USC University of Southern California

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC

Doctor of Philosophy in Craniofacial Biology

For 40 years, Ostrow’s Craniofacial Biology PhD Program has graduated outstanding researchers and teachers.

The degree provides health science-oriented training for the professional with interests in academic and clinical aspects of craniofacial biology.  Faculty is composed of a diverse and highly trained workforce that is available to address students as well as the nation’s health-related needs in dental, oral and craniofacial research.

PhD-level training will allow graduates to pursue independent, research-orientated careers in multiple disciplines beyond science training. Students will manage federally funded projects in a university environment or prepare for a variety of positions in private industry.

PhD graduates are in a position to become academic faculty members and independent scientists who can establish and lead their own research programs.  As leading scholars and innovators in the field of craniofacial biology, they are well prepared to conduct collaborative, interdisciplinary research. Students must be conversant in all areas of craniofacial biology and able to conceptualize research questions across several levels of analysis. The curriculum provides balance, exposing students to a broad range of disciplines within craniofacial biology and imparting the advanced skills necessary to excel in a specialized area.

Students complete a dissertation project in which they develop and conduct a unique and significant research investigation with the guidance of a craniofacial biology faculty member as their primary research advisor.

To complete the PhD, students are required to identify a project that is novel, current and scientifically sound – a topic that covers multiple research methodologies and is likely to add knowledge to that particular research field or discipline.  PhD research projects are expected to be publishable in high-impact, peer-reviewed journals.  The progress of PhD students is monitored and assessed by their thesis committee, which consists of at least five full-time USC tenured or tenure-track faculty members with diverse research backgrounds.

PhD Degree Requirements

The Doctor of Philosophy degree in Craniofacial Biology is awarded under the jurisdiction of the USC Graduate School. This program is designed to provide health science oriented training for the professional with interests in the academic as well as clinical aspects of craniofacial biology.

  • 60 units are required for the Ph.D. degree.
  • Eight didactic courses at the graduate level are required.
  • All core courses as listed in the USC Catalogue are to be incorporated into individual study.
  • Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA or better in their coursework.

New Student Orientation

All new students seeking a PhD degree must meet with the Craniofacial Biology program director at the beginning of their studies. This meeting functions to advise and guide new students through their first semester.

Guidance (Qualifying Exam) Committee

During the first year of study, each PhD student should select a guidance committee after consulting their primary mentor and the graduate program director. The guidance committee must include five tenured or tenure track faculty members who will assist students in their education. The student’s mentor will most likely serve as chair of the guidance committee, which will monitor the student’s progress, recommend readings or additional training and determine when the student is ready for the qualifying examination.

Screening Procedure

As soon as students have satisfactorily completed the core courses and selected the PhD guidance committee, a screening meeting with their guidance committee is arranged. The screening procedure may consist of an oral examination in which the student outlines his research progress and is examined on academic development. The committee may recommend that the student take specific additional courses and complete readings in certain areas to remedy deficiencies.

Course Requirements

A total of 60 units are required for the Ph.D. Eight didactic courses at the graduate level are required. The core-required courses are:

  • CBY 574  –  Statistical Methods in Bioexperimentation
    or PM 510L – Principals of Biostatistics
  • CBY 579L  – Craniofacial Molecular Genetics
  • CBY 585 – Systematic Research Writing
  • INTD 571 – Biochemistry

The remaining graduate-level courses may be selected from courses offered by any department, following consultation with the graduate mentor and graduate program director.  It is recommended that PhD students enroll in curriculum courses within the interdepartmental course listings offered by the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Qualifying Examination

The PhD qualifying examination is offered throughout the year. A written examination will cover specific subject areas of the core curriculum as well as topics selected by the guidance committee. After successfully completing all parts of the written examination, the student will prepare and submit an original research proposal to the guidance committee, which presents in the National Institute of Health (NIH) R01 grant format the student’s proposed dissertation research.  If the submitted proposal is acceptable, an oral examination will be conducted.  This examination will include a defense of the proposal and could also include material from the written examination and related topics.

From the qualifying exam, the student will be presented a tentative timeline that the student should follow to complete all remaining classes as well as their research project.


The doctoral dissertation focuses upon an original research problem that reflects the creative scholarly abilities of the candidate and contributes to the general advancement of biological understanding as well as to an understanding of the theoretical basis of disease and its treatment.