PhD Program information

PhD Program information


The Statistics PhD program is rigorous, yet welcoming to students with interdisciplinary interests and different levels of preparation. Students in the PhD program take core courses on the theory and application of probability and statistics during their first year. The second year typically includes additional course work and a transition to research leading to a dissertation. PhD thesis topics are diverse and varied, reflecting the scope of faculty research interests. Many students are involved in interdisciplinary research. Students may also have the option to pursue a designated emphasis (DE) which is an interdisciplinary specialization: Designated Emphasis in Computational and Genomic BiologyDesignated Emphasis in Computational Precision HealthDesignated Emphasis in Computational and Data Science and Engineering. The program requires four semesters of residence.

Normal progress entails:

Year 1. Perform satisfactorily in preliminary coursework. 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 coursework. Find a thesis advisor and an area for the oral qualifying exam. Formally choose a chair for qualifying exam committee, who will also serve as faculty mentor separate from the thesis advisor.  Pass the oral qualifying exam and advance to candidacy by the end of Year 3. Present research at BSTARS each year.

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

Program Requirements


Course work and evaluation

Preliminary stage: The first year

Effective Fall 2019, students are expected to take four semester-long courses for a letter grade during their first year which should be selected from the core first-year PhD courses offered in the department: Probability (204/205A, 205B,), 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 and by submitting a graduate student petition) in the following cases:

  • Students primarily focused on probability will be allowed to substitute one semester of the four required semester-long courses with an appropriate course from outside the department.
  • Students may request to postpone one semester of the core PhD courses and complete it in the second year, in which case they must take a relevant graduate course in their first year in its place. In all cases, students must complete the first year requirements in their second year as well as maintain the overall expectations of second year coursework, described below. Some examples in which such a request might be approved are described in the course guidance below.
  • Students arriving with advanced standing, having completed equivalent coursework at another institution prior to joining the program, may be allowed to take other relevant graduate courses at UC Berkeley to satisfy some or all of the first year requirements

Requirements on course work beyond the first year

Students entering the program before 2022 are required to take five additional graduate courses beyond the four required in the first year, resulting in a total of nine graduate courses required for completion of their PhD. 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 allowed to change the timing of these five courses with approval of their faculty mentor. Of the nine required graduate courses, students are required to take for credit a total of 24 semester hours of courses offered by the Statistics department numbered 204-272 inclusive. The Head Graduate Advisor (in consultation with the faculty mentor and after submission of a graduate student petition) may consent to substitute courses at a comparable level in other disciplines for some of these departmental graduate courses. In addition, the HGA may waive part of this unit requirement.

Starting with the cohort entering in the 2022-23 academic year, students are required to take at least three additional graduate courses beyond the four required in the first year, resulting in a total of seven graduate courses required for completion of their PhD. Of the seven required graduate courses, five of these courses must be from courses offered by the Statistics department and numbered 204-272, inclusive. With these reduced requirements, there is an expectation of very few waivers from the HGA. We emphasize that these are minimum requirements, and we expect that students will take additional classes of interest, for example on a S/U basis, to further their breadth of knowledge. 

For courses to count toward the coursework requirements students must receive at least a B+ in the course (courses taken S/U do not count, except for STAT 272 which is only offered S/U).  Courses that are research credits, directed study, reading groups, or departmental seminars do not satisfy coursework requirements (for courses offered by the Statistics department the course should be numbered 204-272 to satisfy the requirements). Upper-division undergraduate courses in other departments can be counted toward course requirements with the permission of the Head Graduate Advisor. This will normally only be approved if the courses provide necessary breadth in an application area relevant to the student’s thesis research.


First year course work: For the purposes of satisfactory progression in the first year, grades in the core PhD courses are evaluated as:

A+: Excellent performance in PhD program

A: Good performance in PhD program

A-: Satisfactory performance

B+: Performance marginal, needs improvement

B: Unsatisfactory performance

First year and beyond: At the end of each year, students must meet with his or her faculty mentor to review their progress and assess whether the student is meeting expected milestones. The result of this meeting should be the completion of the student’s annual review form, signed by the mentor (available here). If the student has a thesis advisor, the thesis advisor must also sign the annual review form.

Guidance on choosing course work

For students primarily interested in Statistics

Choice of courses in the first year: Students enrolling in the fall of 2019 or later are required to take four semesters of the core PhD courses, at least three of which must be taken in their first year. Students have two options for how to schedule their four core courses:

  • Option 1 -- Complete Four Core Courses in 1st year: In this option, students would take four core courses in the first year, usually finishing the complete sequence of two of the three sequences.  Students following this option who are primarily interested in statistics would normally take the 210A,B sequence (Theoretical Statistics) and then one of the 205A,B sequence (Probability) or the 215A,B sequence (Applied Statistics), based on their interests, though students are allowed to mix and match, where feasible. Students who opt for taking the full 210AB sequence in the first year should be aware that 210B requires some graduate-level probability concepts that are normally introduced in 205A (or 204).
  • Option 2 -- Postponement of one semester of a core course to the second year: In this option, students would take three of the core courses in the first year plus another graduate course, and take the remaining core course in their second year. An example would be a student who wanted to take courses in each of the three sequences. Such a student could take the full year of one sequence and the first semester of another sequence in the first year, and the first semester of the last sequence in the second year (e.g. 210A, 215AB in the first year, and then 204 or 205A in the second year). This would also be a good option for students who would prefer to take 210A and 215A in their first semester but are concerned about their preparation for 210B in the spring semester.  Similarly, a student with strong interests in another discipline, might postpone one of the spring core PhD courses to the second year in order to take a course in that discipline in the first year.  Students who are less mathematically prepared might also be allowed to take the upper division (under-graduate) courses Math 104 and/or 105 in their first year in preparation for 205A and/or 210B in their second year. Students who wish to take this option should consult with their faculty mentor, and then must submit a graduate student petition to the PhD Committee to request permission for  postponement. Such postponement requests will be generally approved for only one course. At all times, students must take four approved graduate courses for a letter grade in their first year.

After the first year: Students with interests primarily in statistics are expected to take at least one semester of each of the core PhD sequences during their studies. Therefore at least one semester (if not both semesters) of the remaining core sequence would normally be completed during the second year. The remaining curriculum for the second and third years would be filled out with further graduate courses in Statistics and with courses from other departments. Students are expected to acquire some experience and proficiency in computing. Students are also expected to attend at least one departmental seminar per week. The precise program of study will be decided in consultation with the student’s faculty mentor.

Remark. Stat 204 is a graduate level probability course that is an alternative to 205AB series that covers probability concepts most commonly found in the applications of probability. It is not taught all years, but does fulfill the requirements of the first year core PhD courses. Students taking Stat 204, who wish to continue in Stat 205B, can do so (after obtaining the approval of the 205B instructor), by taking an intensive one month reading course over winter break.

Designated Emphasis: Students with a Designated Emphasis in Computational and Genomic Biology or Designated Emphasis in Computational and Data Science and Engineering 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 advisor of these programs. 

For students primarily interested in Probability

Starting in the Fall of 2019, PhD students are required in their first year to take four semesters of the core PhD courses. Students intending to specialize in Probability, however, have the option to substitute an advanced mathematics class for one of these four courses. Such students will thus be required to take Stat 205A/B in the first year,  at least one of Stat 210A/B or Stat 215A/B in the first year, in addition to an advanced mathematics course. This substitute course will be selected in consultation with their faculty mentor, with some possible courses suggested below. Students arriving with advanced coursework equivalent to that of 205AB can obtain permission to substitute in other advanced probability and mathematics coursework during their first year, and should consult with the PhD committee for such a waiver.

During their second and third years, students with a probability focus are expected to take advanced probability courses (e.g., Stat 206 and Stat 260) to fulfill the coursework requirements that follow the first year. Students are also expected to attend at least one departmental seminar per week, usually the probability seminar. If they are not sufficiently familiar with measure theory and functional analysis, then they should take one or both of Math 202A and Math 202B. 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)

The Qualifying Examination 

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 examination committee consists of at least four faculty members to be approved by the department.  At least two members of the committee must consist of faculty from the Statistics and must be members of the Academic Senate. The chair must be a member of the student’s degree-granting program.

Qualifying Exam Chair. For qualifying exam committees formed in the Fall of 2019 or later, the qualifying exam chair will also serve as the student’s departmental mentor, unless a student already has two thesis advisors. The student must select a qualifying exam chair and obtain their agreement to serve as their qualifying exam chair and faculty mentor. The student's prospective thesis advisor cannot chair the examination committee. Selection of the chair can be done well in advance of the qualifying exam and the rest of the qualifying committee, and because the qualifying exam chair also serves as the student’s departmental mentor (unless the student has co-advisors), the chair is expected to be selected by the beginning of the third year or at the beginning of the semester of the qualifying exam, whichever comes earlier. For more details regarding the selection of the Qualifying Exam Chair, see the "Mentoring" tab.  

Paperwork and Application. Students at the point of taking a qualifying exam are assumed to have already found a thesis advisor and to should have already submitted the internal departmental form to the Graduate Student Services Advisor (found here).  Selection of a qualifying exam chair requires that the faculty member formally agree by signing the internal department form (found here) and the student must submit this form to the Graduate Student Services Advisor.  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. If the student passes the exam, they 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. After passing the exam, the student must submit the Application for Candidacy via CalCentral.

The Doctoral Thesis

The Ph.D. degree is granted upon completion of an original thesis acceptable to a committee of at least three faculty members. The majority or at least half of the committee must consist of faculty from Statistics and must be members of the Academic Senate. 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.

Students who have advanced from candidacy (i.e. have taken their qualifying exam and submitted the advancement to candidacy application) must have a joint meeting with their QE chair and their PhD advisor to discuss their thesis progression; if students are co-advised, this should be a joint meeting with their co-advisors. This annual review is required by Graduate Division.  For more information regarding this requirement, please see

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 GSI for a minimum of two 50% GSI appointment during the regular academic semesters prior to graduation (20 hours a week is equivalent to a 50% GSI appointment for a semester) for Statistics courses numbered 150 and above. Exceptions to this policy are routinely made by the department.


Each spring, the department hosts an annual conference called BSTARS. Both students and industry alliance partners present research in the form of posters and lightning talks. All students in their second year and beyond are required to present a poster at BSTARS each year. This requirement is intended to acclimate students to presenting their research and allow the department generally to see the fruits of their research. It is also an opportunity for less advanced students to see examples of research of more senior students. However, any students who do not yet have research to present can be exempted at the request of their thesis advisor (or their faculty mentors if an advisor has not yet been determined).

Mentoring for PhD Students

Initial Mentoring: PhD students will be assigned a faculty mentor in the summer before their first year. This faculty mentor at this stage is not expected to be the student’s PhD advisor nor even have research interests that closely align with the student. The job of this faculty mentor is primarily to advise the student on how to find a thesis advisor and in selecting appropriate courses, as well as other degree-related topics such as applying for fellowships.  Students should meet with their faculty mentors twice a semester. This faculty member will be the designated faculty mentor for the student during roughly their first two years, at which point students will find a qualifying exam chair who will take over the role of mentoring the student.

Research-focused mentoring: Once students have found a thesis advisor, that person will naturally be the faculty member most directly overseeing the student’s progression. However, students will also choose an additional faculty member to serve as a the chair of their qualifying exam and who will also serve as a faculty mentor for the student and as a member of his/her thesis committee. (For students who have two thesis advisors, however, there is not an additional faculty mentor, and the quals chair does NOT serve as the faculty mentor).

The student will be responsible for identifying and asking a faculty member to be the chair of his/her quals committee. Students should determine their qualifying exam chair either at the beginning of the semester of the qualifying exam or in the fall semester of the third year, whichever is earlier. Students are expected to have narrowed in on a thesis advisor and research topic by the fall semester of their third year (and may have already taken qualifying exams), but in the case where this has not happened, such students should find a quals chair as soon as feasible afterward to serve as faculty mentor.

Students are required to meet with their QE chair once a semester during the academic year. In the fall, this meeting will generally be just a meeting with the student and the QE chair, but in the spring it must be a joint meeting with the student, the QE chair, and the PhD advisor. If students are co-advised, this should be a joint meeting with their co-advisors.

If there is a need for a substitute faculty mentor (e.g. existing faculty mentor is on sabbatical or there has been a significant shift in research direction), the student should bring this to the attention of the PhD Committee for assistance.

Important Milestones: 

Each of these milestones is not complete until you have filled out the requisite form and submitted it to the GSAO. If you are not meeting these milestones by the below deadline, you need to meet with the Head Graduate Advisor to ask for an extension. Otherwise, you will be in danger of not being in good academic standing and being ineligible for continued funding (including GSI or GSR appointments, and many fellowships). 


Expected Completion (if not sooner)

Identify PhD Advisor†

End of 2nd year

Identify Research Mentor (QE Chair)

OR Co-Advisor†

Fall semester of 3rd year

Pass Qualifying Exam and Advance to Candidacy

End of 3rd year

Thesis Submission

End of 4th or 5th year

†Students who are considering a co-advisor, should have at least one advisor formally identified by the end of the second year; the co-advisor should be identified by the end of the fall semester of the 3rd year in lieu of finding a Research Mentor/QE Chair.

Expected Progress Reviews: 


(generally end of semester)


Which Faculty

Spring 1st year

Annual Progress Review 

Faculty Mentor


Review of 1st year progress 

Head Graduate Advisor

Spring 2nd year

Annual Progress Review 

Faculty Mentor or Thesis Advisor(s) (if identified)

Fall 3+ year 

Research progress report*

Research mentor**

Spring 3+ year

Annual Progress Review*

Jointly with PhD advisor(s) and Research mentor 

* These meetings do not need to be held in the semester that you take your Qualifying Exam, since the relevant people should be members of your exam committee and will discuss your research progress during your qualifying exam

** If you are being co-advised by someone who is not your primary advisor because your primary advisor cannot be your sole advisor, you should be meeting with that person like a research mentor, if not more frequently, to keep them apprised of your progress. However, if both of your co-advisors are leading your research (perhaps independently) and meeting with you frequently throughout the semester, you do not need to give a fall research progress report.