Bioengineering, PhD

Contact Info

Bioengineering Department

Nguyen Engineering Building, 3800
4400 University Drive, MS 1G5
Fairfax, VA 22030

Phone: 703-993-4190

Email: bioneng@gmu.edu

The doctoral program in bioengineering is designed to prepare future leaders in bioengineering. The terms bioengineering and biomedical engineering often have been used synonymously, referring to the application of engineering techniques to solve problems in biology and medicine. Rapid advances in understanding the molecular bases of disease have opened up new opportunities to advance human health through research that integrates knowledge in modern biology, engineering, physics, and computer science. The doctoral program will prepare leaders in bioengineering in this broader, integrative sense of the discipline. A major distinguishing feature of the curriculum is that it is designed to educate leaders who understand and appreciate how biomedical technology is translated from the bench to the bedside. Regardless whether they will eventually serve at universities, industry or government, they will understand that new types of devices and processes resulting from advanced research not only need to be “better”, but that they must be “cost-effective” to reach the public. As demanded by their leadership positions, they will recognize that entrepreneurial considerations are essential for determining whether a planned diagnostic or therapeutic approach is likely to be practical and useful for society.

Total credits: 72-73

Four concentration areas are offered, aligned with current faculty research expertise:

  • Biomedical Imaging
  • Data-driven Biomechanical Modeling
  • Nano-scale Bioengineering
  • NeuroEngineering

Find degree requirements in the university catalog.

Program Requirements

The doctoral program in bioengineering is designed to prepare future leaders in bioengineering. The terms bioengineering and biomedical engineering often have been used synonymously, referring to the application of engineering techniques to solve problems in biology and medicine. Rapid advances in understanding the molecular bases of disease have opened up new opportunities to advance human health through research that integrates knowledge in modern biology, engineering, physics, and computer science. The doctoral program will prepare leaders in bioengineering in this broader, integrative sense of the discipline. A major distinguishing feature of the curriculum is that it is designed to educate leaders who understand and appreciate how biomedical technology is translated from the bench to the bedside. Regardless whether they will eventually serve at universities, industry or government, they will understand that new types of devices and processes resulting from advanced research not only need to be "better", but that they must be "cost-effective" to reach the public. As demanded by their leadership positions, they will recognize that entrepreneurial considerations are essential for determining whether a planned diagnostic or therapeutic approach is likely to be practical and useful for society.

Four concentration areas are offered, aligned with current faculty research interests: biomedical imaging, data-driven biomechanical modeling, nano-scale bioengineering, and neuroengineering.

The bioengineering PhD program requires successful completion of a course of study, a qualifying examination, a dissertation proposal and defense, and a dissertation and defense. Additional training requirements include seminar attendance, ethics training, translational bioengineering mentorship, and a teaching assignment. All the general requirements for doctoral degrees at Mason apply to this program as well.

Admission Requirements

Applicants must have completed a baccalaureate degree in engineering or the sciences from an accredited program with a reputation for high academic standards and an earned GPA of 3.3 or better in their 60 highest-level credits. 

In addition to fulfilling Mason's admission requirements for graduate study, applicants must:

  • Have demonstrated interest in combining engineering and the natural sciences with discovery and application in the life science; i.e. via a degree which reflects the desired combination (such as bioengineering, biophysics); a degree in engineering or the natural sciences which includes course work in life sciences; a degree in biology which includes course work in mathematics, physics, or engineering; a project or research experience with combined complementary expertise.
  • Provide three letters of recommendation, preferably from academic references or references in industry or government who are familiar with the applicant's professional accomplishments.
  • Provide a detailed statement of career goals and professional aspirations.
  • If their native language is not English, students must earn a minimum TOEFL score of 575 for the paper-based exam or 230 for the computer-based exam.
  • Provide official GRE scores.

Reduction of Credit  

Students must complete a minimum of 72 graduate credits, which may be reduced by a maximum of 30 credits from a related master's degree. Reduction of credit requires the approval of the program director or designee and the dean or designee of the school. They determine how many credits are eligible for the reduction of credit.

For students to remain eligible for the PhD program, they must maintain a "B" average. Grades of "C" or lower in courses cannot be counted towards degree completion.

Degree Requirements

The doctoral program consists of a minimum of 72 credit hours, distributed among the following categories:

Core Science (9-10 credits)

Biology Core (3-4 credits)

Select one from the following:

Computation/Mathematics Core (6 credits)

Select two courses from the following:

Core Bioengineering (6 credits)

Technical Electives (15 credits)

These courses develop additional technical expertise in a student's PhD concentration, and provide background for career skills in the student's chosen path for professional development. A maximum of only 6 credits can be at the 500-level.

Scientific and/or Technical Skills (12 credits)

Four courses will be scientific/technical and are to be chosen under the guidance and approval of the student's advisor.

Career Skills (3 credits)

One course will be focused on developing career skills relevant to college level teaching, entrepreneurship, or health care policy. For the career skills elective, students select a 3 credit hour course from one of the following options:

Entrepreneurship:

  • PUBP 781 - Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (3 credits)

Health Care Policy:

Teaching:

Concentration Areas (18 credits)

 Students must choose one from the following four areas:

Concentration in Biomedical Imaging (BMI)

Required Courses (9 credits)

Electives (9 credits)

Three more upper-level courses are to be chosen under the guidance and approval of the student's advisor. At least two of the three classes must be at the 700-800 level.

Concentration in Data-Driven Biomechanical Modeling (DDBM)

Required Courses (9 credits)

Electives (9 credits):

Three more upper-level courses are to be chosen under the guidance and approval of the student's advisor. At least two of the three classes must be at the 700-800 level.

Concentration in Nano-Scale Bioengineering (NBNR)

Required Courses (9 credits):

  • BENG 541 - Biomaterials (3 credits)
  • BENG 641 - Advanced Nanotechnology in Health (3 credits)
  • BENG 745 - Biomedical Systems and Microdevices (3 credits)

Electives (9 credits):

Three more upper-level courses are to be chosen under the guidance and approval of the student's advisor. At least two of the three classes must be at the 700-800 level.

Concentration in Neuroengineering (NRNG)

Required Courses (9 credits)

Electives (9 credits)

Three more upper-level courses are to be chosen under the guidance and approval of the student's advisor. At least two of the three classes must be at the 700-800 level.

Qualifying Examination

All students entering the Bioengineering PhD program will be required to pass a qualifying exam any time within the first year. The goal of the qualifying exam is to test the student's preparation to undertake doctoral level research.

A committee consisting of the student's advisor and at least two other members of the core bioengineering faculty will administer the exam. The exam will test the student's research competency as well as knowledge of core bioengineering concepts and competency in mathematics and computational methods. The exam will consist of a written research report submitted by the student, a research presentation by the student based on the report, and an oral exam by the committee.

Upon starting the PhD program, the student in consultation with their advisor will define a research topic for the qualifying exam. The topic could be a short original research project, or a review of relevant research in the student's area. The qualifying exam committee will provide the student a list of readings that the student is expected to master. The student will be expected to submit a research report to the committee and give a public research presentation. The report and presentation should demonstrate the student's ability to articulate a research question or a testable hypothesis, an understanding of the significance of the work informed by a critical review of the relevant literature, an understanding of the relevant research methods, and the ability to analyze and interpret relevant data. Following the research presentation, the committee will administer a closed-door oral exam that will probe in depth of the student's understanding of the relevant concepts.

The Bioengineering PhD Committee will review the recommendation of the qualifying exam committee and the students' academic record. At this point, the student should also submit a plan of study for the doctoral program developed in consultation with, and approved by, the students' advisor. Based on this information, the PhD Committee will determine whether or not the student is qualified for the PhD program. If the student does not qualify on their first try, they will be allowed to repeat the exam in the following semester, but the same committee will administer the exam. A student who fails to qualify on their second try will be removed from the program.

Advancement to Candidacy

Each student must present and defend a written dissertation proposal to advance to candidacy. The student is eligible to advance to candidacy after passing the qualifying exam, and satisfactorily completing the required courses in an approved plan of study filed by the student, and completing a minimum of 6 credits of BENG 998 - Doctoral Dissertation Proposal.

All students must advance to candidacy within 4 years after initial enrollment in the program, unless special waiver is granted by the PhD committee for extenuating circumstances. If the student has not demonstrated satisfactory progress to the PhD committee by the end of the 4th year, they can be terminated from the program.

The proposal should at a minimum clearly articulate the research question and the specific aims of the research, provide a critical review of the literature and present the rationale and the significance of the research in addressing a gap in scientific knowledge, describe the research methods and study design in sufficient detail and present preliminary results demonstrating the feasibility of the research.

The proposal must be made available to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the presentation. The committee determines whether the proposal has merit and can lead to significant original contributions to the area.

Following the research presentation, the dissertation committee will ask the students a number of questions in a closed session to evaluate the students understanding of the relevant literature and methods that are broadly related to the chosen area of research, and whether the student has the knowledge and skills to complete the proposed work successfully and in a timely manner. If the dissertation committee feels that the student is not adequately prepared, they may recommend remedial measures, including additional coursework to address any gaps in knowledge, or modification of the aims of the proposal. The student can appear for advancement to candidacy a second time anytime within one year. Failure in the second attempt results in dismissal from the program. On completing this requirement successfully, the student is advanced to candidacy for the PhD degree.

Dissertation Research (24 credits)

Students are expected to complete 24 credits of BENG 998 and BENG 999 towards their degree. Students cannot enroll in BENG 998 before they have passed the qualifying exam. Students cannot enroll in BENG 999 before they have advanced to candidacy. Students who advanced to candidacy after the add period for a given semester must wait until the following semester to register for BENG 999. Students cannot advance to candidacy and defend their dissertation during the same semester. In special cases, waivers may be granted by the PhD committee. Once enrolled in BENG 999, students must maintain continuous registration in BENG 999 each semester until graduation, excluding summers. Students who defend in the summer must be registered for at least 1 credit of BENG 999 during that summer term.

Select 24 credits from the following:

Dissertation Committee Selection

Each student must form a dissertation committee, comprising four or five individuals. A minimum of two members of the committee must be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the Department of Bioengineering. One member must be from outside the department. The chair of the dissertation committee must be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the Department of Bioengineering. The dissertation director can be a member of the Bioengineering graduate faculty with primary appointment outside of the Department of Bioengineering. The committee and the chair must be approved by the chair of the Department of Bioengineering. It is expected that the student will form a committee shortly after passing the qualifying exam.

Dissertation Proposal

Each student must prepare a written dissertation proposal. While preparing this proposal, the student enrolls in BENG 998 - Doctoral Dissertation Proposal.

The proposal must be made available to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the presentation. The proposal must be presented to and approved by the dissertation committee. The committee determines whether the proposal has merit and can lead to significant contributions to the area and whether the student has the knowledge and skills to complete the proposed work successfully and in a timely manner. Students may present their dissertation proposal only after passing the comprehensive exam, and the presentation may not be on the same day as the comprehensive exam. If the student fails to defend the proposal, the student may present a dissertation proposal a second time at a later date. Failure in the second attempt results in dismissal from the program. On completing this requirement successfully, the student is advanced to candidacy for the PhD degree.

Dissertation Preparation and Defense

While preparing the dissertation, the candidate enrolls in BENG 999 - Doctoral Dissertation.

The candidate can proceed to a public defense of the dissertation once their dissertation has been approved by the dissertation committee.

The dissertation must make significant contributions to its area as evidenced by refereed journal and/or conference publications. All students are expected to defend their thesis within 3 years after defending their proposal, unless special waiver is granted by the PhD committee for extenuating circumstances.

The defense must be announced at least two weeks in advance. The dissertation draft must be submitted to the library and made publicly available at least two weeks in advance of the defense. The entire dissertation committee must be present at the defense, unless an exception is approved by the director of the PhD in Bioengineering Program in advance of the defense. If the candidate fails to defend the dissertation, the candidate may request a second defense, following the same procedures as for the initial defense. There is no time limit for this request other than general time limits for the doctoral degree. A candidate who fails a second attempt to defend the dissertation is terminated from the program.

Additional Training Requirements

Bioengineering Seminar

All PhD students are required to attend a minimum of 3 departmental seminars per semester. Students will sign an attendance sheet available at the end of each seminar.

Ethics Training

Prior to beginning research studies in a Bioengineering laboratory, all PhD students must complete the on-line Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Responsible Conduct of Research course. CITI training modules provide students with an understanding of conflicts of interest, research misconduct, peer review, and authorship.

Bioengineering Mentorship

All PhD students are required to participate in mentoring at least one undergraduate Bioengineering senior design team for a duration of 1 year. PhD students work with the faculty advisor for the senior design team and are expected to apply translational and entrepreneurial concepts towards the mentorship of the team.

Teaching Requirement

All PhD students are required to participate in teaching activities in consultation with their major advisors. Teaching opportunities include presenting lectures, conducting recitation sessions, serving as a teaching assistant, working as a laboratory assistant, participating in teaching workshops, preparing course materials, and other related activities approved by the student's advisor.

Total: 72-73 credits

Note: Students who elect to take BMED 601 in the Biology Core will complete a minimum of 73 credit hours.

 

Opportunities

Graduates of the PhD in bioengineering find work with medical device companies, pharmaceutical firms, and regulatory agencies such as the FDA, or may they pursue careers in academia. The department is dedicated to supporting its PhD students educationally and financially. Students who are accepted to the program will gain financial support from scholarships, research, and teaching assistantships.

Research areas include nanotechnology, biomechanics, sensor-motor integration, bio imaging, and neuroscience. The small size of the program gives students opportunities to connect on a personal level with other students and faculty and engage in leading edge research early on. PhD students become published authors and attend international conferences to present their work. While pursuing their degree, they will work in labs with faculty whose research is funded by organizations such as NIH and NSF and become an integral part of those research teams. The department’s research is multidisciplinary and collaborations exist locally, nationally, and internationally with schools at Mason, Inova Hospitals, the Children’s Hospital in DC, Veteran Hospitals, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic, Helsinki University Hospital in Finland to name a few.

In 2015 the department initiated an agreement with Carlos III University in Madrid so students may study abroad. If they choose, they may serve as volunteers for Engineering World Health and travel to Guatemala to fix medical equipment in hospitals.

This information is being provided here for your planning purposes only. For official catalog information, please refer instead to the official George Mason University Catalog Website at http://catalog.gmu.edu.