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Frequently Asked Questions - PhD Statistics

This page will help answer many of your questions specific to the University of Rochester Statistics PhD program. A separate list of frequently asked questions applies to all doctoral programs in the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

If you have a question that is not answered on either of these pages, please contact the Statistics Graduate Program Administrator Karin Gasaway. We look forward to receiving your application!

Statistics PhD Application/Admissions Questions

Statistics PhD General Program Questions

Statistics PhD Application/Admissions Questions

1. Should I contact faculty before applying to see if they are accepting students?

Students are admitted to the PhD program as a whole, rather than to directly work with individual professors. Admissions decisions are made by the program’s Admissions Committee. Students are encouraged to take reading courses (BST 591) with more than one faculty member to explore potential research topics and advisors. Faculty and students typically make mutual decisions on a mentor/mentee relationship in Years 2-3 in the program.

2. Is prior research required for admission?

While having some research experience is certainly helpful, it is not required for admission to the program.

3. Do I need a Master’s degree before applying to the PhD program?

No, only the equivalent of a U.S. baccalaureate degree from a college, university, or technical school of acceptable standing is required. Students in their final year of undergraduate study are admitted on the condition that their Bachelor's degrees are awarded before they matriculate.

4. Can I transfer credits if I already have a Master’s degree?

Transfer of credits is at the discretion of the PhD Program Director, requires the approval of the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education, and must be in accordance with University policy. Upon entering the PhD program, for each course contemplated for transfer credit, the student should provide a course description, course syllabus, and official transcript for review. A maximum of 30 credits of graduate work can be transferred into the PhD program.

5. What is the acceptance rate?

Our program is relatively small and allows students to interact closely with faculty. The incoming PhD class size is generally 5 students per year. While the number of applications and offers can vary year to year, the acceptance rate has been approximately 10%. International applicants are given full consideration along with U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

6. Where can I find the average GPA for students admitted into the program?

Unlike some departments, we do not track GPA on a program level. Rather than using strict criteria with respect to course grades and standardized test scores (e.g., TOEFL/IELTS/DuoLingo English), we consider each student's application as a whole and try to judge their suitability for the program. The most important criteria considered by the Admissions Committee include (1) mathematical preparation, (2) statistical preparation, (3) letters of reference, and (4) statement of purpose. Other factors, such as research experience, are also considered.

7. If I send you my GPA or other materials, can you tell me my chances for admission?

No. The Admissions Committee needs to review your entire application and also consider the qualifications and backgrounds of other applicants. It is a competitive process, and scores alone do not determine admission.

8. I want to take advantage of the automatic application fee waiver, but my final grades/letters of recommendation/test scores will not be available until after December 1. What can I do?

The fee waiver is based on the date the applicant submits their portion of the application. Score reports and letters of recommendation can arrive after December 1 and the fee waiver will still apply. Updated transcripts that include fall grades can be manually added to the application until January 1. Please email your updated transcript to and include your full name and applicant reference number.

9. Should I wait to request official test score reports if I’m thinking about retaking an English proficiency test (e.g., TOEFL)?

We do not require official score reports until late in the admissions process. In most circumstances, the Admissions Committee will consider self-reported scores. Please upload a copy of your unofficial score report(s) to the “Other Documents” section of the application.

10. Can I send you copies of my awards or research papers?

You may upload any additional documents that you would like the Admissions Committee to consider in the “Other Documents” section of the application.

11. May I request an application fee waiver?

The application fee is automatically waived for all PhD applications submitted by December 1. If you are applying after December 1 and the $60 application fee would create an undue hardship, please email Karin Gasaway for a manual fee waiver. We cannot refund application fees.

12. When is the latest I can apply to the PhD program to be considered for full funding?

Applicants must submit their portion of the application by December 15. Please make every effort to ensure that your application is fully complete by December 15, but we will not penalize an applicant if a letter of recommendation arrives shortly after December 15.


13. When will my application be reviewed?

The Admissions Committee will review applications through December and mid-January. Most interviews take place in February, although applicants on the waiting list may be contacted to schedule interviews somewhat later. Decision letters are emailed through the online application system. The earliest decisions are usually released around the end of February. Applicants are welcome to contact us for an update after March 8.

Statistics PhD General Program Questions

1. What are the main differences between the traditional Statistics program and the concentration in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BCB)?

Students in the BCB concentration are required to take three courses related to bioinformatics and computational biology during their time in the PhD program, while those courses are optional for students in the traditional Statistics program. BCB concentration students are also required to answer certain questions related to one of these courses on the Advanced Examination (held in August after Year 2). Other course and examination requirements are essentially the same for the traditional Statistics program and the BCB concentration.

2. Is it possible to switch between the traditional Statistics program and the Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BCB) concentration after being admitted?

Students are free to switch between the BCB concentration and the traditional Statistics program, except that the BCB concentration has slightly different requirements for the Advanced Examination.  One can switch from the BCB concentration to the traditional Statistics program at any time, but students in the traditional Statistics program can only switch to the BCB concentration prior to the Advanced Examination.

3. Will I enter the program as a Master’s or PhD student?

Students who apply for and are accepted into the PhD program begin as PhD students. They earn the MA degree during their time in the PhD program after successfully completing 32 credits of coursework and passing the comprehensive written Basic Examination (held in August after Year 1).

4. Who will be my academic advisor?

The PhD Program Director (Dr. Matthew McCall) and Associate Chair (Dr. Michael McDermott) serve as academic advisors for all students in the PhD program. They meet with each student individually at least once every semester and again during the summer to provide guidance on course selection and overall progress towards the degree. The academic advisor’s role is separate from a student’s research (dissertation) advisor.

5. What is the process for selecting my dissertation advisor?

Students typically select a dissertation advisor near the start of their third year of study. All tenure-track faculty in the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology are eligible to serve in the dissertation advisor role. Co-advisors are also allowed.

The department strongly encourages students to take reading courses (BST 591) with more than one faculty member. The reading courses and the Seminar in Statistical Literature course (BST 487) are designed to expose you to the research interests of the faculty, and to give you the opportunity to explore potential research topics and to see how well you work with a particular faculty member. The standard Statistics PhD funding package is offered regardless of a student’s choice of dissertation advisor, i.e., the dissertation advisor is not necessarily responsible for funding the student.

6. How does the funding package work?

All admitted PhD Statistics students receive a generous funding package that includes a full tuition scholarship, health insurance for single individual coverage, and a competitive 10-month stipend. The stipend is reviewed for possible increase annually, but is not guaranteed beyond the end of the 6th year of study.

No special application is required for the standard funding award. Funding is offered to every PhD student who is accepted into the program, regardless of the applicant’s citizenship status or background.  

The fellowship award comes from the Dean for the first two years (excluding summers). Starting in Year 3, the department (as opposed to the Dean) assumes responsibility for funding, supporting students as research assistants on collaborative medical research grants (e.g., supporting data analyses), our NIEHS-funded training grant (T32) in Environmental Health Biostatistics, and grants supporting the development of statistical methodology (often linked to the student's dissertation research). We attempt to match each student with a project based on the mutual interests of the student and supervising faculty member.

7. What do students do during the summer?

Some students explore research opportunities with faculty and/or gain experience on research and consulting projects over the summer. Students in the first two years may focus on preparing for the comprehensive examinations, while more advanced students may explore summer internships in government or industry. While not guaranteed, students may, upon request, receive summer support (July-August) depending on funding availability.

8. How long does it take to earn the degree?

The PhD program requires 4-6 years of study, with the vast majority of students completing degree requirements in their 5th year of study. Time-to-degree for students who enter with a Master's degree varies by individual, depending on many factors such as the number of transfer credits that are accepted, how quickly a research advisor and topic can be identified, and how quickly the research progresses.

9. What percentage of students successfully complete the degree? How often do people fail or drop out?

Students are accepted into the program with the expectation that they will graduate with a PhD. As a program, we are committed to providing individualized support and are proud of our high degree completion rate of 92% for students entering the program between 2004-2016.

10. What type of tutoring or academic support is available?

The department strongly encourages collaboration. Students commonly form their own study groups and work on homework together. Faculty offices are within steps of the PhD student cubicles and most professors have an open door policy (rather than strict office hours). Teaching assistants, generally a 2nd or 3rd year PhD student who completed the course in the past, are also available for some courses.

Requests for formal arrangements or accommodations, including reduced course loads, private tutoring, and access services (e.g., alternative testing procedures, extended test time), can be made through the school. Students are encouraged to meet with the PhD Program Director to discuss any academic or personal concerns.

11. What is the format of the comprehensive examinations during Years 1 and 2?

There are two written comprehensive examinations required in the PhD program. The first examination is the 4-hour closed-book Basic Examination that takes place shortly before students start their second Fall term. This examination covers material included in most of the first-year courses. PhD students receive the MA degree after passing the Basic Examination. The second examination, the Advanced Examination, has two parts: a closed-book section (maximum 4 hours) and an open-book section (maximum 24 hours). The Advanced Examination takes place shortly before students start their third Fall term and covers material included in most of the first- and second-year courses. Each examination typically consists of 6-7 questions, with students asked to choose 4 questions to answer. Copies of past examinations are available for students to review.

12. How many courses are required for the degree?

A program of study will be worked out individually with the PhD Program Director. Students are required to complete 16 formal courses (see List of Statistics PhD Required and Recommended Courses). Additional courses can be taken for audit or credit. Students will have one-on-one advising sessions every semester before registering for courses.

13. Can I take courses that are offered outside of the department?

Yes, elective courses can be taken in other UR departments (e.g., Computer Science, Mathematics) as long as they are related to the student’s program of study.

14. What is the average class size for department courses?

Most of our department classes are small (typically less than 10 students) and are held in the Saunders Research Building. All BST courses in the program are taught by faculty from the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology. First year core courses in the program generally have a roughly equal mixture of PhD and Master’s students.

15. What are the teaching responsibilities for students? How many courses will I need to TA?

The teaching requirement is fulfilled by serving as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for at least one semester; students in our program typically serve as TAs for two semesters. The duties of a TA include, but are not limited to, holding office hours, conducting problem solving sessions, and grading homework assignments and examinations. Students receive academic credit through BST 590 Supervised Teaching. Courses regularly assigned TAs are graduate-level and relatively small (e.g., BST 430, BST 461, BST 462, BST 463, BST 467).

Senior students may volunteer to be TAs for advanced courses in the program without reducing their standard research assistant duties. This opportunity may allow students to practice giving guest lectures and/or to increase their knowledge of the material.

16. Will I ever work with faculty outside of the Department of Biostatistics and Computational Biology?

Yes. Nearly all faculty in the department have long-standing collaborative relationships with faculty in clinical and basic science departments throughout the Medical Center. This collaborative activity is a major source of the scientific problems that motivate the development of novel statistical methodology, i.e., the dissertation research of our students. The student’s dissertation committee is required to include at least one faculty member from outside of the department. It is also typical, starting in Year 3, for students to serve as research assistants for projects, supervised by one of our faculty members. Most of these projects involve faculty from other departments. Students will also participate in the department’s walk-in consulting service, again supervised by one of our faculty members. Student access to this collaborative activity is one of the major strengths of our learning environment.

17. What are the consulting responsibilities?

Students begin participating in the department’s walk-in consulting service beginning in Year 3. Students assist with consulting requests (almost exclusively from the Medical Center) on a rotating schedule by attending consulting meetings with the department faculty member on-call and completing work requested by faculty for the research project. These on-call rotations (typically 3-4 weeks per year) continue until degree completion.

18. Are internships required?

Internships are not required for degree completion. Many of our students choose to complete external paid summer internships to get a sense of what the working environment is like in various government agencies and industries.

19. Is this a STEM program?

Yes, our PhD and Master’s degrees are classified as STEM programs under CIP codes 26 and 27.