Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Epidemiologic Science


The PhD program in Epidemiologic Science is administered by the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. Its objective is to produce scientists who are expert in recognition and investigation of those basic aspects of etiology and pathogenesis of disease relevant to prevention and control of infectious and non-infectious diseases. Graduates are qualified for positions in academia, research institutes, government, and industry.

There are two major stages in the program to be completed prior to getting the PhD degree: the pre-candidate stage and the candidate stage. The major task of the pre-candidate stage is to prepare for and successfully complete the Competency Examination, usually within the first year of enrollment. The major tasks at the candidate stage are to conduct dissertation research and to successfully complete that research with the ongoing guidance of a committee whose membership will be selected by the student and primary mentor. This research program is then presented and defended as a "dissertation defense," the penultimate event in achieving the doctoral degree.

Typically, a PhD program takes a total of four years to complete when a Master of Public Health (or other relevant degree) has previously been obtained. The time frame depends largely on how soon advancement to candidacy is achieved. Once advancement to candidacy has occurred (usually after one year), students typically develop and defend their research prospectus the following year and complete their research effort (including its written presentation) in two years.

For a very detailed description of the Epidemiology Department's PhD guidelines please view the PhD guidelines (PDF).

View Current Doctoral Student Profiles

Application Deadlines for Fall 2024

  • FINAL Deadline for completed application: December 1, 2023.
  • Three letters of recommendation and transcripts are required and need to be submitted by deadline date.
  • Only complete applications will be reviewed.

Admission Procedure

Applicants for the Epidemiologic Science PhD program should complete the Rackham School of Graduate Studies application. The Epidemiology PhD program is listed as "Public Health Epidemiologic Science".

Minimum Requirements for Applying

  • A relevant master's degree (e.g. Master of Public Health, Master of Science in Biostatistics, or other health related degree which includes epidemiologic and biostatistical methods) prior to being considered for admission.

Application Information

Through the online application (Rackham School of Graduate Studies), applicants must submit the following:

  • Statement of Purpose 
    • A concise (2 pages or less), well-written essay about:
      • Why you want to pursue a PhD in Epidemiology and why you are qualified to do so;
      • Your academic and career goals; and
      • How our graduate program will help you meet your goals.
    • Please indicate the area(s) of research and departmental faculty that are of interest to you.
      • Refer to our list of departmental faculty.
      • Please note that only core faculty should be listed as potential mentors.
      • Not all faculty will be taking students in a given year. It can be helpful to reach out to faculty you might be interested in working with to introduce yourself and ask if they may be taking students this year.
      • This statement is an important part of the application to help us find a potential mentor for you. Consider getting feedback from mentors, peers, and a writing center if you have access to one. There are also many online resources to help you write outstanding personal statements.
  • Personal Statement
    • This statement should be a brief (500 word limit) description of your background.
    • How have your background and life experiences, including cultural, geographical, financial, educational, or other opportunities or challenges, motivated your decision to pursue a PhD in Epidemiology?
    • If you would like to provide context on any aspect of your application, such as a few poor grades on your transcript, please do so here. 
  • Transcripts
    • Applicants who attended or are attending a U.S. Institution:
      • Upload an electronic version of your official transcript(s) for each Bachelor’s, Master’s, Professional, or Doctoral degree earned or in progress through your ApplyWeb application account. ​​​​​​​​​​
      • If you are recommended for admission, the Rackham Graduate School will require official transcript(s). Recommended applicants will receive an email notification when the official transcript(s) are required for submission. All students are asked to include an electronic unofficial transcript during the online application.
    • Applicants who attended or are attending a Non-U.S. Institution:
      • Review Required Academic Credentials from Non-U.S.Institutions for transcript/academic record requirements by country or region. Submitting transcript/academic records is a two-step process.
      • ​​​​​Upload an electronic version of your official transcript/academic record for each institution attended through your ApplyWeb application account.
      • At the time of application, you must also submit an official transcript/academic record for each institution attended. See Rackham’s detailed instructions on how to submit transcripts/academic records to the Rackham Graduate School.
  • Three Letters of Recommendation - academic and professional recommendations are desired; personal recommendations are not accepted.

Standardized Tests

Michigan Public Health does not require and does not review GRE or other standardized test scores for admission to any master's or doctoral programs. Applications will be reviewed holistically based on required application components. Please contact our admissions staff at if you have questions.

International Applicants

Applicants whose native language is not English must demonstrate English proficiency (TOEFL scores). The TOEFL University of Michigan Institution Code is 1839. Applicants who have earned a degree from an institution where the language of instruction is exclusively English are exempt from submitting an official English proficiency score.

The minimum scores required for admission:

  • TOEFL Paper-based 560+
  • TOEFL Computer-based (CBT) 220+
  • TOEFL Internet-based (iBT) 100+
  • IELTS 7.0+

In addition, international applicants must certify that they have financial resources adequate to provide for their expenses while attending school. Funds may come from a variety of resources including personal, government, organization, institution and/or school. Also see Immigration Documents for International Students.

At the end of your doctoral training we expect the students to have mastered the competencies listed below.
  • Critically evaluate and synthesize the scientific literature and develop new hypotheses to address gaps in our knowledge
  • Demonstrate mastery of epidemiology study designs and select a design that is appropriate to address a specific study question
  • Demonstrate a thorough understanding of causal inference, sources of bias, and methods to improve the validity of epidemiologic studies
  • Design a research project that addresses an important population health or clinical question, using appropriate epidemiologic methods under constraints confronted in practice
  • Understand the principles and methods of data-collection and data–processing procedures in the design and conduct of epidemiologic research, with sound knowledge of measurement validity and reliability, data quality control, data management, documentation, and security
  • Employ state-of-the-art statistical and other quantitative methods in the analysis of epidemiologic data
  • Demonstrate mastery in a substantive area of population health, and in this area integrate relevant biological, behavioral, and social mechanisms that operate at multiple levels of causation
  • Demonstrate excellent skills in the writing of scientific papers and grant applications
  • Provide clear and effective oral communications of epidemiologic concepts, methods, results, and implications to scientists, students, policy makers, and the public
  • Understand and demonstrate in practice the ethical responsibilities of an epidemiologist to behave with scientific integrity.

After admission to the Doctoral Program, there are two major stages in the program to be completed prior to getting your PhD degree. These stages are the Pre-Candidacy stage and the Candidacy stage.


The major tasks of a Pre-Candidate are to: acquire 18 In-Residence course credits (with three cognate credits of non-epidemiology coursework); complete the Epidemiology course requirements; and successfully pass the written Competency Examination.


The major tasks of a Candidate are to: develop a dissertation research plan; write a prospectus of the proposed dissertation research plan (for prospectus details see below section on Preliminary Oral Examination); present the research plan to the entire dissertation committee during the oral Preliminary Examination, and receive approval of the proposed dissertation research; complete the proposed dissertation research with the ongoing guidance of the dissertation committee; and present the dissertation research in a final oral examination, the "Dissertation Defense." Each Candidate must complete 18 additional course credits, including eight credits of Epid 995 (Dissertation Research) each Fall and Winter term. A candidate has the option to take one additional course each term, included in the candidate level tuition. Additional tuition rates will apply for additional courses beyond the first extra course.

In general, the entire (matriculation to degree earned) Epidemiology Doctoral Program takes a total of 2.5 to 5 years to complete. The actual duration is a function of the time it takes to: a) prepare for and pass the Competency Exam (1 or 2 years); b) to develop a dissertation research plan and pass the Preliminary Examination (about 0.5-1 year); and c) to complete the dissertation research and successfully defend it during the final oral examination (1-2.5 years).

Funding for Doctoral Students

All students admitted to one of our doctoral programs are considered for financial support. There are four types of financial support that we offer our students: Graduate Student Instructor (GSI), Graduate Student Research Assistant (GSRA), Training Grants and Fellowships.

Graduate Student Instructor (GSI)

Graduate Student Instructors are appointed at 50% effort, which involves working approximately 20 hours per week. This appointment includes full payment of tuition, health insurance coverage, registration fees, and a monthly stipend. The duties of a GSI can include preparing materials for labs, teaching labs, holding office hours, grading homework and exams, and tutoring.

Graduate Student Research Assistant (GSRA)

Graduate Student Research Assistants are appointed at 50% effort, which involves working approximately 20 hours per week on a research project. This appointment includes full payment of tuition, health insurance coverage, registration fees, and a monthly stipend. GSRAs generally work closely with a faculty member who is a principal or co-investigator on the research project. The duties of the GSRA can involve analysis of biomedical research data or statistical research. Currently, GSRAs are working on projects involving statistical methods development and application to bioinformatics, cancer, clinical trials, dentistry, diabetes, environmental health, epidemiology, genetics, health education, kidney disease, and survival analysis.

Training Grants

Some students are supported through involvement in training grants which provide support similar to the GSRA or GSI appointments. Check with your department for specific training grants available.

Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards

Awards for tuition assistance are available and are granted without a work obligation. These awards are generally made on the basis of academic merit, expected contribution to the field, and to students with underrepresented backgrounds. Some examples of awards our students have received include:

Other award/scholarship opportunities exist for continuing students. They include:

Financial Aid for Doctoral Students

Many of our students are offered funding as GSIs, GSRAs or graduate fellows. If you do not receive such an offer, you may apply for financial aid through the University of Michigan’s Office of Financial Aid. This office requires applicants for any and all types of financial aid to complete the Free Application for Federal Student AID (FAFSA) provided by the American College Testing Center (ACTC).

A FAFSA will be sent to you directly if you indicate your interest in financial assistance on the admission application form. FAFSAs are available from most high school or college libraries and financial aid officers, as well as from the School of Public Health Office for Student Engagement and Practice. FAFSA is also available at

Ready to Apply?

Visit the Admissions & Aid section of the U-M SPH site for details on the application process and financial aid options.

An MPH in Epidemiology, or other relevant master's degree in a related discipline (for example, an MS in microbiology), is required prior to entrance into the PhD program. Applicants are evaluated on the basis of undergraduate and graduate academic records, letters of recommendation, and commitment to a career in epidemiology or research in a laboratory science. In addition, potential students should list which faculty they are interested in working with. Potential for matching with a faculty mentor is an important consideration in acceptance to the PhD program. You are encouraged to reach out to potential mentors during the application process. The following faculty are actively recruiting students for admission in 2024, Sara Adar, Kelly Bakulski, Matthew Boulton, Andrew Brouwer, Joseph Eisenberg, Nancy Fleischer, Aubree Gordon, Alexis Handal, Jennifer Head, Spruha Joshi, Carrie Karvonen-Gutierrez, Lindsay Kobayashi, Lynda Lisabeth, Lewis Morgenstern, Sung Kyun Park, Abram Wagner, Jon Zelner, however all faculty will consider qualified applicants.

Our admissions process is holistic so there is no perfect recipe for success. However, we are looking for students who will be successful in our program. The most competitive applicants often have completed an introductory course in epidemiology and biostatistics or related disciplines (ideally a B+ or better), evidence of research experience related to their area of interest, and strong letters of support from professional mentors who know them well.