PhD Program in Health Data Sciences

The PhD Program in Health Data Sciences at the Charité is aimed at qualified young scientists interested in:

  • deepening their methodological knowledge in the fields of biostatistics, epidemiology, metaresearch and/or population health science
  • further expanding their competence in research and teaching

Upon successful completion of the program, students will be awarded the academic degree of "Doctor of Philosophy" (PhD).

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Key Facts

  • Six semesters (full time).
  • 180 ECTS: scientific research project (150 ECTS) and accompanying scientific coursework in the HDS disciplines of biostatistics, epidemiology, meta-research, population health science and public health (30 ECTS).
  • All scientific coursework offered through the program will be taught in English. Other university courses at the Charité may also be counted towards the 30 ECTS requirement, if approved.
  • The PhD program is free of charge with the exception of the Charité enrollment fee.
  • Next possible start of program: Fall 2020 (Winter Semester).
  • Applications will be accepted starting March 1st, 2020. Due date: April 30th, 2020

About the program

Flyer Health Data Sciences

The goal of the multidisciplinary doctoral program in Health Data Sciences for outstanding junior researchers is to provide a structured framework of studies, research, and teaching for promising scientists in the disciplines of Health Data Sciences (HDS).

The program places particular emphasis on preparing students for future careers at universities, non-university research institutions, and other scientific public or private institutions in the fields of biostatistics, epidemiology, meta-research, population health science and public health.

The program Health Data Sciences is under the direction of Prof. Dr. Dr. Tobias Kurth, Institute of Public Health (IPH), Prof. Dr. Geraldine Rauch, Institute of Biometry and Clinical Epidemiology (iBikE) and Prof. Dr. Ulrich Dirnagl, BIH Center for Transforming Biomedical Research (QUEST).

The scientific coursework serves to deepen methodological knowledge, instill fundamentals of sound scientific research practice, and promote effective dissemination of knowledge through teaching. The program has three main focus areas:

  1. Methodology:
    Doctoral students attend courses in HDS domains to learn advanced health data sciences methods they will later apply in a practical research setting for their individual research projects.
  2. Research:
    Interactive seminars and workshops serve to support doctoral candidates in all stages of their individual research project work ultimately resulting in three scientific publications.
  3. Teaching:
    Under the guidance of experienced HDS faculty members, doctoral students prepare and teach courses focused on relevant topics.

About the Institutes

Institute of Public Health (IPH):

IPH pursues the goal of improving population health at local, national and global levels through excellent and innovative research and teaching. Research at IPH focuses on renal-, pharmaco-, cardiovascular- and neuroepidemiology, health services and causal inference.

https://iph.charite.de/en/

Berlin Institute of Health Center for Transforming Biomedical Research (QUEST):

QUEST strives to increase the value and impact of biomedical research by maximizing quality, reproducibility, generalizability, and validity of BIH research. QUEST seeks to create an awareness of the need to rethink biomedical research and initiate a cultural change in academic biomedicine.

https://www.bihealth.org/en/research/quest-center/mission-approaches/ 

The Institute of Biometry and Clinical Epidemiology (iBikE)

iBikE offers biometrical and epidemiological consulting services and supports the planning, execution, and evaluation of medical research projects as a cooperation partner. The Institute is also active in methodologic research and both internal and external teaching activities.

https://biometrie.charite.de/en

Admission

What we are looking for

Admission to the HDS PhD program is competitive and students must meet the following requirements to be considered for acceptance:

  • Proof of eligibility for a doctoral degree per the requirements outlined by the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin (Promotionsberechtigung).
  • Evidence of prior course work with professional relevance to Health Data Sciences (biostatistics, epidemiology, meta-research and/or population health science).
  • A strong command of the English language (minimum B2 level based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, please find details here).
  • Secured funding for the duration of the doctorate program:

As this is a full-time program, the possibilities of an additional secondary occupation are limited. At the current time, we are not able to offer scholarships through the program directly. Students are asked to present a plan for financing their living expenses for the duration of their studies (e.g. PhD position at a Berlin-based institute, stipend from a foundation, etc.).

Beyond the formal requirements, students demonstrating exceptional motivation for their research topic(s) of interest will be prioritized. Interested students are strongly encouraged to contact potential supervisors in their field prior to applying and to provide information about exchanges with supervisors in their application material.

Admission Procedure

  1. Annual application window: 1st of March through 30th of April.
  2. After reviewing all applications, the PhD Committee will invite applicants eligible for admission to participate in selection interviews and presentations.
  3. The selection interviews will be scheduled to take place approximately two months later in the spring of each year. Applicants will be notified via email regarding the timing of their interview/presentation.These interviews will be conducted by a selection committee appointed by the PhD Committee and last approximately 25 minutes each, of which applicants will give a 15-minute presentation about their previous scientific education, accomplishments, and planned research project.
  4. Afterwards, successful applicants will be granted acceptance to the program and be formally invited to enroll in the program the following semester.

Admission Documents

Applications for the PhD program must be submitted to the HDS PhD Board before the posted deadline and should include the following documents. All documents should be in English:

  1. The application form.
  2. Curriculum vitae (CV), preferably in English.
  3. Copies of Bachelor's and Master's degree certificates. Alternatively, comparable university degree certification or copies of other documents proving the entitlement to a doctorate may be submitted:
    • Generally, for the majority of HDS applicants, this means a completed Bachelor's degree AND Master's degree (or equivalent) in a subject area relevant to Health Data Sciences.
    • For full information on accepted degrees, see https://promotion.charite.de/en/procedure/regulations_2017/requirements/
    • If you are unsure about the eligibility of your past degrees, please contact us by email.
    • If you are in the process of completing your Master’s degree at the time of application, please include information in your application stating your expected graduation date. This date should be before the official start of the structured HDS PhD program (October 1st of the application year).
  4. Documentation showing relevant coursework in the HDS domains. Please include transcripts from your past study programs or other relevant coursework certificates as evidence of your educational background and scope.
  5. Motivational letter in English. This letter should convey the applicant's scientific interests, academic achievements, professional background, and plan for financing.
  6. A letter of reference from a university professor or lecturer (preferably in English).
  7. Proof of knowledge of the English language at least at level B2 or equivalent of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Please send your complete application preferably as a single PDF attachment (name the file “YOURLASTNAME_HDS Application.pdf”) by e-mail to hds-phd (at) charite.de before April 30, 2020 at 11:59 pm CET (GMT +1).

Frequently Asked Questions

COVID-19 UPDATES
We are still going ahead with our regular application schedule for 2020. We hope that our teaching activities can resume again soon and that our incoming cohort can start in October 2020. Of course, the health of our applicants, students, staff and communities is of utmost importance. In line with the social distancing recommendations, the interviews for applicants who make it through the first selection round will be conducted online using teleconferencing software. Applicants invited for interviews will receive more information with their interview invitations.

PROGRAM STRUCTURE

How does the Health Data Sciences PhD program fit into the numerous options to pursue doctorate studies at the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin?
The Health Data Sciences PhD (HDS PhD) Program is one of several structured PhD programs at the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin (Charité) / Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and is considered an “Advanced Track” program.

The HDS PhD program is run by three main departments within the Charité/BIH: the Institute of Public Health (IPH), the Institute of Biometry and Clinical Epidemiology (iBikE) and the BIH Center for Transforming Biomedical Research (QUEST). If you are accepted and successfully complete the HDS PhD program, you are awarded a PhD in Health Data Sciences.

Please note that this structured degree program is different from the “unstructured PhD,” “Dr. rer. medic.” and “Dr. med” options also offered by the Charité. For more information about the distinction between these options, see:https://promotion.charite.de/en/procedure/regulations_2017/requirements/#c30557603.

What is the duration of the Health Data Sciences (HDS) PhD Program?
HDS PhD students take classes including taking part in mentored student teaching (30 European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) total), and work on their individual research projects over a three-year, structured study period (six semesters).

What courses do HDS PhD students take and when do these courses take place?
In total, HDS PhD students must collect 30 ECTS credit points throughout the three-year program. These points are divided as follows:

  • 18 credits come from three “core” required courses:
    • “Research Proposal Seminar” and “Advanced Methods in Health Data Sciences”, which take place during Semesters 1-3.
    • “Mentored Teaching of a Methods Course”, which can be individually scheduled in the later semesters of the program based on student and instructor availability.
  • 12 credits come from elective coursework that can be spread out over the course of the studies according to the student’s preferences and in consultation with the supervisory team’s recommendations.

APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS, PROGRAM ELIGIBILITY & LOGISTICS

What academic backgrounds do the current HDS PhD students have?
Our current students come from diverse backgrounds; in the most recent cohort, we have students with previous degrees in Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Public Health, Psychology, Mathematics, Philosophy, and Health Economics.

I am currently a medical (or dental) student. Is this the right program for me?
Most medical and dental degree programs do not have enough methods-focused coursework in the domains of Health Data Sciences to sufficiently meet our requirement for relevant prior coursework. If you have studied medicine/dentistry and have also completed extensive methodological coursework outside of your clinical studies, you may be a suitable applicant.

I am interested in pursuing a PhD in Public Health focused on policy and management in Berlin. Is this the right program for me?
While strongly related to the Public Health field, this PhD program focuses on Health Data Sciences and our students’ coursework and projects are rooted in the domains of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Population Health Science and Meta-Research. There is another doctoral degree in Berlin offered by the Technical University (Dr. PH) that might be a better fit if these are your interests. See: https://www.mig.tu-berlin.de/menue/teaching/promotion/parameter/en/

Is it possible to spend time abroad as a HDS PhD Program student?
In general, yes, it is possible. However, our program does have specific presence requirements for the required courses in the first through third semesters. If you would like to travel during the PhD program, we recommend doing so during semester breaks or in the fourth through sixth semesters. We do not currently have formal exchange programs under the HDS PhD Program, however, the Charité does support international research exchange, and many HDS instructors and supervisors have large international networks and can help advise you.

I live permanently in another city far from Berlin. Is it possible for me to complete the HDS PhD Program remotely?
The HDS PhD program has several courses which require regular attendance, especially in the first three semesters. Unless weekly travel to Berlin is realistic for you, it will not be possible for you to participate in the HDS PhD program remotely. We strongly encourage all prospective students to relocate to the Berlin area if accepted to the program.

RELEVANT PRIOR COURSEWORK

In the application, I should provide evidence of HDS-related coursework. What does this mean?
In order to be accepted as a student in the HDS PhD Program, you have to provide proof that you’ve had previous methodological knowledge related to any of the main domains of health data sciences (Biostatistics, Public Health, Epidemiology, Meta-research or Population Health Sciences) in your previous studies. Proof can be in the form of transcripts or certificates of such coursework. Many of our current students have Master’s degrees in these or closely related fields.

RESEARCH PROJECT

What kind of research project am I required to have? How many details should I provide in the application?
In the initial application, we are looking for interesting, relevant project ideas related to one or more of the health data sciences domains. It is also important that you can convince the HDS PhD Board that your proposed project would be feasible with respect to the 3-year time frame, you have or will gain access to the requisite data, you have a plan for funding the project, and that the project is suited to your skillset and background. We encourage you to discuss your project ideas with at least one potential supervisor prior to submitting your application.

What format does the final dissertation project have?
All HDS PhD Program students are expected to complete a cumulative dissertation (doctorate by publication), as is the general Charité guideline for PhD students. For more information, see: https://promotion.charite.de/en/procedure/regulations_2017/dissertation/

FUNDING

I could not find any funding or scholarship information on the website. Does HDS offer funding for students?
Unfortunately, the HDS PhD program does not currently have the resources to provide project placement or funding directly. The HDS PhD program is designed to give students additional methods support through our structured coursework offerings as well as a platform to exchange with other PhD students in related disciplines about your research projects. The HDS PhD Program does not charge tuition, however, applicants should seek out doctoral research positions or scholarship opportunities to finance their living costs and the student matriculation fees for the duration of the program. 

Are there any recommended scholarships for the HDS-PhD program?
Some of our current students have successfully received funding from small German foundations. The vast majority of our current students have doctoral researcher positions at the Charité/BIH or other Berlin-area scientific institutions like the Robert Koch Institute and Max Delbrück Center. International students are encouraged to also look at options in their home countries and from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD): https://www2.daad.de/deutschland/stipendium/datenbank/en/21148-scholarship-database/?detail=50076777

Is a full-time employment position recommended while being a full-time PhD student?
Though some students have scholarships, most of our current HDS PhD students are employed in part-time (e.g. 65%) research positions. Ideally, most/all work on your PhD projects should count as work time for your employment. Your employer should be willing to support your participation in required HDS courses and help facilitate you sticking to your three-year project timeline. Should your employment be full-time, this support and flexibility is especially important.

I’ve seen mention of funding, data access and supervisors on your website, but I’m still confused. How are these related? What do I need access to prior to applying?
It is important to separate the three issues: funding, data access, and supervision. Successful applicants need to demonstrate all three and many times all three go together. There are exceptions: e.g., If someone brings their own funding, it is possible to find data and supervisors who might fit the project. This requires a really motivated individual to make all those connections, a good research question / project idea and of course, their own funding. Most of the time, the students find a job (usually 65% paid) as a PhD student at the institute of their main supervisor.

LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT

I do not have a current TOEFL score. Is it possible to count my education as proficiency in English since the courses took place entirely in English?
Yes! If you earned 20 ECTS (or equivalent) through courses taking place in English at a state or state-recognized university you will have enough to prove English language proficiency.

Do I need to speak German?
Our students come from a variety of international backgrounds. For the HDS PhD Program, it is not mandatory that you speak, read or write German. However, these skills are very helpful in daily life as well as scientific collaborations; therefore, we strongly recommend German language lessons for successful applicants without German language skills.

I am required to provide proof of at least B2 level English proficiency. Is it mandatory that I provide a TOEFL or IELTS as a proof?
The official language of instruction of the Health Data Sciences PhD Program is English. Therefore, the absence of strong language proficiency in (scientific) reading, writing and/or speaking will make it very difficult for the student to complete HDS PhD program coursework and their final cumulative research dissertation (in English). For this reason, we require no less than a B2 level English language proficiency based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). 

Please see our website for a detailed list of accepted proof of language skills other than TOEFL or IELTS. Important for many HDS applicants: if you had multiple English language courses during your studies (at least 20 credit points), this also fulfills the requirement. If you believe you fulfill this requirement by other means you can demonstrate, the HDS PhD Board will decide on a case-by-case basis. We encourage candidates to contact us early if this is a concern, so there is enough time to provide additional language proficiency documentation if their primary documentation is deemed insufficient.

What statistical software is used in the program coursework? In the individual research projects?
We use the open source software R and RStudio in the HDS PhD Program core courses. HDS PhD students should feel comfortable working in R by the start of the 3rd semester of the program. For the individual research projects, other software programs may be preferred; this should be discussed on a case-by-case basis with the supervisors. Our structured doctoral program places great emphasis on transparency and open science, therefore, regardless of the software used, we encourage students to annotate, peer-review and share codes/scripts whenever possible.

SUPERVISORY TEAMS

How many supervisors do I need in my supervisory team and who can be a supervisor?
Three. The first supervisor should have a “PD” (Privatdozent), Professorship, or an equivalent academic status and should have an affiliation with the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin / BIH. Ideally, the 2nd and 3rd supervisors also have higher qualifications, but at least a PhD is expected. The 2nd and 3rd supervisors do not need to have a Charité affiliation. You are welcome (and encouraged) to work with other supervisors at the Charité/BIH outside of the IPH, iBiKE and QUEST. Ideally, at least one of your supervisors should come from the IPH, iBikE or QUEST (the departments running the HDS PhD Program) or be otherwise directly connected with our program through involvement in teaching activities and/or the supervision of other HDS PhD Program students. 

In rare exceptional cases, a non-Charité first supervisor may be approved on a case-by-case basis. In these situations, the other two supervisors should be Charité / BIH affiliated.

Do I need to have all three members of my supervisory team confirmed before I apply?
No, but you should have a clear idea of who will serve as your first supervisor. It is best to contact potential supervisors directly before applying. At the time of your application, it is beneficial if you can demonstrate that one or more supervisors are interested and willing to work with and support you for the duration of your proposed project.

How is the supervisory team involved?
The HDS PhD Board expects that the three individual supervisors are involved in a meaningful way with the student’s project. The roles that the individual supervisors play should ultimately be decided by the four of you together. Obviously the first supervisor should be the most integrated in your research and writing, and it is likely that they will be providing you with access to the dataset for your research. We do not expect you to have these details worked out at the time of initial application.

What are the guidelines for the supervisory team?
HDS PhD program supervisory team members are formally bound to Charité guidelines. These take effect when they sign the “Registration for a PhD” form that each PhD student must submit to the Office for Doctoral Studies (German: “Promotionsbüro) as the final required step before starting the HDS PhD Program.
These guidelines are outlined in detail here under “Information for Supervisors”
https://promotion.charite.de/en/information_for_reviewers_lecturers_and_supervisors/ (see the PDF that says guidelines)

FOR INTERNATIONAL APPLICANTS

Are there any additional points that I have to take into consideration if I’m an international applicant?
Yes: there are two important steps prospective students should keep in mind. First, you must obtain certification that the responsible German authority deems your previous international academic qualifications as equivalents in the German system. Second, you will need to obtain a (study) visa.

1. Recognition of your academic qualifications by the ZAB:
Applicants should complete this step to start the formal degree recognition process as soon as possible after their application passes through the first HDS PhD Program selection round and they receive an invitation to interview.

This process takes place through ‘Anabin’, which is the informational portal for the recognition of international degrees in Germany. Applicants should search for their prior  institution(s) of study for their relevant, completed degrees (both Bachelor and Master’s, or equivalents). We ask applicants to save screenshots of any listings they are able to locate and send them to us at this stage.

Sometimes, our applicant’s prior institutions and/or prior degree programs are not listed. If this is the case, then the applicant’s degrees will have to be formally evaluated by the responsible German authority, the ZAB ‘Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen’. We ask applicants to let us know this as soon as possible so the Charité can apply for this evaluation on your behalf to avoid incurring any additional fees. If students attempt to apply for this individually, substantial costs are involved.
For additional information, please visit the following links:
Anabin: https://anabin.kmk.org/anabin.html
ZAB: https://www.kmk.org/kmk/information-in-english.html 

2. Visa:
Some international applicants will be required to apply for a visa to be allowed to work/study in Germany. Although the exact timeline to obtain a visa depends on the prospective student’s country of residence and the type of visa (varies for each individual) applicants should anticipate that this process will last several months. For this reason, we urge all applicants to contact the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in their respective countries as soon as possible to obtain specific information about the process and timeframe to obtain a student visa. Prospective students should start the application process as soon as possible to be able to ensure they can be physically present in Germany at the beginning of the semester.

Health Data Sciences

Health Data Sciences (HDS) is an emerging scientific discipline, fusing the strengths of multiple research fields including biostatistics, epidemiology, meta-research, and population health science. HDS employs a synergistic approach to provide comprehensive, evidence-based solutions to complex, real-world health problems using various data resources.

By employing innovative analytical tools, HDS methodology provides insight both into patterns within data as well as possible underlying causal structures. Its comprehensive modeling approaches combine critical and conceptual reasoning with the latest advances in computer science to ensure accurate analysis and interpretation of data as well as effective communication of reliable conclusions for health promotions.

Contact

Institute of Public Health

E-Mail