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PhD Program Details

Students completing our PhD program will be well-prepared for a job in industry, government or academia.  The program has an expected completion time of 4-5 years.

Overview of activities in the PhD program

  • During the first year, students take a full load of courses.  In subsequent years, students take courses appropriate to help their research and to broaden their knowledge.
  • In the first year, all PhD students take the Qualifying Course, a reading course that serves as a qualifying exam.
  • Students learn about research in statistics through course work, the Qualifying Course, attending department seminars and, when possible, becoming involved with projects with faculty members. During the first year in particular, students begin to identify a possible thesis research area.
  • The PhD Comprehensive Exam must be taken by the end of the second year of the program.  This exam lays the groundwork for the PhD thesis, which consists of independent original research.
  • After completion of the Comprehensive Exam and course requirements, the student is formally admitted to Candidacy.
  • The student discusses thesis progress regularly with the thesis supervisor (typically every week) and with the Supervisory Committee (typically once a semester).
  • Throughout the program, students are encouraged to write up their research for submission to statistical journals. Note that having a publication record is a great asset when applying for an academic position during the final year of PhD studies.
  • Near the end of thesis completion, the student presents work at the Department Seminar.
  • After completion of the thesis, the student must successfully defend the thesis in the Final Doctoral Examination.


PhD students are required to take

  • the statistical consulting sequence, STAT 550 and 551,
  • the year long qualifying course,
  • at least 9 credits of graduate level coursework to insure a broad exposure to statistics at the graduate level.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of the educational opportunities at UBC by taking additional statistics courses and to consider graduate courses in other departments where statistical methods play an important role. With the approval of the Graduate Advisor, courses taken outside of the department may be counted toward the 9 credits listed above.

PhD Thesis

A PhD thesis consists of original research, conducted independently by the student with guidance from a faculty supervisor and a Supervisory Committee. The student can choose his/her own thesis topic and find an appropriate Supervisory Committee, or decide on a topic after choosing a supervisor.

Deciding on a PhD topic requires thought and exploration; the ideal topic is something one is very interested in and wants to spend all of one's time researching. During the first year of the program, the student should be thinking about potential thesis areas and topics.  A good way to do this is to become familiar with the research of faculty members, via the department website, through the Qualifying Course, by attending seminars, by taking graduate courses from various faculty members in the first year and by talking to individual faculty members.

Doing PhD research has its challenges, since original research is quite different from coursework where the homework typically consists of "solved" problems.  One way to learn about research is to talk to and possibly work with several faculty members on their current research projects. By working on these projects, you may learn about mathematical, statistical and computing tools not seen in coursework. If you are helpful on these projects, then benefits would be research assistantships and co-authored research publications.

Qualifying Process

The department's PhD Qualifying Process allows the student to work one-on-one with individual faculty members, studying papers in the faculty members' areas of interest, to get some idea of what it is like to carry out research and to learn about his/her strengths and weaknesses and interests.  There is no  'sit-down' exam, but rather a year long course, taken in the first year of the program.  In the course, each student chooses and reads five research papers from lists posted by faculty members.  The faculty member specifies the types of things the student should do after reading the paper.  The student writes a report on these activities and submits it to the faculty member.

At the end of the first year, Statistics faculty assess each student's work in the Qualifying Course and in other courses and activities to determine if the student is capable of proceeding through the PhD program.

Learn more about the Qualifying Course and this year's list of papers.

Comprehensive Exam

Normally, within the first two years of entering the program, the student writes a thesis research proposal (20-50 pages) and presents it in the Comprehensive Exam.   The Comprehensive Exam consists of a half hour student presentation followed by questions from the Comprehensive Exam Committee.   Through this process, the Committee assesses the student's ability to carry out research - both the research presented and research in general.   Also, the Committee may suggest additional approaches for the thesis research and relevant skills that the student should develop to be successful.

Learn more about the Comprehensive Exam here.

Supervisory Committee

A thesis Supervisory Committee consisting of at least three faculty members must be formed promptly following the successful completion of the Comprehensive Exam.  Often, members of the Comprehensive Committee are members of the Supervisory Committee.  The department's Graduate Advisor should be informed of the composition of the Supervisory Committee once it is formed, and of any subsequent changes to the Supervisory Committee.

Defense and Completion of Program

PhD students are required to make a presentation based on their completed work in a Department Seminar before submission of the thesis for external review. At the conclusion of the PhD program, the student must successfully defend a written thesis at an oral examination.

Find out more about the UBC doctoral examination regulations.