Ph.D. Degree Requirements

Students must meet the requirements specified by the University of Utah Graduate School and the John and Marcia Price College of Engineering. In addition, students must complete the following requirements to be eligible for the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biomedical Engineering:

Ph.D. research

Ph.D. students must complete independent research and advance the state of knowledge in the field. Completion of the research requirement is demonstrated by publishing three (or more) peer-reviewed publications as first author, as approved by the research supervisory committee.

Credit hour requirements

A Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. program of study typically includes 90-120 total credit hours beyond the baccalaureate level. Course work should include at least 6 credit hours of advanced (7000) level courses. Completion of significant, peer-reviewed, original research is the primary requirement of the Ph.D. program and usually requires at least 60 credit hours of dedicated research (Bioen 7970). Students must also complete the graduate biomedical engineering core curriculum (17 credit hours of core courses or approved substitutes) and at least 13 credit hours of graduate level science and engineering courses for a total of 30 course credit hours beyond the baccalaureate level. The research supervisory committee may require students to take additional courses depending on the student’s performance on the qualifying exam, academic background, or other factors. The minimum allowable grade for any course counted toward the requirements for your graduate degree in Biomedical Engineering is a B-.

Starting with the graduate students who entered the PhD program in 2011/12 academic year, every PhD student has to fulfill the teaching mentorship requirement by completing 4 credit hours of BME 7880 TA Mentorship course by the end of their fourth year. The teaching mentorship assignments will be determined based on the student track specialization, his/her teaching interests and current TA needs in the Department.

The doctoral Program of Study in Biomedical Engineering must list all relevant courses taken beyond the baccalaureate degree, and must list all research credits (Bioen 7970) to be applied toward the Ph.D. degree. Up to 30 credit hours previously applied toward an M.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering or Biomedical Engineering can be included as part of the Ph.D. program of study but listed on the Program of Study Form at “0” credits applied to the Ph.D. itself. These prior courses can be used to justify waiver of all or part of the course credit hour requirements described above, subject to specific approval by the Director of Graduate Studies and Ph.D. Research Supervisory Committee.

Research supervisory committee

All Ph.D. students form a research supervisory committee consisting of at least 5 University of Utah faculty members. The committee must include at least 3 faculty members with tenure-track appointments in Biomedical Engineering. An external reviewer is optional (see below).

Qualifying exam

The Ph.D. qualifying exam in Biomedical Engineering consists of two parts: a written comprehensive exam in the student’s field of study and a research proposal describing the student’s specific Ph.D. research. The written exam should be taken no later than the fall of the third year and the research proposal no later than the end of the fourth year.

Written Comprehensive Exam

The Ph.D. written comprehensive exam is administered by the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering each year within the first two weeks of the fall semester. Students should inform the Director of Graduate Studies of their intent to take the exam and submit a proposed Preliminary Program of Study Plan of Study at least one semester prior to the exam date. The preliminary program of study is a list of all courses that the student plans to complete as part of the requirements for the Ph.D. The preliminary program of study must be approved by the graduate advisor and the research supervisory committee. Students can choose to take the exam in any of the PhD program tracks. Please consult with the Director of Graduate Studies or your research supervisory committee to select the most appropriate exam. The exams are prepared and graded by a committee of biomedical engineering faculty members with expertise in the exam area. Students may contact the chairperson of their exam committee to discuss the format of the exam. The format of the exams may vary somewhat from committee to committee, but will generally consist of a set of in-depth questions from the field of specialization and will include comprehensive questions from the biomedical engineering core. The exam will take 8 hours. Books and notes will not be allowed in the exam. The Director of Graduate Studies will inform the students of their exam outcomes. Students who fail will be given a second opportunity to pass the exam. The strengths and weaknesses of students that pass the exam will be noted by their exam committee in a written report that will be placed in the student’s file. The student’s supervisory committee will review this report before the oral qualifying exam and may direct their questions accordingly.

Research Proposal

The research proposal consists of a written and oral presentation of the proposed Ph.D. research. Adherence to the PhD timeline is expected: a failure to deliver research proposal by the end of Fall Semester of Year 3 may result in a loss of RA support and associated tuition waiver. The written portion of the research proposal should follow NIH required format. The written portion of the research proposal must be delivered to the supervisory committee at least two weeks prior to the oral presentation. An announcement and abstract of the proposal presentation must be publicly posted at least one week prior to the presentation. The oral presentation is followed by questions from the audience. The supervisory committee then meets in a closed-door session to examine the student in the absence of their graduate research advisor. To pass the exam, the student must demonstrate adequate preparation to begin effective research: the student must be well versed in the fundamentals, have cogent familiarity with the primary literature in the proposed area of research, and demonstrate an ability to design and communicate a scientific research plan. In some cases, the committee may pass the student contingent upon successfully responding to issues raised during the oral qualifying exam. Students are given two opportunities to pass. A report of the research proposal and oral exam outcome must be signed by the supervisory committee and delivered to the department (pdf form).

Ph.D. candidacy

A student becomes a Ph.D. candidate after passing the written comprehensive exam and successfully completing both parts of the research proposal (written & oral).

Seminar presentation

Ph.D. students must present at least one oral podium presentation or seminar (department pdf form).

External reviewer

The review of Biomedical Engineering PhD dissertation by an external reviewer is no longer required, but is optional. The PhD candidate and her/his supervisory committee should consider this option if deemed necessary. The external reviewer must hold an academic appointment at an institution outside the University of Utah and should submit a written evaluation of the dissertation to be read at the time of defense.


Preparation of the dissertation must adhere to University of Utah Graduate School requirements. The Dissertation typically includes three or more peer reviewed publications written by the candidate that have (or will) appear in supervisory committee-approved journals as well as introductory and concluding chapters. A draft copy must be delivered to the external reviewer as noted above. Copies of the dissertation must be given to the advisor, each member of the supervisory committee and to the biomedical engineering graduate academic advisor at least two weeks prior to the defense. One copy will be placed in the departmental office for public viewing.

Dissertation defense

The Ph.D. candidate must successfully defend his/her dissertation in a public forum in accordance with the rules of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, the Price College of Engineering and the Graduate School. The location, date, and time of the defense must be announced at least 10 days in advance. The oral presentation is followed by general questions from the audience. If relevant, the external review of the dissertation is presented near the end of the public session. The review should be delivered by the external reviewer. In some cases an oral reading by the thesis advisor will suffice if the external reviewer is unable to attend the defense. Following the public defense the research supervisory committee further examine the candidate in a closed session (the external reviewer can be included in the closed session by committee invitation). To successfully defend the dissertation the candidate must effectively apply the scientific method, demonstrate the significance of his/her contributions to the field, and professionally communicate the results in both written and oral form. Following the defense, the supervisory committee and the external reviewer (if any) meet in private to discuss the candidate’s work and defense. The vote to pass the candidate is taken by the committee alone; the external reviewer does not have a vote. The committee can pass the candidate, pass the candidate contingent upon the candidate’s successfully responding to issues raised at the defense, or fail the candidate. Ph.D. candidates are given two opportunities to pass the defense. Changes and improvements to the dissertation, recommended or required by the reviewer and/or the committee members, are incorporated into the document prior to obtaining final reading approval from the committee chair and the department chair for submission to the thesis editor.