Victor G. De Gruttola, SM, SM, SD

Director of Graduate Studies (PhD Program)
Nan M. Laird, PhD

Director of Master of Science Programs 
David Wypij, ScM, MS, MS, PhD

Manager of Academic Services
Jelena Tillotson-Follweiler


Department Website

Biostatistics involves the theory and application of statistical science to analyze public health problems and to further biomedical research. The faculty includes leaders in the development of statistical methods for clinical trials and observational studies, studies on the environment, and genomics/genetics. The department’s research in statistical methods and bioinformatics, and its interdisciplinary collaborations provide many opportunities for student participation. Current departmental research areas include Bayesian inference, bioinformatics, causal inference, clinical trials, decision sciences, experimental design, high dimensional data analysis, machine learning, multivariate and longitudinal studies, quantitative genomics, sequential methods, spatial statistics, statistical computing, statistical genetics, stochastic processes, and survival analysis.

Among the areas of application are cancer, cardiology, clinical research, computational biology, the environment, epidemiology, genetics, health disparities, health policy, HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases, neurology, and psychiatry. Collaborative research activities include coordination of national and international clinical trials; participation in studies of potential environmental hazards; collaboration on novel genetic and genomic studies; evaluation of health interventions and medical technologies; design of health surveys; consultation with federal, state, and local agencies; and working with
biomedical scientists in other Harvard-affiliated institutions.

Degree Programs in Biostatistics

The department offers 80-credit, 60-credit, and 42.5-credit SM programs together with a PhD program that is offered under the aegis of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Detailed information about requirements and elective options can be found in the departmental handbook

The master’s degree programs train students in the basics of statistical theory; biostatistical and bioinformatics methods in planning studies, conducting analyses, and writing reports; the interpretation of numerical data for scientific inference in studies in medicine and public health; and the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively with scientists in related disciplines.

The 60-credit SM program is designed to prepare students for applied research positions in hospitals and universities, research organizations, and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. It is primarily a terminal degree.

The 80-credit and 42.5-credit master’s degree programs are aimed both at students seeking a terminal degree and those who might use the master’s degree as preparation for PhD studies. Students with strong backgrounds who are ultimately interested in a doctoral degree are encouraged to apply directly to the PhD program. Students who are interested in being considered for either the PhD or master’s programs should apply to both, since the department cannot ordinarily move applications between these programs.

Departmental Prerequisites

Applicants to the department should have successfully completed calculus through multivariable integration and one semester of linear algebra and have knowledge of a programming language. In addition, applicants are strongly encouraged to have completed courses in probability, statistics, advanced calculus or real analysis, and numerical analysis. Practical knowledge of a statistical computing package — such as SAS, S-PLUS, R, Stata, or SPSS— is also desirable. Students interested in bioinformatics are encouraged to have completed courses in biology, computational biology, and genetics; to have knowledge of a scripting language such as Python or Perl; and to have some familiarity with relational databases.

Program Prerequisites and Requirements

All departmental degree requirements are in addition to the schoolwide degree requirements.

SM in Biostatistics, 80-credit program
Minimum prerequisite for entrance (in addition to departmental prerequisites)
: Bachelor’s degree or non-U.S. equivalent.

Program requirements: 50 credits in courses from the master’s core courses, which include probability, statistical inference, statistical methods, linear and logistic regression, survival analysis, longitudinal analysis, clinical trials, bioinformatics, statistical genetics, health decision sciences, and related areas. Students will select an area of interest in either biostatistics or bioinformatics, and satisfy particular requirements for that area. Students also may choose from a variety of elective courses.

SM in Biostatistics, 60-credit program

Minimum prerequisite for entrance (in addition to departmental prerequisites): Bachelor’s degree or non-U.S. equivalent in one of the mathematical sciences or an allied field (for example, biology, psychology, or economics).

Program requirements: At least 40 credits of coursework, including 27.5 credits from the applied biostatistics core curriculum, a minimum of 5 biostatistics credits from elective courses, and core requirements in public health. Due to the applied emphasis of this program, students devote 10 to 20 credits toward completing a collaborative research practicum related to the design, conduct, and analysis of research studies with a focus on data analysis and scientific presentation, which culminates in a written thesis and oral presentation.

SM in Biostatistics, 42.5-credit program

Minimum prerequisites for entrance (in addition to departmental prerequisites):
 Master’s degree or non-U.S. equivalent in one of the mathematical sciences or a doctorate in a quantitative field. Applicants must have a mathematical and statistical background sufficient to achieve a level of proficiency after one year of study comparable to that attained in the 80-credit program. As courses must be taken out of sequence to complete the program in one year, considerable background in probability and statistical inference is needed.

Program requirements: Essentially the same as the 80-credit program with a minimum of 25 credits from the master’s program core courses at an intermediate or advanced level. Students have the flexibility to earn their remaining credits in courses selected with their faculty advisers.

Limited funding is available to qualified students pursuing the SM degree. This funding comes from a combination of university, school, and departmental sources. Applicants are also encouraged to pursue external scholarship and funding opportunities.

PhD in Biostatistics
The PhD program trains students in the areas of probabilistic and statistical theory, biostatistical and bioinformatics methods, statistical computation and algorithm development, the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively with scientists in related disciplines, and the ability to teach biostatistics and bioinformatics effectively to general or specialized audiences. It is designed for those who have demonstrated both interest and ability in scholarly research. Qualified applicants may apply to this program without a prior advanced degree. Please note that Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences application forms must be used. The application deadline is December 15, 2014.

The coursework for the PhD program is built on a 20-credit doctoral core. In addition, 35 credits of advanced biostatistics courses are required; these courses are chosen by the student in consultation with an adviser. Students select an area of interest in either biostatistics or bioinformatics and satisfy particular requirements for that area. Students also must complete a 10-credit cognate requirement (or minor) in a substantive area, such as the prevention of cancer, epidemiology of AIDS and infectious diseases, or molecular biology. Given the increasing reliance of statistical practice on computing technology, one or more courses in statistical computing are recommended. PhD students also must satisfy a consulting, a teaching, and a research ethics requirement.

Funding is available to qualified students pursuing the PhD degree. Most of the funding is through six biostatistics training grants in AIDS, cancer, computational biology, the environment, and neurostatistics. These traineeships require U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. Other funding (for example, tuition scholarships and teaching and research assistantships) is awarded on a competitive basis to qualified applicants, including international students.

Related Offerings

Contact Information
Nan M. Laird, PhD
director of graduate studies (PhD program)

David Wypij, ScM, MS, MS, PhD
director of master of science programs 

Department of Biostatistics
655 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-1056
Fax: 617-432-5619

For information on department funding:

For information on postdoctoral fellowships:
Postdoctoral Committee, Department of Biostatistics
655 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-1056
Fax: 617-432-5619

For Reference
Schoolwide degree requirements

Detailed application requirements for the SM programs.

Online application to the PhD program is required. Use the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences online application form, available at: application_instructions_and_information.php.