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Ph.D. Program

These requirements apply to students admitted in Fall 2014 or later. Students admitted in Fall 2011 or earlier should see the old requirements. Students admitted in Fall 2012 and 2013 should contact the Graduate Chair about their individual transition plan. 

The Ph.D. in Statistics is flexible and allows students to pursue a variety of directions, ranging from statistical methodology and interdisciplinary research to theoretical statistics and probability theory. Students typically start the Ph.D. program by taking courses and gradually transition to research that will ultimately lead to their dissertation, the most important component of the Ph.D. program. The major requirements of the Ph.D. program are coursework, qualifying exams, advancement to candidacy, and dissertation, discussed in detail below.  

Required Courses

The core PhD curriculum consists of four course sequences, offered annually:

  • Applied Statistics — Stats 600 and 601
  • Theoretical Statistics — Stats 610 and 611
  • Probability — Stats 620 and 621
  • Computational Methods for Statistics — STATS 607 I and II, 608 I and II

Stats 600, 601, 610, 611, 620, and 621 are semester-long courses, and Stats 607 I and II, 608 I and II are half-semester modules. Any combination of two half-semester modules in the 607/608 sequence is equivalent to one course. All doctoral students must take at least 6 out of 8 required courses, with at least one course selected from each of the four sequences. A B+ average or higher in the six selected courses is required.

In addition, all students are required to complete two professional development seminar courses:

  • Stats 810, which covers research ethics and introduction to research tools. Must be taken in the first semester in the program.
  • Stats 811, which focuses on technical writing and presentation skills. Must be completed no later than by the end of the third year in the program.

First Year Course Placement

Our Ph.D. program admits students with diverse academic backgrounds. A mandatory screening test is given to all new Ph.D. students at the start of the first year to determine the most appropriate individual study program for each student. The Graduate Chair will advise the students on course selection based on their screening test results and academic records. Some students complete all the required courses and exams by the end of their first year, while others take additional preparatory courses and postpone some of the required courses to their second year.

Qualifying Review 

Doctoral students are required to pass two qualifying exams.

  • Comprehensive theory exam. This exam covers probability and theoretical statistics at the level of a graduate textbook such as "Statistical Inference" by Casella and Berger, used by Stats 510/511 and Biostats 601/602 courses. It also includes selected theoretical topics from the applied sequence (Stats 600/601), primarily on linear models. The comprehensive exam is offered twice a year, in late August and in late May. Students with advanced preparation may take this exam at the start of their first year. Two attempts are allowed, and the attempt at the start of the first year does not count towards this maximum of two. All students need to pass this exam within 12 months of enrolling in the program unless an exception is approved by the Graduate Chair.
  • Applied statistics exam. This exam tests modeling and data analysis skills and is roughly based on Stats 600/601. It is given as a 3-day take-home exam once a year in late May. Two attempts are allowed. All students need to pass this exam within two years of enrolling in the program unless an exception is approved by the Graduate Chair.

Embedded Master's degree 

PhD students can receive a Master's degree in Statistics in the course of their progress towards the PhD. This is not required and not automatic. You can file for this Master's degree at any time after satisfying its requirements. The Master's degree requires at least 30 credits of graduate work, or 24 credits if you have passed the qualifying exams. At least 4 of the credits must be cognate courses.  For details, see the Embedded Master's checklist.

Advancing to Candidacy

Students who have passed the qualifying exams are expected to find a faculty advisor and start research leading to their dissertation proposal. The Graduate Chair and the faculty mentor assigned to each first year student can assist with finding a faculty advisor. Students are expected to submit a dissertation proposal and advance to candidacy within three semesters from passing the qualifying exams. Requirements for advancing to candidacy are:

  • At least 18 credit hours of graduate course work, including at least 6 out of the required 8 core courses and Stats 810.   A B+ average in the selected 6 core courses is required.  Stats 808/809/818/819 (Department Seminar), Stats 990 (Dissertation Research) and similar non-graded courses do not count towards the credit requirement.
  • At least 4 credit hours of cognates, which are 400- and higher-level courses from outside the Statistics department.  All cognate course selections must be approved by the Graduate Chair.  
  • Writing a dissertation proposal and passing the oral preliminary exam which consists of presenting the proposal to the student's preliminary thesis committee.

A dissertation proposal should identify an interesting research problem, provide motivation for studying it, review the relevant literature, and propose an approach for solving the problem. The written proposal is given to the preliminary thesis committee ahead of time and then presented in the oral preliminary exam. The preliminary thesis committee is chaired by the faculty advisor and must include at least two more regular faculty members from Statistics. It may also include up to two additional members who can come from other departments or universities. The preliminary thesis committee may continue to serve as the doctoral thesis committee, but this is not required.

At the oral preliminary exam, the committee will ask questions about the proposal and the relevant background and either elect to accept the proposal as both substantial and feasible, or ask for specific revisions, or decline the proposal. The unanimous approval of the proposal by the committee is necessary for the student to advance to candidacy.

Additional Course Requirements

Students must take at least three additional PhD level semester-long courses or equivalent in half-semester modules. This requirement can be fullfilled with additional courses from the core sequences, advanced PhD courses, or topics courses. Stats 810, 811, and 750 (independent reading) do not count towards this requirement. While these additional courses are not required for advancement to candidacy, it is expected that students take at least some of them before advancing to candidacy. Taking courses after advancement to candidacy may  require careful planning as candidates are allowed to take only one course per semester without an increase in tuition.

In addition, all PhD students are expected to register for Stats 808/809/818/819 (Department Seminar) every semester and attend the seminar regularly. Candidates registered for another course do not have to register for the department seminar, but are still expected to attend.

Exceptions to the above requirements and credit for graduate work completed elsewhere may be granted by the Graduate Chair.

Annual Progress Reports

All candidates are required to give a short presentation on their research progress once a year. These talks are normally scheduled during the student seminar.   

Dissertation and Defense

Each doctoral student is expected to write a dissertation that makes a substantial and original contribution to statistics or a closely related field. This is the most important element of the doctoral program. After advancing to candidacy, students are expected to focus on their thesis research under the supervision of the thesis advisor and the doctoral committee. The doctoral committee must include at least three regular faculty members from Statistics and at least one regular faculty member from another department (a cognate member). The written dissertation is submitted to the committee for evaluation and presented in an oral defense open to the public.

Rackham Requirements

The Rackham Graduate School imposes some additional requirements concerning residency, fees, and time limits. Students are expected to know and comply with these requirements.