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 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 attention 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

Expected time-to-degree completion is 4 years, contingent on academic good progress. Applications from prospective full-time students received by March 15th will receive consideration for funding.

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

Typical Plan of Study (PhD)

The PhD Program enrolls only full-time students. Full-time enrollment is defined as registration for 9 or more credits per semester in the fall and spring or 3 or more credits in summer. Average time to completion is 4-5 academic years. Years 1 and 2 are focused on completion of didactic course work and culminate in the written comprehensive exam. Year 3 focuses on preparation for the oral examination, approximately 6 months after successful completion of the written comprehensive exam. 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.

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
EPID 744 Regression 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 preperation 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 41 credit hours of course work is required and at least 18 credit hours of directed dissertation research. Students will be required to complete:

  • Five core courses focusing on epidemiological methods (9 credits) and biostatistical theory and methods (6 credits)
  • Four courses of methodological electives tailored to specific student research needs (12 credits)
  • Three elective courses in a related substantive area, at least one relating to the biological processes associated with the student’s chosen substantive area (9 credits)
  • Four semesters of journal club (4 credits)
  • At least one course to provide practical research skills development tailored to the student’s needs (e.g., research ethics, grant writing, applied research methods) (2-3 credits)
  • At least one course in responsible conduct of research (1 credit)
  • In addition, students are expected to complete hours in directed research (EPID 697) to develop and conduct their dissertation. At a minimum, students will complete 18 credit hours.

More details will be available in the VCU Graduate Bulletin

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.

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 in the Division of Epidemiology Seminar series

Curriculum Map

For a curriculum map of Program courses and requirements and Program competencies,

Download (PDF): Curriculum Map Spring 2015

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.

Cancer Epidemiology

Virginia Commonwealth University is extending the application deadline for its doctoral program in epidemiology. Applications are now being accepted on a rolling basis until all openings for fall 2020 are filled. Specifically, we have an additional opportunity for qualified applicants interested in our cancer epidemiology research program.

The research area: The main goal of the cancer epidemiology research program is to identify modifiable and/or genetic risk factors for human cancers and cancer prognosis. Cancer sites may include breast, kidney, and prostate cancer as well as multiple myeloma. Primary methods will include traditional epidemiology tools and novel genetic approaches such as polygenic risk score construction, Mendelian randomization analysis, and genetic correlation analysis as well as mixed models and survival analysis techniques.

Qualifications for top applicants: Competitive applicants will have a master's degree in epidemiology, bioinformatics, molecular biology or the equivalent and should have a strong background in quantitative data analysis in biomedicine. Prior experience in genetic analysis, bioinformatics, and R/Python/Stata/SAS is highly desirable. Applicants should possess good communication and team working skills.

More about the program: Located in the state capital at one of Virginia's largest urban universities, our program trains students in using state-of-the-art research methods to advance fundamental knowledge of issues central to the improvement of population health. The focus of the curriculum is on epidemiological methods, associated analytical techniques, contributing as members of multidisciplinary teams, and the professional communication of scientific knowledge.

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.

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. Suplemental application information is also available.