Graduate Training Programs in Epidemiology

8. PhD in Epidemiology Program

8.1 Overview

The mission of the PhD Program in Epidemiology is to train independent researchers in the development and application of epidemiologic methods and to prepare them for positions as scientific leaders in academia and industry. The PhD is a research degree; it indicates the highest attainable level of scholarship, and a commitment to a research career. The PhD does not represent merely the accumulation of course credits, but rather, the development and completion of a well-designed and conscientious program of scientific investigation that makes a unique contribution to the field of epidemiology.

The PhD Program in Epidemiology requires basic and advanced courses in epidemiology, statistical methods, as well as electives drawn from other departments and schools that serve the student’s research interests. The program also requires written qualifications and oral candidacy examinations, and the successful defense of a doctoral dissertation, in accordance with University of Pennsylvania policy.

The PhD program typically requires the equivalent of at least four years of full-time study, in three defined phases: courseworkpre-candidacy, and candidacy. The coursework phase typically takes two years of full time study, and is intended to provide the student with the knowledge needed to pursue advanced, independent study and investigation in epidemiologic research. This phase culminates in the written Qualifications Examination, normally taken after most or all of the student’s coursework has been completed. The pre-candidacy phase focuses on the preparation of a scientifically unique, methodologically sound, and feasible dissertation proposal. This phase ends with passing the oral Candidacy Examination, at which time the student is recognized as a Candidate for the PhD and focuses his or her effort on performing the research for and writing the dissertation. A successful public defense of the dissertation then completes the academic requirements for the PhD.

8.2 Academic advisor

At the time of admission, each incoming student will be assigned an academic advisor who serves as the initial student's primary mentor, advising in course selection and related academic matters. A student may change advisors by request to the Program Chair. A PhD student’s dissertation advisor, once selected, normally assumes the role of academic advisor during the later years of study. At the beginning of the academic year, each student, in collaboration with his/her advisor, prepares a proposed academic program including courses to be taken, courses to be transferred, and timelines for examinations and dissertation preparation.

8.2.1 Policy on advisors

Mentors for students pursuing a PhD in epidemiology will be expected to have extensive training and experience in epidemiologic research.  Generally, they will have a PhD (or equivalent) in epidemiology or related field, ORan MD and Master’s degree in epidemiology or related field, and experience as an independent investigator, as demonstrated through receipt of funding as principal investigator and significant contributions to the epidemiologic literature. Previous experience as a mentor to at least one student in epidemiology at the Master’s level or beyond, including advising through all phases from protocol development to submission of thesis or dissertation, is desirable. Faculty members who do not fulfill all of the criteria may be approved in individual cases by the Graduate Group Chair, in consultation with the Graduate Group Executive Committee. Advisors should expect to dedicate considerable time and effort to one-on-one student supervision.

Mentors not holding the PhD are strongly urged to work closely with the Program Chair and other PhD faculty throughout the student’s program in order to ensure sensitivity to the special and intensive demands of mentoring PhD students.

8.3 Course requirements

The PhD in Epidemiology typically requires the equivalent of four to six semesters of coursework plus additional semesters devoted to dissertation research. This can be accomplished in the equivalent of four to five years of full-time study, although depending on the student’s research program, as many as six or even seven years may be needed to complete the program. The current standard course sequence for PhD students consists of up to 9 core courses (see below). 10.5 additional course units are taken in electives (advanced epidemiology and/or biostatistics courses and courses outside the department and school, as needed to serve the student’s specific interests). In addition, a minimum three semesters of lab rotations (EPID 699) and one unit of dissertation research (EPID 995) are required. However, the PhD curriculum is currently under review and these requirements may change; these changes will be reflected in a subsequent version of the Handbook, pending approval by the Graduate Group and Biomedical Graduate Studies. Students are subject to the course requirements in place at the time of admission.

Course descriptions are provided at http://www.cceb.med.upenn.edu/course-descriptions

The core courses required for all PhD students are:
  • Introduction to Epidemiologic Research (EPID 701), 1.0cu
  • Advanced Topics in Epidemiology (EPID 640), 1.0cu
  • EPID 600: Data Science for Biomedical Informatics 1.0cu
  • Measurement of Health in Epidemiology (EPID 542), 1.0cu
  • Doctoral Seminar (EPID 700), 1.0cu for each semester (a minimum of 2 semesters)
  • Biostatistics for Epidemiologic Methods I (EPID 526), 1.0cu
  • Biostatistics for Epidemiologic Methods II (EPID 527), 1.0cu
  • Ethics course 1.0cu (or MSCE workshops)
8.3.1 Electives

PhD students are required to take additional elective courses, totaling at least 10.5 course units. At least two of these courses must be advanced courses in statistical applications, such as (but not limited to) EPID 621: Longitudinal and Clustered Data, EPID 622: Applied Regression Models for Categorical Data, EPID 623: Survival Data Analysis, and EPID 680: Causal Inference in Epidemiology. Students meeting additional prerequisites in biostatistics may satisfy this requirement through advanced courses in statistical methods, such as (but not limited to) BSTA 754: Advanced Survival Analysis, BSTA 656: Longitudinal Data Analysis, and BSTA 790: Causal Inference in Biomedical Research.

Elective courses include advanced courses in epidemiology and biostatistics, as well as advanced courses in related disciplines, such as biostatistics, statistics, demographics, sociology, anthropology, economics, and psychology. Students may also arrange to take independent study courses taught by members of the Graduate Group faculty or courses taught elsewhere in the University. However, it is important to select independent study courses carefully, since it is assumed that students will have completed the core at the time of the Qualifications Examination. The student and faculty member will design the activity and the form of the evaluation for the independent study course. Any such proposed independent study course must be approved in advance by the PhD Program Chair. Finally, all electives will be chosen in consultation with the trainee’s faculty advisor.

8.3.2 Research Rotation

In order to provide doctoral students with as much exposure as possible to a broad range of research activities and opportunities during their first year of study, they are required to engage in project rotations with GGEB faculty. This will assist the students in identifying their research interests and thesis topic earlier in their educational process. In addition, students will normally identify their PhD mentor through working with them on a lab rotation, during which both the students and faculty can assess whether they are a good match for possible dissertation advisor/advisee relationships. This document describes the procedures for engaging in these rotations.

  • Each student is required to complete three rotations during the first year in the doctoral program: fall, spring, and summer.
  • Each rotation will last 12 weeks. Students can expect to spend approximately 20+ hours per week during the fall/spring semesters and full time 40+ hours during the summer.
  • Each August, the epidemiology faculty in the GGEB will be provided with a short description of each new student’s interests and background by the Graduate Group Coordinator, and will be asked to confirm their willingness to serve as a rotation preceptor.
  • Students will be informed by the Graduate Group Coordinator of the names and contacts of the faculty members who agreed to serve as rotation preceptors. The students will then contact the faculty members whose research matches their interests to discuss the details of a potential rotation. Once an agreement is reached between the student and the faculty member, they will submit a short proposal describing the content and goals of the rotation for approval by the Academic Review Committee.
  • Laboratory rotations should focus on epidemiological research as opposed to simple data analysis or service/project work. Ideas include implementation of a method from the literature, literature review of methods, or the analysis of a complex dataset. It is recognized that, depending upon the background of the students matriculating into the program, the first lab rotation may need to be a lighter introduction to the methodological area such as focusing on literature review, study design, logistics, and data management and/or data analysis.
  • Laboratory rotations are taken for credit (0.33 unit per rotation, 1 unit total) and students receive both a written evaluation and a letter grade.
  • At the end of each rotation, the supervising faculty member will provide a brief summary of the student’s involvement in the project, including any scholarly output such as abstracts and manuscripts. In addition, the faculty member will indicate his or her desire to mentor the student, as well as willingness to take on the financial responsibilities associated with mentoring.
8.4 Doctoral Seminar

All PhD students are required to participate in the Doctoral Seminar (EPID 700). Advanced students will be expected to present their work and take a leadership role in organizing each session. Students who are in the early stage (coursework phase) of their program will be expected to participate and present selected literature for discussion. The goal of the Doctoral Seminar is to expose all students to a wide variety of epidemiologic research. The seminar meets weekly.

8.6 Course plans

All students are expected to develop and maintain a current course plan with their advisor. This course plan must be approved by the advisor and the Program Chair and filed with the department’s Office of Graduate Programs. The course plan will be reviewed semi-annually in order to monitor the student’s progress and identify potential delays in completing the program. Typical course plans are shown below.

 

Sample course plan for an entering PhD student

Year

Term

Course

Credit Unit

 

 

 

 

 

Year 1

Summer II EPID 510:  Introduction to Epidemiology

1.0

  EPID 526:  Biostatistics for Epidemiology Methods I

1.0

 
Fall EPID 542:  Measurements of Health

1.0

  EPID 526/7:  Biostatistics for Epidemiology Methods II (cont’d.) I/II

1.0

  EPID/Other:  Epidemiology or other elective

1.0

  EPID 700:  Doctoral Seminar

0.5

  EPID 699: Lab Rotation

.33

 
Spring EPID 527:  Biostatistics for Epidemiology II (cont’d.)

0

  EPID 532:  Database Management or EPID 600: Data Science for Biomedical Informatics (fall)

0.5-1.0

  EPID 640:  Advanced Topics in Epidemiology

1.0

  EPID 700:  Doctoral Seminar

0.5

  EPID 699: Lab Rotation

.33

     
Summer I Possible elective

0.5-1.0

  EPID 699: Lab Rotation

.33

     
 

 

 

 

Year 2

Fall EPID/BSTA:  Advanced Biostatistics course or elective

0.5-1.0

  EPID/Other:  Epidemiology or other elective

1.0

  EPID 805:  Applications of Clinical Research

1.0

  EPID 699: Lab Rotation or EPID 899: Pre Dissertation Lab Rotation (for those who have chosen a dissertation mentor)

.33-3.0

     
Spring EPID/BSTA:  Advanced Biostatistics course or elective

0.5-1.0

  EPID/Other:  Epidemiology or other elective

1.0

  EPID 700  Doctoral Seminar

0.5-1.0

  EPID 699: Lab Rotation or EPID 899: Pre Dissertation Lab Rotation (for those who have chosen a dissertation mentor)

.33-3.0

     
Summer

Qualifications Examination

 

 

 

Year 3

Fall EPID/Other:  Epidemiology or other elective

1.0-2.0

  EPID 899: Pre Dissertation Lab Rotation

.33-3.0

  Ethics course or MSCE workshops

0-1.0

     
Spring EPID/Other:  Epidemiology or other elective

1.0

  EPID 899: Pre Dissertation Lab Rotation

.33-3.0

     
Summer

Candidacy Examination

 


Year 4

  EPID 995: Dissertation Research

0

Dissertation Defense

 

Sample course plan for an entering PhD students starting Fall 2017

Year

Term

Course

Credit Unit









Year 1

Fall

EPID 701: Epidemiology I

1.0

EPID 542: Measurements of Health

1.0

EPID 526: Biostatistics for Epidemiologic Methods I

1.0

EPID 527: Biostatistics for Epidemiologic Methods II

1.0

EPID 699: Lab Rotation

0.33

   
 

Spring

EPID 640: Advanced Topics in Epidemiology

1.0

EPID/Other: Epidemiology or other elective

1.0

EPID 700: Doctoral seminar

0.5-1.0

EPID 699: Lab Rotation

0.33

     

Summer

EPID 699: Lab Rotation

0.33

 





 

Year 2

Fall

EPID/Other: Epidemiology or other elective

1.0-3.0

Ethics course or MSCE Workshops

0-1.0

EPID 699: Lab Rotation or EPID 899: Pre Dissertation Lab Rotation (for those who have chosen a dissertation mentor)

0.33-3.0

EPID 600: Data Science for Biomedical Informatics

1.0

 

Spring

EPID/Other: Epidemiology or other elective

1.0-3.0

  EPID 700: Doctoral seminar (non-credit)

0.5-1.0

  EPID 699: Lab Rotation or EPID 899: Pre Dissertation Lab Rotation (for those who have chosen a dissertation mentor)

0.33-3.0

 

Summer

Qualifications Examinations

 
 

 

 

Year 3

Fall

EPID/Other: Epidemiology or other elective

1.0-3.0

EPID 899: Pre Dissertation Lab Rotation

0.33-3.0

 

Spring

EPID/Other: Epidemiology or other elective

1.0-3.0

EPID 899: Pre Dissertation Lab Rotation

0.33-3.0

 

Summer

Candidacy Examination

 
 


Year 4

  EPID 995: Dissertation Research  

Dissertation Defense

 

Sample course plan for an entering MD-PhD student

Year 1

Fall

Pre-clinical MD curriculum Indep study (or course if avail)
Spring Pre-clinical MD curriculum Indep study (or course if avail)
Summer   ~8 weeks for ft research
Year 2 Fall
 
Pre-clinical MD curriculum Case Studies in Translational Research or indep study (or epid course if avail)
Spring Clinical Clerkships  
Summer Clinical Clerkships and Step 1 Typically begin research mid-Aug, slightly before grad semester starts
Year 3 Fall   4-5 Epidemiology course units
Epi lab rotation, Epidemiology seminar; work on selecting advisor
Spring

4-5 Epidemiology course units; work
Epi lab rotation, Epidemiology seminar

Summer 2-3 Epidemiology course units
Year 4

Fall

Clinical Connections

2-3 Epidemiology course units
Submit F30

Spring   2-3 Epidemiology course units Qualifications examination
Summer   Oral candidacy examination

 

Year 5

Fall

Clinical Connections

Dissertation research

Spring   Dissertation research
Summer   Dissertation research
Year 6 Fall

Clinical Connections

Dissertation research
Spring   Dissertation research
Summer   Dissertation research
Year 7

Fall

Clinical courses (after defending)

 

Spring Clinical courses
Summer Clinical courses
Year 8

Fall 

Clinical courses; boards 2

Clinical courses; Dean's letter OCT 1

 

 

Spring

Residency interviews (~Nov-Jan)
Clinical courses and/or research
GRADUATION

 

8.7 PhD Examinations

In addition to course-specific examinations, there are three PhD examinations required in order to ensure rigorous, appropriate evaluations during the phases of a student’s program. These examinations are described below.

1. Written Qualifications Examination

a. The Qualifications Examination will be taken after the equivalent of two years of course work.

b. The Qualifications Examination will be open-book and consist of two parts, administered over a one-week period:

i. General epidemiology

  1. A series of questions and problems to assess competency in basic and advanced epidemiologic concepts, critical appraisal, and measurement

ii. Research methods 

  1. A series of questions and problems to assess competency in biostatistical and quantitative and qualitative epidemiologic methods.

c. Questions for the qualifications examination will be written and graded by the PhD Program Examination Committee.

d. Students must pass all both parts of the Qualifications Examination in order to advance to the next phase of the PhD program. Those who fail one or more parts of the examination may re-take those parts once, but a passing grade on both parts must be attained before the end of the second year of study. 

e. Transfers from the MSCE program must take the PhD Qualifications Examination, even if the MSCE comprehensive examination was taken previously.

f. Grandfathering: MSCE students who have transferred to the PhD program before January 1, 2009 are exempt from this policy. These students will have taken the MSCE comprehensive examination as their qualifications exam, and will be required to take another written examination, comparable in difficulty to the PhD qualifications exam and in addition to the oral exam, prior to being admitted to candidacy status, as has been done historically in the PhD program.

g. Review of the examination

i. A student may request to review his exam paper in company with the Examination Committee Chair. The purpose of such a review is to help the student evaluate the types of mistakes made, identify areas where further study is needed, etc. The Examination Committee retains the graded exam papers and does not return them to the students.

h. Appeal process

i. A student may appeal the outcome of the Qualifications Examination to the Examination Committee Chair, who together with the full committee will evaluate the appeal and judge whether it has merit. A grade can only be changed in cases of a specific error in scoring. The Examination Committee refers any grade change that could affect the student’s exam outcome to the full GGEB Executive Committee, who decides whether to revise the exam outcome.

ii. Because a minor revision of the score is unlikely to change the exam outcome, a student should only initiate a formal appeal if there were one or more egregious errors in the problem or in its grading, the correction of which would likely lead to a substantial increase in the score. A student who seeks a formal review must request it, in writing, from the Examination Committee Chair within one week of the issuance of the letter notifying the student of the exam results.

2. Candidacy Examination

a. The Candidacy Examination must be passed within 18 months of the Qualifications Examination.

b. The Candidacy Examination is administered by the Dissertation Committee (see Section 8.8.2).

c. The focus of the Candidacy Examination is on the student’s proposed dissertation research, but other material may be included as desired by the student’s committee.

d. The Candidacy Examination will consist of two parts:

i. Written: dissertation proposal, submitted to the student’s committee at least one month prior to oral proposal defense, and approved by the committee prior to the oral proposal defense

ii. Oral: Oral defense of proposal (non-public) before the committee with the inclusion of additional pertinent material at the discretion of committee.

e. Students must pass both parts of the Candidacy Examination in order to advance to the final phase of the PhD program. Those who fail the Candidacy Examination may re-take it once, at the discretion of the committee.

3. Dissertation Defense       

a. The final oral examination is the Dissertation Defense. The defense must be announced by public advertisement at least four weeks in advance using such venues as the GGEB website, posted announcements in Penn Medicine spaces (as allowed), and electronic mail.

b. The defense should be scheduled when the candidate and the dissertation advisor agree that the research is near completion and the draft dissertation is in a format suitable for distribution to the committee. As soon as a date and time are fixed, the graduate program staff reserves a room (for at least two hours) and prepares the necessary public announcements.

c. All dissertation committee members should be present for the final defense. In emergencies, one member may participate in the defense by telephone.  That member cannot be the committee chair or the student’s advisor. If one or more committee members are absent (i.e., not present or not participating by telephone) from the final defense, it cannot proceed and must be rescheduled.

d. Format of the defense

i. At least two weeks prior to the exam, the student should provide each committee member with a copy of the full dissertation. The committee members review the dissertation and prepare exam questions based on it. The defense consists of two parts:

  1. Open session. The chair describes the process to all attendees and introduces the candidate. The candidate then presents his/her research in the style of a departmental colloquium. Typically, the candidate presents one chapter in depth, with a very brief overview of the others. This presentation should not exceed 45 minutes. At the close of the formal presentation the candidate takes questions from the audience. The chair has the right to terminate the open session if it goes beyond one hour.
     
  2. Closed session. In this part of the examination, attended only by the student and members of the committee, the student is asked specific questions pertaining to the dissertation. Because the committee members have read the entire dissertation, this is their opportunity to ask any questions about any part of it, including material not presented in the open session. Once the committee members are satisfied that the questioning is complete, the student is asked to leave the room and the committee deliberates in closed session. During this time, the committee reviews the student’s work, draws up a list of recommendations, and votes an outcome. The student is then readmitted to the room, informed of the outcome, and is provided with any recommendations. The committee chair sees that necessary forms are signed and returned to the graduate program office.

ii. The defense will be coordinated by the dissertation committee chair. This individual will be responsible for maintaining order and the sequence and timely completion of the examination.

e. The dissertation exam has three potential outcomes:

i. Pass. The student has completed the dissertation requirements for a PhD in epidemiology. The student then works with the graduate program staff to ensure that all other requirements are met prior to deadlines for the proposed graduation date.

ii.  Conditional pass. The defense was satisfactory but additional requirements, usually minor, must be satisfied. Commonly, the student is asked to address specific questions raised at the defense, or to incorporate edits proposed by committee members. The dissertation advisor typically oversees these changes, but other committee members may also review changes at their discretion. Once the additional requirements are met, the student is considered to have completed the dissertation. The student is not required to defend the dissertation again.

iii. Fail. The student must defend the dissertation again; only one additional attempt at the final defense is allowed.

8.8 Preparing the dissertation
8.8.1 Dissertation advisor

PhD in Epidemiology students must carry out their dissertation research under the mentorship of a faculty member of the GGEB. The dissertation advisor is the most important individual the student will interact with in the course of their graduate training. For this reason students should carefully evaluate their interests and experiences in choosing the advisor. The student’s dissertation advisor may not be the Dissertation Committee chair, but may be (and is usually) the student’s academic advisor.  See Section 5.2.1.for information about advisor qualifications.

8.8.2 Dissertation committee

Each student will organize a Dissertation Committee according to the following constituency. The committee will consist of a minimum of three members, not counting the advisor(s), of whom two must be faculty members of the GGEB, and one must be an external (non GGEB) member. A GGEB faculty member will be appointed as the Chair of the committee by the student’s advisor. The role of the Chair is to run committee meetings and to oversee the candidacy examination and final defense. For students in the Epidemiology Ph.D. program, at least one member of the Dissertation Committee must be a member of the faculty in the Division of Epidemiology and ordinarily at least one other should be a member of the faculty in the Division of Biostatistics or Division of Informatics. Committee members will be collectively responsible for administering and evaluating the oral Candidacy Examination, reading the dissertation, and evaluating the final defense. Additional content experts from within or outside the GGEB may be added to the committee as needed. The initial constituency and any changes in the membership must be approved by the Program Chair and the Graduate Group Chair. This Committee will be in place at all times during the dissertation phase. If for some reason, a student changes to a different area of research, a new Dissertation Committee must be appointed immediately and must meet within three months to discuss new plans for the dissertation research.

8.8.3 Additional biostatistics support

The biostatistics faculty member(s) on the Dissertation Committee will provide advice and collaborate on the scientific design and statistical analyses required for the dissertation research, but it is the student’s responsibility to perform such analyses. If appropriate, it may be possible to substitute the GGEB biostatistics faculty member with biostatistics faculty from another department at Penn or from outside the University, upon approval by the Program Chair and the GGEB Chair. If a student’s dissertation research area requires additional statistical expertise, appropriate biostatistics faculty should formally be added to the Dissertation Committee.

8.8.4 Computing, programming, and database support

The student is responsible for writing all parts of the dissertation, including any methodological sections, and for conducting or directing all analyses; this ordinarily includes obtaining, preparing, and maintaining data needed for the research. Depending on the student's research program, additional (non-faculty) assistance with computing, programming, and database development may be requested by the student. However, to ensure that the student gains the maximum possible experience with these critically important skills, this request must be approved by the dissertation advisor and the Program Chair. Upon approval, the student should make arrangements with the Biostatistics Analysis Center (BAC), the Clinical Research Computing Unit (CRCU), or other computing group or consultant as needed. The student and dissertation advisor are responsible for obtaining the necessary funding to defray non-faculty support costs.

8.8.5 Frequency of dissertation committee meetings

Once a student has advanced to candidacy, his/her Dissertation Committee will review goals and progress twice each year. The committee chair should complete the Dissertation Committee Meeting Report form and submit this to the Program Chair within 15 days of each committee meeting.

8.8.6 Laboratory notebook

BGS mandates that the student’s Dissertation Committee, at each of its meetings, review the student’s “lab notebook”. The PhD Program in Epidemiology interprets this to mean that the student should make available for faculty review, upon request, primary documentation of any substantial element of the dissertation. Such a review takes place at the Candidacy Exam and any subsequent meetings of the committee prior to, but not including, the dissertation defense. Examples of materials subject to review include the statement and investigation of a research question; the code and results of a simulation study; or the data, code and results of a data analysis. Prior to the meeting, the student’s advisor, in consultation with the Dissertation Committee, designates a short list of such items that the student makes available in electronic or hard-copy format. The committee chair sets aside time at the meeting for the review of this material. In keeping with the BGS policy, there is no expectation that the committee should scrutinize all such documents “in their entirety”; rather, the review should be sufficient to satisfy the committee that the student’s research records are “complete and well managed”.

8.8.7 Content and format of the dissertation

The dissertation must be a scholarly work, providing a written account of an independent investigation of an epidemiologic question or series of related epidemiologic questions. It will be in the form of a monograph, containing one or more research questions about the epidemiology of a particular health topic or disease. Within this monograph, there will be at least three separate manuscripts of publishable quality, one of which must offer a novel methodologic approach to a question in epidemiologic research. It will include the formulation of one or more hypotheses, a review of the appropriate literature, a description of the project, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, discussion of the findings, and limitations of the work. If the dissertation involves the investigation of more than one question, each question must focus on an epidemiologic or methodologic issue related to the health topic or disease under investigation. The dissertation project should demonstrate that the candidate has a command of the subject and a thorough knowledge of the research methodology used to investigate the question(s).

8.9 Non-credit requirements
8.9.1 Teaching practicum

Students in the PhD program must spend one semester providing teaching support as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for an Epidemiology or Biostatistics course. In addition to being a degree requirement for all doctoral students, the teaching experience is an opportunity to work closely with a faculty member, to review and deepen understanding of the material being taught, and to acquire and sharpen teaching skills. TAs are usually assigned to core courses in the Master of Science in Clinical Epidemiology program, but students may find teaching in one of the elective courses, or other epidemiology-related courses in other departments to be of interest as well. The Program Chair assigns TAs to courses based on course needs and student qualifications, in consultation with the course director, the student, and his/her advisor. Upon assignment, students must prepare a teaching assistance plan in writing, signed off by the course director and approved by the chair, for TA activities related to the course. This plan must be completed at least four weeks prior to the start of the course.

TA duties typically include some or all of the following:

  • Attending lectures
  • Holding office hours
  • Running lab sessions
  • Assisting in the preparation of handouts, exams and solution sets
  • Grading homework and recording the grades
  • Helping to grade exams and recording the grades
  • Coordinating access to computing facilities, online data sets, and web applications
  • Attending regular meetings with the course instructor(s).

Please note that merely serving as a grader in a course does not fulfill the TA requirement for the doctoral program. The student must make a substantive contribution to the course.

Timeliness in the completion of these duties is essential. The course instructor(s) and TA should communicate regularly to discuss duties, to share feedback from the students, and to ensure that the TA’s time is being used efficiently.

Both instructors and TAs should recognize that time pressures can vary greatly over the course of a semester. For instance, TA duties usually are light at the start of the course, heavy in the middle, and then light again toward the end (unless assistance is required grading exams).

Experience shows that grading homework and preparing and directing lab or discussion sessions are the two items that occupy most of a TA’s time, especially for first-time TAs. TAs should not hesitate to request specific direction on what to present in lab or discussion sessions. Although the success of a course is ultimately the instructor’s responsibility, students should recognize that instructors cannot be expected to solve problems that they don’t know exist. Open communication is the key to a successful teaching experience. In cases where TA duties include assisting in the grading of exams, course instructors should provide the TA with clear guidance on how to assign points. Instructors should also recognize that some students may feel awkward evaluating their peers.

The course director may provide the opportunity for the TA to prepare and deliver at least one lecture. In this case, the course director should allow the TA sufficient time to prepare the lecture and should offer any necessary guidance about what is to be covered. Whenever possible, the TA’s lecture will be videotaped and reviewed with the course director and his/her mentor in order to identify strengths and weaknesses.

To ease communication, TAs should share their e-mail addresses and mailbox locations with their students. TAs are not on call for their students; nevertheless, students should expect reasonable access to TAs, particularly in the days leading up to exams and project due dates.

8.9.2 Weekly seminar

A fundamental component of the PhD program is attendance at the weekly Center for Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics Seminar, at which faculty and researchers within and outside of Penn present their work or discuss timely issues in epidemiology. All PhD students are required to attend this seminar series weekly, unless excused due to scheduling conflicts, illness, or other reason. Excuses should be made with the Academic Coordinator, either before or as soon as possible after a missed seminar. Advanced PhD students are also welcome to present at this seminar. However, slots fill up early in the academic year, so it is best to discuss any plans to present with the advisor and the Chair of the Seminar Committee. Students are also encouraged to suggest experts from the field as potential seminar speakers to the Seminar Committee.

8.10 General program policies
8.10.1 Exemptions and modifications

Trainees may place out of the following courses if they previously attended equivalent courses: EPID 526: Biostatistics for Epidemiologic Methods I, and EPID 527: Biostatistics for Epidemiologic Methods II. The student should justify the request to place out of a course, and the request should be accompanied by reprints, abstracts from meetings, course syllabus, or other appropriate material. Such requests are made in writing as a letter to the Academic Review Committee and should be made before the end of the first semester in the program.

8.10.2 Terminal master's degree

The PhD Program in Epidemiology does not admit students for study towards a Master's degree.

8.10.3 Student memberships

All PhD students in Epidemiology are encouraged to join one or more professional societies, but especially the American College of Epidemiology as an Associate or the Society for Epidemiologic Research as a Student Member.

8.11 Facilities
8.11.1 Program web-resource

The PhD Program will use Canvas to provide student-related forms, resources and web links. These pages can be accessed by logging in to https://canvas.upenn.edu/

8.11.2 Student Space

The PhD program has space for students on the first floor of Blockley Hall with carrels and lockers. There is also wireless connectivity throughout the first floor of Blockley Hall. Administration of the carrels and locker assignments is managed by the Graduate Group Coordinator (627 Blockley Hall).