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PhD Requirements / Curriculum

Completion of the Ph.D. degree requires fulfillment of the following coursework. Examples of courses that meet these requirements can be found here.

Core Engineering Courses
Students are required to satisfactorily complete (grade B or better) six credit hours (typically two courses) of engineering-centric courses.

Core Bio/Medicine Courses
Students are required to satisfactorily complete (grade B or better)to meet the physiology requirement.

  • BIOL 451: Comparative Physiology (offered at UNC)
  • PHY 503: General Physiology I (offered at NC State), or PHY 504: General Physiology II (offered at NC State)
  • Students are also required to satisfactorily complete (grade B or better) BMME890/BME790: Biochemistry

Students are required to satisfactorily complete (grade B or better) three credit hours (typically one course) of graduate-level mathematics or applied mathematics.

Students are required to satisfactorily complete (grade B or better) three credit hours (typically one course) of a graduate-level statistics course.

Technical Electives
Students must satisfactorily complete (grade B or better) nine credit hours (typically three courses) of graduate-level science or engineering. Courses pertinent to the student’s areas of interest are selected with approval of the research adviser.

BME Graduate Seminar
Students are required to enroll every semester in BME 802/BMME 890: BME Graduate Seminar. M.D./Ph.D. students are exempt during the clinical portion of their training. A list of 2014-2018 seminars can be found here.

Students must pass a course in research ethics. This may be satisfied by completion of one credit hour courses PHI 816: Introduction to Research Ethics (NC State), GRAD 721: Research Ethics (UNC), or the online Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Good Clinical Practices for Clinical Trials with Investigational Drugs, Biologics and Devices course module.

PhD Timeline

In addition to the course requirements, a series of checkpoints along a timeline have been established to ensure that all graduate students make steady progress toward degree completion:

The written qualifying exam is a series of monthly topic exams written and administered by rotating BME faculty. Please see a list of upcoming qualifying exam topics. The faculty member overseeing each monthly exam recommends study materials for students to use to prepare for the exam. The study materials are made available to students 30 days in advance of the exam date. Exam formats may be in-class or take-home, and exam periods last approximately three hours. Exams are graded pass/fail. Students are required to pass four exams in 12 months. If a student fails two written qualifying exams, a meeting with the student, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the student’s primary adviser is scheduled to discuss the student’s overall academic performance and to determine if extra support should be offered to the student. An academic enhancement plan is developed and specific achievement milestones are established.
The lab is expected to provide full support (stipend, tuition, etc.) for the student during the course of their studies. While most BME graduate students enter the program with a commitment to a specific research adviser, others elect to rotate through two-to-three laboratories prior to finalizing selection of a research adviser. If a laboratory rotation is performed in the first year, the student should finalize selection of the primary research adviser by the end of the second semester.
Once the research adviser is established, the student and adviser work together to devise a Plan of Work. The Plan of Work outlines the courses the student will complete to support research efforts and meet degree requirements.
The student and adviser together to select an advisory committee. The committee must be comprised of a minimum of five members, three of whom must be BME core and/or affiliated faculty. Measures are in place to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
The advisory committee administers the written research proposal and oral preliminary exam. The exam includes two parts. The first part is a written research proposal (NIH F31 format) that describes the specific aims of the research to be conducted and the motivation for them, preliminary data suggesting the relevance of the proposed aims, and a research plan that describes the work to be completed for the dissertation. The second part is the oral defense of the research proposal, in which the student is expected to demonstrate understanding of the science and technology pertaining to the proposed project and competency for independent investigation. The overall purpose of this two-part examination is to determine if the student has mastered the concepts related to the dissertation topic, if the research to be undertaken is suitable, and if the student is ready to perform doctoral-level original research.
The advisory committee administers the doctoral dissertation and defense. 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 dissertation be published in research journals and conferences. The doctoral dissertation is reviewed by all members of the advisory committee and must receive their approval prior to submission to the Graduate School. The doctoral defense is an oral defense of the work presented in the dissertation. It is open to all communities, and it is intended to be an opportunity for the student to showcase his/her work in a public forum. Any procedures, formats, or requirements not specifically laid out in the policies of the home institution are left to the committee to determine. The doctoral defense is reviewed by all members of the advisory committee and must be approved prior to graduation.

How to Apply through UNC or NC State

Because our department is truly joint and BME Graduate degrees are from both universities, applications to the doctoral program submitted through UNC and NC State graduate schools are processed identically. All applications, regardless of submission origin, are evaluated equally by the Joint graduate admissions committee and the Joint Department’s graduate faculty. Therefore, students submitting applications to the doctoral program may do so through either campus equivalently.


Applicants must submit the following:

  • Transcript(s) documenting an undergraduate or graduate degree in engineering or a quantitative science.
  • Scores from the GRE general exam taken within the last five years. UNC institution code: #5816. NC State institution code: #5496.
  • Three recommendation letters that discuss your potential for graduate study.
  • TOEFL scores (international applicants only).
  • A 1–2 page personal statement discussing research interests and relevant background experience. The statement should identify professors within the department whom you are interested in working with.

ADMISSIONS DEADLINE: All materials must be received by Tuesday, December 15th, 2020 for the Fall 2021 admissions cycle.