Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Curriculum

Four students listen to a guest speaker. The student on the left side of the image is in focus, and three others are blurred in the background.
Ph.D. candidate Vaibhav Murthy (left) and other students listen to speakers at an Oregon Bioscience Association presentation on campus. (OHSU/Jordan Sleeth)

You’ll stretch your wings as a researcher in OHSU’s biomedical engineering (BME) program, building the skills and confidence you’ll need to solve problems and help people. Our curriculum and courses are designed to support you as a scientist and train you to approach challenges in medicine with intention, curiosity and ingenuity. 

Our program features: 

  • Few course requirements, so you can focus on research. 
  • An emphasis on collaboration with other departments. 
  • Training in real-world skills, such as grant applications and communication. 

Careers after graduation:

  • Research (nonacademic): 30%
  • Post-doc: 27%
  • Further training: 19%
  • Other: 24%

The first two years: Core courses and research

In your first two years as a student, you’ll work in your faculty mentor’s lab, building the skills and scientific framework you will use for your own research project. You’ll also: 

  • Take the program’s required core courses. 
  • Take electives that develop your scientific interests. 
  • Attend the BME seminar series each term.  
  • Critically review the scientific literature in your area.  
  • Prepare for your qualifying exam by learning how to write a federal grant. 

What are the BME core courses?

Our department’s core courses provide a solid foundation in biomedical engineering, and include an introduction to biostatistics, an ethics course and a journal club in which you’ll learn to evaluate scientific papers.  

Required seminars provide you with an overview of the latest research and exciting developments in diverse BME fields.  

What are the BME electives?

You’ll have flexibility in choosing electives in our department and elsewhere within the School of Medicine, depending on your area of research and your interests.  

Common BME electives include: 

  • Fluid mechanics 
  • Host-implant interactions 
  • Cancer systems biology 
  • Instrument design and function 
  • Digital signal processing  
  • Survey of topics in nanomedicine 

You may also take graduate-level courses at Portland State University. 

What is a qualifying exam?

A qualifying exam is a written and oral test you’ll take toward the end of your second year in the BME program. The goal of the exam is to test your knowledge and understanding of an independent project that you propose. After passing the exam, you’ll advance from graduate student to Ph.D. candidate. 

Prior to the exam: You’ll create a hypothesis and/or technological development using prior research that justifies your proposal. You’ll learn the key concepts that provide the foundation for your idea. 

Written portion: You’ll complete a federal grant application that explains your proposed project.  

Oral portion: You’ll deliver a 20-minute presentation or your proposal and answer questions from four faculty members for a total of two hours. 

You may retake the qualifying exam within three months if you don’t pass on the first attempt.  

Year three and beyond

Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC): After passing the qualifying exam, you’ll work with your faculty mentor to select committee members to provide you with resources, advice and guidance. 

Every six months: You’ll meet with the committee as you continue your research. Your advisory committee will decide when you are ready to defend your dissertation work.

Research presentations: You will present a departmental research seminar in your third year, and you will have opportunities to present your research findings and developments at local and/or national conferences. 

Final defense: Most Ph.D. graduate students will defend their dissertation sometime in their fifth year.  

Graduation requirements

  • Complete core courses and four electives  
  • Maintain a 3.0 GPA throughout the program 
  • Pass the qualifying exam 
  • Select a DAC and meet with your DAC at least every six months 
  • Research, write and defend your dissertation 
  • Complete 135 total credits, including 54 credits of dissertation research