Biomedical Engineering, Doctor of Philosophy Degree
The Ph.D. in biomedical engineering is an interdisciplinary program that combines a strong foundation in the field with focused coursework and research on a specific area within biomedical engineering. Doctoral students must demonstrate proficiency in four subspecialities related to their research. At least one area must come from the life and medical sciences grouping and one area from engineering and physical sciences. Proficiency will be assessed based on coursework (generally two semesters at the graduate level), and a comprehensive exam.
The comprehensive exam will focus on advanced topics covered in graduate level courses and research papers. Typically, your advisory committee will administer this exam after the completion of most or all of your coursework. The exam will cover the four areas of proficiency and your proposed research plan.
Possible areas of proficiency are listed below:
Engineering and physical sciences
- Fluid mechanics
- Materials engineering
- Solid mechanics
- Heat transfer & thermodynamics
- Dynamics & vibrations
- Communications & signal processing
- Control systems
- Fields & waves
Life and medical sciences
- Anatomy (structural biology)
- Cell & molecular biology
In addition to coursework, doctoral students are required to complete three other core requirements. These requirements are designed to ensure that students gain breadth of exposure to the range of research and topics within biomedical engineering, develop and improve scientific communication skills and support students as they move through the research process.
Once you have selected a primary mentor, you are required to perform a research rotation, which is similar to an independent study, in a laboratory that complements your mentor's background. In other words, if the primary mentor's laboratory focuses on the life/medical sciences, a research rotation must be performed in engineering (and vice versa). This research rotation can be conducted in the laboratory of the secondary advisor. The purpose is to help expose students to the broad range of biomedical engineering activities.
Traditionally, doctoral training programs in scientific disciplines concentrate on mastery of the content of a discipline. While this is appropriate in many respects, it is also true that those trained in biomedical engineering often become leaders in industry and teachers in academic institutions. A well-rounded education gives students the skills required for professional-level teaching and scientific presentations.
In these courses, students begin by presenting critical reviews of up-to-date scientific articles. These presentations are accompanied by open discussions involving faculty and other graduate students. Students progress to presenting seminars in their chosen field of interest. Finally, prior to graduation, students are required to present results of their original research to at least one national or international scientific meeting.
Each student must write a research grant application on their proposed dissertation research. This grant should be submitted to the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program prior to beginning your third semester of the Ph.D. schedule, or your fifth semester if you started at the master's level. Under unusual circumstances, this timetable can be adjusted with the approval of the Director of the Graduate Program.
The form of the grant must be consistent with the format used by one of the major national funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health. Your advisory committee and any other interested faculty will formally examine the student on the grant. This will include an oral examination within one month of the grant's submission. If the grant proposal is not considered acceptable by the student's committee, a second grant proposal will be due four months from the date of the first examination. Submission of the grant exercise to the biomedical engineering program does not preclude its submission in whole or in part to any granting agency, for example, for the purposes of obtaining a pre-doctoral fellowship.
The grant-writing exercise introduces students to the style, complexities and nuances of the grant proposal process and forces them to think through various elements of the proposed dissertation. To successfully pass the exercise, students will need to be well-versed in the current literature in their field and be able to formulate and defend their research plans and methodology. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, an open discussion of research proposals among faculty with diverse backgrounds frequently leads to much stronger research proposals.
Your advisory committee plays a key role in guiding you through your graduate degree in biomedical engineering. In addition to helping you choose classes, your doctoral committee will meet with your periodically to discuss your research plans and progress.
Entering graduate students will be advised by the Biomedical Engineering Curriculum Committee until a formal student committee has been established. First-year students will meet with the Curriculum Committee to determine initial coursework. Courses may be added to address gaps in your undergraduate preparation or waived for students who have completed some graduate training.
Graduate student committees
Sometime during your first year as a Ph.D. student, you should establish your advisory committee. Your advisory committee must be in place before you submit your grant-writing exercise. Each committee should have at least five members on it: at least three from within the biomedical engineering faculty and at least one from outside the program. We encourage students to select at least one committee member from outside of the University of Nevada, Reno who is a national expert in their field.
Within biomedical engineering, each student will select a primary mentor, who is primarily responsible for directing your progress. A secondary mentor must also be selected with a background specialty that complements that of your primary mentor. For example, if your primary mentor has a background in Engineering and Physical Sciences, your secondary mentor should have a background in Life and Medical Sciences or vice versa.
In addition, we recommend that at least one member of each committee have a formal background in biomedical engineering. The Biomedical Engineering Program Director may waive this requirement if the proposed committee members adequately represent the broad field of biomedical engineering. The director must approve all student advisory committees.
Applicants should identify a general area of research interest prior to submitting an application. The admissions committee considers areas of common interest among students and biomedical engineering faculty during the admissions process. You are encouraged to contact individual biomedical engineering faculty members, faculty members throughout the campus or email the BME office to discuss research interests.
Applicants to the Ph.D. program should have a strong undergraduate background in math and science. In general, we recommend applicants meet the following requirements:
- 2 semesters of biology or physiology
- 2 semesters of physics or biophysics
- 2 semesters of chemistry or biochemistry
- Calculus (including differential equations)
- Proficiency in at least one computer programming language
- GPA of 3.25
- Combined (verbal + quantitative) GRE scores of 305 (1150 in old system)
- Quantitative GRE scores of 156 (720 in old system)
- Analytical GRE scores of 4/6 (3.5 in old system)
- TOEFL scores of 550 (required for international students only)
How to Apply
Contact Dr. Xiaoshan Zhu.
Director, Biomedical Engineering
University of Nevada, Reno
Mail Stop 260
Reno, NV 89557-0260
Applicants to the biomedical engineering degree program should apply through The Graduate School website. The graduate school application requires the following:
- Three letters of recommendation. We recommend you use the standard recommendation form.
- Official college transcripts
- Copy of your GRE scores
- Copy of TOEFL scores, for international students
- Statement of purpose
In addition, the biomedical engineering program requires an additional page to be submitted with the application that contains the following information:
- Brief description of research plans you have discussed with faculty members identified in your Graduate School application
- The BME program does not restrict entry to the fall or spring terms. Often students can begin their program by performing a research rotation almost any time of the year. Please identify a general start date (which can also be the beginning of the fall or spring term, as described in the Graduate School application).
- Brief paragraph describing your career goals in the area of biomedical engineering
- Sentence describing how you learned about our program
Applications must be submitted by the following deadlines for full consideration.
- Fall semester: February 1
- Spring semester: February 1
Master's degree students pursuing Plan A, the thesis option, are eligible to apply for department assistantships. Assistantships include tuition and fees as well as a stipend for living expenses.
- Teaching assistantships are very limited and highly competitive. International students typically need to complete at least one semester in the program before being considered for teaching assistantships.
- Research assistantships are offered by individual faculty. Prospective students are encouraged to contact faculty directly to inquire about research opportunities.
No student can be considered for any form of financial support until after being admitted into the program.
The University offers on-campus housing for graduate students. Visit the graduate housing website to learn more about living at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Related Degrees and Programs
Contact Electrical and Biomedical Engineering
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