Program Mission

The mission of the PhD program in Epidemiology is to train students to become independent research scientists and leaders who can develop epidemiologic methods and conduct outstanding population-based research.

Program Objectives

VCU seeks to:

  • Develop scientists experienced in the use of state-of-the-art research methods for the purpose of advancing fundamental knowledge of issues central to the improvement of population health
  • Cultivate public health professionals skilled in the communication of scientific knowledge
  • Train scientists to optimally contribute as part of multidisciplinary teams
  • Develop scientists equipped with leadership skills for the purpose of implementing transformative research programs, and influence equitable health

Specialty Training Areas

VCU Program faculty conduct research in the following areas: 

For additional details, visit our research web page and our faculty web page, where additional information on individual research programs is posted. 

Why VCU?

Selecting the right doctoral program for your educational needs and career objectives is critical. VCU wants to ensure an optimal fit for students. Our small program offers one-on-one mentoring from faculty mentors. Competitive applicants are matched with a faculty mentor whose research program complements the student’s area of interest, so shared research interests are a key factor in the admissions process. Students work alongside their mentoring team throughout the Epidemiology Program, focusing on research and rotating through at least one teaching assistantship for exposure to the instructional experience in an academic setting. The doctoral program provides full student funding including tuition and fees contingent on academic good progress, including tuition and fees, and an annual stipend.

Consider the following highlights of VCU’s training program:

  • Careful match to advisor and mentoring team
  • Goal setting, strategic mapping of educational program
  • Support for membership in professional organization
  • Support for attending research meetings
  • Workshops to hone teaching and oral presentation skills
  • Teaching assistant requirement for one semester
  • Dissertation format – 3 first author, peer-reviewed publications
  • Leadership development and leadership opportunities
  • Community of learning and supportive educational environment

Frameworks grounding doctoral training in epidemiology at VCU

VCU embraces a new paradigm to understand population patterns of disease and indices of health and well-being. Using a framework that acknowledges that risk and causal factors are nested one within another with environmental factors, genetic factors, behaviors and social contexts, scientists at VCU face public health challenges of this century using a team science approach. By recognizing the complex web of causation, coupled with emerging understanding of the interaction of genetic and biological factors with social and behavioral factors, VCU offers doctoral training that includes complex conceptual models, analytic strategies, statistical methodology, and epidemiologic design. To address these challenges, VCU offers redesigned, innovative strategy of training such epidemiologists that boasts:

  • Doctoral training tailored to trainees’ cumulative experiences on matriculation and career objectives
  • Full-immersion approach
  • Competency-based curriculum
  • Solid epidemiologic methods foundation

Where graduates go

Our students become independent, competent, and self-directed research scientists capable of conducting outstanding clinical and population-based research and move into positions in a variety of settings immediately after graduation. Examples include faculty or post-doctoral fellows at institutions such as the University of California-Berkeley, Columbia University Medical Center, and the University of South Florida, and epidemiologists and data analysts in organizations such as the National Cancer Institute, the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Texas Department of State Health Services, GlaxoSmithKline, and WellPoint, Inc.

Typical Plan of Study (PhD)

The PhD Program enrolls primarily full-time students, who receive tuition and fee coverage plus an annual stipend.  Part-time students, who receive no financial support, may occasionally be considered for admission. Full-time enrollment is defined as registration for 9 or more credits per semester in fall and spring or 3 or more credits in summer. Part-time enrollment is defined as registraiton for fewer than 9 credits per semester in fall and spring.

Average time to completion is 4-5 academic years for full-time students; VCU allows a maximum of 8 years for part-time students to complete a doctoral degree.

For full-time students, years 1 and 2 are focused on completion of didactic course work and cuminate in the written comprehensive exam. Year 3 focuses on preparation for the oral examination, appromixately 6 months after successful completion of the written comprehensive exam; i.e., by the end of the third fall semester. After successful completion of the oral examination, students devote the remaining semesters (typically 4, including third spring and summer semesters and fourth year) developing the dissertation and completing the dissertation examination ("defense") in the final semester of enrollment. The dissertation is developed as three separate manuscripts suitable for publication, and at least one manuscript must have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal before the dissertation examination takes place. Therefore, students should begin developing the three manuscripts immediately after successful completion of the oral examination and plan to submit the first manuscript for journal review by the start of the final semester in the program. 

A full listing of degree requirements for the degree is available in the VCU Graduate Bulletin.


Fall semester, year 1 Credits
EPID 649 Analysis of Health Datasets 3
EPID 650 Epidemiology Methods for Research 3
EPID 690 Journal Club 1
STAT 643 Applied Linear Regression 3
Spring Semester Year 1 Credits
EPID 651 Intermediate Epidemiologic Methods for Research 3
EPID 690 Journal Club 1
BIOS 602 Analysis of Biomedical Data II 3
Elective Course (methodological, substantive, or practical) 3
Summer semester, year 1 Credits
Elective Course (methodological, substantive, or practical) 3
Fall semester, year 2 Credits
EPID 652 Advanced Epidemiology Methods and Data Analysis 3
EPID 690 Journal Club 1
OVPR 602 OR other approved conduct of human research course 1
Elective Course (methodological, substantive, or practical) 5-6
Spring semester, year 2 Credits
EPID 690 Journal Club 1
Elective Course (methodological, substantive, or practical) 9-10
Complete written comprehensive exams  
Summer semester, year 2 Credits
Elective Course (methodoligcal, substantive, or practical) 3
Fall semester, year 3 Credits
EPID 697 In preparation for oral examination 9
  Complete oral examination  
Spring semester year 3 - spring semester, year 4 Credits
Continued registration each semester in EPID 697 to complete dissertation 9 (fall/spring)
  3 (summer)
Complete dissertation examination  

PhD Program Requirements

Course work

A minimum of 43 credit hours of course work is required and at least 18 credit hours of directed dissertation research. Students will be required to complete:

  • Four core courses focusing on epidemiological methods (12 credit hours)
  • Two core courses focusing on biostatistical theory and methods (six credit hours)
  • Four semesters of journal club (four credit hours)
  • Three courses of methodological electives (nine credit hours)
  • Three courses of substantive area electives, with at least one relating to the biological processes assocated with the student's chosen substantive area (nine credit hours)
  • A minimum of two credit hours of practical research skills development
  • At least one course in the responsible conduct of research (one credit hour)
  • At least 18 credit hours of directed dissertation research.

Elective courses are possible across a wide range of schools and departments, including Social and Behavioral Health, Psychology, Healthcare Policy and Research, Biostatistics, Health Administration, Gerontology, Human and Molecular Genetics, Sociology,  the School of Nursing, the Center for Public Policy, the School of Pharmacy, and the Center for Environmental Studies.

More details are available in the VCU Graduate Bulletin

Other Requirements

In addition to completing course work, as part of their training, students are required to:

  • Work a minimum of 20 hours per week as a research assistant supporting their faculty advisor’s research projects for experiential, applied training
  • Work at least one semester as a teaching assistant for a graduate-level course in the Division of Epidemiology
  • Give one presentation each year in the Division of Epidemiology Seminar series
  • Submission of at least one grant application (related to student dissertation) to a federal agency or nongovernmental organization, according to student eligibility, to gain grantsmanship experience. The student receives close adviser guidance in this effort.

Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams include a written exam that assesses knowledge of completed didactic coursework on core epidemiological 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.


The dissertation project must be a hypothesis-based, analytical epidemiology project that has been designed with feedback from the faculty advisor and committee members. Students develop and submit three manuscripts from this project to peer-reviewed journals and should have submitted at least one manuscript by time of defense.

Contact Us

Students interested in VCU’s approach to training the next generation of epidemiologists are strongly encouraged to speak directly with our Graduate Program Director, Juan Lu, PhD, MPH, MD, or Lisa S. Anderson, MPH, Director of Educational Programs.

Download: PhD in Epidemiology (PDF)

Application Details

Please review the admission requirements before applying. Applications are accepted online on the SOPHAS website. Search for Virginia Commonwealth University to find our program. The code for submitting GRE scores to VCU through SOPHAS is 7543. VCU also requires a secondary application. Supplemental application information is also available.