Training Grant in Biostatistics

Program Overview

The Interdisciplinary Training for Biostatisticians Program, funded through the National Institute of General Medical Sciences representing several institutes at the National Institutes of Health, is designed for students entering the Boston University Biostatistics PhD program at the post-bachelor level. Students in advanced standing are also eligible to apply. The purpose of the program is to integrate traditional courses in statistical theory, study design, and applied statistical analysis with practical experiences gained through internships working with investigators in the biological sciences. The ultimate goal is to provide students with a breadth of education and experience as practicing biostatisticians. The training award provides funding for all coursework in the PhD doctoral program up to 64 credits. Students who are accepted into the Biostatistics Training Program will receive a full education in biostatistics as well as exposure to the biological sciences and the practice of biostatistics in the biomedical sciences.


To be considered for the program, applicants must hold a bachelors degree from an accredited college or university, be a US citizen or permanent resident, and have a desire for interdisciplinary training. Applicants must also meet all eligibility requirements of the Biostatistics Program.

Program Requirements

All students on the training grant need to complete the PhD requirements listed below in addition to 4 rotations worth 1 credit each. The 4 rotation credits count as one elective course. Additionally, of the PhD coursework listed below, students in the training grant must take a biology class. (Please note that biology is an elective in the typical PhD program).

The rotations include: ethical conduct, genetics, bioinformatics, observational studies, and clinical trials. Each student must complete 4 of the 5 possible rotations; all students must complete the ethical conduct rotation. Students must also complete 2 rotations in a biology track, genetics and bioinformatics rotations, or complete their third year with 20 hours per week in a biology/genetics/bioinformatics laboratory environment. Each rotation is a 1-credit course lasting for one semester with the expectation of 10 hours per week doing hands-on lab/data work (with the exception of the ethical conduct rotation).

To Apply

Eligible individuals who are interested in being considered for the Interdisciplinary Training for Biostatisticians Program must complete the standard application for the PhD program in Biostatistics by December 1. Additionally, applicants must submit a one page statement indicating their interest in the Interdisciplinary Training for Biostatisticians Program and how this program will enhance their educational and career goals. Please submit this statement along with your application.

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How long does the training grant fund me?

The training grant provides funding for 2 years (24 months and covers summers).

How much is the stipend?

The grant provides a stipend of approximately $21, 600 per year. In addition, the training grant covers all tuition costs and fees and some funds for travel to scientific meetings.

What is required of me as a Training Grant recipient?

The expectation is that you use your time on the training grant to focus on your courses. Students supported by the training grant have the same requirements as any other doctoral student plus an additional requirement to take a biology course and to participate in 4 rotations (semi-internships, see below).

How many courses must I take?

A student who is admitted with a bachelor’s degree is admitted to the sixteen course, post-bachelor’s PhD program. Nine of sixteen courses are required of all doctoral students. The remaining six courses are electives. However, as part of the training grant, students must take one course in biology and 4 rotations. The four rotations are 1 credit each, and total one course. Thus, training grant students have 4 electives instead of 6. Because students enter with different backgrounds in biology there is some choice in terms of the biology course. Those with experience in biology may elect to take a more advanced course, while those with no experience may elect to take an introductory course.

What is the purpose of the rotations?

The purpose of the rotations is to gain a deeper experience in applied statistics, especially in the biological sciences, and also to provide the student with a broad exposure to the types of research environments that biostatisticians work in. There are 5 kinds of rotations you can choose from: 1) ethical conduct of research (required of all training grant students), 2) genetics, 3) bioinformatics, 4) clinical trials, and 5) observational studies. Students are required to take both the genetics and bioinformatics rotations or to commit to study in one of these areas after completing the training grant program. The ethical conduct of research rotation has a set curriculum, but the other rotations are arranged with the mentor who will be working with you for the duration of the rotation.

How much time do I spend on my rotations?

Students are expected to spend 10 hours per week in each rotation for the duration of a semester, except for the ethical conduct rotation which is shorter. You receive 1 credit for each rotation. So the total of 4 credits constitutes one of the 16 courses.

What happens after I complete the training grant program?

After completing the 2 year training grant program, training grant students in good standing become research assistants with an ongoing research project that involves individuals from different backgrounds, such as laboratory scientists, epidemiologists, clinician researchers, statisticians, etc. Usually you function as a data analyst in this environment. The expectation is that you will receive a lot of applied experience in this role and further, that your thesis topic will grow out of this setting.

I think the real advantage of the training grant program is that you can really focus on your coursework
, while not getting distracted by other part-time obligations. Not only does it enable you to accelerate your time spent on coursework, but it also allows you to concentrate on your classes and absorb all the materials learned in each class. In addition, as many other former trainees have mentioned, the opportunity to explore different areas where biostatistics are applied is an invaluable experience as well and gives you the flexibility to think about where you want to pursue your career. So far, I have enjoyed my experience being a part of the program and I look forward to my next two rotations in genetics and bioinformatics. –Harold Bae

The biggest benefit of the training grant is that it gives you an opportunity to work in areas that you never would have gotten to otherwise. While research assistantships limit you to working in whatever area your supervisor is in, the training grant allows you to gain experience in statistical genetics, bioinformatics, clinical trials, and/or observational studies. It also gives you a great opportunity to take on more of a course load so that you can get through your classes more quickly. –Sean Lacey

Being a recipient of the training grant is an honor. It has given me an opportunity to complete almost all required coursework in 2 years. While I have completed one rotation out of the required four, I can already tell that the experience I have gained is one of a kind. Even though I am primarily interested in the field of clinical trials, I am appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to other fields that I probably would not have had otherwise. –Georgiy Pitman

My experience with the training grant has been extremely positive. I am enjoying the opportunity of learning many different tracks of biostatistics, and meeting and working with new colleagues. My previous career experience was in providing family services at a community center and evaluating program outcomes. The rotations are helping me to explore my research interests, and are offering an easier transition into a new career direction. I believe by the end of this training period, I will have a more solid foundation to participate effectively in research activities. — Joseph Wu

Time to degree

Training Grant students who have entered the program post-Bachelors have completed their doctoral degrees within 4 to 7 years, with a typical completion time of 6 years. Those who have entered the program post-Masters have completed their doctoral degrees within 3 to 7 years, with a typical completion time of 5 years.

Graduation rate of Training Grant students

For students who entered the program between fall 2005 and fall 2010, the graduation rate was 76.9%.

Careers obtained by Training Grant students after completing the doctoral degree

Training Grant alumni have gone on to the following careers:

  • Statistician, Framingham Heart Study
  • Investigator and Instructor, BU School of Medicine
  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Senior Biostatistician, Prometrika
  • Research Associate, Center for Biostatistics in AIDS Research
  • Assistant Professor, Howard University College of Medicine
  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Brigham & Women’s Hospital
  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals
  • Data Scientist, Quora
  • Assistant Professor, Oregon State University