Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Bioengineering

Bioengineering student in optics lab

The PhD Degree is the most advanced degree UW Bioengineering students can earn. Students come to this multidisciplinary biomedical research and engineering program from a wide array of backgrounds, including (but not limited to) bioengineering, chemical engineering, chemistry, physics, biology, computer science and electrical engineering.

Graduates of the program demonstrate high achievement in bioengineering, and excel in intellectual leadership and independence as a scientific researcher. To earn the PhD, students must take rigorous courses inside and outside the department and complete an original, independent research project. PhD students must successfully complete three major examinations: the Qualifying Examination, the General Examination and the Final Examination (dissertation defense).

We invite you to invent the future of medicine with us. Learn more about applying to the UW Bioengineering Ph.D. program.

About the Program

Normally, the program can be completed in five years. A student progressing well and on schedule can expect to meet the following milestones:

  1. First Year – Complete 1 or 2 lab rotations (with the option of a third) and select a thesis advisor no later than the end of Spring Quarter.
  2. Second Year – Continue to conduct research and pass the Qualifying Exam before the end of Spring Quarter.
  3. Third Year – Form a Supervisory Committee by the end of Autumn Quarter. Have Academic Plan reviewed by the committee within one quarter of establishing the committee. Pass the General Exam before the end of Summer Quarter.
  4. Fourth/Fifth Year – Make an annual progress report to the Supervisory Committee and receive feedback from committee. Defend the dissertation and graduate.

Qualifying Examination

This is the first test, after admission, of a Bioengineering student’s potential for a successful career in original bioengineering research at the doctoral level. The Qualifying Exam is designated to evaluate a student’s scientific knowledge, research, presentation skills, creativity and time management. This exam is taken before the end of the second year (Spring Quarter). The exam determines whether the student should continue in the doctoral program.

During the exam a subset of the faculty assesses the student’s research proficiency and innovation, progress toward mastery of the chosen field, general knowledge, ability to do focused work, oral and written communication skills, common sense and potential as a researcher. Students must pass the qualifying examination to remain in the PhD program. The exam consists of two parts:

1. Written portion
The written portion is in two parts. One part of the written exam will assess the student’s research progress. The second part is written in response to the NIH Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant Award (R21) proposal.

2. Oral portion

The oral portion tests oral communication skills, depth of knowledge of the independent research project, innovation of the R-21 proposal topic, and breadth of knowledge of bioengineering as a discipline.

General Examination

The General Examination is used to determine the soundness, significance and originality of the student’s research project, as well as test the clarity and thoroughness of the student’s understanding. The examination provides an opportunity for the student to justify his/her research vision, describe the initial experimental plan, and present preliminary data demonstrating feasibility of the project. The examination also affords an opportunity to correct deficiencies in the student’s overall educational program that become evident during the course of the exam. Passing the examination advances the student to PhD or doctoral candidacy status.

The General Exam should be completed no less than three quarters before the Final Examination, but it is strongly advised that it be scheduled as early as possible, preferably about one year after passing the Qualifying Examination. The Supervisory Committee will expect sufficient preliminary research to assess the likelihood of successful completion of the PhD.

Final Examination

The final examination occurs when the Supervisory Committee agrees that the student’s research is complete. The examination is the oral defense of the student’s doctoral dissertation. The dissertation demonstrates that its author has completed an original and independent investigation of a significant problem. The dissertation reflects the student’s competence to deal with a significant research problem, to understand its position in the field of bioengineering, to glean significant information from the work done, and to master the techniques necessary to extract, interpret and use the data that come from the work. The dissertation provides evidence that the student can recognize an important problem, acquire the data to answer the questions posted within that problem, and extend the results of the answered questions to other problems of significance.

First-Year Advising

First-year students are assigned a preliminary faculty advisor from the appropriate research theme and then prepare a preliminary plan of study. To ensure that adequate progress is made, first-year students are expected to meet with the preliminary faculty advisor as needed. Quarterly meetings are recommended for students who are still involved in substantial course work, in order to select an appropriate study plan.

Research Advisor

Once a student identifies a specific laboratory to work in, the faculty member of that lab will become the primary research advisor. The advisor assumes primary responsibility for guiding the student toward academic and professional goals and provides dissertation direction. Once a research advisor is identified, the student notifies the Senior Academic Counselor and the preliminary advisor.

Supervisory Committee

The student, in consultation with the research advisor, assembles a Supervisory Committee, which the research advisor will chair. The committee reviews academic performance and oversees progress according to guidelines established by the Department and the Graduate School. The committee should meet at least yearly to monitor progress. The committee also administers and assesses the general and final examinations.

The committee should consist of at least four members, including the research advisor as committee chair and a Graduate School faculty representative. At least two members must be part of the Bioengineering core faculty.

At least 18 credits must be graded at the 400-500 level. 18 credits must be 500-level.

In addition to the required courses, students must complete 1-2 laboratory rotations and 1 Teaching Assistantship.

Requirements in effect effective Autumn 2012 Requirements in effect 2006-2011
BIOEN 530: Literature Analysis (2 credits, CR/NC)
BIOEN 531: Proposal Writing (2 credits)
BIOEN 532: Professional Skills Development
(1 credit, CR/NC)
BIOEN 501: Molecular Bioengineering (4 credits)
BIOEN 502: Cellular Bioengineering (4 credits)
BIOEN 503: Systems Bioengineering (4 credits)
BIOEN 510: Introduction to Bioengineering (1 credit)
STAT or BIOSTAT Requirement (1 course of the following, 2 – 4 credits):
BIOEN 599, BIOSTAT 517, 524 or STAT 502, 504, 512 or UCONJ 510
STAT or BIOSTAT Requirement (1 course of the following, 2 – 4 credits):
BIOEN 599, BIOSTAT 517, 524 or STAT 502, 504, 512 or UCONJ 510
25 credits of research-related electives.

  • 18 credits within 4 of 5 BIOE Themes
    • 9 credits in “Focus Theme/Advanced CR”
    • 9 credits in 3 of 4 remaining themes (3 CR/theme)
  • 7 Additional Electives (not required to be research related)
  • 3 can be CR/NC
16 credits of research-related electives selected in consultation with faculty advisor. At least one course must be at the graduate level.