The PhD Degree in Biomedical Informatics

The PhD degree allows graduates to lead research in academic, industry, or government positions. All prospective applicants should note that the program in Biomedical Informatics is intellectually rigorous, and emphasizes research in novel computational methods aimed at advancing biology and medicine. You may also want to investigate degree programs from other computational and quantitative graduate programs (Bioengineering, Computer Science, Statistics) and other programs in the Biosciences Programs (such as Genetics, Chemical & Systems Biology, or Structural Biology). In contrast to the other computational/quantitative programs, BMI focuses more on informatics issues of knowledge representation and reasoning, data mining and analysis, and machine learning, while in contrast to the Biosciences programs, BMI places greater emphasis on method development and evaluation than on basic science. Faculty from many departments have research projects of a computational nature, and in some cases there is considerable overlap, but our applications committee evaluates the fit of your application to our program, so the choice of a home program is an important one.

Our students come from diverse backgrounds and training experiences. Some enter straight from baccalaureate training, while others have pursued advanced degrees, such as an MS, MPH, or MD, or worked in clinical medicine, bioengineering, biotechnology, or software engineering.

Prerequisites

Please see the prerequisites page.

Degree Requirements

The curriculum is described on Stanford ExploreDegrees.

The doctoral program is a full-time, residential, research-oriented program. BMI does not offer part-time or distance education leading to the PhD. However, some students have applied to the part-time distance education MS program, completed that degree, and then submitted a separate application to the PhD program. There is no guarantee that Masters graduates will be accepted into the PhD program.

PhD students typically start in the fall quarter, but may begin in the preceding summer. They spend an average of about five years at Stanford.

Candidates are encouraged to explore the various research interests of the biomedical informatics core and participating faculty. Lab rotations during the first year expose students to different labs and faculty. Prior to being formally admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree at the end of the second year of study, each student must demonstrate knowledge of informatics fundamentals and a potential for succeeding in research by passing a qualifying examination. Students later complete and defend a doctoral dissertation.

MDs interested in the PhD should contact us early, especially if you are coordinating the BMI training with further medical residency or fellowship training. It is also important to ensure that sufficient math and computer science prerequisites are completed before applying.

Funding

All of our PhD students are fully funded. However, our NLM and BD2K Training Grants only cover US citizens or permanent residents. International students need to seek external fellowship support, and should start on this process well in advance of applying so that at least preliminary results are known before application decisions are made. Others are also encouraged to apply for external fellowship support (e.g., NSF) on their own, but are not required to do so during the application process. We do not accept "self-pay" PhD students. Our students are supported by one or more of the following means:

  1. The National Library of Medicine (NLM) Training Grant and Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Training Grant. BMI supports most doctoral students through one of these two training grants from NIH. These training grants (and other funds) pay tuition, a stipend, and health insurance. Students on a training grant must be US citizens or permanent residents.
  2. The Stanford Graduate Fellowship. This award is open to all PhD applicants in all departments and programs regardless of citizenship, and is quite competitive. BMI applies for a small number of applicants each year.
  3. Our students also may receive Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowships, Stanford BIO-X Fellowships, National Center for Human Genome Research Fellowships, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowships, NSF Fellowships, and others.
  4. You could apply for Stanford's Knight-Hennessy Scholars program.

Application Instructions and Deadlines

Applications are due late November/early December each year. See details on the Graduate Admissions webpage and on the Biosciences Application website.

  • Complete the Biosciences PhD application online.
    • Note that the Biosciences Program allows you to select up to three departments/programs from which you will receive simultaneous consideration. Also note that only one PhD application per academic year is allowed, and that Computer Science, Bioengineering, and Statistics are not part of the Biosciences Program.
    • Submit scanned (unofficial) transcripts as part of the Biosciences application. If you are invited for an interview, then we will need two official copies of each transcript. (Ignore the instructions on the main Stanford Graduate Admission site about transcripts.)
    • See our page about the Personal Statement.
    • Please include an up-to-date version of your CV.
    • Stanford requires the GRE General Test. We do not require any GRE Subject Test scores.
    • Application materials, including letters of recommendation and at least unofficial GREs, should be received by the deadline. We do review all applications, including incomplete ones.
    • For materials that are mailed, please use our Contact Address.
    • Please do NOT upload supporting materials, such as published or unpublished papers, posters, or class projects, with your application.
  • Check the status of your application can be tracked through the Biosciences status webpage. Interview invitations go out in early January, and interviews are in late February or early March. Offers of admission are made on a rolling basis starting in March. Finals decisions from admitted candidates are due by April 15.
  • The selection of PhD students admitted to BMI is based on an individualized, holistic review of each application, including the applicant’s academic record, the letters of recommendation, the scores on the General GRE (Graduate Record Examination), the statement of purpose, personal qualities and characteristics, and past accomplishments.
  • Deferral of admission: BMI generally does not allow deferral of admission to the PhD program, and it is better for you to apply when you are ready to begin your graduate study following the normal timeline. However, sometimes one's circumstances change; please contact us if that happens to you.

Frequently Asked Questions

It is highly recommended that you review our Frequently Asked Questions page.