required Biostatistics Courses

Points
P8104Probability3
P8108Survival Analysis3
P8109Statistical Inference3
P8111Linear Regression Models3
P8116Design of Medical Experiments3
P8120Analysis of Categorical Data3
P8121*Generalized Linear Models3
P8140The Randomized Clinical Trial3
P8157**Analysis of Longitudinal Data3
P8185Capstone Consulting Seminar1

Electives in Biostatistics

Points
P8117Nonparametric Statistics3
P8139Theoretical Genetic Modeling3
P8141Genetic Analysis Laboratory3
P8142Clinical Methodology3
P8144Pharmaceutical Statistics3
P8149Statistical Population Genetics3
P8160Topics in Advanced Statistical Computing3
P8180Research Data Coordination: Principles and Practices3
P9120Topics in Statistical Learning and Data Mining3
89260Building Interdisciplinary Research Models3

 

Written Qualifying Exam

A two-part qualifying examination for all DrPH candidates in Biostatistics must be completed prior to dissertation research and the Oral Comprehensive Examination.

Part I: Basic Inference

The first part comprises a basic familiarity with statistical inference as presented in the course P8109 Statistical Inference. Students who have taken this course and received a grade of B+ or above automatically satisfy the Part I requirement. Those students who do not receive this grade will be required to take a written examination testing their knowledge of the material in this course.

Part II: Applications

A written examination covers the practical analysis of data. The examination focuses on applied problems requiring statistical inference based on data analysis. The essential skills for this examination are generally developed in the courses required for the degree. The Department will furnish students with two data sets and written questions to guide the analysis. The exam is administered in a take-home format over a two-day period.

Oral Comprehensive Exam

The Oral Comprehensive Examination is designed to test mastery of a project suitable for dissertation research and the student’s readiness to undertake the project.

DrPH candidates take the oral examination within one year after completing all course work and passing the written qualifying examination(s). In consultation with the anticipated dissertation advisor, an ad hoc examination committee is proposed consisting of at least two (and usually three) members from the Department of Biostatistics and at least one, and sometimes two, faculty from outside the Department representing disciplines closely related to the area of application. Upon obtaining the agreement of the proposed faculty to participate, the student then submits the list of names to the Department chair for approval.

Once the committee is approved by the Department, the student provides all members with a written description of the state of knowledge of the proposed research topic (generally 15-25 pages in length) for their review. The final version of this proposal, incorporating suggestions from all members of the committee and a consensus on the scope of the proposed research, forms the basic material on which the student is examined.

The examination, usually lasting two hours, consists of a 45-minute presentation by the student on the content of the written submission during and after which all committee members may ask questions on the material presented or relevant related material. After all questions are completed the student leaves the room and the committee votes on whether or not the student has passed.

Passing the Oral Comprehensive Examination requires a unanimous vote from the committee and advances the DrPH student to doctoral candidacy.

Dissertation

Often the topic of the Oral Comprehensive Examination will be the dissertation topic and the members of the ad hoc examination become the dissertation committee, but this is not required.

The dissertation must be independent, original research which advances knowledge by the application of existing statistical methods to an important problem in public health.

The dissertation defense committee, consisting of three members of the Department and two outside members, is proposed by the student’s dissertation sponsor and approved by the Department chair. Once the committee is approved, and a hard copy of the dissertation is approved by the sponsor and a second reader as ready to defend, the sponsor may schedule the defense which follows a format similar to that of the Oral Comprehensive Examination.

The successful oral defense of the dissertation is the final requirement for the Doctor of Public Health degree.

Funding

The Department of Biostatistics offers a limited number of fellowships for students in both the DrPH and PhD doctoral programs. Admission to both doctoral programs is highly competitive, and departmental fellowships are awarded to the most outstanding applicants as funding allows. Full fellowship support consists of tuition and a stipend. International students are also eligible for departmental doctoral fellowships. As part of their fellowship training and duties, all doctoral fellows are expected to serve as Teaching Assistants for one or two courses each year.

To ensure full consideration for admission and funding, submit your completed online application by December 1st. Applicants interested in financial aid, including fellowship support, should indicate their interest on their online applications.

In addition to offering doctoral fellowships, the Department of Biostatistics participates in several other training programs listed below which provide funding for doctoral students. Training grant funding is limited to American citizens and permanent residents. Please refer to each of the following programs for their specific guidelines. Doctoral applicants who meet the additional eligibility criteria for any of the programs below should indicate their interest in that program on their application to the Department of Biostatistics as well.

Cancer Training Program

The multidisciplinary Cancer Training Program, directed by Dr. Alfred I. Neugut of the Department of Epidemiology and funded by the National Cancer Institute, supports both predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees involved in cancer-related studies and research, including students from the Department of Biostatistics. Fellows receive a stipend, partial tuition support, and travel funds. Predoctoral fellows are typically students in the Department’s PhD or DrPH programs who are interested in cancer biostatistics. Post-doctoral fellows may be MDs or PhDs from other areas of science who wish to acquire more training in cancer biostatistics, or holders of a doctoral degree in statistics or a related area who wish to develop a research specialization in cancer. For more information about the Cancer Training Program visit their website or contact: bls85 [at] columbia.edu (Brenda Scariff), Cancer Training Program Coordinator.

The Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD)

The purpose of the National Institutes of Health-funded IMSD program is to increase the number of historically underrepresented students who receive doctoral training in public health. For more information about the IMSD program for full-time DrPH or PhD students in Biostatistics contact: aabraido [at] columbia.edu (Ana Abraido-Lanza, PhD), IMSD Program Director.

Contact

Justine Herrera, MA
Director of Academic Programs
Department of Biostatistics
Columbia University
jh2477 [at] columbia.edu
(212) 342-3417