Doctor of Philosophy


Progression through the doctoral program is punctuated by a series of milestone events, which serve to assess the student’s attainment of degree competencies and demarcate his or her development as a scholar and researcher.

Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam is the first doctoral milestone, which serves to evaluate breadth of the student’s knowledge of the discipline and appraise the student’s achievement during the first year of graduate study. Satisfactory performance in the qualifying exam is indicative of the student’s potential to complete the program and earn a doctorate in human genetics. The format of the exam is an oral presentation by the student of a recent research article from the primary literature. The presentation serves as a launching pad for an oral examination covering the body of knowledge required of doctoral student who has completed the core curriculum. Materials and example papers are provided to aid in preparing for the qualifying exam

Comprehensive Exam 

The comprehensive exam is the second milestone of the doctoral degree program. The exam evaluates the student’s potential to develop and test hypotheses, and to apply research methods independently. The comprehensive exam also serves as a checkpoint for the dissertation committee’s approval of the aims and approach of the student’s proposed dissertation project. The format of the exam is a written proposal of a dissertation project, followed by an oral presentation and defense of the proposal by the student.

Doctoral Candidacy 

Entrance into doctoral candidacy occurs when all degree requirements have been completed with the exception of the final dissertation defense.

Dissertation Defense

The last doctoral milestone, and the culmination of a doctoral candidate’s research project, is the construction and public defense of a dissertation document. The dissertation defense serves to evaluate the candidate’s achievement of all degree competencies, indicating that the candidate is fully prepared for a career leading independent research. Successful defense of the dissertation signifies completion of the degree program and conferment of the doctorate in human genetics.

Graduation Checklist

The graduation checklist enumerates the doctoral degree requirements, including the milestones.

Pitt Public Health Milestone Committee Composition

The School of Public Health and University of Pittsburgh maintain requirements for the composition of the qualifying, comprehensive and dissertation committees. See the student handbook for specific committee membership requirements.