VCU Bulletins

Epidemiology, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Graduate program director
Resa M. Jones, M.P.H., Ph.D.
Associate professor, Department of Family Medicine and Population Health
(804) 628-2519

Additional contact
Lisa Anderson, M.P.H.
Director of educational programs, Master of Public Health program
(804) 628-2512

Program website:

Refer to the program search function of the online VCU Bulletins for a complete listing of all programs, concentrations and related curricular options.

Apply online at

Admission requirements

Epidemiology, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

of entry:


Application strongly encouraged by Jan 1

Special requirements: Applicants must hold a master’s degree, preferably in public health or a related field, and provide test scores as detailed below. Applicants must provide all required materials as described herein and in the VCU Admissions graduate application checklist.

In addition to the general admission requirements of the VCU Graduate School, applicants must meet the following minimum qualifications.

  1. Prior degree: Master’s degree in public health (M.P.H.) or equivalent M.S. degree, (sociology, biology, mathematics) with a minimum GPA of 3.0
  2. GRE: Current GRE test results (taken within the past five years) with scores at or above the 75th percentile preferred in all components of the exam (e.g., minimum scores of 159 quantitative, 157 verbal and 4.5 analytical writing)
  3. TOEFL: For non-native speakers of English, recommended minimum scores of either 100iBT, 600 PBT or IELTS scores of 6.5 (academic band score)
  4. Personal statement: Applicants must include a personal statement that indicates their reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree in epidemiology, their particular areas of research focus or study, the departmental faculty advisers with whom the students would prefer to work and career goals upon graduation.
  5. Reference letters: Students must submit three letters of recommendation from three individuals who can assess the applicant’s qualifications for graduate school. Letters from past professors or faculty advisers are most appropriate.
  6. Current CV or resume: Students must submit a current CV or resume.

VCU Graduate Bulletin, VCU Graduate School and general academic policies and regulations for all graduate students in all graduate programs

The VCU Graduate Bulletin website documents the official admission and academic rules and regulations that govern graduate education for all graduate programs at the university.  These policies are established by the graduate faculty of the university through their elected representatives to the University Graduate Council.

It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU Graduate Bulletin as well as the Graduate School website and academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites. However, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the VCU Graduate Bulletin and Graduate School websites, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

General academic regulations for
all graduate students in all graduate programs at VCU

Program mission

The mission of the Ph.D. program in epidemiology is to educate and train students to become independent, competent and self-directed research scientists so they can conduct outstanding clinical and population-based research. Students will learn methods for studying disease etiology and prevention in populations and evaluating interventions, diagnostic tests and treatment efficacy; they will implement such methods in an independent research study under the mentorship of an experienced epidemiology researcher.

Program goals

  1. Critical foundation skills: The program is designed to provide students with the critical skills required to advance to positions as epidemiological researchers/trainers in a broad spectrum of positions.
  2. Mastery and application of science: The structure of the program provides a framework for the progressive development of a mastery of the current state of the subject matter of epidemiology and ability to synthesize this information and apply this foundation to the identification of key areas of investigation/experimentation in bioscience.
  3. Communication: Students will develop skills in the various means of communicating both the core of epidemiological knowledge and the expression of epidemiological methodology, research design, results and interpretation to a variety of potential audiences.

Student learning outcomes

Students in the doctoral program in epidemiology will develop competencies in the following areas, as described in the lists below.

  1. Theory and context
    1. Demonstrate knowledge of the physiologic processes important in understanding pathogenesis of disease
    2. Demonstrate an understanding of epidemiologic theories of disease causation, theories of bias in epidemiologic research, as well as general framework and other theories to understand distributions of disease occurrence
    3. Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of at least one of the theories or frameworks that form the basis for epidemiologic research
    4. Demonstrate the ability to link theoretical framework to the design, conduct and interpretation of epidemiologic research
  2. Study design
    1. Have proven ability to construct a study question
    2. Define conceptual definitions of determinants, outcome variables and confounders in ways consistent with the theoretical framework guiding the research
    3. Create operational expressions of key variables such that misclassification and measurement error are minimized
    4. Demonstrate proficiency in selecting the most appropriate study designs in epidemiology (e.g., ecological studies, randomized trials, cohort, case-control, time series, difference-in-difference) such that bias is minimized and efficiency maximized
    5. Demonstrate proficiency in the construction of a primary data collection tool
    6. Understand the impact of measurement issues (misclassification and measurement error) on validity of the study, ability to use analyses to select the most appropriate measures during the design phase and understanding techniques for adjustment in analysis
    7. Demonstrate knowledge of what confounding is, how to identify potential confounders, strategies for prioritizing concerns regarding confounders and ability to minimize confounding through design and analysis
    8. Understand selection bias in the context of cohort and case-control studies, ways to minimize selection bias and know when correction techniques are viable
    9. Understand required elements to estimate sample size, know how to provide valid estimates of parameters for sample size equations
    10. Demonstrate knowledge of the impact of bias owing to loss of study participants and methods to minimize such bias, including the ability to devise retention strategies
  3. Analysis
    1. Estimate and interpret measures of disease or event frequency and understand the inter-relationship between measures
    2. Estimate and interpret crude and model-based measures of association
    3. Demonstrate proficiency in selecting the appropriate measure of association for the specific study
    4. Understand statistical reasoning, including distributions, probability, sampling, methods of comparing means and approaches to estimating relationships among variables
    5. Implement analytic techniques to control for confounding
    6. Parameterize regression models, evaluate diagnostics of the model and interpret model-based measures of association
    7. Demonstrate ability to evaluate the extent to which a factor modifies the relationship between determinant and outcome under study
    8. Demonstrate proficiency in the application of advanced statistical methods appropriate for student research needs (e.g. hierarchical modeling, mixed-effects models, categorical data analysis, analytical techniques for evaluating spatial data)
    9. Use techniques to estimate causal effects from non-experimental study designs
    10. Conduct sensitivity analyses to understand the robustness of findings in light of sources of bias
  4. Effective communication
    1. Understand others by listening and questioning
    2. Demonstrate proficiency in scientific writing (manuscripts, review of manuscripts, rebuttals to reviewers, grant writing)
    3. Effectively deliver oral presentations (e.g., scientific presentations to professional audiences, lectures to students and other teaching) including the appropriate use of audio/visual technologies
    4. Effectively communicate scientific information to multiple audiences (lay audiences and policymakers) for the purpose of translating science into policy and practice
    5. Demonstrate proficiency in leading discussions (e.g. journal club, seminar, brainstorming sessions)
    6. Construct and orally pose scientific questions related to research (e.g. discussant, ask questions, etc.)
    7. Demonstrate the ability to effectively communicate across disciplines
  5. Data management and practical research skills
    1. Be familiar with the availability, structure and procedures to access contemporary datasets for research in public use form on the Internet and in secure form via request processes
    2. Demonstrate ability to implement methods for evaluating the strengths and limitations of data sources for evaluating specific study questions
    3. Demonstrate expertise in the management of complex relational and hierarchical databases including merging, appending, aggregation and transposition of data structures, documentation, recoding of variables, and data conversion across different analysis software
    4. Apply appropriate weighting schemes to population-based datasets
    5. Have knowledge of security issues, as well as of HIPAA and other privacy regulations affecting data access and security requirements
    6. Execute methods for processing primary data, including developing systems for data entry and validation, data cleaning, and documentation (internal and external systems)
    7. Demonstrate proficiency in conducting thorough searches of the medical literature
    8. Demonstrate proficiency in the use of citation managers, presentation software and spreadsheets
  6. Ethical behaviors, administrative skills and personal and professional development
    1. Demonstrate understanding of federal regulations and guidelines regarding the conduct of research with human subjects
    2. Know and apply ethical principles and their application to public health research
    3. Recognize potentially vulnerable populations and develop strategies for protection and advocacy on their behalf
    4. Understand potential conflicts of interest and roles that may arise in research and develop strategies for addressing and managing these conflicts
    5. Know guidelines for appropriate publication of findings, including issues of authorship, confidentiality and academic freedom, and provide appropriate citations and credit for the work of others
  7. Leadership skills
    1. Demonstrate self-awareness of strengths and limitations, values, standards, and preferences on which to form leadership style
    2. Personify high standards of honesty, integrity, trust, openness, fairness and compassion
    3. Demonstrate academic decision-making consistent with abilities, values and preferences
    4. Take ownership of responsibilities and empower others by delegating appropriately
    5. Demonstrate value of diverse perspectives and treat people equitably
    6. Demonstrate ability to resolve conflicts with minimal damage to all involved

Degree requirements

In addition to the general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, students will be required to complete a minimum of 61 graduate credit hours as follows:

  1. Five core courses focusing on epidemiological methods (15 credit hours)
  2. Four semesters of journal club (four credit hours)
  3. Twelve credit hours of biostatistical theory and methods course work, including EPID 691 Special Topics (when the topic is analysis of health datasets)
  4. Three courses of substantive area electives, with at least one relating to the biological processes associated with the student’s chosen substantive area (nine credit hours)
  5. A minimum of two credit hours of practical research skills development
  6. At least one course in the responsible conduct of research (one credit hour)
  7. At least 18 credit hours of directed dissertation research 

Students will also be required to complete the following:

Comprehensive exams

Comprehensive exams include a written examination that assesses knowledge of completed didactic course work on core epidemiologic and biostatistical methods as well as a tailored substantive section based on the student’s research focus and an oral comprehensive exam based upon the student’s dissertation proposal.


  1. The dissertation must be a hypothesis-based, analytical epidemiology project designed by the student under the supervision of the faculty adviser and advisory committee members as appropriate.
  2. Students develop and submit three manuscripts from the dissertation to peer-reviewed journals. Students should have submitted at least two manuscripts before their final defense.

Curriculum requirements

Courses Credit hours
Core courses 19
BIOS 553 Linear Regression 3
BIOS 554 Analysis of Variance 3
EPID 650 Epidemiologic Methods for Research 3
EPID 651 Intermediate Epidemiologic Methods for Research 3
EPID 652 Advanced Epidemiologic Methods and Data Analysis 3
EPID 690 Journal Club (four semesters; one credit hour per semester) 4
Methodological electives 12
EPID 691 Special Topics (required topic: analysis of health data sets) 3
Select nine additional credit hours from the following:  
BIOS 631 Multivariate Analysis I 3
BIOS 632 Multivariate Analysis II 3
BIOS 647 Survival Analysis 3
BIOS 691 Special Topics (spatial epidemiology) 3
CCTR 692 Special Topics in Translational Research (clinical trials: design implications) 3
EPID 620 Cancer Epidemiology 3
EPID 622 Maternal and Child Health 3
EPID 646 Epidemiology of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders 3
EPID 648 Behavioral Epidemiology 3
HGEN 603 Mathematical and Statistical Genetics 3
HGEN 619 Quantitative Genetics 3
PHAR 688 Applied Pharmacoepidemiology Research Methods 3
SBHD 610 Behavioral Measurement 3
SBHD 631 Disseminating, Adopting and Adapting Evidence-based Prevention Programs 3
SBHD 633 Structural Equation Modeling 3
SBHD 637 Program Evaluation 3
SOCY 656 Social Network Analysis 3
URSP 621 Introduction to Geographic Information Systems 3
URSP 622 Community Socioeconomic Analysis Using GIS 3
URSP 625 Spatial Database Management and GIS Modeling 3
URSP 627 GIS Applications in Urban Design 3
Substantive area electives 9
Three courses of substantive area electives, at least one relating to the biological processes associated with the student’s chosen substantive area.  
EPID 603 Public Health Policy and Politics 3
EPID 620 Cancer Epidemiology 3
EPID 622 Maternal and Child Health 3
EPID 646 Epidemiology of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders 3
EPID 648 Behavioral Epidemiology 3
GRTY 601 Biological and Physiological Aging 3
GRTY/PSYC 602 Psychology of Aging 3
GRTY 603 Social Gerontology 3
GRTY 604 Problems, Issues and Trends in Gerontology 4
GRTY 606 Aging and Human Values 3
GSWS 620 Theorizing Sexuality 3
HCPR 720 Economics of Health Disparities 3
SBHD 611 Health Literacy 3
SBHD 630 Theoretical Foundations of Social and Behavioral Health 3
SBHD 631 Disseminating, Adopting and Adapting Evidence-based Prevention Programs 3
SBHD 632 Health Disparities and Social Justice 3
SBHD 634 Patient-Provider Interaction 3
SBHD 637 Program Evaluation 3
SLWK 761 Interpersonal Violence 3
Practical research skills development 2 (minimum)
At least one course from the following:  
AHLP 716 Grant Writing and Project Management in Health Related Sciences 3
EPID 691 Special Topics (grant writing) 3
GRAD 601 The Academic Profession 2
GRTY 608 Grant Writing 2
Responsible research conduct 1
At least one course from:  
OVPR 601 Scientific Integrity 1
OVPR 602 Responsible Scientific Conduct 1
OVPR 603 Responsible Conduct of Research 1
Dissertation 18 (minimum)
EPID 697 Directed Research in Epidemiology variable
Total graduate credit hours required (minimum) 61

Typical plan of study

Many students often end up taking more than the minimum number of hours required for a degree program. The total number of hours may vary depending upon the program, nature of research being conducted by a study or in the enrollment or funding status of the student. Students should refer to their program websites and talk with their graduate program directors or advisers for information about typical plans of study and registration requirements.

Degree candidacy requirements

A graduate student admitted to a program or concentration requiring a final research project, work of art, thesis or dissertation, must qualify for continuing master’s or doctoral status according to the degree candidacy requirements of the student’s graduate program. Admission to degree candidacy, if applicable, is a formal statement by the graduate student’s faculty regarding the student’s academic achievements and the student’s readiness to proceed to the final research phase of the degree program.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following degree candidacy policy as published in the VCU Graduate Bulletin for complete information and instructions.

Degree candidacy requirements

Graduation requirements

As graduate students approach the end of their academic programs and the final semester of matriculation, they must make formal application to graduate. No degrees will be conferred until the application to graduate has been finalized.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following graduation requirements as published in the Graduate Bulletin for a complete list of instructions and a graduation checklist.

Graduation requirements

Other information

School of Medicine graduate program policies

The School of Medicine provides policies applicable to all programs administratively housed in the school. Information on doctoral programs is available in the Graduate Bulletin at



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