Carnegie Mellon University

Ph.D. Program


Formal coursework for a Ph.D. must cover at least three out of five core areas: physiology and cellular/molecular biology, biomaterials and tissue engineering, biomechanics, biomedical imaging and bioinformatics, and neuroengineering; Each of these core courses must be of 9 units or more. Graduate level introductory courses in each core area are available for students who are unfamiliar with the subject area. Aside from the core area requirement, considerable flexibility is allowed in the selection of courses to adapt to diverse interests, educational backgrounds, and career plans. Students are also allowed to take a certain number of upper-level undergraduate courses to broaden their background.


Students start thesis research within a few weeks of matriculation. Research during the first year defines the theme for the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination at the beginning of the second year. The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to ensure that the student is sufficiently prepared and motivated to complete Ph.D. thesis research. Students submit a research document and take an oral examination with questions centered around the subject of the document. The questions may range from fundamental knowledge, prior research, to future prospect. By passing the Qualifying Examination, the student is formally accepted as a Ph.D. candidate.

The ensuing Ph.D. research must demonstrate the student’s ability to conduct an original, coherent, and independent investigation, to abstract principles, and to interpret the results in a logical manner. The student must pass a Ph.D. Proposal Examination, designed to assess the plan for completing the Ph.D. research, within the first three years of residence. Ph.D. dissertation and oral defense must be completed within six years of passing the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination.

Other Requirements

All students are required to take Biomedical Engineering Seminar (42-701) or (42-801) during each semester of residence. All Ph.D. students must also complete three semesters of Teaching Assistantship. Detailed requirements are described in the Graduate Student Handbook.

Direct Entry

Students entering the Ph.D. program without an M.S. degree are classified as Direct Entry. Direct Entry students must satisfactorily complete at least 84 units of coursework, among which at most 21 units may be advanced undergraduate courses. Most Direct Entry students graduate within 4-5 years of full-time study.

Advanced Entry

Qualified candidates with an approved M.S. degree may be accepted into the Advanced Entry Ph.D. program. Advanced Entry students are required to complete 42 units of coursework, among which at most 9 units may be advanced undergraduate courses. Advanced Entry students are expected to devote most of the effort to research starting the first year. Many of them are able to graduate in no more than 4 years.


The Department of Biomedical Engineering participates in a combined M.D.-Ph.D. Program with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, to offer M.D. degree from the University of Pittsburgh and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. The aim is to allow physician-engineers to blend research and clinical perspectives in treating patients.

Prospective students should apply directly to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, indicating an interest in the Ph.D. Program in Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. During the first semester of the second year of medical school, the student should submit an application to the Ph.D. program, which may include supporting documents previously submitted to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Students formally enter the Ph.D. program after completing their second year of medical school, although research may start as soon as the summer before the first semester of medical school and during the subsequent two summer semesters. This allows the student to gain a total of six months of research before officially entering the Ph.D. program.

Ph.D. requirements are similar to those for the Advanced Entry Ph.D. program except that there are no specific core course requirements, such that students may tailor biomedical engineering -relevant courses in consultation with the advisor. Completion of the Ph.D. program is targeted at 3-4 years.  The student then returns to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine to completes the last two years of M.D. training.

BME PhD Admission and Completion

As a top ranked graduate school, CMU is selective in its PhD admissions. Once admitted, CMU BME has a regular PhD review process that tracks student progress and ensures supportive mentorship. As a result, the large majority of our students complete their PhD.

BME PhD Financial Support

All full time Ph.D. students accepted through the normal application process are provided continued support for the duration specified in the admission offer letter, subject to successful progress evaluated each semester, including tuition, fees and a competitive stipend.

Much of the efficiency of the Ph.D. Program, where most students graduate within 5 years, may be attributed to the early start of research and the rigorous system of performance assessment held...


Students start thesis research within a few weeks of matriculation. Research during the first year also defines the theme for the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination at the beginning of the second year.