Epidemiology Track Handbook

Table of Contents

General Program Information

Welcome to the Joint Doctoral Program (JDP) in Public Health Epidemiology, a collaborative effort of two academic institutions, San Diego State University (SDSU) and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) that originated in 1990. While there are several joint doctoral programs in place between SDSU and UCSD, there are three with a Public Health focus: epidemiology, health behavior and global health. The purpose of this handbook is to guide you through the next few years and supplement the information contained in the SDSU Graduate Bulletin under General Requirements for Doctoral Degrees.

The JDP is jointly administered by the School of Public Health (SPH) at SDSU and the Division of Epidemiology, Department of Family Medicine and Public Health (FMPH) in the School of Medicine, via Graduate Division at UCSD. As a student in this program, you will complete course work and conduct research at both institutions. Faculty from each campus will serve on your advisory and dissertation committees, providing you with extensive exposure to experts with varied interests and proficiencies. The program is co-directed by faculty and staff from both institutions (See Appendix B for list of JDP faculty). The JDP co-directors and coordinators for the Epidemiology track are as follows.

Faculty and Staff Contact Information

Shira Goldenberg, PhD

Assistant Professor

Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics


Gretchen Bandoli
Associate ProfessorEpidemiology
Dept of Pediatrics, UCSD


Mandi Graham
Hardy Tower 119
(619) 594-2393
Carrie Goldsmith
UCSD Pepper Canyon Hall
(858) 246-5423
Brenda Fass-Holmes
Hepner Hall 129
(619) 594-4492

While in this program you should document your affiliation on all professional citations including memberships, presentations, publications and other professional affiliations as follows:

San Diego State University/University of California, San Diego | Joint Doctoral Program in Public Health (Epidemiology)

Proposed Course of Study

The course of study should take into consideration: (1) required courses; (2) required teaching experience; (3) courses that would assist in passing the preliminary examinations in epidemiology and biostatistics (see section below) as well as oral and written qualifying examinations and the formal defense of a dissertation; and (4) courses that provide expertise in public health research principles.

If you do not have a Master’s degree in Epidemiology or equivalent preparation, additional courses must be taken before embarking on doctoral study. If you have a previous Master’s degree in Epidemiology (or equivalent coursework), the first year in the JDP will be at SDSU completing core coursework, electives, and the doctoral seminar. After the first year, your SDSU residency requirement will be completed. Depending on your background and experience, and with the approval of the Advisory Committee, you may fulfill one of the teaching requirements during this first year. During the second year, you will complete core coursework at both campuses; continue electives on both campus, and begin or continue teaching requirements. After the second year, your UCSD residency requirement should be completed. Beginning in the third year, you will be in residence at the campus that provides the faculty expertise and optimum environment for completing your dissertation. Although you may be taking courses on only one campus in a particular semester/quarter, you must enroll at each campus every semester/quarter. See Registration Information and appendix D for details.

Advisory Committee

The Advisory Committee (comprised of the two Co-Directors) works with all JPD students to develop a suitable course of study and monitor program progress to ensure that Advancement to Candidacy proceeds in a timely manner.

Once you choose a Dissertation Committee, the Dissertation Committee will assume the role of the Advisory Committee. You will meet with the Advisory Committee at the beginning of your first semester/quarter and every year during the spring semester, when an evaluation is completed.

Registration and Enrollment


When you are admitted to SDSU you will receive an e-mail with your Red ID or your Empl ID. As of Fall 2023, incoming students will only have the Empl ID.  This is your account username to access the SDSU WebPortal. If you do not already have your SDSU ID, get it on-line at Activating Your SDSU ID.

First step is to create a new student portal account. http://www.sdsu.edu/portal. The “My Registration” WebPortal service features:

  • Student personal registration information
  • Add/Drop and Substitute functions
  • Real-time, interactive class search engine
  • Integrated personal class schedule
  • Student information Handbook

You must have a working e-mail address to retrieve your new temporary PIN needed to activate your portal account. E-mail resources are available if you need to obtain an e-mail account. Once you establish your personal account and login to the e-services WebPortal, click on My Registration Info. You will then be provided with your personal registration information.


The office of the registrar will email you to complete the UCSD application process. Once they have collected all their necessary forms, they will forward your information to the Office of Graduate Studies (OGS). OGS will then send you a letter of acceptance via email. It will direct you to access WebMail, Web Registration (WebReg) and a variety of other TritonLink online tools. Access by using the user ID, or personal identification number (PID) you received from your application process. Then with your User ID, you will create a password in WebMail, which will give you access to registration.

Please visit http://tritonlink.ucsd.edu to access your account.

Our Public Health (Epidemiology) Program is known as PB79 in the UCSD registrar’s system.


Students should always enroll and register/pay fees at SDSU. However if a student is receiving funding from UCSD in the form of employment, stipend or award; the student will need to register for 1 unit of FPM296, Independent Study, using the S/U (pass/fail) option. A fee waiver will then be processed by the graduate coordinator at UCSD to cover tuition/fees on that campus. To maintain health insurance, students must register at SDSU for at least six units every semester. These units could be classes or PH-897. Students with a UCSD administered grant or fellowship will have to register on that campus full time, and pay fees at UCSD via their grant. Please check with your graduate coordinator and grant administrator about specific requirements, as this is a case-by-case scenario.

Please note that your health insurance is directly tied with paying fees, so your coverage will be on whichever campus you pay fees to.

Keep in mind that UCSD is on the quarter system and SDSU is on the semester system, so the starting and ending dates of each quarter/semester will vary. Check the academic calendars for each institution:

SDSU Academic Calendar and UCSD 2023-24 Academic Calendar

ID Cards and Parking

ID Cards


ID cards should not have an expiration date and should indicate doctoral student status. The cost for an ID card is $25.00 and they can be paid during registration. For more information and to get an SDSU card click here.


The Campus ID Card office is located in the new Student Services Center, 402 University Center (Building #931 on campus maps), east of the Administration Complex and southeast of the Price Center. Student Business Services, including the Bursar’s office occupy the third floor, south wing of the building. The initial ID card is free, but replacement cards cost $15. Students must present a picture ID to have the ID picture taken.

JDP students have privileges at all of the UCSD libraries on campus, using their ID. A list of current graduate students is provided to the library each academic year to enable library privileges.



Doctoral students may purchase a student parking permit each semester, which can be used in all student lots. View current fees. Doctoral students who have a teaching assistant appointment at SDSU qualify to purchase a Faculty/Staff permit. If you’ve already purchased a student permit you can exchange it for a Faculty/Staff permit at the Public Safety Office. However, the coordinator will also send a list of current doctoral students to the Public Safety Office every semester. If you’re a current student on that list, you too will be able to purchase (or trade your student parking permit for) a Faculty/Staff permit. Whether you purchase a Student or Faculty/Staff permit the fee is based on the semester rates. More parking and regulation information may be obtained from the SDSU parking website. Also, when you're ready to purchase a faculty/staff parking permit via the Aztec Parking Portal, please contact the Parking Services office (619-594-6671) to inform them that you plan to purchase the permit that day so that they can update your account. Otherwise, the student status overrides it everyday and you will be unable to purchase the faculty/staff one. With the F/S parking permit, you can park at both the student and F/S parking spaces, so you'll find a lot more parking spaces available to you with the F/S parking permit.


Parking permits for UCSD can be purchased at the UC San Diego Parking Office, located on Russell Lane, in the ground level, west side of the Gilman Parking structure. Graduate student permits are available on a quarterly basis with the option of paying monthly via the students account. Graduate students may purchase permits, which allow them to park in staff parking (B) for a higher rate, as well as student parking (S). Other options are to purchase an occasional use permit, which are good for the quarter, for 10 uses (student (S) spaces only). Another option is to purchase the T/H/F or M/W/F permit, which is good for the quarter (student spaces only). If you are not on the UCSD campus every day you can buy daily permits at the information booth, or use the pre-paid machine parking in the Gilman Parking Structure.

Reciprocal Parking Privilege


Doctoral students have reciprocal parking privileges. If you have business at both institutions and you purchase a parking permit at either institution you will receive a free parking pass at the other institution. An email will go out every semester. Please fill out the survey to request this privilege.

Student Lounge & Dining, Campus Maps & Shuttles, and Email Accounts

Student Lounge & Dining


Lounge: All doctoral students are eligible for keys to the doctoral lounge in PSFA 185. There are two keys: one for the building and one for the room. The doctoral lounge has computers with Internet access and printers. To obtain keys please contact the SDSU coordinator or HT-119 staff from the School of Public Health (SPH) office with your key request(s). Once form is ready you’ll be notified. Please bring your SDSUcard (ID) to pick up the key request form from the SPH office (HT-119). You will then take that form to the Public Safety Office to get your key.

Dining: The SDSU Faculty-Staff Club (FSC) offers a comfortable environment to enjoy a leisurely lunch or just to meet a colleague or friend. The Club is governed by a board of students who are committed to providing an inviting place for the campus community. The Club is perhaps best known as a place to have lunch. All campus faculty and staff are invited to eat at the facility. However members receive a discount on their meals.

SDSU graduate doctoral students get a very good break on this so stop by and check it out. View club facts including cost. The Club is located in the heart of the campus across from the library. View other SDSU dining options.


Lounge:  The HWSPH Graduate Student Lounge is located in the Student Affairs suite in Pepper Canyon Hall.  This room is open for use Monday-Thursday 9am-3:30pm.  Please email hwsphedteam@health.ucsd.edu for access outside of these hours.

Lounge: The Biomedical Library Graduate Student Lounge provides a location for current UCSD graduate and professional students to study undisturbed 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, excluding campus closures. Please follow the link above for detail and information on using the study room.

Dining: The UCSD Faculty Club is available to graduate students. There is an initiation fee plus monthly dues. All-you-can eat lunches are approximately $13.00. The Club is located west of Geisel Library and provides a nice indoor-outdoor dining experience. For more information online: http://facultyclub.ucsd.edu

Campus Maps & Shuttles

Maps are available at the information booths, or online at the address below.


SDSU Campus Map Directory
SDSU Red & Black Shuttle


UCSD Campus Map Directory
UCSD Shuttle Map

Email Accounts


A student can create an email account via the student’s WebPortal and instructions are on the following link: SDSU Student Email Account.


Email accounts can be set up through the UCSD IT Services. Students may also set up their own webpage.

Learning Objectives

The goal of this program is to prepare graduates for careers in public health research, practice and teaching. Upon graduation, students with a Ph.D. in Public Health will be able to:

  • Describe the distribution and determinants of health and disease in populations, and the factors that influence these distributions.
  • Describe major national and international health concerns, their established risk factors and other contributing factors for these problems.
  • Identify the ethical issues involved with studies of human populations.
  • Develop a systematic approach for planning, collecting, processing and analyzing information in research and practice settings.
  • Apply appropriate analytic and statistical methods to data generated from a wide variety of public health research.
  • Design and implement independent research addressing a public health problem.
  • Develop and write fundable research proposals and critique those of other investigators.
  • Translate public health research findings into recommendations for specific interventions, health policies, or further investigative research.
  • Communicate scientific findings clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing to other health professionals, as well as to the media and broader community.

In addition, graduates of the Epidemiology track will also be able to:

  • Identify, measure, and discuss the major categories of bias and their potential impact on measures of association, assess the potential for their occurrence in specific situations, and propose methods to evaluate and/or reduce their influence on the measures of major interest.
  • Identify situations where confounding and effect modification may be important, and apply designs and statistical methods to quantitatively assess confounding and effect modification.
  • Understand and apply methods necessary to conduct outbreak investigations.
  • Apply a range of sampling techniques and calculate appropriate sample sizes in accordance with study objectives.
  • Understand and apply the principles of screening for diseases and risk factors, calculate and interpret sensitivity, specificity, and predictive values of negative and positive tests.
  • Employ methods of direct and indirect standardization or adjustment for factors such as age or gender in a study population.
  • Identify and apply appropriate advanced statistical methods including multivariable regression, factor analysis, logistic regression, survival analysis, and cluster analysis.
  • Apply the principles of causation in designing studies and interpreting published literature.
  • Use appropriate epidemiologic and statistical methods to calculate and interpret dose-response issues and trends in prevalence or incidence of disease outcomes or risk factors.

Student Conduct & Plagiarism




The curriculum that leads to the doctoral degree is based on already having a Master’s degree in Epidemiology or having taken the equivalent coursework (as noted below).

PH 601 3 Epidemiology SDSU
PH 602 3 Biostatistics SDSU
PH 621 3 Epidemiology Infectious Disease  SDSU
PH 622 3 Epidemiology Chronic Disease SDSU
PH 627 3 Advanced Statistics Methods in P H SDSU

Core Requirement

With an existing Master’s degree in Epidemiology (or after completing the equivalent coursework) the requirements for the JDP are as follows:

39 total semester equivalent units: 28 in advanced epidemiology and 11 in biostatistics.

Epidemiology (28 semester units)
Methodology courses
PH 623 3 Epidemiological Methods SDSU
PH 724 3 Advanced Methods in Epidemiology SDSU
FPM259ABC 4* (x 3 quarters) Applied Epidemiology UCSD
PH 800 2 (x 2 semester) Doctoral Seminar SDSU
FPM258ABC 2* (x 3 quarters) Public Health Doctoral Lecture Series UCSD
2 methods courses from the following
FPM285 2* Clinical Trials Issues & Dilemmas UCSD
PH 820A 3 Modern Epidemiology Methods I SDSU
PH 820B 3 Modern Epidemiology Methods II SDSU
Biostatistics (11 semester units)
PH 628 3 Application Multivariate Statistics in P H SDSU
2 units (minimum) programming courses**
PH 629 3 SAS for Biostatistics II SDSU
PH 700A 3 SEM: Data Analysis Using R SDSU
2 biostatistics courses from the following
STAT 510 3 Applied Regression Analysis SDSU
PH 722 3 Analysis of Clinical Trials SDSU
PH 826 3 Analysis of Case-Control Studies SDSU
PH 827 3 Analysis of Cohort Studies SDSU

*(UCSD quarter units x 2/3 = SDSU semester units)

**See section on Other Required Material for programming requirements.


  • Electives requirement: 15 semester equivalent units, may be taken at either campus.
  • Residency requirement: 24 semester units at SDSU and 36 quarter units at UCSD.

Typical Course Load

Courses for Fall
PH 623 3 Epidemiological Methods
PH 628 3 Multivariate Statistics
3 Design Course *
3 Biostatistics **
PH 800 2 Doctoral Seminar
1 Programming
Courses for Spring
PH 724 3 Epidemiological Methods
3 Design Course *
3 Biostatistics **
PH 800 2 Doctoral Seminar
1 Programming

* Two design courses from the following:

  • Clinical Trials (FPM/NEU 285 at UCSD)
  • Design: Modern Epidemiology Methods I (PH 820A at SDSU)
  • Design: Modern Epidemiology Methods II (PH 820B at SDSU)

** Two biostat courses from the following:

  • Applied Regression Analysis (STAT 510 at SDSU)
  • Analysis: Case-Control Studies (PH 826 at SDSU)
  • Analysis: Cohort Studies (PH 827 at SDSU)
  • Analysis: Clinical Trials (PH 722 at SDSU)

*** Prerequisite: Completion of all SDSU core courses

Other Required Material

In addition to the core and coursework requirements listed above, the following is also required for this program.


15 semester equivalent units in specialization area The elective units are intended to be taken in course work and field study to improve your expertise in your selected area of emphasis. These units can be taken from either institution. Typical areas of emphasis include infectious disease epidemiology, chronic disease epidemiology, cancer epidemiology, behavioral epidemiology, community base trials, physical activity/exercise and health, and nutrition and health. The Advisory Committee and your Dissertation Committee will advise you to take electives in your dissertation topic area. See Appendix C for course descriptions. This requirement can be completed before or after advancement to candidacy.

Independent Study Electives

Together with a program faculty member, you may design a course of independent study and/or research as an elective. In order to enroll in independent study units with a faculty member, please complete an ISP request form (available from the UCSD Graduate Coordinator), which includes a description of the course objectives and deliverables. You will need to complete the form and gather approval signatures from the faculty member as well as the track directors (electronic signatures are permitted). Submission of this form to the program coordinator (Hollie Ward) constitutes a contract between you and your faculty advisor to complete the described work.


The grade of a “B” or better is required in this program. Contact the graduate coordinator if you need to repeat a course. Both grades will be used to calculate the cumulative GPA.

Data Analysis Programming Proficiency

You must demonstrate proficiency in two of the statistical computer packages. Proficiency in statistical packages (SPSS, SAS, R, Python) is defined as course work in each package (a SAS course is offered at SDSU and SPSS is offered at SDSU and UCSD) or demonstrated familiarity with the software. For each package, you should be able to write a program that demonstrates computing skills in data management and analysis. Given a data problem and an accompanying (ASCII) data file, you should be adept at: creating systems files; transforming and creating new variables; carrying out basic data screening procedures and descriptive statistics; carrying out univariate and multivariate analyses appropriate to the problem; and demonstrating appropriate interpretation of the computer output. SPSS at SDSU meets for twelve 2-hour sessions in the Fall semester; SAS meets for twelve 2-hour sessions in the Spring Semester. This requirement must be completed prior to advancing to candidacy.

Teaching in Epidemiology (2 semesters/quarters)

Working with the Advisory / Dissertation Committee, you will determine appropriate courses to meet the teaching requirement. To obtain credit, you will enroll in a total of 6 SDSU units (2 semesters for 3 units each) Special Projects (PH 898). Helping faculty teaching courses in epidemiology or biostatistics at either institution will fulfill the teaching requirement. Please note that this requirement can be completed at either SDSU or UCSD, but should involve two different classes. The only other courses acceptable for the teaching requirement will be courses in your dissertation topic area and must be approved by your Advisory / Dissertation Committee. At least one of the two teaching semesters/quarters must be in epidemiology or biostatistics. The semesters when you are enrolled in teaching units (Field Supervision), you will be expected to assist with grading course materials, hold help sessions, and present at least one lecture to the class during the semester. This requirement can be completed before or after advancement to candidacy.

Research and Dissertation (6 units/semester)

The Ph.D. dissertation should consist of original epidemiologic research that adds significantly to the existing state of knowledge. The project should include original data collection, although your Dissertation Committee may waive this requirement provided that you have had significant experience with original data collection through another project. After advancing and completing required coursework, students will register at SDSU for 6 units of Research (PH-897) each semester they are working on their dissertation. When the student plans to defend his/her dissertation, they will then register for 6 units of Dissertation (PH-899) if they fail to complete in the Spring semester they will need to register for three (3) units of PH-899 for the summer. Summer registration is not budgeted. The student will be responsible for payment.

Epidemiology Research Exchange Conference

UCSD and SDSU partner with the San Diego County Health Department and the Naval Health Research Center each year to host a conference which highlights local epidemiological research. The day-long conference is usually held the first Friday in May. Students are expected to attend this conference every year. Presenting research is also highly recommended. Students taking FPM 259 at UCSD (in 2nd year of program) will be required to present their research at this conference.

Preliminary Examinations

Overview of the Epidemiology Preliminary Exam


This examination (offered every summer) will test your ability to understand basic principles of epidemiology as well as require you to integrate and apply these concepts. The exam will include, but is not limited to, the material covered in the Epidemiology Core Classes of PH601 (or equivalent), 623, 820A, and 820B and may include the following topic areas:

  • Study Design (case-control, cross-sectional, prospective studies, outbreak investigation, community intervention trials, ecologic studies);
  • Screening (sensitivity, specificity, PPV, NPV);
  • Sampling (simple random, systematic random, stratified random, cluster sampling);
  • Causation;
  • Measures of Frequency (incidence, prevalence, rates/ratios/densities/ – crude, specific, adjusted);
  • Effect and Association (ratio and difference measures);
  • Analysis of Vital Statistics;
  • Precision;
  • Validity;
  • Bias;
  • Confounding;
  •  Matching.

In addition, you should be familiar with the use and interpretation of:

  • Sample Size; Power
  • Stratified analysis (M-H methods)
  • Regression
  • Analysis of Follow-up Data
  • Interaction (effect modification)
  • Test for Homogeneity
  • Dose-response/test for Trend.

Preparation should also include review of:

  • Principles of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology (outbreak investigations, infectious concepts, control of infectious diseases) and Chronic disease epidemiology (risk factors and disease outcomes or major chronic diseases).

Studying for the epidemiology Preliminary Examination should include review of material covered in the Epidemiology core classes (listed above) and studying from any of a number of epidemiology textbooks. Texts which may be particularly relevant for the exam include:

  • Modern Epidemiology, (Rothman)
  • Methods in Observational Epidemiology (Kelsey)
  • Foundations of Epidemiology (Lillienfeld)
  • Case-Control Studies (Schlesselman)
  • Epidemiology (Gordis)
  • Field Epidemiology (Gregg)
  • Statistical Methods for Rates and Proportions (Fleiss)
  • Statistical Methods in Cancer Research Vol. 1: The Analysis of CaseControl Studies (Breslow & Day)
  • Statistical Methods in Cancer Research Vol 11: The Design and Analysis of Cohort Studies (Breslow & Day).



Overview of the Biostatistics Preliminary Exam

This examination (offered every January) will test your ability to understand biostatistical concepts and applications of biostatistics to the analysis of epidemiologic data. Topics will include, but are not limited to, those topics covered in 602, 627 and 628 (SDSU) and may include the following: probability and probability distributions, relationship between populations and samples, sampling distributions, point estimation, construction of confidence intervals, hypothesis testing for the one-sample and two-sample problems, analysis of categorical data, simple and multiple linear regression, simple and partial correlation, one- and two-factor analysis of variance, analysis of randomized blocks, statistical issues related to confounding and interaction, use of dummy variables, analysis of covariance, concepts of stepwise variable selection, logistic regression, analysis of
covariance, concepts of stepwise variable selection, logistic regression, maximum likelihood estimation, point and interval estimation of the adjusted odds ratio in logistic regression, likelihood ratio test, basic concepts of survival analysis, censored samples, functions of survival time, product-limit and life-table estimates, log-rank and Wilcoxon tests, Cox proportional hazards model, point and interval estimation of adjusted relative risk, basic concept of time-dependent covariates, regression diagnostics for multiple and logistic regressions, principal components analysis, cluster analysis, ordinal and polychotomous logistic regressions, Poisson regression, and analysis of longitudinal data using mixed effects models.

Studying for the Biostatistics Preliminary Examination should include review of lecture material covered in the SDSU biostatistics core courses (listed above). In addition to the books listed under Epidemiology, many of which discuss biostatistical methods, the following books will also be useful in studying for the exam: Fundamentals of Biostatistics (Rosner), Applied Regression Analysis and Multivariable Methods (Kleinbaum, Kupper, Muller, Nizam), Computer-Aided Multivariate Analysis (Afifi and Clark), Logistic Regression: A Self-Learning Text (Kleinbaum), Survival Analysis: A Self-Learning Test (Kleinbaum), Statistical Analysis of Epidemiologic Data (Selvin).


Depending on your background and experience, you should plan to take the Preliminary Exams after either your first or second year of study. The Advisory Committee can provide input as to your readiness for these exams. The Epidemiology Preliminary Exam is administered every July and the Biostatistics Preliminary Exam is administered every January. To take the exam, you must first notify the SDSU Director of your intentions by June 1st for the Epidemiology exam and by December 1st for the Biostatistics exam. The SDSU Director will determine the exact dates for each year’s exam after consultation with the students who have provided written notification of intention to sit for the examination.


The exams are developed from questions submitted by Epidemiology and Biostatistics faculty from both campuses. The Preliminary Exam Committee is made up of the Co-Directors plus at least 1 other faculty from each institution. Two members of the Preliminary Exam Committee will independently grade each exam without knowledge of the student’s identity. Both readers will agree on the assignment of a numerical grade for each exam. If two readers disagree about the competency of a student, a third member of the Preliminary Exam Committee will evaluate the exam.


Scoring of the exams will be on a 100-point scale. Students with a grade of 80% or higher will receive a Pass. Students with a grade of 75% or lower will receive Fail. The Pass/Fail status of students with a grade of 75% to 79% will be determined on an individual basis. For these students, the Preliminary Exam Committee will review the student’s record and the items missed on the exam and determine whether the student will: 1) be given a Pass conditional on taking additional coursework in weak areas; 2) be asked to answer additional questions in weak areas to determine Pass/Fail status; 3) be given a Fail and be instructed to retake the entire exam the next time it is offered.


If you feel that your exam was graded unfairly, you may appeal in writing to the SDSU Program Director. In these cases, the JDP Steering Committee will decide the appeal. All communication between the student and Steering Committee will take place through the Program Director until the appeal has been decided. The Steering Committee will render its decision within 10 working days after the appeal is received, or as soon thereafter as a quorum of the Steering Committee is available. The decision of the Steering Committee is final with respect to the substantive issues. You have two attempts to pass each of the preliminary exams. If you do not pass on the second attempt you will be asked to leave the program. Readmission to the program requires a petition to the JDP Steering Committee through the Program Director.

Advancement to Candidacy

Upon successfully completing the JDP Core coursework at both campuses and passing the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Preliminary Examinations, and the SAS/SPSS proficiency requirement, you may begin the process of Advancement to Candidacy (to be completed by the end of year 4). The student is responsible to take the initiative to complete these steps:

  1. Identify a dissertation topic area
  2. Identify a chair for your committee
  3. Identify your dissertation committee
  4. Complete written qualifying examination
  5. Write the dissertation proposal
  6. Defend the dissertation proposal (oral qualifying examination

Also see UCSD Graduate Division Rules for Advancing to Candidacy

1. Identify a Dissertation Topic Area

The first step is to identify a dissertation topic. The usual process is to prepare a brief (one page description of your proposed dissertation project and consult with JDP faculty to refine your ideas.

2. Identify a Chair

You will then approach one JDP faculty member to be the chair of the Dissertation Committee. The Chair of the dissertation committee must be an Epidemiology faculty at SDSU or UCSD, or approved by the JDP Co-Directors. See Appendix B for a list of SDSU and UCSD faculty and their status to chair or serve on your committee.

3. Identify a Dissertation Committee

In consultation with your Dissertation Chair and the Advisory Committee you will then select a minimum of four other faculty members to make up the entire Dissertation Committee. Of the five members two members must be from the SDSU GSPH faculty, two must be from the UCSD HWSPH and one member must be from outside either the SDSU GSPH or the UCSD HWSPH (or other approved). A minimum of two members including the chair must be from the Epidemiology faculties of either SDSU or UCSD and one member from Biostatistics is highly recommended. After the Dissertation Committee has been nominated and approved by both Universities, you will meet with all committee members to discuss your dissertation topic. When the committee members agree to your topic and general plan, the Dissertation Committee will prepare and administer the written qualifying examination.

Please Note: You must submit your committee composition information as well as the approval from both track directors to the UCSD graduate coordinator before proceeding with your dissertation. Candidates must complete at least three quarters of continuous academic residence prior to the appointment of the doctoral committee, and must be currently registered and enrolled at UCSD. Your committee must be approved before you can sit for your written qualifying examination or begin formal work on your dissertation. Allow 4 – 6 weeks for the formal Graduate Division approval process once has been submitted to the graduate coordinator. If it becomes necessary to make changes to the dissertation committee as nominated (this rarely happens), you must request to reconstitute by following the same instructions as the initial approval process.

4. Complete the Written Qualifying Examination

This written qualifying exam is a comprehensive assessment of core epidemiology and biostatistics knowledge and the ability to apply such knowledge. It is in the format of an R01 or R21 grant proposal on a question that the dissertation committee will set.   You will be given 1-2 weeks to complete this proposal with timeframe determined in consultation with your dissertation chair. After the proposal is returned to the Chair, it will be distributed and graded by all committee members. After feedback from the committee members the Chair will grade the examination as either Pass, Fail, or Revise and Resubmit. In the case of a Fail, you will have one additional attempt to pass this exam.

The written proposal must be the original work of the student.  The work may be done to help support future research but should not represent previous proposals by the student, or previous work that the student was a part of.  If there are questions about this requirement, the student should discuss it with the committee chair prior to starting the proposal. The proposal should be distinctly different from the planned dissertation project.

General content guidelines for written qualifying exam/grant proposal:

  1. The proposal should follow current NIH PHS 398 guidelines for the Research Plan including the sections for Specific Aims, Research Strategy, Human Subjects and Bibliography/References (see Table below).
  2. Other sections including personnel, facility and budget sections are not required.  Preliminary data is not required.
  3. In contrast to current NIH guidelines, the Significance and Innovation sections of the Research Strategy, while important, are not the focal point of the exam.  The Approach section (including design, methods, and analysis) is key.
  4. Students are strongly encouraged to use overall study concept and/or design figures.
  5. A justification is required for the use of measures to address the specific aims. Student is strongly encouraged to use the best possible ‘state of the science’ measures appropriate to address the research question.
  6. A detailed data analysis section is required outlining how each of the specific aims will be addressed.  Include a section on study power (a statistician cannot write this section).
  7. A study timeline diagram and description should be included

Guidelines for Dissertation Committee:

  1. The topic of the written exam should be distinctly different from the dissertation, although it can be on the same disease or risk factor (but not both), or on a topic that the student is already familiar with in terms of background literature.  In fact this is preferred, unless there are few relevant articles to review, i.e. the topic is very narrow.
  2. The committee will come to consensus on whether the exam is be labeled “pass, revise and resubmit, or fail” (new question and resubmit, which counts as the second and final attempt).
  3. Students will meet with the chair and discuss this review prior to developing a point-by-point response.
  4. In cases in which the dissertation committee feels that there were very serious limitations on the proposal, the committee may ask the student to rewrite the full proposal.
  5. The dissertation committee will consider the student’s written response to all reviewer comments  and, if applicable the rewritten proposal, prior to coming to consensus on a pass/fail score.

Research Plan (Only the following sections of the Research Plan are required)

  1. Specific Aims (1 page)
  2. Research Strategy (R01 – 12 Pages, R21 – 6 pages)
  3. Bibliography and References Cited
  4. Protection of Human Subjects

5. Write the Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal is a detailed description of the proposed research project. At the discretion of the Dissertation Committee, you have the option of submitting a traditional dissertation or a dissertation consisting of at least three manuscripts. You should present this choice as part of the oral qualifying exam. If you choose the alternative method, each of the proposed manuscripts should be presented as part of the oral exam. The entire committee must approve any subsequent changes in method or manuscript topics. The proposal is a contract between you and your committee describing the work to be completed. Any changes that occur during the course of the research project must be discussed with, and approved by, the entire Dissertation Committee. The proposal typically includes an abstract, a literature review, a rationale for the proposed study, a detailed methodology section (including study design, data collection procedures, power and sample size calculation, and proposed data analysis plans for the whole project or for each of the manuscripts), and a detailed discussion of the potential strengths and limitations of the research project. Proposals are usually 20 pages in length and may include pilot data (per discretion of the Chair). For an example, contact UCSD’s Graduate Coordinator.

6. Defend the Dissertation Proposal (Oral Qualifying Examination)

Once you have completed the proposal, you can schedule an oral defense of the proposed research. This is your oral qualifying examination. After selecting a date when all of your committee members can be present, you will need to circulate your proposal at least 10 days prior to the oral exam date. At the oral defense, you will present your dissertation proposal and answer questions from committee members. Typically, you will prepare a PowerPoint presentation to highlight key elements of your proposed research. The presentation should not last longer than 30-45 minutes to allow sufficient time for questions. Successful completion of the oral proposal defense will allow you to Advance to Candidacy. If the committee feels that you are not adequately prepared to conduct the proposed project, you will be advised of committee concerns and may be asked to re-defend the proposal at a later time.

You should take the JDP-3 form (Report of the Qualifying Exam and Advancement to Candidacy) to your oral examination. All committee members will sign this form indicating that you have passed this milestone. When this form has been completely processed, you will be officially Advanced to Candidacy. Please note your advancement should be completed at least 3 quarters prior to defending your thesis.

Dissertation Research

After advancing to candidacy, students will register at SDSU for 6 units of Research (PH-897) each semester they are working on their dissertation. When the student plans to defend his/her dissertation, they will then register for 6 units of Dissertation (PH-899) for that semester only.

The Ph.D. dissertation should consist of original research that adds significantly to the existing state of knowledge of health behavioral science. The student is ultimately responsible for the conduct of his/her research project and should consult with committee members as needed. If the project deviates from the written proposal, it is his/her responsibility to get approval from committee members; substantive changes from the research proposal require committee discussion and approval prior to undertaking the work. Details of all substantive changes, the rationale for each, and a clear description of how these changes sustain the methodological rigor of the study must be provided to the Dissertation Committee.The committee may require an oral defense of these changes and/or additional modifications in procedures.

During the time that the student is conducting research, he/she must update the entire committee on dissertation progress at a minimum of every three months until the dissertation defense. This update may be as short as one paragraph and may be general in nature. In addition, the student will meet at least annually with the Chair and a minimum of one other committee member to review progress to date and plans for the upcoming period. The committee will also complete the formal progress review form.

The student is responsible for circulating dissertation drafts to committee members. How drafts are circulated will often vary by committee but the committee should agree on this process before writing begins. (Students may choose to work closely with one or two committee members and then circulate later drafts to the entire committee, or circulate all drafts to each committee member.) Students should recognize that the writing process takes time and should expect that numerous drafts will be circulated prior to defense. When the Chair of the Dissertation Committee feels the student is ready to defend, the student will be notified that he/she can proceed with setting a defense date.

Dissertation Options

The PhD dissertation should consist of original epidemiologic research that adds significantly to the existing state of knowledge.  The project should include original data collection, although the student’s dissertation committee may waive this requirement provided that the student has had significant experience with original data collection through another project.

At the discretion of her/his dissertation committee, students have the option of submitting a traditional dissertation or a dissertation consisting of manuscripts.  The student should present her/his choice of method as part of the oral qualifying exam.  If the student chooses the alternative method, she/he must also present a discussion of each of the proposed manuscripts as part of the oral exam.  Any subsequent changes in method or manuscript topics must be approved by the entire committee.

For both options, the student must conduct a formal defense of the completed dissertation.

Option 1: The traditional dissertation typically includes the following sections or chapters: introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion.  Appropriate appendices, i.e. data collection instruments and informed consent forms, should be included.

Option 2: The alternative dissertation includes:  an introduction, 3 or more published or submitted manuscripts, and a discussion.  All manuscripts should relate to the central theme of the dissertation.  Manuscripts must receive approval of the entire committee prior to submission. Student must be first author of at least 3 of the manuscripts.  Published manuscripts can be submitted as reprints.  A separate literature review is optional. Appropriate appendices, i.e. data collection instruments and informed consent forms, should be included.

If a student chooses option 2 they should complete a letter to the Dean, Office of Graduate Studies at UCSD, prior to scheduling their defense, which outlines their proposed papers, and acknowledges co-author’s permission.  An example of this letter can be found in Appendix E.

Human Subjects

When working on any research project while in the JDP, all students must ensure human subject concerns have been addressed by having the project approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of both SDSU and UCSD. All research projects are subject to IRB approval, even analysis of data that have already been collected. Research projects that involve primary data collection must have IRB approval prior to any data collection.

Human subjects’ forms and instructions are available at each institution. For additional information, location and maps to the offices, or to obtain online forms for SDSU see

Human Research Protection Program and for UCSD see http://irb.ucsd.edu.

Dissertation Defense and Submission

A formal defense must be conducted prior to filing the dissertation. You must coordinate a date for the defense with all committee members. A complete draft of the dissertation must be delivered to each committee member no less than 30 days before the defense date. The defense announcement including date, location, and dissertation title must be submitted to the JDP Coordinators on both campuses no less than 14 days prior to the defense date. Please note, at least 3 quarters (UCSD) of residency is required post advancement, if you plan to defend sooner than the three quarter’s, please contact the UCSD Graduate Coordinator so that she can process a general student petition, asking that this requirement be waived.

Bring to the defense the JDP Form 5 “Report of the Final Examination and Filing of the Dissertation” (see appendix) and two copies of the signature page of your dissertation. All members of the committee will sign the JDP Form 5 and both copies of your signature page.

Upon successful completion of the dissertation defense, the dissertation document must be formatted according to the filing rules of the Graduate Division at UCSD.

After your dissertation is written, you need to make an appointment with UCSD Graduate Division, who will check your dissertation to make sure it meets the format specifications as described in the dissertation booklet. Bring a copy of your dissertation on regular inexpensive bond paper in its final form. It is probable that this preliminary check of your dissertation will reveal a few minor formatting problems that you will need to correct.

When the formatting is completed, an electronic copy will be turned into UCSD Graduate Division. They will advise you of any additional steps you may need to complete. Additional electronic copies will be sent to SDSU Graduate Division. Since you will have already had your dissertation accepted by UCSD, SDSU will not need to check it over, but will simply verify that it was accepted by the UCSD Graduate Division.

UCSD: http://www.etdadmin.com
SDSU: http://www.montezumapublishing.com

Hard copies are usually given to each member of your Dissertation Committee, please check with your committee to see what format they prefer (electronic or hard).

In terms of the graduation ceremony, you are encouraged to work with your chair to select in which ceremony you prefer to participate; the SDSU ceremony occurs in May and the UCSD ceremony is held in June. According to the UCSD Graduate Division, you may only participate in the ceremony if the dissertation has been completed and final copy submitted.

Spring Evaluation


Each year you will receive a comprehensive progress review. The review for pre- candidacy students is to be conducted by the Advisory Committee and signed by the Co- Directors, and the student. The evaluation is used to track the student’s progress through the program. In preparation of your evaluation meeting, please complete the Doctoral Student Progress Form Word doc and bring along the form.  Additionally you will need to review and sign the online UCSD Spring evaluation.  Please follow this link to the online Annual Spring Evaluation Tool to complete that requirement  The Spring Evaluation is due to the UCSD Graduate Coordinator by June 1.

In the event that a student has established their committee, but has not yet advanced to the In-Candidacy status; the student’s chair will be responsible for the generation of the evaluation. Online signatures in this scenario will include the student, committee chair, the directors from UCSD and SDSU, and the Program Chair from UCSD.


Each student in PhD candidacy is to receive an annual substantive progress review. At least three members of the student’s doctoral committee are to participate in the review. The review should cover the student’s progress to date, recommended modifications to the dissertation’s scope or methodology, and timetable for completion.

The doctoral committee chair shall write up the results of the review and discuss them with the student. All members of the doctoral committee participating in the review (at least 3 including the Chair), the student, the UCSD and SDSU directors and the Program Chair at UCSD are to sign the online progress report.

The Spring Evaluation is due to the UCSD Graduate Coordinator by June 1.

Please note: failure to complete the spring evaluation will create a hold on your UCSD account, which will prevent you from registering the following fall quarter.

The only exemptions for submitting Spring Evaluation are students who will advance to candidacy or graduate in spring quarter (when the evaluation is due). Students need to notify both Directors, via email, in either of these cases. Also, those students that are on an active Leave of Absence (LOA) are not required to submit a Spring Evaluation Letter.

Policy on PHD Time Limits

The goal of this policy is to encourage students to complete their Ph.D. in a timely manner. The following time limits have been set for this program:

  1. Pre-Candidacy limit:     4 Years     Maximum registered time in which a student must advance to Ph.D. candidacy.
  2. Tuition waiver limit:       5 years     Maximum time in which a student may have their tuition waived at SDSU without extension request.
  3. Support limit:                6 Years     Maximum registered time during which a doctoral student is eligible for support.
  4. Total time limit:             7 Years     Maximum registered time in which a student must complete all Ph.D. requirements.

In addition, each program has a “normative time”, the period within which students, under normal circumstances, are expected to complete requirements for the Ph.D. The normative time for students entering the program with a Masters degree is 4 years.

Policy on Leave of Absence (LOA) and Withdrawal

Up to two semesters (SDSU) and three quarters (UCSD) of time spent on leave from the program will not count towards the normative time limits. Additionally, any unexpired time limits will get move forward equivalent to the number of semester(s)/quarters(s) taken off.  Time spent on an approved leave of absence (LOA) in excess of two semesters (SDSU) and three quarters (UCSD) will count toward the normative and support time limits.


Students must request a leave of absence for each semester they wish to be absent. First, an informal meeting of the Chair of the Advisory/Dissertation Committee should take place to discuss options available. To request a LOA, please get written approval from both JDP track directors (E-mail is preferred) and copy the SDSU coordinator. Once approved, the coordinator will forward this request to the appropriate personnel in the Graduate Affairs office. A LOA cannot be granted if the student has a registration hold or are still enrolled in classes. If the student is requesting a LOA in the middle of the semester, the student will need to withdraw from the classes prior to going on a LOA.


To request a leave of absence from UCSD, please contact the UCSD Graduate Coordinator, who will provide and process the form. At the time of the request, you will need to indicate if you are registered or not registered for classes.  When the form is processed and approved by the Graduate Division and the Registrars Office, they will remove you from classes if needed.  Do not remove yourself from classes. This process is different from what is required by SDSU, please make sure to read the above instructions carefully.

Form must be filed no later than the end of the second week of instruction of the quarter in which the leave is to begin.

Students are not permitted to continue in doctoral status if they have not advanced to candidacy before the expiration of the pre-candidacy time limit (four years), or if they have not completed the program before the expiration of the total time limit (seven years). Students will not be permitted to receive SDSU- or UCSD-administered financial support after the expiration of the support limits (6 years).

If a student withdraws and subsequently returns with a completed dissertation, the student may petition the department for readmission. To be eligible for readmission, the student must have been in good academic standing at the time he/she left the program and must satisfy departmental requirements for readmission. Upon leaving the program, the department may provide a letter specifying the conditions under which the student can be readmitted.

Ph.D. candidacy lapses when a student withdraws from the Ph.D. program. If a previously-advanced student withdraws and is later readmitted, the doctoral committee members are asked if they will continue serving on the doctoral committee; if they will not, the doctoral committee must be reconstituted. Students will be re-advanced to candidacy upon the recommendation of the doctoral committee (who may require the student to retake the oral qualifying examination) and upon payment of the candidacy fee, after which the student can defend his/her dissertation.

Further Details from UCSD Graduate Division on Leave of Absence and Withdrawals

Procedures: Extension of a Leave

To extend an approved leave of absence, a student must notify the major department or group graduate coordinator at least two weeks prior to the end of the quarter in which the leave terminates.  An extension requires approval of the department. The International Center must approve a Leave of Absence for all international students.

Procedures: Returning from a Leave

When planning on returning from a Leave of Absence, a student must notify the graduate coordinator of the quarter in which s/he intends to register. The coordinator notifies Graduate Divison who then reinstates the student. The student cannot register until this is done. Notification of return from a leave can only be given to Graduate Divison by the department.

Employment While Conducting Research

The doctoral candidate is a full time student prior to the successful defense of the student’s dissertation. Normally, employment up to 50% time is permitted for graduate students. It is expected that the remainder of their time is devoted to their studies or research. Therefore, the student should not secure full-time employment until the student’s dissertation is successfully defended. The doctoral candidate should consult his/her Dissertation Chair to determine the optimal time to start applying to jobs and postdoctoral opportunities.

Graduation Deadlines

There are three deadlines to take into consideration when preparing for graduation.

  1. Applying for graduation from SDSU Graduate Affairs Division. For fall graduation the deadline is mid- September; for spring it is mid-February.
  2. Submitting the dissertation to SDSU Graduate Affairs Division, This must be done by the last day of the relevant semester.
  3. Submitting the dissertation to the UCSD Graduate Division. This date is always one day before the last day of the quarter in which the students intends to graduate.

Please Note: Students should choose the earlier of the two deadlines in every case to qualify on both campuses.