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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 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 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); comply with the breadth requirement (second/third year); successfully complete the thesis proposal meeting (before end of third year); and present a draft of the 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. All students who have passed the qualifying exams but have not yet passed the University oral examination must take 319 at least once per year. 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 2014-15

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

Doctoral and Research Advisors

From the student's arrival until the selection of a research advisor, the student's academic progress is monitored by a faculty member, currently Susan Holmes, who is designated as department Doctoral Advisor. Each student should meet at least once a quarter with the Doctoral Advisor to discuss their academic plans and their progress towards choosing a thesis 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, and are typically, but not always, taken during the summer between the student's first and second years. Students may take two or three of these examinations and are expected to show acceptable performance in two examinations. Letter grades are not given. After passing the qualifying exams, students will file for Ph.D. candidacy, a University milestone.

While nearly all students will pass the qualifying examinations, those who do not can arrange to have their financial support continued during the period when other plans are being made. With very few exceptions, all students will be able to complete 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 will give a short presentation and discuss their ideas for completing a PhD thesis, with a committee consisting of their advisor and thesis committee (a total of four members). The meeting must be successfully completed before the end of their third year.  If the 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 both to the student's presentation and also explore the student's familiarity with broader statistical topics related to the thesis research. The oral examination will normally be completed within the last few months of the student's PhD period. The examining committee usually consists of four faculty members from the Statistics Department and a fifth faculty member from outside the department. 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 be the same as the thesis committee from the thesis proposal meeting.

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 thesis committee.

Training Program in Biostatistics

More information is available here.

Masters Degree

Ph.D. students who do not already have a Masters degree in Statistics will normally have fulfilled the requirements for the degree 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 Masters degree in a related department while pursuing the Ph.D. in Statistics, although this will usually mean doing substantial course work in the related department.

Ph.D. Minor

Students must complete 30 total units for the Ph.D. Minor. 20 units must be from Statistics courses numbered 300 and above (and taken for letter grades). The remaining 10 units can be from Statistics courses numbered 200 and above. The selection of courses must be approved by one of the M.S. advisers.

The Application for the Ph.D. Minor form must be approved by both the student's Ph.D. department and the Statistics department.

Graduate Student Association

The Ph.D. students in our department have organized themselves into a Graduate Student Association. The GSA provides a means for discussing academic and nonacademic issues of interest to students. The GSA also sponsors some social activities and assists in the assignment of teaching assistant duties.