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Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. in Statistics is flexible and allows students to pursue a variety of directions, ranging from statistical methodology and interdisciplinary research to theoretical statistics and probability theory. Students typically start the Ph.D. program by taking courses and gradually transition to research that will ultimately lead to their dissertation, the most important component of the Ph.D. program.

These requirements apply to students admitted for Fall 2020 and after. Students admitted in Fall 2019 and earlier should consult the Previous Program Requirements page.

PhD Coursework:

The core PhD curriculum is divided into five areas: 

  • Methods — STATS 600 and 601

  • Practice — STATS 604

  • Statistical Theory — STATS 511, 610, 611

  • Probability — STATS 510, 620, 621

  • Computing — STATS 507, 606, 608 

All doctoral students must complete the following in their first three semesters in the program and before advancing to candidacy: 

  1. Take all methods and practice courses (600, 601, 604)

  2. Take at least two courses in the combined areas of statistical theory and probability,  including at least one course in statistical theory and at least one 600-level course 

  3. Take at least one computing course

  4. Achieve a 3.5 average grade (on the 4.0 scale used by Rackham) in 600, 601, 604, and one 600-level statistical theory or probability course

Not completing requirements 1-4 by the end of the third semester will trigger probation which, if not resolved by the end of the fourth semester, may lead to dismissal from the program.  For more details, see the link below. 

By the end of the PhD program, all students must take at least 30 credits of graduate statistics courses.    All courses from the core areas count towards this total, as well as all 600-level, 700-level, and selected additional  500-level courses with approval of the PhD Program Director. Seminars and independent study courses do not count. At least 21 credits must be at the 600 level or higher. The Rackham Graduate School requires PhD students to maintain an overall GPA of at least 3.0 to remain in good standing.   

In addition, all doctoral  students must take 3 credits of cognate courses as required by the Rackham graduate school, and two professional development seminar courses. Cognate courses are 400- and higher-level courses from outside Statistics and not cross-listed with Statistics. All cognate course selections must be approved by the PhD Program Director. The professional development courses are 

  • STATS 810, research ethics and introduction to research tools, in the first semester in the program.

  • STATS 811, technical writing in statistics. Students are strongly advised to complete this course in their second or third year.

Typical Course Schedules:

Our Ph.D. program admits students with diverse academic backgrounds. All PhD students take STATS 600/601  in their first year. Students are strongly encouraged to take STATS 604 in their second year (Stats 600 is a prerequisite).  

Students with less mathematical preparation typically take STATS 510/511 (the Master’s level probability and statistical theory) in their first year and 600-level probability and/or statistical theory courses in their second year.    

Advanced students, for example those with a Master’s degree, typically do not need to take 510/511, and in some cases may skip 610 and 621. Students who wish to take 600-level probability and statistical theory courses in their first year must take a placement test just before the fall semester of their first year to get approved. The PhD Program Director will help each student choose their individual path towards completing the requirements.  

Some typical sample schedules are listed below. In most cases, we do not recommend taking more than three full-load courses per semester (not counting seminars).

Sample schedule 1:

  Fall Semester Winter Semester
Year 1 510, 600, 507, 810 511, 601, 606 or 608 or 620 or cognate
Year 2 604, 610 and/or 621 and/or cognate 620 or 611 or elective; 606 or 608 or cognate

Sample schedule 2:

  Fall Semester Winter Semester
Year 1 600, 610 and/or 612, 810, 507 601, 611 and/or 620, 606 or 608 or cognate
Year 2 604; elective; cognate 606 or 608; elective;cognate

Advancing to Candidacy:

Students are expected to find a faculty advisor and start research leading to their dissertation proposal no later than the summer after their first year. The PhD Program Director and the faculty mentor assigned to each first year student can assist with finding a faculty advisor. Students are expected to submit a dissertation proposal and advance to candidacy some time during their second or third year in the program.   

Requirements for advancing to candidacy are:

  • Satisfying Requirements 1-4

  • Completing at least 3 credit hours of cognate courses

  • Writing a dissertation proposal and passing the oral preliminary exam, which consists of presenting the proposal to the student's preliminary thesis committee

A dissertation proposal should identify an interesting research problem, provide motivation for studying it, review the relevant literature, propose an approach for solving the problem​, and present at least some preliminary results​. The written proposal must be submitted to the preliminary thesis committee and the graduate coordinator a​head of time (one week minimum, two weeks recommended)​ and then presented in the oral preliminary exam. The preliminary thesis committee is chaired by the faculty advisor and must include at least two more faculty members, at least one of them from Statistics. ​​The faculty on the preliminary thesis committee typically continue t​o serve ​on ​the doctoral thesis committee​​, but changes are allowed.  Please see Rackham rules on thesis committees for more information.  

At the oral preliminary exam, the committee will ask questions about the proposal and the relevant background and either elect to accept the proposal as both substantial and feasible, ask for specific revisions, or decline the proposal. The unanimous approval of the proposal by the committee is necessary for the student to advance to candidacy.

Additional Information:

Students are encouraged to complete the bulk of their coursework beyond Requirements 1-4 in the first two years of study.  Candidates are allowed to take only one course per semester without an increase in tuition.

All PhD students are expected to register for Stats 808/809  (Department Seminar) every semester unless restricted by candidacy, and attend the seminar regularly regardless of whether they are registered.  

Exceptions to the PhD program requirements may be granted by the PhD Program Director.

Annual Report:

Each candidate is required to meet with the members of their thesis committee annually. This could be in the form of either giving a short presentation on their research progress to the thesis committee as a group, or meeting with committee members individually.

Each committee member should complete a Thesis Committee Member Report and return it to the student. The student should share the completed Thesis Committee Member Reports with both the PhD Program Coordinator and their advisor.

All meetings with the committee members should take place by April 15.

Following the meetings, the student and the advisor should complete the Annual PhD Candidate Self-Evaluation and Feedback Form. The advisor should review the committee members’ Thesis Committee Member Reports and take them into account when completing the advisor’s portion. The completed Annual PhD Candidate Self-Evaluation and Advisor Feedback Form must be submitted to the PhD Program Coordinator by May 31. The completed form will be saved with the department, and a copy will be shared with the student.

Dissertation and Defense:

Each doctoral student is expected to write a dissertation that makes a substantial and original contribution to statistics or a closely related field. This is the most important element of the doctoral program. After advancing to candidacy, students are expected to focus on their thesis research under the supervision of the thesis advisor and the doctoral committee. The composition of the doctoral committee must follow the Rackham's guidelines for dissertation committee service. The written dissertation is submitted to the committee for evaluation and presented in an oral defense open to the public.

Rackham Requirements:

The Rackham Graduate School imposes some additional requirements concerning residency, fees, and time limits. Students are expected to know and comply with these requirements.


Advancing to Candidacy Checklist
Embedded Master Checklist
PhD Graduation Checklist