Rapid technologically driven advances in understanding and treating human disease have opened up vast opportunities to advance human health through research that integrates engineering, basic sciences, medical sciences, and knowledge of industry practices. The doctoral program will prepare leaders in bioengineering in this broader, integrative sense of the discipline. A major distinguishing feature of the curriculum is its emphasis on understanding how biomedical technology is translated from bench to bedside. Graduates from this program will eventually work in universities, industry or government in a variety of roles, including scientific research, technology development, and regulatory affairs.

Admissions

Application Requirements

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

  • Have 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 highest-level engineering-related credits.
  • Provide official GRE Scores.
  • Provide three letters of recommendation, preferably from academic references or references in industry or government who are familiar with the applicant's aptitude for research.
  • Provide a resume and detailed statement of career goals and professional aspirations, including why they want to study at Mason, and two faculty with whom they want to work.
  • Demonstrate 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, biomedical engineering, biophysics); a degree in engineering or the natural sciences which includes coursework in life sciences; a degree in biology which includes coursework in mathematics, physics, or engineering; a project or research experience with combined complementary expertise.
  • If their native language is not English, students must take the English Proficiency exam. Test score minimum requirements are available at https://www2.gmu.edu/admissions-aid/how-apply/graduate/standardized-test-information.

Policies

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.

Program Requirements

The Bioengineering PhD program requires successful completion of coursework detailed in a plan of study, qualifying examination, dissertation proposal, and final dissertation defense. Additional training requirements include seminar attendance, ethics training, and mentoring and teaching experience.  All the general requirements for doctoral degrees at Mason apply to this program as well.

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. Refer to the University policy AP 6.6.2 (https://catalog.gmu.edu/policies/academic/graduate-policies/) and the Mason Engineering Graduate Student Resources regarding academic termination policies. 

Banner Code: VS-PHD-BIOE

Degree Requirements

Total credits: 72

Complementary Background

Students choose 6 credits of complimentary courses 16
Students with a background in engineering or related field select:
Molecular Cell Biology for Bioinformatics
Chemistry and the Brain
Students with a background in a non-engineering or related field select:
Numerical Analysis I
Numerical Methods in Engineering
Quantitative Foundations for Systems Engineering
Total Credits6

Core Bioengineering

BENG 801Bioengineering Colloquium II 13
Select 12 credits from the following bioengineering courses: 212
Bioengineering Research Methods
Pathophysiology and the Role of New Technologies in Human Diseases
Intellectual Property, Regulatory Concepts and Product Development
Collaborative Bioengineering Basic Science Research
Collaborative Bioengineering Clinical Science Research
STAT 554Applied Statistics I 33
or STAT 535 Analysis of Experimental Data
or STAT 560 Biostatistical Methods
Total Credits18

Concentrations

Select one concentration and complete the requirements therein.

Biomedical Imaging and Devices (BMID)

BENG 538Medical Imaging3
BENG 537Medical Image Processing3
or BENG 570 Bioinstrumentation and Devices II
BENG 704Laboratory Rotations in Biomedical Imaging and Devices3
BENG 738Advanced Medical Image Processing3
Total Credits12

Computational Biomedical Engineering (CBME)

BENG 520Biomedical Data Analytics3
BENG 530Continuum Biomechanics and Biotransport II3
BENG 535Multi-Scale Modeling and Simulation in Biomedicine3
BENG 705Laboratory Rotations in Computational Biomedical Engineering3
Total Credits12

Biomaterials and Nanomedicine (BNM)

BENG 521Cell and Tissue Engineering3
BENG 541Biomaterials3
BENG 641Advanced Nanotechnology in Health3
BENG 703Laboratory Rotations in Biomaterials and Nanomedicine3
Total Credits12

Neurotechnology and Computational Neuroscience (NTCN)

BENG 526Neural Engineering3
NEUR 634Neural Modeling3
NEUR 689Topics in Neuroscience3
BENG 706Laboratory Rotations in Neurotechnology and Computational Neuroscience3
Total Credits12

Technical Electives

These graduate courses develop additional technical expertise in a student's PhD concentration. Students must choose 12 credits from the following list and/or from the concentration courses that are not already being taken for the concentration requirement. At least half of the selected classes must be at or above the 600 level.

Technical Specialization12
Bioengineering
Advanced Topics in Bioengineering
Computational Motor Control
Biomedical Systems and Microdevices
Modeling and Simulation of Human Movement
Independent Reading and Research in Bioengineering
Electrical, Computer & Mechanical Engineering
Computer Architecture
Introduction to Random Processes in Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sensor Engineering
System Engineering Design
Adaptive Signal Processing
Foundations of Fluid Mechanics
Bioinformatics
Biomolecular Modeling
Numerical Methods for Bioinformatics
Systems Biology
Protein Structure Analysis
Introduction to Biophysics
Introduction to Computer Simulations of Biomolecules
Biochemical and Cellular Systems Modeling
Machine Learning for Bioinformatics
Biology and Chemistry
Personalized Medicine
Virology
Cancer Genomics
Human Genetics
General Biochemistry
Advanced Eukaryotic Cell Biology
General Biochemistry I
Bioorganic Chemistry
Modern Polymer Chemistry
Protein Biochemistry
Physics
Computational Physics I
Physics of Modern Imaging
Finite Element Analysis of Solids and Fluids
Applied Mechanics of Solids
Applied Fluid Mechanics
Mathematics and Statistics
Numerical Analysis
Experimental Design
Applied Multivariate Statistics
Applied Regression Analysis
Multivariate Statistical Methods
Statistical Learning and Data Analytics
Neuroscience
Developmental Neuroscience
Cellular Neuroscience
Mammalian Neuroanatomy
Molecular Neuropharmacology
Computational Neurobiology
Total Credits12

Program of Study

Upon starting the PhD program, the student should review the course requirements in the catalog and, in consultation with their advisor, define a plan of study and declare a concentration. The recommended timeline, milestones, instructions, and forms can all be found on the Bioengineering PhD program's website: https://bioengineering.gmu.edu/academics/phd-bioengineering.   

Qualifying Examination

All students entering the Bioengineering PhD program are expected to pass a qualifying exam within one to two years of entering the program. Detailed instructions and forms can be found here. The goal of the qualifying exam is to test the student's preparation to undertake doctoral level research. The exam will test the student's research competency as well as knowledge of core bioengineering concepts and competency in complementary areas.  

A committee identified by the student's advisor (dissertation director) will administer the exam. The exam consists of a written and oral component, times and dates of which are determined by the student's dissertation director. The candidate’s dissertation director communicates with the committee to determine the four topics of the exam, completes the qualifying exam topics form and transmits the form to the candidate. At least two months prior to the written exam, the student will receive a reading list from each committee member. The committee members provide their written questions to the committee chair who puts them together into the final form of the written exam. The student will take the written exam and their answers will be transmitted to the committee members. The oral exam will take place about one week after the written exam.  

Composition of the Qualifying Exam Committee:

The committees for the qualifying exam consists of four individuals:

  • A minimum of two members, including the chair of the committee must be graduate faculty in the Department of Bioengineering.
  • One member must be graduate faculty from outside the department.
  • The chair of the committee is responsible for ensuring the correct forms are completed and procedures are followed.
  • The dissertation director is the main scientist guiding the student’s research and cannot be chair of the committee.

Written Exam:

A set of four topics, relevant to the student’s concentration and research topic, will be assigned to the student as representing essential knowledge that the student should master to be successful in their research, at least two months prior to the qualifying exam. In addition, the qualifying exam committee will provide the student a list of readings for each topic that the student is expected to master. The list of readings can include specific articles, books or book chapters, or syllabus items (e.g. from a class at Mason) for each of the topics. Each of the committee members creates written questions for one of the topics which will be provided to the student on the day of the exam.

The written component is a four hour exam with questions from each of the four examiners. There will be one question per examiner and each question is expected to require one hour to answer. The exam is closed book. One question can be replaced by a computational assignment to be completed by the time of the oral. In that case, the total written exam time will be reduced to three hours.

Oral Exam:

At least one week after the written exam, the student will take the oral exam. The oral consists of answering questions by the qualifying committee related to the topics of the written exam.  

Grading:

The committee determines whether the candidate has passed or failed the exam based on the written report and oral exam and reports the results in the qualifying exam results form. The committee optionally provides a list of recommendations, e.g. additional material the student needs to master. If the student fails the exam, the committee has the option of recommending that the student re-takes the exam, and if so, must specify what must be improved, e.g. knowledge of certain topics, oral presentation, and/or written exam. The committee can also specify a time frame for the second exam. The exam can only be repeated once. A student who fails to qualify on their second try will be removed from the program.

Dissertation Proposal

Each student must prepare and defend a written dissertation proposal to their dissertation committee. The student's dissertation director names the committee and chooses the date and time of the oral presentation. Detailed instructions, grading rubrics, and required forms are all found here. 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. All committee members assess the written proposal and oral presentation using the grading rubrics. 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 qualifying exam, and the presentation may not be on the same day as the qualifying 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.

Written Proposal:

The proposal should at a minimum clearly state the research question and the specific aims of the research, provide a critical review of the literature, present the hypotheses, 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. Additional guidelines are provided in the written proposal rubric.

Oral Presentation and Exam:

The candidate must present the proposal to committee in a venue open to the public. The presentation should be 30 - 45 minutes long. Following the research presentation, the dissertation committee will ask the students a number of questions 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. Additional guidelines are provided in the oral presentation rubric.

Grading:

The written proposal and oral presentation are graded according to rubrics and the results reported in the proposal results form. 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 proposal may be repeated once.

Advancement to Candidacy

The student is advanced to candidacy for the PhD degree once they have successfully presented and defended a written dissertation proposal, completed all 48 course credits, and completed a minimum of 6 credits of BENG 998 Doctoral Dissertation Proposal. The student should also submit the Advancement to Candidacy form. The instructions for advancement to candidacy and the required form can be found here.

Dissertation Research

Students are expected to complete 24 credits of BENG 998 Doctoral Dissertation Proposal and BENG 999 Doctoral Dissertation towards their degree. Students cannot enroll in BENG 998 Doctoral Dissertation Proposal before they have passed the qualifying exam. Students cannot enroll in BENG 999 Doctoral Dissertation 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 Doctoral Dissertation. Students cannot advance to candidacy and defend their dissertation during the same semester. Once enrolled in BENG 999 Doctoral Dissertation, students must maintain continuous registration in BENG 999 Doctoral Dissertation each semester until graduation, excluding summers. Students who defend in the summer must be registered for at least 1 credit of BENG 999 Doctoral Dissertation during that summer term.

Select 24 credits from the following:24
Doctoral Dissertation Proposal (6 credit minimum, 12 credit maximum)
Doctoral Dissertation (12 credit minimum)
Total Credits24

Dissertation Committee Selection

Each student must form a dissertation committee, comprising four or five individuals:

  • A minimum of two members, including the chair of the committee must be graduate faculty in the Department of Bioengineering.
  • One member must be graduate faculty from outside the department.
  • The chair of the committee is responsible for ensuring the correct forms are completed and procedures are followed.
  • The dissertation director is the main scientist guiding the student’s research and cannot be the chair of the committee.
  • It is strongly recommended that one of the committee members be external to the university.

Refer to https://catalog.gmu.edu/policies/academic/graduate-policies/#text for who is allowed to be on these committees (see section AP.6.10.5 Dissertation Committee). The dissertation proposal committee has the same requirements as the dissertation committee. It is recommended for continuity that the same faculty should be on the committee for the qualifying exam, dissertation proposal, and dissertation defense; however, committee membership can be changed if circumstances warrant.

Dissertation Preparation and Defense

The candidate must write and publicly defend their dissertation. The student's dissertation director names the committee and chooses the date and time of the oral defense. The committee must sign and submit a pre-defense form four weeks prior to the defense. Detailed instructions, grading rubrics, and required forms are all found here. 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.

The candidate should begin early in the term to meet the deadlines (https://registrar.gmu.edu/students/graduation/timelines/). The candidate schedules a Format Review with University Dissertation & Thesis Services (UDTS) at least 2 - 3 weeks prior to the defense (https://library.gmu.edu/udts/process). The candidate provides the written dissertation to the committee at least 4 weeks before the defense. The defense must be announced at least two weeks in advance. 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.

Dissertation:

The dissertation should report on research performed by the candidate during their studies at Mason. Ideally, the main chapters of the dissertation are comprised of published manuscripts, submitted manuscripts, and the student’s final manuscript in preparation. The dissertation should include an introductory chapter, which gives a broad overview of all the research, and a concluding chapter, which summarizes the main findings of the body of work, and outlines future directions suggested by the research. Additional guidelines are provided in the written dissertation rubric. Format of the dissertation is determined by University Dissertation & Thesis Services.

Oral Presentation and Exam:

The candidate must present the dissertation to committee in a venue open to the public. The oral presentation should last 30 - 45 minutes and include a general introduction and background to enable understanding by a broad audience. Explanation of the candidate’s research should focus on the most significant results with easy to understand graphics. Additional guidelines for preparing the presentation are provided in the oral presentation rubric.

Following the research presentation, the dissertation committee will ask the candidate a number of questions to evaluate the student’s understanding of research. The questioning generally begins with the external examiner and ends with the research director. Multiple rounds of questioning can occur. Once the committee’s questions are complete, other attendees have an opportunity to ask questions of the candidate.

Grading:

Following the presentation and questions, the candidate and other attendees leave the room to allow the committee to deliberate. The deliberations are presided by the chair of the committee who begins by asking the external examiner to evaluate the candidate. Other committee members then provide their evaluations ending with the research supervisor’s evaluation. All committee members assess the written dissertation and the oral presentation using the grading rubrics and the results are reported on the dissertation results form. If the dissertation committee feels the dissertation does not make a sufficient contribution, or that the oral presentation was inadequate, the committee may request further research or require a repeat of the oral presentation.

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

For degree conferral all PhD students are required to participate in at least one teaching activity 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.