Students seeking a doctorate in biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis will focus on seven overlapping research programs that represent frontier areas of biomedical engineering and leverage the existing strengths of our current faculty and resources.
Our core faculty and more than 70 affiliated faculty work together in interdisciplinary research centers and pathways offering students the opportunity to learn in a diverse and rich spectrum of biomedical engineering research areas.
Students pursuing the PhD in biomedical engineering must complete a core curriculum, fulfill a distribution requirement, satisfactorily complete two research rotations, pass the qualifying examination, pass the thesis proposal, complete the teaching requirement, complete one accepted first author publication and complete a research dissertation.
Joint MD/PhD Program
The MD/PhD in biomedical engineering, given jointly with the top-ranked School of Medicine, gives students in-depth training in modern biomedical research and clinical medicine. The typical MD/PhD career combines patient care and biomedical research but leans toward research.
Students pursuing the combined MD/PhD in biomedical engineering must complete the degree requirements for both schools. MD/PhD students typically complete the first two years of the medical school pre-clinical curriculum while performing one or more research rotations, then the remaining requirements for the doctoral degree, and finally the clinical training years of the medical degree. The department generally gives graduate course credits for some of the medical school courses toward fulfillment of course requirements for the PhD degree. This is arranged on an individual basis between the student, his or her academic adviser and the director of doctoral studies.
The doctoral degree requires a minimum of 72 credits beyond the bachelor's level, with a minimum of 36 consisting of course credits (including the core curriculum) and a minimum of 24 credits of doctoral dissertation research.
The core curriculum that must be satisfied by all PhD students consists of the following:
- One graduate-level course in life sciences
- One graduate-level course in mathematics
- One graduate-level course in computer science or exemption by proficiency
- Four BME courses from the approved list
The core requirements represent six to seven courses, with a total of nine graduate courses required for the PhD. Up to nine units of BME 601C Research Rotation and/or BME 501C Graduate Seminar may be counted towards the 36 units of graduate coursework required for the PhD. Up to two 400-level courses may be counted towards the nine courses of graduate coursework required for the PhD (not including independent study courses, journal clubs or seminar-based courses).
Each entering student is guided by the director of Doctoral Studies. The director will help in the selection of courses and in the selection rotations with the aim of matching an individual's research interests with those of a research mentor.
As a student progresses through the doctoral program, the advisor's role is replaced by the dissertation mentor to reflect the increasing focus on an area of specialization. By the time research is completed, students will have assembled an advisory group consisting of their dissertation committee.
Research rotations serve three important purposes:
- Provide an opportunity for each student to be exposed to different areas of biomedical engineering research. This broadening experience, prior to the subsequent necessary specialization, should prove to be useful as their careers develop.
- Serve as an introduction for both students and potential research mentors for the long-term affiliation that is associated with a doctoral dissertation research.
- The field of research represented in one rotation report serves as the basis for the qualifying examination.
While also enrolled in classes, within the first year of matriculation, students are required to complete one, two or three research rotations — each typically lasting one semester — by the end of their first full year of enrollment. The rotations can be performed under the mentorship of any of the graduate group faculty — core BME faculty and affiliated faculty. A written report, co-signed by the rotation mentor signifying completion of the rotation, is required at the end of each rotation. A third rotation early in the summer is optional.
Qualifying Exam and Thesis Proposal
No later than the end of the first year of enrollment in the doctoral program, students are required to take and pass both written and oral qualifying examinations. The written portion consists of one of the rotation reports, while the oral portion covers the fields of research encompassed by the research done in the rotation.
A written and oral thesis proposal normally should be completed within two years of completion of the qualifying exam. The thesis committee must meet annually, however, so the thesis committee must be formed within one year of passing the qualifying exam. The members of the thesis committee may change as the research topic evolves.
Doctoral students serve as assistants to instructors for one semester after they have passed their qualifying examinations. Those desiring an academic career are strongly encouraged to spend at least one additional semester (with the permission of their thesis mentor) as an assistant to instructors in one of the department's undergraduate courses.
After the thesis proposal is approved, no later than two years after successfully completing the qualifying examination, dissertation research occupies the bulk of the student's effort. Upon completion of the dissertation, students will defend the dissertation. At the time of the defense, the student will have acceptance of one first-author (or co-first author) paper and submission of a second manuscript in a peer-reviewed journal. After this defense, presentation to and acceptance by the registrar's office of the final dissertation completes the degree requirements.
Performance Review, Probation and Dismissal
All students in the PhD program are expected to satisfy the academic performance requirements of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which can be found in the Graduate School Bulletin's General Requirements section.
In addition, all doctoral students are expected to satisfy the department's additional academic performance requirements, which are described as written in the "Policies and Regulations Governing Doctoral Students in the Department of Biomedical Engineering" manual.
Department specific criteria for satisfactory academic progress are available to view or download online.
All doctoral students are required to attend a weekly research seminar sponsored by the department (or with permission, an affiliated department), which is a pass/fail course carrying zero or one unit. Up to three units of BME 501C: Graduate Seminar may be counted towards the 36 units course requirement. These seminars provide exposure to state-of-the-art research by scientists both within and outside of WashU. Regular attendance over the duration of a student's tenure provides an invaluable educational experience.
Many laboratories sponsor a journal club, whose purpose is to critically analyze recent journal publications of interest to investigators in that field. Students and postdoctoral fellows conducting research in that laboratory, as well as those who are rotating through that laboratory, are required to attend these sessions. Generally, a student volunteers to read and present a recent paper of wide interest. Questions from faculty and other students bring out the significance of the paper's findings and possible weaknesses in its arguments.
Journal Club is an important stepping stone as a student moves into the research phase of their doctoral program. In particular, it provides excellent preparation for the dissertation defense.