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Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Informatics
2018-2020 Student Handbook

Program Description and Goals PhD in Biomedical
Informatics Admission Process
Requirements for International
Application Deadlines
PhD Application Review and Admission Process Academic Advising Transfer Credit Financial Assistance
Degree Requirements Course of Study Pre-Requisites Additional Required Courses
Core Competencies Progression Qualifying Exam Advanced Preceptorship
Advance to Candidacy Dissertation    

Program Description and Goals

This program is designed to be a research-based multi-disciplinary program involving students with a variety of backgrounds. Students will work together in teams to research real clinical and biomedical health problems. They will gain both the scientific background for research and skills needed to address problems. The program is designed to meet the unique needs of each student by using a matrix curriculum plan with an advising committee to guide each student from admission through graduation. Each student must have a faculty academic advisor to guide each student through participation in research projects.

The PhD program in Biomedical Informatics is conceptualized and designed to be inherently multi-disciplinary and integrative. This means that the fundamental informatics concepts that transcend and apply to all traditional healthcare disciplines will be emphasized in the PhD program. This program will identify and teach the major informatics concepts that integrate and link diverse health disciplines.

The PhD program in Biomedical Informatics is constructed as a post-baccalaureate degree that not only addresses the knowledge and skills that the student brings at admission, but allows the student to build on previous knowledge and skills in order to attain the research focus needed for the completion of the PhD program in Biomedical Informatics.

Students admitted to the master program can apply to the PhD program by meeting the same admission requirements as those who apply directly to the PhD program.

Formal study of informatics at the PhD level at UTHealth is designed to accomplish these major goals:

  • Expand the scope of the discipline of Biomedical Informatics
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the Biomedical Informatics research literature, including in-depth knowledge of a selected Biomedical Informatics research area.
  • Research and evaluate new regions or domains in Biomedical Informatics
  • Lead interdisciplinary teams in the search for solutions to Biomedical Informatics problems
  • Effectively communicate research findings to peers and to practitioners who can use the research findings.

The PhD program is a 93-semester credit hour full-time program developed as a post baccalaureate program. Part-time enrollment requires written approval of the advisor and advising committee.

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Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Informatics Admission Process

The applicant should present a completed application and official documentation of the following:

  1. A completed online application and & $60 application fee
  2. Official transcripts from every post-secondary school attended
  3. A baccalaureate or higher degree
  4. A resume or curriculum vitae (as appropriate)
  5. A Graduate Record Exam (GRE) score. GRE waivers will not be considered for the PhD program application. Official GRE test scores must be no more than five (5) years old.
  6. Grade Point Average (GPA) in previous degrees
  7. For international applicants, a minimum TOEFL score of 87 is acceptable on the internet-based test. A minimum IELTS score is 7.
  8. Submit a three-page single spaced personal statement that addresses the following items:
    1. A brief summary of your background in all relevant fields, such as biomedicine, mathematics, and computer science; describing research experience and any results that were generated in research work. Provide dates, research advisors, project titles, and references to publications.
    2. A statement of educational goals and how these goals would be advanced through the PhD program.
    3. A statement of short and long-term career objectives, including specific information regarding short-term objectives, (any projects you may have in mind for your PhD work). Be sure to include how those objectives fit the opportunities provided by the SBMI educational and research environments.
  9. Three letters of reference from educators and/or employers.

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Requirements for International Applicants:

  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)/IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score. The official score for the TOEFL test must be submitted directly to the UTHealth Office of the Registrar from the TOEFL test centers using institutional codes 6906; no department code is required. The minimum acceptable score is an 87 on the internet-based test. The official scores for the IELTS Academic test must be submitted directly to the UTHealth Office of the Registrar from the IELTS test centers. The minimum acceptable score is a 7. Testing is at the applicant’s expense.
  • International applicants who have received a diploma from a university at which English is the language of instruction are not required to submit an English Language exam. If this school is outside of an English-speaking country, evidence that indicates the language of instruction will need to be provided with your application such as a letter from the University on official letterhead.
  • International applicants must submit official transcripts and a course-by-course education evaluation of all transcripts from all universities attended outside the United States. The application forms for such an evaluation may be obtained online from the service providers; Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc., and World Education Services, Only evaluations from ECE or WES will be accepted. The results of the evaluation must be submitted directly to the UTHealth Office of the Registrar by the agency. The evaluation report is at the applicant’s expense. F1 sponsorship is available for students in the PhD program.
  • The I-20 form, required by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is prepared by UTHealth and issued to qualified non-immigrant applicants who have been admitted and who have demonstrated financial ability to support their education. Upon acceptance, the non-immigrant student will be asked to provide financial and visa information so that the I-20 form may be completed. The student must submit the completed form to the American Embassy in his/her country of origin in order to receive a student visa or must otherwise be eligible for F1 status in the U.S. Please contact the UTHealth Office of International Affairs for information (713-500-3176, [email protected]).

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Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Informatics application deadlines:

Fall admission - March 1
Spring admission - July 1
Summer admission - November 1

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PhD Application Review and Admission Process

Review by the Admissions, Progression, and Graduation (APG) Committee

Applicant materials will be reviewed by the admissions committee. The admissions committee will review the materials and recommend whether applicants will be offered an interview - the next step in the PhD admissions process. The criteria that the committee considers are the same as for the master’s program including prior research experience. Applicants who are recommended for an interview will be contacted by Office of Academic Affairs for scheduling.


Applicants who proceed to the next level of the admission process will be interviewed by SBMI faculty members. The interview will focus on the applicant’s research goals and how they will be achieved in the PhD program. Applicants will also complete a writing assessment as part of the interview process.

Faculty Governance Organization (FGO) Review and Recommendation

All interviewed applicants will be presented and discussed at a Faculty Governance Organization meeting. An admission recommendation by the FGO will be made to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

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Academic Advising

The PhD Coordinator serves as the primary advisor until an Advising Committee and Committee Chair has been identified. As a student progresses, he or she must identify an academic advisor. This person will serve as the Committee Chair. The Committee Chair (also known as mentor, PI, dissertation director, advisor) is a full-time member of the School of Biomedical Informatics faculty who works with the student to develop a research topic, helps formulate ideas and guides the progress of the dissertation. In some cases, although rare, there is a Committee Co-Chair (principal research, co-advisor) who also advises the student. The Committee Chair should be identified during the first year or initial semester of the second year. The Change of Advisor Form (available on the Current Students section of the website) for changing the PhD Coordinator to the named advisor must be completed following identification of a Committee Chair.

The student, in consultation with his/her Committee Chair, will identify the other members of the Advising Committee. Committee members are those who have expertise in and inform the student's area of research, serve as a reader of the proposal and dissertation, and vote on the outcome of the qualifying exam, proposal defense and outcome of final dissertation. A minimum of three individuals must serve on the final Advising Committee. At least two members of this committee, including the Chair, must be full-time members of UTHealth SBMI faculty.

Students are responsible for scheduling and planning meetings with their committee and meeting milestones defined by this catalog. Student course selection must be approved by the Committee Chair and appropriately documented on the PhD Degree Plan form (available on the SBMI Current Students section of the website). Students are encouraged to meet with their Advising committee during the course of each semester to discuss ongoing progress and formulate plans for acceptable academic progress.

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Transfer Credit

Transfer credit for equivalent graduate courses taken elsewhere may be awarded and used to meet degree requirements if their equivalency to a SBMI degree program course is approved through a Petition for Equivalency Credit (PEC). The maximum number of transferable semester credit hours is 36 for the PhD program. Contact the SBMI Office of Academic Affairs for information.

Courses that are being accepted at SBMI through a dual or joint degree program can only be transferred in if the grade earned in the course is a “B” or higher. Courses for which grades of less than “B” were earned will not be accepted for transfer.

Students who are presenting course work from universities or colleges outside the United States to meet admission or graduation requirements are referred to the section on International Applicants in this catalog for a listing of additional requirements.

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Financial Assistance

SBMI offers full-ride scholarships for PhD students that include tuition support during the first year of academic study. These competitive scholarships are limited and offered to the most qualified PhD program applicants. Graduate Research Assistantships and Student Teaching Assistantships are available on a case-by-case basis. Students must submit an application to be considered for these opportunities.

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Degree Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Informatics

PhD Academic Requirements

A total of 93 semester credit hours must be completed prior to graduation. A full-time student in the PhD Program in Biomedical Informatics has up to eight years from the time of entry to complete the required coursework. Continuous enrollment is required unless approval from the advising committee is obtained. A maximum of one year of an approved leave of absence will be allowed for continuance in the program. If more than one year of leave occurs, the student must apply for readmission to the program.

A maximum of six credit hours of Directed Study can be applied toward the PhD program.

Other Requirements

In Residence Requirement: The term “in residence” refers to the requirement that a student completes 57 semester credit hours over the course of the program at UTHealth. A student must fulfill his or her in residence requirement in order to receive a PhD degree from the School.

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Course of Study for the Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Informatics Program

The curriculum of the PhD degree in Biomedical Informatics includes required didactic courses and elective courses. Didactic courses (lecture/discussion, demonstration and student laboratories) are presented to provide facts, concepts, and theories related to the techniques, and procedures of Biomedical Informatics. They include instruction in basic informatics, research, advanced informatics and support courses. The elective courses are designed to give students the opportunity to apply theory and techniques in the hospital, research, or private laboratory setting.

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Through completion, transfer of equivalent courses or demonstrated competency, the following courses are prerequisites for the program. These courses will not count towards doctoral program requirements. Transfer of credits from prior work follow the procedure detailed in the “Petition for Course Equivalency” section.

BMI 5300 Introduction to Biomedical Informatics (3 credit hours)
BMI 5352 Statistical Methods in Biomedical Informatics (3 credit hours)
BMI 5007 Methods in Health Data Science (3 credit hours)
BMI 5351 Research Design and Evaluation (3 credit hours)

Additional Required Courses from SBMI catalog

BMI 5304 Advanced Database Concepts in Biomedical Informatics* (3 credit hours)
BMI 5330 Introduction to Bioinformatics* (3 credit hours)
BMI 5310 Foundations of Biomedical Information Sciences I* (3 credit hours)
BMI 5311 Foundations of Biomedical Information Sciences II* (3 credit hours)
BMI 5313 Foundations of Electronic Health Records and Clinical Information Systems (3 credit hours)
BMI 5301 The US Healthcare System (3 credit hours) or BMI 5004 Introduction to Clinical Healthcare (3 credit hours)
BMI 7301 Grant Writing (3 credit hours)
*Courses indicated with an asterisk must be completed prior to the qualifying exam.

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Core Competencies

The following PhD only courses are required for the PhD degree plan. Courses indicated with * must be completed prior to the qualifying exam. Requirements for these courses can be met through concurrent enrollment at other institutions and/or by consent of the student’s Academic Advisor.

BMI 6319 Advanced Data Structures in Biomedical Informatics* (3 credit hours)
BMI 7302 Theories and Frameworks for Biomedical Informatics Research* (3 credit hours)
BMI 7303 Critical Review of Biomedical Informatics Literature Seminar* (3 credit hours)
BMI 7304 Advanced Research Design for Biomedical Informatics* (3 credit hours)
Higher-level stats* Not offered at SBMI – See Advisor for concurrent enrollment options.

The PhD Program requires at a minimum 93 semester hours of study including 9 semester hours in preceptorship courses, 21 credit hours in a specific research area approved by the advisor, 3 credit hours of research seminar and 9 semester hours dedicated to the dissertation.

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Each year, students will be reviewed by the faculty to determine if adequate progress in the program has been made. This review is facilitated by the completion of annual Individualized Development Plans (IDP). It is the student’s responsibility to maintain and update this plan in cooperation with their advisor. IDPs are filed annually with the SBMI Office of Academic Affairs. Failure to make adequate progress will result in action by the Admission, Progression and Graduation Committee. Action may include, but is not limited to additional review and monitoring of progress, changes in student standing (at risk, on probation, etc.) or dismissal from the program.

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Qualifying Exam

The goals of the PhD qualifying exam are:

  1. To motivate students to review and synthesize course work and reported research
  2. To determine the student’s ability to understand and apply fundamental concepts
  3. To develop and test the student’s ability to communicate orally and to respond to questions and comments
  4. To evaluate the student’s potential to pursue doctoral research
  5. To identify areas needing strengthening for the student to be successful as a PhD student and independent scholar
  6. To provide a mechanism for faculty to come to know the student’s capabilities

Students should prepare for a comprehensive qualifying exam within the semester following their sixth completed full-time semester or after completion of their 48th semester credit hour. The plan for the qualifying exam will be developed in conjunction with the academic advisor. The qualifying exam consists of demonstration of competency with both:

Domain Specific Knowledge
Demonstration knowledge, understanding, and proficiency in domain specific content and methodology. One of the purposes is to challenge students to discover relevant literature and deepen their knowledge of interests within this track.

Breadth of Knowledge across the discipline
Demonstrate breadth of knowledge across health sciences disciplines through questions that require synthesis of knowledge from core areas.

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General Structure of the Exam

  1. Topics for the exam will include materials covered in the Core Courses (indicated by *) and materials selected within a specific domain. The domain specific reading list will be developed in conjunction with the Committee Chair/Advising Committee.
  2. Students will complete a written exam including both domain general and domain specific questions.
  3. In addition to the exam, students will prepare a proposal abstract (1-2 pages) and deliver a public presentation of this abstract.
  4. Following the written exam and public presentation, the student and Advising Committee will take part in a closed question and answer session (1-2 hours) over the written exam and public presentation.

Submission deadlines related to materials related for the qualifying exam (e.g. reading list, abstract/proposal to committee) will follow a set timeline following the student’s declaration of intent. All components of the qualifying exam must be attempted within 30 days.

The qualifying exam dossier will contain the following items:

  1. Research project abstract
  2. Preliminary dissertation proposal (one to two pages, demonstrating knowledge and work of the student and others, synthesized to present a rationale for the proposed dissertation topic (e.g., theory to be developed, hypotheses to be tested) as well as proposed methodology to fulfill the dissertation objective.)
  3. List of references (30-50 articles) and syllabi for relevant classes for three domain areas related to their proposed research. Students should discuss these areas with their advisor in the process of planning their graduate program and prior to preparation of their qualifying exam materials.
  4. Current CV
  5. All previously completed Individualized Development Plans

Grading: The committee will assign one of the following grades to the overall qualifying exam:

  1. Pass unconditionally
  2. Pass conditionally (Advising Committee together with the Admissions, Progression, and Graduation Committee to specify the conditions needed to pass, such as remedial coursework needed)
  3. Fail with option to retake
  4. Fail without option to retake

A student must be successful on each element of the progression exam to achieve pass unconditionally. Each component will be scored as pass/fail only based on its entirety (i.e. you cannot conditionally pass or pass only a portion of the written or oral Q/A). The Advising Committee decision will determine the specific requirements for options of a conditional pass or options to retake (e.g. retake the written and the oral, oral only, remediate with additional coursework.)

If given the option to retake, students will be allowed to retake any specified portion of the exam once. Efforts to retake the progression sequence must be completed within 12 weeks. Failure to progress after this point will result in dismissal from the program.

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Advanced Preceptorship

Advanced Preceptorship is required for all PhD students. During Advanced Preceptorship, the student will develop and prepare his or her Advance to Candidacy Proposal including: defining the proposed research agenda; a review of the literature; research design, procedure and data analysis; collecting preliminary data; and scientific contribution to the discipline. The student’s primary advisor and advising committee must approve the focus of the research.

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Advance to Candidacy

Admission to the PhD program does not constitute or guarantee a student’s admission to candidacy for the PhD degree. Within two full-time semesters or completion of 18 semester credit hours after completion of the qualifying exam, each student must submit an advance to candidacy proposal and give an oral presentation of their completed and proposed work to their Advising Committee. Successful advance to candidacy proposal defense includes approval of both the written proposal and its oral presentation. Approval of the advance to candidacy proposal is required for continued progress towards the degree and designation as a doctoral candidate.

A student passes their advance to candidacy proposal defense if the majority of their Advising Committee votes to pass and the student’s primary advisor votes to pass. In the event of a tie, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs will break the tie. If the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs is on the committee, the Committee Chair will break the tie. If the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs is the Committee Chair, the Dean will break the tie. If the student passes, he or she is admitted to candidacy. If the student does not pass, the Advising Committee can recommend failure without another attempt or failure with the opportunity to re-defend within 30 days. If the student again does not pass the defense, he or she will be given the option of completing a Master of Science in Biomedical Informatics degree, but will otherwise be dismissed from the doctoral program.

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The faculty believes that communication and dissemination is a critical aspect of the research process. The student will have two options available for the dissertation. The first option will consist of three articles that are accepted for publication. Publication must be in journals or proceedings, which are both peer reviewed and indexed for academic retrieval. The three papers are combined with an introduction and summary and bound as a dissertation. The second option requires the student to write a monograph or dissertation. The monograph will review the literature, research approaches and options, the data design and gathering processes. The findings and data will be discussed in the context of the published literature. The monograph will be bound.

The dissertation must be presented at an oral defense that is open to the public. All research papers, theses, and dissertations authored by degree candidates are available to interested members of the general public upon request. After the presentation, the student’s Advising Committee votes to award the degree, allow for re-defense of the dissertation within 30 calendar days of the failed attempt, or dismiss the student from the program without a degree.

Petitioning for Extension

Students who have exceeded their time to degree deadline or a milestone deadline for the qualifying exam or prospectus may petition APG for an extension. The Petition to Extend Time Boundary for Qualifying Exam, Advance to Candidacy or Dissertation Defense form can be found under the Current Student Forms section of the SBMI website.

For further curriculum information, contact:

UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics Office of Academic Affairs
7000 Fannin Street Suite 650
Houston, Texas 77030
Telephone: (713) 500-3591
Email: [email protected]

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