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A minimum of 52 semester hours of graduate work is required (beyond the Bachelor’s degree).

A course of study meeting all department requirements is outlined below.

  1. BME Seminar (BME 802 / BMME 890) – each semester (except the semester prior to graduation)
  2. Biology/Medicine: A two semester sequence covering core aspects of relevant biology and physiology is required
  3. Engineering: 6 hours
  4. Graduate-level mathematics: 3 hours
  5. Graduate-level statistics: 3 hours
  6. Scientific/Technical Electives: 9 hours or more
  7. Dissertation research: minimum of 6 hours

PhD students are expected to complete four “core” courses, two in Biology/ Medicine and two in Engineering during their first two years with a grade better than a “B” at NCSU or “L” at UNC. PhD candidates who do not meet the minimum grade requirements in the first two years of study will be demoted to the MS degree program.

Students previously completing equivalent coursework in graduate math and statistics may be exempted from this requirement by permission of the DGP. MD-PhD students are exempt from the Bio/Med requirement.

Ethics Training

Training in the ethical conduct of human research is required for all graduate students. This requirement is fulfilled by taking an online training module that is supported by The Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI). The relevant module is “GCP for Clinical Trials with Investigational Drugs, Biologics and Devices Courses.” Upon successful completion, students will earn a certificate that is linked to their student ID. The training module can be accessed through UNC using ONYEN credentials (UNC Ethics Training) or NCSU using UNITY credentials (CITI Online Training) for UNC- and NCSU-based students, respectively. This requirement should be completed by the end of the second semester if not sooner as required to obtain approved personnel status on IRB-approved protocols.

PhD Milestones

  • Students should apply for residency as soon as possible after admission into the program.
  • Students need to select a research lab/advisor by the end of the 2nd semester. This lab is expected to provide full support (stipend, tuition, etc.) for the student during the course of their studies.
  • An approved Plan of Work must be submitted by the end of the 1st year in the program.
  • PhD students that were admitted before Fall 2014 need to have passed the written preliminary exam before the end of the 5th semester. (A single semester extension is possible with approval)
  • PhD students admitted Fall 2014 and after must pass the written qualifier exams as described elsewhere – 5 exams passed in 2 years or 4 in 18 months.
  • PhD students must have the oral preliminary exam by the end of the 6th semester – this is accompanied by a written research proposal in the form of an NIH F31 (A single semester extension is possible with approval). This proposal will be kept in the students file.
  • PhD committees must have a minimum of 5 committee members.
  • The committee must be composed of a majority (3 of 5) of BME core and/or affiliated faculty.
Advisory Committee & Plan of Work

When a student first enters the program, the institutional Director of Graduate Studies will assign a temporary advisor. This advisor will help with registration for the first semester, with development of a tentative plan of work, and with other matters of concern to the new student.

As soon as possible, an academic advisor should be selected by mutual agreement between the student and the faculty member. The student should inform the institutional Director of Graduate Studies of the selection. The academic advisor will thereafter help the student with all necessary academic matters. The academic advisor must be a primary core BME faculty member.

Students conducting research under the supervision of non-core BME faculty or non-BME faculty will have two co-chairs of the advisory committee. One of the co-chairs must be a core BME faculty member who will serve as the student’s academic advisor (also called the “academic co-chair”). The academic co-chair is responsible for monitoring the student’s academic progress, ensuring that BME program requirements are met, and ensuring that BME department standards are maintained in the student’s work. The other chair will be the primary research supervisor (the “research co-chair”) who may or may not be a BME faculty member.

The student or the advisor may terminate the relationship without prejudice if either judges there is good reason to do so. In this event, a new advisor must be selected as soon as possible.

Once a doctoral student has selected an advisory committee chair, they should jointly select the members of the advisory committee. This committee will administer the oral portions of the doctoral preliminary examination, oversee the dissertation proposal and research progress, approve the dissertation and administer the final oral dissertation defense. The committee should consist of the chair and at least four other members approved in advance by the institutional Graduate School. BME faculty members must constitute a majority of the committee members.

PhD Written Qualifying Exam
Current Listing of Written Exams

The PhD written qualifying exam gauges students competence in fundamental Biomedical Engineering topics. It comprises multiple smaller exams. Students must pass 4 exams within 12 months with no more than 2 failed exams. One exam will be offered each month. The DGP will post exam information every six months that will include for each exam the exam topic, time, date, special instructions (e.g., materials allowed), campus location, and instructional objectives. Exams will be graded Pass/Fail by the faculty member who authored the exam within two weeks. Students who do not meet the Qualifying Exam requirement are not eligible to advance in the Ph.D. program and must transfer to the M.S. program or leave the BME program.

Exams will last approximately three hours. The questions will be written at the level of a first-year graduate course and will be drawn from the list of instructional objectives in the posted exam information. Exam Topics will come from the department’s five primary research topic areas: biomedical devices, medical imaging, pharmacoengineering, regenerative medicine, and rehabilitation engineering.

Students must register for the exam by emailing the Graduate Program Coordinator at least 2 weeks prior to the exam date. Students will receive an official letter from the department chair notifying them if they passed the exam. A copy of the letter will be kept in the student’s file, along with the student’s exam. At UNC, the exam form must be filled out once the student has passed all exams.Current Listing of Written Exams 

Oral Preliminary Exam

The oral preliminary exam is intended to examine the student’s mastery of concepts related to the dissertation topic, the suitability of the research to be undertaken, and the student’s readiness to perform Ph.D.‐level original research. The exam is to be taken following successful completion of the written preliminary exam. The student’s advisory committee administers the exam. If the research advisor (co-chair) is outside the Department, the academic co-chair may organize the exam, by agreement between both chairs.

A written proposal, formatted as an NIH-style F31 proposal (one page Specific Aims; six pages Research Plan), must be submitted to the committee two weeks in advance of the Oral Exam. In addition, an electronic copy of the written proposal must be simultaneously submitted to the BME Graduate Studies Office. This document will be kept on record in the graduate student’s academic file.

The oral exam itself consists of:

A presentation of the proposed research by the student
An opportunity for spectators (non-committee members) to ask questions
An opportunity for committee members to ask questions (open or closed session)
Following questions, the committee members meet in closed session. Non-committee faculty members may attend the closed session and participate in the discussion.
Each committee member votes on whether the student has passed or failed the oral exam. A unanimous vote is required for the student to pass. Passing may be conditioned on some further work on the student’s part, in which case the signature form will be held until conditions are met.
A student failing the exam may retake the examination one time. Changing the committee is allowed, but a student may only take the preliminary exam no more than twice in the student’s BME career. The exam may not be retaken in the same semester nor until after three months have passed.

Final Oral Exam (Defense) and Dissertation

The doctoral dissertation is the document presenting the results of the student’s original investigation in the field of primary interest. It must represent a contribution to knowledge, adequately supported by data, and be written in a manner consistent with the highest standards of scholarship. It is expected that the work described in the thesis be published in research journals and conferences.

The dissertation will be reviewed by all members of the advisory committee and must receive their approval prior to submission to the Graduate School. Students must conform to the Graduate School regulations regarding the dissertation and application for a degree, as described in the Graduate School Handbook at UNC Chapel Hill or NC State. This examination will be open to all members of the Department and will be announced on both campuses by the Chair of the student’s Advisory Committee.

Continuous Enrollment and Time Limits

The Graduate School has a continuous enrollment policy. While pursuing a graduate degree, the student must be registered every Fall and Spring semester until completion. Otherwise, a student must request an official leave of absence from the Graduate School.

Additionally, the PhD student must be registered in any semester, including the summer, that he or she plans to defend the dissertation.

Doctoral students based at NCSU must attain candidacy (pass the Oral Prelim exam) within six (6) calendar years from the date of admission and complete all degree requirements within ten (10) calendar years. Doctoral student based at UNC-CH have eight (8) calendar years from the date of first registration in the doctoral program to complete the doctoral degree. A student admitted to a master’s program and later given formal permission to proceed to the doctoral degree has eight (8) calendar years from the date of receipt of the master’s degree to complete the doctoral degree.