Division of Statistical Genetics

Department of Human Genetics

Graduate School of Public Health

University of Pittsburgh

Ph.D. Program in Human Genetics

Brief Overview

The Department of Human Genetics in the Graduate School of Public Health was established in 1989 from the Human Genetics Division of the Department of Biostatistics. Built on a strong quantitative base in population genetics led by Dr. C.C. Li, the department has focused on combining the tools of molecular biology with robust statistical methods to identify genes causing simple mendelian disease and predisposing to complex diseases, quantifying the risk of disease associated with susceptibility genes, and in the training of students at the M.S. (genetic counselors) and Ph.D. levels to evaluate quantitative disease risk for individuals, families, and populations.

All Ph.D. students within the Department of Human Genetics must follow the same general Departmental guidelines; one can specialize in the area of statistical genetics simply by choosing one of the statistical genetics faculty as one's advisor.

Human Genetics Doctoral Program: Each doctoral student is assigned a faculty advisor who helps the student until he or she finds a dissertation advisor. The required formal coursework, indicated in the Human Genetics Student Handbook, is usually completed within about two years; the Ph.D. itself is usually completed within 4 to 5 years.

Applicants to the Ph.D. program in Human Genetics must have a bachelor's degree, with a minimum quality point average of 3.0 in science and mathematics courses. The preferred undergraduate background includes a year in each of the following: genetics, organic chemistry, general biochemistry, calculus, and a behavioral or social science. The GRE is required of all applicants. Outstanding applicants who do not meet all the entry requirements may be admitted on a provisional basis with the stipulation that any deficiencies will be made up.

During the first two terms in residence, each student is expected to interview faculty members regarding possible research areas for their dissertation. This often involves laboratory rotations through several faculty laboratories. Early in the third term of enrollment (usually Summer Term), the student will choose a faculty research advisor.

A written Comprehensive Exam is taken no later than the fall term of the second year. After successful completion of the written examination, the student will then take an oral Qualifying Examination. The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to select for continued study those students who are most likely to succeed in their subsequent studies, examinations, and research. Then, within one year after passing the Qualifying Examination, each Ph.D. student must take the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination where the student presents and defends their proposed research plan. Once this examination is passed, the student advances to candidacy, and a dissertation committee is formed. This dissertation committee provides advice and guidance to the student as the dissertation is completed as well as administers the final oral examination.

The Department of Human Genetics also participates in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine's joint M.D./Ph.D. program. Students in this rigorous program must satisfy essentially all of the requirements of both programs.

The existing doctoral program in Human Genetics is very flexible, because it must accommodate students with quite varied interests, from molecular biology to epidemiology and statistical genetics. Required courses are minimized, and students take different courses beyond the requirements according to their skills and interests.

Information Resources 

The Graduate School Bulletin provides an overview of the Graduate School of Public Health, the general requirements and policies.

The Human Genetics Student Handbook has a more detailed description of the graduate program.