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Doctoral Program

The department looks for motivated students who wish to prepare for research careers in statistics or probability, either applied or theoretical.

Advanced undergraduate or masters level work in mathematics and statistics will provide a good background for the doctoral program. Quantitatively oriented students with degrees in other scientific fields are also encouraged to apply for admission. In particular, the department is expanding its research and educational activities towards computational biology, mathematical finance and information science, via a VIGRE program. The doctoral program normally takes four to five years to complete.

Program Summary

Students are required to master the material in the prerequisite courses; pass the first-year core program; pass two of three parts of the qualifying examinations (end of first year); satisfy the breadth requirement (second/third year); successfully complete the thesis proposal meeting (by spring of the third year); and present a draft of their dissertation and pass the university oral examination (fourth/fifth year).

The Ph.D. requires a minimum of 135 units. Students are required to take 9 units of advanced topics courses offered by the department (not including literature, research, consulting or Year 1 coursework), and 3 units of 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 319 at least once each year. E.g. 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 399 with at least one faculty member. Further details of the program requirements can be found here: Stats PhD Requirements 2015-16

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. From the third year onwards students are advised by their selected Research Advisor.

Qualifying Examinations

Qualifying examinations are part of most Ph.D. 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 show acceptable performance in two of the three examinations. After passing the qualifying exams, students file for Ph.D. candidacy, a University milestone.

While nearly all students pass the qualifying examinations, those who do not can arrange to have their financial support continued during the period when 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 Ph.D. qualifying exams.

Thesis Proposal Meeting and University Oral Examinations

The thesis proposal meeting is intended to demonstrate students' depth in some areas of statistics, and to examine the general plan for their research. In the meeting, they give a short presentation and discuss their ideas for completing a Ph.D. thesis, with a committee consisting of their advisor and two other members. The meeting must be successfully completed before the end of spring of their third year.  If a student does not pass, the exam must be repeated. Repeated failure can lead to a loss of financial support.

The oral examination consists of a 40-minute presentation on the thesis topic, followed by a question period. 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 Ph.D. 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.

A reading committee must also read and approve the thesis. The reading committee will typically consist of the same members as the thesis proposal meeting committee.

Transition policy: This is a new scheme that took effect starting fall quarter 2009-2010. Students beginning their first year in 2008-2009 or later must follow this new policy. Other students can choose either the old or new system; students in this category who choose the new scheme and have already finished their third year can have the thesis proposal meeting as soon as they are ready.

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 Ph.D. 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.

Training Program in Biostatistics

More information is available here.

Master's Degree

Statistics Ph.D. students who do not already have a master's degree in Statistics will normally have fulfilled the requirements for it at Stanford after four or five quarters in the Ph.D. program. Students may apply for this degree while continuing toward the Ph.D. It is also possible to obtain a master's degree in a related department while pursuing the Ph.D. in Statistics, although this may mean completing substantial course work in the related department. Students who wish to apply for a master's degree and have transferred graduate work from elsewhere, or who anticipate that the addition of another degree may delay eligibility for TGR, should consult with the student services manager regarding possible financial ramifications.

Ph.D. Minor

Students must complete a total of 30 units for the Ph.D. Minor. 20 units must be from Statistics courses numbered 300 and above and must be taken for a letter grade (minimum grade of B for each course). The remaining 10 units can be from Statistics courses numbered 200 and above and may be taken for a letter grade or for credit. Students may not include more than three units of Stats 390, Consulting Workshop, towards the 30 units. The selection of courses must be approved by the Statistics department, and the Application for the Ph.D. Minor form must be approved by both the student's Ph.D. department and the Statistics department. Applicants should include a copy of their unofficial Stanford transcript, highlighting any relevant courses and grades, with the application.