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Doctoral Program

Program Summary

Students are required to

  1. master the material in the prerequisite courses;
  2. pass the first-year core program;
  3. attempt all three parts of the qualifying examinations and show acceptable performance in at least two of them (end of 1st year);
  4. satisfy the depth and breadth requirements (2nd/3rd/4th year);
  5. successfully complete the thesis proposal meeting and submit the Dissertation Reading Commitee form (winter quarter of the 3rd year);
  6. present a draft of their dissertation and pass the university oral examination (4th/5th year).

The PhD requires a minimum of 135 units. Students are required to take a minimum of nine units of advanced topics courses (for depth) offered by the department (not including literature, research, consulting or Year 1 coursework), and a minimum of nine units outside of the Statistics Department (for breadth). Courses for the depth and breadth requirements must equal a combined minimum of 24 units. In addition, students must enroll in STATS 390 Statistical Consulting, taking it at least twice.

All students who have passed the qualifying exams but have not yet passed the Thesis Proposal Meeting must take STATS 319 at least once each year. For example, a student taking the qualifying exams in the summer after Year 1 and having the dissertation proposal meeting in Year 3, would take 319 in Years 2 and 3. Students in their second year are strongly encouraged to take STATS 399 with at least one faculty member. All details of program requirements can be found in our PhD handbook (available to Stanford affiliates only, using Stanford authentication. Requests for access from non-affiliates will not be approved).

Statistics Department PhD Handbook

All students are expected to abide by the Honor Code and the Fundamental Standard.

Doctoral and Research Advisors

During the first two years of the program, students' academic progress is monitored by the department's Graduate Director. Each student should meet at least once a quarter with the Graduate Director to discuss their academic plans and their progress towards choosing a thesis advisor (before the final study list deadline of spring of the second year). From the third year onward students are advised by their selected advisor.

Qualifying Examinations

Qualifying examinations are part of most PhD programs in the United States. At Stanford these exams are intended to test the student's level of knowledge when the first-year program, common to all students, has been completed. There are separate examinations in the three core subjects of statistical theory and methods, applied statistics, and probability theory, which are typically taken during the summer at the end of the student's first year. Students are expected to attempt all three examinations and show acceptable performance in at least two of them. Letter grades are not given. Qualifying exams may be taken only once. After passing the qualifying exams, students must file for Ph.D. Candidacy, a university milestone, by the end of spring quarter of their second year.

While nearly all students pass the qualifying examinations, those who do not can arrange to have their financial support continued for up to three quarters while alternative plans are made. Usually students are able to complete the requirements for the M.S. degree in Statistics in two years or less, whether or not they have passed the PhD qualifying exams.

Thesis Proposal Meeting and Dissertation Reading Committee 

The thesis proposal meeting is intended to demonstrate a student's depth in some areas of statistics, and to examine the general plan for their research. In the meeting the student gives a 60-minute presentation involving ideas developed to date and plans for completing a PhD dissertation, and for another 60 minutes answers questions posed by the committee. which consists of their advisor and two other members. The meeting must be successfully completed by the end of winter quarter of the third year. If a student does not pass, the exam must be repeated. Repeated failure can lead to a loss of financial support.

The Dissertation Reading Committee consists of the student’s advisor plus two faculty readers, all of whom are responsible for reading the full dissertation. Of these three, at least two must be members of the Statistics Department (faculty with a full or joint appointment in Statistics but excluding for this purpose those with only a courtesy or adjunct appointment). Normally, all committee members are members of the Stanford University Academic Council or are emeritus Academic Council members; the principal dissertation advisor must be an Academic Council member. 

The Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee form should be completed and signed at the Dissertation Proposal Meeting. The form must be submitted before approval of TGR status or before scheduling a University Oral Examination.

 For further information on the Dissertation Reading Committee, please see the Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures (GAP) Handbook section 4.8.

University Oral Examinations

The oral examination consists of a public, approximately 60-minute, presentation on the thesis topic, followed by a 60 minute question and answer period attended only by members of the examining committee. The questions relate to the student's presentation and also explore the student's familiarity with broader statistical topics related to the thesis research. The oral examination is normally completed during the last few months of the student's PhD period. The examining committee typically consists of four faculty members from the Statistics Department and a fifth faculty member from outside the department serving as the committee chair. Four out of five passing votes are required and no grades are given. Nearly all students can expect to pass this examination, although it is common for specific recommendations to be made regarding completion of the thesis.

The Dissertation Reading Committee must also read and approve the thesis.

For further information on university oral examinations and committees, please see the Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures (GAP) Handbook section 4.7.


The dissertation is the capstone of the PhD degree. It is expected to be an original piece of work of publishable quality. The research advisor and two additional faculty members constitute the student's dissertation reading committee.