The Statistics PhD Program

1. Principles

The Statistics PhD program is rigorous, yet welcoming to students with interdisciplinary interests and different levels of preparation. The program requires four semesters of residence. Normal progress entails:

Year 1. Perform satisfactorily in preliminary course work. In the summer, students are required to embark on a short-term research project, internship, graduate student instructorship, reading course, or on another research activity.

Years 2-3. Continue course work. Serve as a Graduate Student Instructor.  Find an area for the oral qualifying exam and a potential thesis advisor. Pass the oral qualifying exam during the spring semester of Year 2, or in the fall semester of Year 3. Advance to candidacy.

Year 3. Find a thesis topic and show progress. 

Years 4-5. Finish the thesis, and give a lecture based on it in a department seminar. 

Advising. The department has a PhD Program Committee chaired by the Head Graduate Advisor. Each student must obtain approval for his course plan from a member of the PhD Program Committee. On arrival, each student will be assigned a faculty mentor and an advanced graduate student as a second mentor. Faculty mentors will serve as student advisors and advocates.

2. Course work and evaluation

2.1 Preliminary stage: The first year

During the first year, students are normally expected to take four semester long graduate level courses. At least three of these should be from the seven core PhD courses in Probability (205A, 205B, 204), Theoretical Statistics (210A, 210B), and Applied Statistics (215A, 215B). These requirements can be altered by a member of the PhD Program Committee (in consultation with the faculty mentor) in the following cases:

  • For students with strong interests in another discipline, when the faculty mentor recommends delaying one core PhD course to the second year and substituting a relevant graduate course from another department.
  • For students needing additional mathematical preparation, they could take Math 105 (and Math H104, if needed) in the first year, and only take two of the core PhD courses during that year, thus delaying one or two core PhD courses to the second year.
  • Students arriving with advanced standing, having done successful graduate course work at another institution prior to joining the program.

Instructors of core PhD courses will be asked, in addition to the course letter grade, to provide a short paragraph on each student's progress, with a numerical summary between 0 and 100. The summary will be based in part on a final examination taken either in the official campus examination period or in class. (This does not exclude also having a take-home exam). The following list indicates the meaning of the numerical summaries and relates them to letter grades:

  • 95-100: Excellent performance in PhD program (Letter grade A to A+) 
  • 90-95: Good performance in PhD program (Letter grade A) 
  • 85-90: Satisfactory performance (Typically, letter grade A- to A) 
  • 80-85: Performance marginal, needs improvement (Typically, B+) 
  • < 80: Unsatisfactory performance (Typically, letter grade B and lower)

2.2 Evaluation

At the end of each semester, the PhD Program Committee will meet to assess progress of all students who have not yet passed the preliminary stage. The progress of more advanced students will be evaluated annually. Information will be collected from course instructors, thesis advisors, faculty and graduate student mentors, and instructors who have the student as a GSI. Before advancing to candidacy, satisfactory progress will be based on course work. 

After one year in the program, the committee will decide: if the student has passed the preliminary stage of the program, or if the decision is reserved until the end of the second year. To continue in the program, students must pass the preliminary stage by the end of their second year. 

Each semester, the Head Graduate Advisor will communicate the PhD Program Committee's assessment of progress to each student, in addition to advice on course programs. 

2.3 Further course work

In their second year, students are required to take three graduate courses, at least two of them from the department offerings, and in their third year, they are required to take at least two graduate courses. Students are required to take for credit a total of 24 semester hours of courses in the department numbered 204-272 inclusive. A member of the PhD Program Committee (in consultation with the faculty mentor) may consent to substitute courses at a comparable level in other disciplines for some of these departmental graduate courses. In addition, the committee member may waive part of this unit requirement. From the second year until graduation, each student is expected to attend at least one departmental seminar per week (i.e., missing at most two meetings per semester.) Students are expected to acquire some experience and proficiency in computing. 

3. Further guidance on course work

3.1 For students primarily interested in Statistics

Such students would normally take 205AB or 204 and one of the core sequences 210AB, 215AB in the first year. Less mathematically prepared students might take Math 105 or Math H104 and 105. During the second year, the remaining core sequence would normally be completed. The curriculum for the first two years would be filled out with further graduate courses in Statistics and with courses from other departments. The precise program of study will be decided in consultation with a member of the PhD Program Committee and the Faculty Mentor. 

Remark. Students taking Stat 204 in the fall semester, who wish to continue in Stat 205B in the spring, can do so (after obtaining the approval of the 205B instructor), by taking an intensive one month reading course over winter break. 

3.2 Designated Emphases

Students in the program of Designated Emphasis in Computational and Genomic Biology or the Designated Emphasis in Communication, Computation, and Statistics, should, like other statistics students, acquire a firm foundation in statistics and probability, with a program of study similar to those above. These programs have additional requirements as well. Interested students should consult with the graduate advisors of these programs. 

3.3 Probability

Students intending to specialize in Probability will be required to take Stat 205AB in the first year, and at least one of Stat 210A and Stat 215A in the first two years. They are expected to take advanced probability courses (e.g., Stat 206 and Stat 260) offered during their second and third years. If they are not sufficiently familiar with measure theory and functional analysis, then they should take Math 202B, and if needed, Math 202A. Other recommended courses from the department of Mathematics or EECS include: 

  • Math 204, 222 (ODE, PDE)
  • Math 205 (Complex Analysis)
  • Math 258 (Classical harmonic analysis)
  • EE 229 (Information Theory and Coding)
  • CS 271 (Randomness and computation)

4. The Qualifying Examination and the Thesis

The oral qualifying examination is meant to determine whether the student is ready to enter the research phase of graduate studies. It consists of a 50-minute lecture by the student on a topic selected jointly by the student and the thesis advisor; the topic must be approved by the Head Graduate Advisor and the Graduate Council. The examination committee consists of four faculty members approved by the Graduate Division, three from the Statistics Department and one who is not. The student's prospective thesis advisor cannot chair the examination committee.

Paperwork. In order to apply to take the exam, the student must submit the Application for the Qualifying Exam via CalCentral at least three weeks prior to the exam. After passing the exam, the student must submit the Application for Candidacy. See the Student Affairs Officer for details. If the student passes the exam, he or she can then officially advance to candidacy for the Ph.D. If the student fails the exam, the committee may vote to allow a second attempt. Regulations of the Graduate Division permit at most two attempts to pass the oral qualifying exam.

The Doctoral Thesis. The Ph.D. degree is granted upon completion of an original thesis acceptable to a committee of two departmental faculty and an outside member. The thesis should be presented at an appropriate seminar in the department prior to filing with the Dean of the Graduate Division. See Alumni if you would like to view thesis titles of former PhD Students.

Graduate Division offers various resources, including a workshop, on how to write a thesis, from beginning to end. Requirements for the format of the thesis are rather strict. For workshop dates and guidelines for submitting a dissertation, visit the Graduate Division website.

The Master's Degree. A student in the PhD program may obtain a Masters degree before completion of the PhD. To obtain an M.A., the student must meet the requirements of the Masters program.

5. Teaching Requirement

For students enrolled in the graduate program before Fall 2016, students are required to serve as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for a minimum of 20 hours (equivalent to a 50% GSI appointment) during a regular academic semester by the end of their third year in the program.

Effective with the Fall 2016 entering class, students are required to serve as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for a minimum of two regular academic semesters and complete at least 40 hours prior to graduation (20 hours is equivalent to a 50% GSI appointment for a semester) for Statistics courses numbered 150 and above. 


Student matters:

A lot of information is also available from our very active Statistics Graduate Students Association (SGSA):

You can also find comments from former students here.

Last revised October 2016