Doctor of Philosophy in the Field of Biomedical Engineering

Program Overview

The PhD in biomedical engineering (BME) is designed to prepare rising scholars and researchers to apply engineering principles to problems in medicine and biology; to understand and model attributes of living systems; and to synthesize biomedical systems and devices to produce original research. Students work closely with a faculty advisor in their chosen research area to create a curriculum plan and to receive guidance for the doctoral dissertation. Students may focus their dissertation research in areas such as cardiac electrophysiology, therapeutic ultrasound, drug delivery, image analysis and image processing, medical imaging and computer-aided diagnosis, assistive robotics, optogenetics, microfluidics, and lab-on-a-chip technologies. Research partnerships between departmental faculty and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, George Washington University Hospital, Children’s National Health System, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and National Institutes of Health offer valuable synergistic research experiences for BME doctoral trainees.

Specific admission requirements are shown on the Graduate Program Finder.

More information is available on the departmental website.

Credit Requirements

The following requirements must be fulfilled:

General requirements are stated under School of Engineering, Doctoral Program Regulations.

Credit requirements—For students with an MS degree, a minimum of 30 credits, of which at least 18 must be credits from courses available for graduate credit, and at least 12 must be in dissertation research is required. Course selections must be approved by the student's advisor.

For students with a BS degree, a minimum of 54 credits, of which at least 36 must be from courses available for graduate credit, and at least 12 must be in dissertation research is required. The remaining 6 credits may be in undergraduate courses, graduate courses, dissertation research credits, or a combination of all. Course selections must be approved by the student's advisor.

Preliminary/Qualifying Exams

All PhD in BME students are required to take a doctoral preliminary examination, which are held at the beginning of each semester. The goal of the exam is to determine the student’s aptitude and ability to complete original and independent research at the doctoral level, to assess the student’s ability to review previous work from the literature, and to determine the student’s ability to understand and apply fundamental concepts in their technical area. A written proposal and an oral presentation of the predetermined question are required. All students should take the exam as early as possible after they complete at least 6 credits in core courses and 6 credits in elective courses and maintain a minimum average GPA of 3.4. The exam typically should be completed no later than the beginning of a student’s fourth semester.


After successful completion of the preliminary examination the student is admitted to be a candidate for the PhD degree program and begins specialized research under the supervision of his/her dissertation advisor. Research direction may be shared by a full-time faculty member and an outstanding external scientist or engineer, but the final responsibility for the academic aspects of the dissertation work lies with the BME faculty advisor.

Dissertation research proposal

During the research phase, each doctoral candidate is required to give a research proposal presentation to the Dissertation Committee. The student’s research progress is assessed by the committee and appropriate suggestions for continuing research directions are solicited from those in attendance. Scheduling of the research proposal presentation will be done at a minimum of one year before the final dissertation defense by the student’s dissertation advisor. The committee helps the student to define the research topic, and ultimately approves the research proposal. The dissertation advisor should propose the membership of the dissertation research committee, which must be approved by the Associate Chair for Research and Graduate Affairs. At least four individuals should serve on the research proposal committee; the research advisor is the dissertation director (also called the advocate) and three others. Two of the committee members must be full-time BME faculty. Students are required to present the written dissertation proposal to the committee and to successfully defend the proposal in an oral defense subsequent to performing the bulk of their dissertation research. After the proposal defense, the student submits the revised proposal, complying with all suggestions, clarifications, and corrections, as required by the dissertation committee.

Dissertation Defense: The dissertation advisor may decide that the research achieved by the doctoral student is sufficient to satisfy the requirement of the degree. The advisor proposes an examining committee for the purpose of administering the final dissertation examination (dissertation defense). The committee of examiners must consist of no fewer than five members, at least three of whom normally are full-time BME faculty members with scholarly specialties within the area of concentration; at least one member normally is from an academic specialty outside the area of concentration. An external examiner must be invited. The dissertation advisor serves on the examining committee both as advocate and as a non-voting committee member. As its first order of business, the committee elects its own chairman, who should not be the dissertation advisor or the student’s faculty advisor. The dissertation examining committee must be approved by the Associate Chair for Research and Graduate Affairs prior to the date of the defense. Each member of the examination committee, no later than three weeks prior to the defense, should receive a copy of the dissertation document. At the same time, the candidate must provide a 350-word[JW1] abstract and other information to the department for the purpose of preparing an announcement of the defense. The dissertation defense is an oral examination, which is open to the public. When the dissertation is accepted as complete, it should be submitted electronically no later than the date specified by the Office of the Registrar.

Publication Requirements

Before the doctoral defense, the PhD student must publish at least one manuscript in a peer-reviewed journal on original work related to the topic of the doctoral dissertation.

Graduation and Scholarship Requirements

Students are responsible for adhering to the university’s minimum GPA requirement for graduation and scholarships. Consult SEAS Regulations section of this Bulletin. Students should contact the department for additional information and requirements.