Biomedical Engineering & Biotechnology Program

Biomedical Engineering & Biotechnology Doctoral Program

The Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell and Worcester campuses of the University of Massachusetts offer a joint PhD degree program in Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology. Students in the PhD program may elect to receive the MS degree along the way to the doctorate.

Admission Requirements

Applicants from many different science/engineering undergraduate programs are invited to apply. Because the degree brings together biomedical engineering with biotechnology, it is designed equally for students with life sciences or engineering/physical science backgrounds. One’s specific background will be of less interest in determining qualification for entrance than will be one’s personal and career goals, demonstrated academic ability and research potential, and commitment to an interdisciplinary, team-work approach. 

Applications will be accepted from individuals holding appropriate bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees (or the US baccalaureate equivalents from a foreign institution). Applicants should have a background in life science, physical science, or engineering. All applicants must have taken a full year (two semester or three quarter sequence) of calculus, and the successful applicants will normally have had undergraduate coursework in statistics/experimental design and in life science/biomedical science. 

Applicants are encouraged to contact participating faculty to explore how they might fit into a specific specialization option before submitting their application and to report on the results of those contacts in their Statement of Purpose (see below). A personal interview with the applicant by the campus Advising/Admissions/Curriculum Committee (AACC) may be recommended but is not required. 

Applicants submit the following and are expected to meet the standards indicated:

  • Generally students with an overall undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 or higher will be considered for admission. Applicants must present official undergraduate and graduate transcripts from all schools attended. 
  • Applicants accepted into the program should present a minimum Graduate Record Exam (GRE) combined verbal and quantitative score of 300 (1100 for tests taken prior to August 1, 2011). The AACC will also pay particular attention to the applicant’s score on the GRE analytical writing section of the general examination because of the emphasis placed on strong writing skills in this program. Only official GRE scores from the Educational Testing Service will be considered acceptable.   
  • Applicants must have a minimum of two semesters of calculus and have strong quantitative skills. 
  • International applicants should present a minimum Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score of 79 (internet version), 213 (computer version) or 550 (paper version).  Only official TOEFL scores from the Educational Testing Service will be considered acceptable. 
  • Three letters of recommendation, from individuals familiar with the applicant’s academic ability and potential to conduct original research at the doctoral level, will be required. 
  • Applicants will also be required to submit a Statement of Purpose (personal essay). This statement is an important element in the application packet. It has two related roles:

(1) Indication of an applicant’s qualifications and motivation for the program. Applicants should indicate their qualifications for and motivation to undertake this program as well as their personal and career goals. Specifically, the statement should indicate the applicant’s background, research credentials, and career plans as they relate to the multidisciplinary nature of the doctorate, and discuss your research experience (academic, industrial) and include any publications and grants/patents, and

(2) Indication of how an applicant will fit into the program. Applicants should indicate their specific areas of interest within Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology, so that a fit between their interests and qualifications and the specific specialization options that the program offers can be determined. If the applicant has a specific interest in working with one or more of the program's faculty, they should describe that specific interest and identify those faculty member(s). The Statement of Purpose should also exemplify the applicant’s writing skills.

  • We invite applicants also to submit a personal résumé.

Individual circumstances can be taken into account, and extraordinary qualifications in some areas can be used to outweigh weaknesses in others. The GRE can be waived by petition to the AACC for applicants with a prior graduate degree from an accredited U.S. institution. For these applicants, the application without the GRE must demonstrate exceptional potential. 

Along with an admissions decision comes consideration of the appropriate program of courses for the applicant. The interdisciplinary nature of our program gives special importance to the advising relationship in forming a specific academic program to meet each student’s specific goals. Applicants may be offered admission with a number of courses identified as conditional requirements that they will need to take to fill in for gaps in preparation or knowledge. Each admitted student is assigned to a faculty advisor, who is identified in the letter of admission. Acceptance into the program is subject to the availability of appropriate advisors.

Academic Advisor

Campus AACC's are responsible for overseeing the advising components of the program, which are initiated while each student is still an applicant. Students will be assigned a faculty advisor when they are accepted into the program. The initial faculty advisor will either be a member of the AACC or a program faculty determined based on the applicant’s Statement of Purpose. After the student's first year in the program, the student may want to change to a new advisor that fits the student's research interest and is likely to become the chair of the student's dissertation committee.

Transfer of Credits/Advanced Standing

For students who have previously completed graduate course work, the admissions committees on each campus may approve the transfer of graduate credits for courses from an accredited US college or university that received a grade of B (not B-) or better if those courses were not already used in the degree requirements of another earned degree.  The graduate school at each campus will govern the maximum number of credits that may be transferred into the program.  The transfer credit may replace core or specialization course requirements.  The project/directed studies, seminar and dissertation research credits will not be accepted for transfer from institutions outside of the UMass system. 

Students may also have core courses waived without transfer of course credit.  Students would still be responsible for the full credits required of each degree (31 credits for the MS and 63 credits for the PhD), but would not have to take the waived course.

Students who join the program with an earned master’s degree may receive “Advanced Standing” in the doctoral program.  The number of credits required to complete the PhD will be determined by the home campus AACC, but at a minimum 9 course (core or specialization) credits, the capstone project course (3 credits), doctoral seminar (taken twice, 1 credit each) and 30 dissertation research credits will be required.  The capstone project may be waived for students who have completed a master’s thesis or research project at one of the UMass campuses.  These students will be required to complete a minimum of 12 course (core or specialization) credits.  Students with Advanced Standing will be required to pass the Qualifying Examination before progressing to the dissertation stage.  Doctoral students who enter the program with advanced standing will not earn the MS.  To earn the MS, a student must complete or transfer in credit to meet the core (16 credits), specialization (12 credits), and capstone project course (3 credits) requirements.

Academic Program

The curriculum is organized around common experiences, including common core courses, a capstone project, and intercampus graduate research presentations. The program makes some use of distance learning/on-line/faculty exchange for delivery of courses and seminars, and the campuses are close enough to permit commuting between them. The program encourages a multidisciplinary team approach during the Instrumentation and Laboratory Experience, the capstone project, and in the selection of the dissertation committee. Industry representation occurs in the introductory core course, in the capstone project, in the doctoral seminar series, and from an outside advisory group. In addition, each student pursues a sequence of courses and then completes a focused research project leading to a doctoral dissertation in a specialization option.

Biomedical Engineering Specialization Options

  • Biomaterials: Tissue Engineering, Polymers/Plastics, Fibers/Textiles, Nanotechnology
  • Biomedical Information Systems: Bioinformatics, Cheminformatics, Genomics, Proteomics
  • Biomedical Instrumentation: Sensors, Signal Processing, Clinical Sciences
  • Biomechanics: Joint/Muscle Mechanics
  • Integrative Physiology: Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Modeling
  • Medical Imaging: Optics, NMR, MRI, Acoustics, Cell Imaging
  • Medical Physics: Radiation Therapy, Nuclear Medicine, Diagnostic Imaging, Nuclear Instrumentation

Biotechnology Specialization Options

  • Agricultural and Marine Biotechnology: Therapeutics, Pharmacology, Nutritional Biochemistry, Food Science Technology          
  • Bioprocessing/Applied Microbiology: Bioremediation, Fermentation, Biocatalysis, Applied Genetic Engineering, Biopharmaceutical Sciences 
  • Molecular Biotechnology: Clinical Sciences, Biochemical Applications, Diagnostics, Therapeutics

General Program Requirements

The program of courses includes a core requirement, specialization requirement, and capstone requirement. As students advance, they will have to meet requirements in addition to satisfactory completion of courses, including participation in seminars and symposiums, passing a qualifying examination, defending a dissertation proposal, completing a dissertation, and a dissertation defense.

The PhD requires completion or transfer of at least 63 total credits (or a minimum of 44 credits for students with advanced standing due to an existing MS degree). Students must meet the specific requirements of their "home campus" for such matters as grade averages, documentation of completion of requirements, registration for program continuation if needed, and submitting the final dissertation to the library. No course receiving a grade below C (2.0) can receive credit. Grades earned below C are still calculated in the student’s grade point average.

Students are limited in the number of Directed or Independent Study course credits that they can apply toward their program. No more than 6 credits of coursework below the level of dissertation registrations may be in the form of Directed or Independent Study. All courses must be conducted at the graduate level.

Students must pursue and complete a program of study approved by their assigned advisor. The interdisciplinary nature of this program makes close contact between each student and his or her advisor important.

Core Course Requirements

The core courses provide a common foundation for all students, either from life science or physical science/engineering backgrounds. Proposed core courses must be approved by the IACC.

1) Introduction to Biomedical Engineering & Biotechnology (3 credits)

This course should be taken in a student’s first semester in the program if possible. Team-taught introductory course that emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach to current topics in the range of academic disciplines and gives students their first exposure to faculty research areas. The course, as much as possible, will involve faculty from all participating campuses. We will also invite outside industry speakers to present topics of contemporary importance and offer joint lectures from guest speakers. 

Approved UML course: IB 500, Introduction to Biomedical Engineering & Biotechnology (3 credits)

2) Instrumentation and Laboratory Experience (3 credits)

This course is designed to be a practical, hands-on lab rotation course and give students exposure to cutting-edge research methodology in a number of different areas, with a balance between biomedical engineering and biotechnology areas. A team approach will be encouraged as students employ various laboratory techniques to carry out short-term projects. Students will either rotate through a number of different experimental procedures within a single investigator’s laboratory or rotate through multiple faculty laboratories, learning a particular type of methodology for which the laboratory may be noted and uses frequently. The course may also provide laboratory experiences/demonstrations at sister campuses and industrial sites where faculty members have affiliations.

Approved UML course: IB 550 BMEBT Instrumentation and Laboratory Experience (3 credits)  Students must satisfactorily complete at least one lab-based course.  This could be IB 550 or a lab-based course within their specialization.

3) Advanced Mathematics (3 credits)

The core mathematics requirement offers two options: (1) Advanced Numerical Methods, for those from a physical science, engineering or mathematics background or (2) Applied Mathematics for Life Scientists.  Advanced Numerical Methods uses differential equations and statistics to examine engineering problems with biomedical examples/applications.  Applied Mathematics for Life Scientists provides an intense treatment of the subject matter designed to achieve applied math literacy for students with life science and related backgrounds. An on-line version of this course will be available to all campuses.

Approved UML courses:

 24.509 System Dynamics (3 credits)
 24.539 Math Methods for Engineers (3 credits)*
 26.548 Numerical Methods in Plastics Processing (3 credits)
 92.530 Applied Mathematics I (3 credits)
 92.531 Applied Mathematics II (3 credits)
 92.555 Applied Math for Life Sciences (3 credits, online) +
 98.582 Numerical Methods in Radiological Sciences & Protection (3 credits)

* Recommended for students with a Biomedical Engineering specialization.
+ Recommended for students with a Biotechnology specialization.

4) Quantitative Physiology (3 credits)

This course presents physiology at the organ system level with a quantitative approach. It helps integrate the curriculum for individuals with life science and engineering undergraduate backgrounds, permitting engineers and physical scientists an appreciation of how organisms function from the organ/system perspective and gives life scientists a more rigorous quantitative approach to physiology than is usual in undergraduate courses.

Approved UML course: IB 575 Quantitative Physiology (3 credits)

5) Bioethics (1 credit)

Current ethical issues in biomedical research will be included, with a review of legal/regulatory (e.g. FDA) considerations in the development of biological products and bringing them to market. This course is offered in seminar format with multi-campus participation and biotechnology industry guest speakers. Equivalent courses on the campuses may be substituted, although these might have additional credits. An on-line version of this course will be available to all campuses. 

Approved UML course: IB 520 Ethical Issues in Biomedical Research (3 credits)

Advanced Cell and Molecular Biology (3 credits) 

Rigorous treatment of topics in advanced cell and molecular biology, illustrating applied research through examples and presenting biochemistry concepts at the cell/molecular level.

Approved UML course: 81.666 Special Topics: Molecular and Cellular Biology (1 credit)

6) Advanced Cell and Molecular Biology (3 credits)

Rigorous treatment of topics in advanced cell and molecular biology, illustrating applied research through examples and presenting biochemistry concepts at the cell/molecular level.

Approved UML course: 81.666 Special Topics: Molecular and Cellular Biology (3 credits)

Specialization Course Requirements

Specialization courses will help the student attain depth in focused areas. Each specialization option represents an area in biotechnology or biomedical engineering, within which are found a selection of appropriate graduate courses.

Faculty involved in each specialization will see to an appropriate combination of depth and breadth in the student’s selection of specialization courses. They may announce some structure to the course selections allowed within the area. With the approval of their advisor, students will select 12 credits of course work (minimum) from within one of the specializations. Any graduate course approved by the advisor may be used to satisfy this requirement. Many specialization options will require more than 12 credits of additional course work.

Capstone Requirement

As students transition from coursework to dissertation research, they undertake a capstone project course. This is designed to be a culminating experience in which the student synthesizes  course knowledge and experimental skills into a brief but detailed experimental study, which also involves cross-field interdisciplinary cooperation. Although in some cases this project may be done individually under the supervision of one faculty member, it is expected that students will join in a team-based, collaborative effort involving students from a number of different disciplines, post-doctoral fellows, and industry representatives; and with intercampus participation.

Approved UML course: IB 600 Capstone Project (3 credits)

Annually in May, a Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology Research Symposium will be held, rotating each year to a different campus, at which the students from all four campuses will present their projects in a poster session and/or orally. Participation in this non-credit activity is required.

Earning the MS Degree

Following successful presentation of the capstone project and with a minimum of 31 credits completed or transferred in required and approved courses, the student will be awarded the Master of Science degree as a credential along the way toward the doctorate. Students must have at least a cumulative B average to receive the MS degree and advance to the Qualifying Examination. (Students not working up to that level are subject to review for dismissal from the program. Specific standards are set for graduate students on each "home campus" for continuation in graduate programs.)

Selection of the Doctoral Dissertation Committee

As they move through this stage of their program, students will select their Doctoral Dissertation Committee, with one person as the major advisor. A committee must have at least three members (in some cases individual campus requirements may result in a higher minimum). The advisor and at least one other dissertation committee member must be chosen from the approved faculty of the Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology program. Having one member of a dissertation committee be an outside industry scientist or engineer is encouraged.

Two models are provided for the dissertation committee, the intercampus and the intracampus committee structures:

The intercampus structure, which is strongly recommended, has one faculty member from a campus other than the candidate’s home campus. It is expected that all three members will not represent the same academic departmental affiliation.

The intracampus committee structure has faculty just from the home campus. It is expected that all three members will not be from the same academic department.

Each student’s committee is approved by the campus AACC, which will also approve any changes to a previously-approved committee. 

Qualifying (Written) Examination

Students must pass a written qualifying examination that will cover questions on course work as well as experimental procedures the student has utilized. All material in the student's curriculum is subject to examination. The examination must be taken within one year after completion of the MS Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology requirements, or within two years after entering the program for a student with advanced standing.

Doctoral students, in consultation with their advisor, will identify two topic areas in which to be examined. At least one of the topics must be primarily engineering/technological in nature (for example, solid mechanics), and another primarily biological/medical in nature (for example, pathophysiology of musculoskeletal disorders). Proposals for the qualifying examination must be submitted to the AACC with approval of the student’s advisor.

For Biomedical Engineering students, the second topic must be biological or medical in nature.  This requirement can be fulfilled with an exam that is a combination of material from the core Biology courses (Quantitative Physiology and Advanced Cell and Molecular Biology) and specific biology/medical information related to the student’s specialization or research area.

For Biotechnology students, the second topic must be engineering or technological in nature.  This requirement may be fulfilled with an exam that makes use of the skills learned in the core math requirement and tests for an in depth understanding of topics introduced in the Introduction to Biomedical Engineering or Biotechnology course or specific engineering/technological information related to the student's specialization or research area.  

The proposal will outline the material covered by the exam, which may be designated as specific portions of courses, textbooks, and journal articles.  Emphasis will be placed on the student’s ability to integrate information in the areas examined.  The AACC will be responsible for approving topic areas covered by the exam. 

The examination will be in written form and given during two one-half days within a one-week period.  Examinations for a given topic area will be designed to be completed within a three to four-hour period.  The qualifying examination will be administered and evaluated by program faculty selected by the AACC.  Examinations for a given topic area will be graded Pass or Fail.  Students who are unsuccessful in their first attempt in a given topic area may repeat it once.  Failure to pass the examination on any topic area on the second attempt results in overall failure on the Qualifying Examination and dismissal from the PhD program.

Doctoral Credit Requirements

1) Doctoral Seminar (2 credits, minimum)

Doctoral students will present research in progress. The seminar will emphasize not only research but also communication and writing. Every active doctoral candidate will present her or his work in progress in the seminar, and in addition there will be at least two presentations from external speakers. Students will write summaries of each presentation. Course is graded pass-fail or satisfactory-unsatisfactory (depending on grading system in use on the campus). Students must complete this course in at least two different semesters.

Approved UML course: IB 601 Doctoral Seminar (3 credits)

2) Dissertation Research (variable credit each semester, 30 credits minimum)

Doctoral students will register for a minimum of 30 credits of doctoral research with their faculty advisor (dissertation chair). They will use these credits during preparation and defense of the dissertation proposal, carrying out their dissertation research and preparation and defense of the doctoral dissertation. 

Approved UML course: IB 759 Dissertation Research (1-9 credits)

3) Dissertation Proposal (Oral Preliminary Examination)

Students must present for approval a written dissertation proposal and then defend it in an oral presentation to his or her dissertation committee.  The dissertation proposal will follow the format established for NIH proposals, including the page limits, and will perform an extensive review of the literature on the student's chosen topic, present original hypotheses, design experiments to test the hypotheses, document the appropriate methodology that will be used, project anticipated results, and indicate how such results might be interpreted.  The proposal must show application to current biomedical/biotechnological problems.  After successfully defending the dissertation proposal, the student attains the designation "doctoral candidate".  Failure to pass the defense of the dissertation proposal (oral examination) results in dismissal from the PhD program.

Dissertation Defense

The doctoral candidate will defend his/her written dissertation before the doctoral dissertation committee, the University, and the outside community. The specific format of the defense is usually decided by the committee chair, but a typical format consists of the PhD candidate first presenting an overview of the thesis research, then answering specific questions asked by the committee members. Questions may test anything from knowledge of the existing literature, to scrutinization of the material and methods or experimental design, to the assumptions in the research, to the interpretation of the results, to recommendations for future work. If the candidate has worked closely with his or her advisor, and committee, it is likely that there will be no surprises at this final stage of the process. It is common, however, for the committee to ask that certain minor revisions be made to the written dissertation before final submission. Successful defense of the dissertation and submission of the finished work to the library will result in the awarding of the PhD in Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology. Dissertations must be filed with Dissertation Abstracts International.

Combined Bachelor's and Master's Degree Program

The program participates in the University's effort to encourage outstanding graduate students to begin study toward an advanced degree while still undergraduates. Arrangements are possible for joint programs that combine a bachelor's degree in one of the other departments in the University with a master's degree in the Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology program. Such arrangements are made for eligible students after discussions with graduate coordinators in both departments (see eligibility requirements).