Candidacy for the Doctoral Degree, Doctoral Committee, and the Doctoral Dissertation

To qualify for admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree, a doctoral trainee must have completed formal coursework with a 3.3 QPA or higher, passed the doctoral comprehensive examination, and received approval of the proposed subject and plan for the dissertation from his/her dissertation committee following a Dissertation Proposal Meeting (also called the Dissertation Prospectus Meeting). Note that 18 credits of dissertation study must be completed after completion of coursework.


The Dissertation Committee usually includes the principal dissertation advisor (responsible for oversight of thee trainee’s dissertation research; also referred to as the “major advisor”) and three additional members.  The dissertation advisor cannot act as the Dissertation Committee Chair (responsible for administrative oversight and the final oral examination): this position must be filled by another committee member. The majority of the committee, including those members filling the roles of the dissertation advisor and the committee Chair, must have Graduate Faculty status. A majority of the committee must be Biomedical Informatics Core Faculty. A minimum of one Graduate Faculty member from the University community who is not a member of the trainee’s training program must participate on the committee. The dissertation committee must be approved by the Director of the training program prior to seeking approval from the Graduate Dean (signed nomination of a doctoral dissertation committee form). Only upon this approval may the trainee meet with his/her committee at their Dissertation Proposal Meeting and proceed with Admission to Candidacy. This doctoral committee has the responsibility to advise the trainee during the progress of the candidate’s research and has the authority to require high quality research and/or the rewriting of any portion or the entire dissertation. It conducts the final oral examination and determines whether the dissertation meets acceptable standards. 

The Dissertation Advisor has the responsibility for primary oversight of the progress of the candidate’s research. The Dissertation Committee Chair will arrange the dates of the proposal and meetings  of the committee (at least 1/year) well in advance, will oversee submission of all documents and forms requiring committee approval and signatures, and will coordinate and communicate all other matters related to the process of the dissertation in accordance to these guidelines. The Training Program Coordinator is available to assist the Chair in this process. An appropriate dissertation project involves a substantive piece of original and independent biomedical informatics research, grounded in an appropriate body of literature and providing a significant contribution to the field.  


The dissertation proposal must be reviewed and approved by the committee, in the Dissertation Proposal Meeting. The proposal meeting can be held after the comprehensive examination, and involves the presentation of the background work, specific aims, and a concrete plan to accomplish those aims.  These components will be described in the Dissertation Proposal, which must be provided to the committee at least two weeks before the Proposal Meeting.  During that meeting, the trainee will generally spend 45-60 minutes presenting the proposed work, followed by a brief question and answer with any attendees, followed by closed session with the committee.  The dissertation must be approved by the committee, through completion of appropriate forms. If the proposal is deemed insufficient, the committee can withhold approval and request a revised proposal and presentation. 

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation must be successfully defended in a public oral defense.  The dissertation process will follow the applicable regulations and procedures of the University and the School of Medicine, as described in the Regulations Governing Graduate Study at the University of Pittsburgh (see www.gradstudents.pitt.edu/).

University policy requires submission of dissertations in electronic form for the doctoral degree.  

To view format guidelines for electronic thesis and dissertation preparation at the University of
Pittsburgh, visit: https://etd.pitt.edu/sites/default/files/documents/ETDformat.pdf.