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The 20 Best Doctor of Biomedical Engineering Graduate Schools

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Updated: February 21, 2024, Reading time: 36 minutes

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Biomedical Engineering (BME) is a burgeoning STEM field that combines engineering, medicine, biology, information systems, and other engineering and life sciences disciplines. As a degree, it studies how advanced engineering techniques such as:

It can be applied to the study of (but not limited to):

Doctor of Biomedical Engineering

This term and sub-discipline, translational medicine, is also one of the more important products of BME that have come out over the last three decades.

By definition, translational medicine is the translation or conversion of theoretical research into tangible applications in medicine and the life sciences as a whole – “from bench to bedside,” as experts would coin it. It sums up the overall objective of biomedical engineering, which is to turn ideas into sound, validated theories through advanced mathematics and statistics.

Then apply these theories in the real world, through engineering-based simulations and manufacturing, in the hopes of creating clinically sound evidence and answers that provide tangible and practical solutions to understand better biologic processes and human physiology and pathology in an attempt to resolve some of medicine’s unresolved dilemmas. 

This is also the whole idea behind the prestigious and generous Coulter Translational Partnership Research Grant from the Coulter Foundation enjoyed by several BME programs. The Coulter Foundation and the Whitaker Foundation are two of the biggest benefactors of the BME field.

Grants from these two foundations, as well as from federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Human Genome Research Institute Home (NHGRI), and many more have helped universities formally launch their BME programs through the decades, and subsequently house these programs into its department that are independent of say, the schools of engineering or medicine of these universities.

This transformation through generous financial support helps the field of BME to become a discipline in its own right, that while it is indeed a collaborative and integrative discipline, becoming a division or department of its own in educational institutions would also mean more research centers, research groups and more streamlined funding for advanced equipment and facilities, which, of course, bodes well for research and advancement.

And when research is well-funded and well-equipped, this also translates to improved student enrollment, retention, and graduation, which is what this research-intensive discipline needs to stay continually relevant and thriving. 

This is important because while the discipline is still young, it is indeed thriving and burgeoning. In FY 2019, the fields of BME and bioengineering (BIOE) were among the top five engineering fields that have received the highest federal funding for R&D, edging aerospace, aeronautical, and astronautical engineering by $50K  – and this is just federal funding, private funding for the BME field is just as generous, if not more. 

Quick audio summary:


METHODOLOGY

The programs included in the list were based on the following criteria:  


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20 BEST DOCTOR OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING GRADUATE SCHOOLS

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, MA

Biological Engineering Department

Ph.D. in Biological Engineering

The Biological Engineering Department is one of the newer academic divisions of MIT’s School of Engineering. Its foundation has been largely motivated by genomics and molecular biology, two of the great biological discoveries of the 20th century. 

Standout Features of the Program:

CBE is an interschool collaboration – in partnership with Harvard University, the Cleveland Clinic, and Colorado State University – that studies mechanobiology, biomaterials, cell and tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and technology, and other related subfields through in vitro and in vivo simulations and atomic force microscopy (AFM). BE doctorates interested in post-grad research in this field can apply for open post-doctoral positions through its director, Prof. Grodzinsky. 

In 2019, MIT received the highest funding for biomedical engineering research, at $118,310. Of this figure, 65% was federally financed, also the highest federal BME funding among all U.S. universities. 

Harvard University

Harvard University

Boston, MA

John A. Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences – SEAS

Ph.D. in Bioengineering 

One of the innovative features of Harvard’s SEAS is that it does not have departments.  All subfields and disciplines are communal, not centralized, collaborative, not concentrated.

This is reflected in the school’s eight research areas and 30+ research institutes and initiatives, where science, engineering, IT, and public policy integrate.

Standout Features of the Program:

Students can also cross-enroll into graduate courses from MIT’s Health Sciences and Technology program.

The SEAS also offers Ph.D. degrees in other disciplines like Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Environmental Science & Engineering, Material Science & Mechanical Engineering, and, Quantum Science & Engineering.

University of California San Diego (UCSD)

University of California San Diego

La Jolla, CA

Department of Bioengineering

Ph.D. in Bioengineering

The UCSD Department of Bioengineering offers interdisciplinary degrees in partnership with the different Engineering departments (Electrical, Structural, Computer Science, Mechanical and Aerospace), the School of Medicine, and other departments like Economics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biochemistry, and  Physics. 

Standout Features of the Program:

The program accepts second-year UCSD School of Medicine students who intend to pursue a dual doctorate (Ph.D./M.D.) through the Medical Scientist Training Program, a grant awarded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to qualified institutions, UCSD being one. 

The department has close to 30 research groups which include studies on Stem Cell Biology and Bioengineering, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology, and Biomaterials and Regenerative Medicine, to name a few. These are helmed by department faculty.

John Hopkins University 

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD

Whiting School of Engineering

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering 

The BME programs at JHU are pioneers in the country. These innovative programs boast of faculty from both engineering and medical disciplines, highly specialized and integrative curricula, and the renowned BME Design program, teaching design thinking principles to BME students for twenty years.

Standout Features of the Program:

Students interested in pursuing medicine and engineering may apply to the highly selective Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), which is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Unlike other institutions that offer the same M.D./Ph.D. pathway, applicants need not apply to separate departments but only to the JHU School of Medicine.

The demographic of the BME Ph.D. program is diverse, with female enrollees making up about half of the enrollees. Also, a quarter of the enrollees are LGBTQ-oriented, and a fifth of the enrollees identify as ethnic minorities.

Georgia Institute of Technology – Emory University School of Medicine

Georgia Institute of Technology – Emory University School of Medicine

  Atlanta, GA

Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

The joint Biomedical Engineering program from Georgia Tech and Emory University was made possible by the Whitaker Foundation, which awarded the BME Program Development Grant in 1993. 

Standout Features of the Program:

The degree can be earned via other pathways such as the M.D./Ph.D. in BME dual degree pathway and the trilateral Ph.D. in BME offering from Emory, GA Tech, and Peking University, which offers a unique global perspective to this already innovative program.

As for collaborative research, GA Tech and Emory’s proximity to federal health agencies and renowned private health institutions, such as the headquarters of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The American Cancer Society, indicate high research activity and output in this area. Both establishments are less than two miles away from Emory and a mere 15-minute drive from GA Tech.

In 2020, GA Tech conferred the highest number of BME doctorates, with 35 students completing the Ph.D. program.

Duke University Pratt School of Engineering

Duke University Pratt School of Engineering

Durham, NC

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

The BME training and research at Duke University is helmed by a world-renowned faculty of researchers and professors, many of whom are fellows of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), American Association for the Advancement of Science or AAAS, NSF, NIH, the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, and many more.

Standout Features of the Program:

All Duke BME students are encouraged to participate in the Duke Startup Challenge. At stake are prizes ranging from $500 to $50K. The challenge encourages collaboration between departments, and a competing group with a 20% BME student leadership will receive an additional $10K prize from the BME department.

Duke BME also offers Ph.D. level certificate courses in Nanoscience, Photonics, and  Biomolecular and Tissue Engineering (BTE). It also offers training fellowships in BTE, Bioinformatics and Engineering Microbes, and Medical Imaging. The Medical Scientist Training Program also provides a dual degree pathway (M.D./Ph.D.).

Stanford University Schools of Engineering and Medicine

Stanford University Schools of Engineering and Medicine

Stanford, CA

Department of  Bioengineering

Ph.D. in Bioengineering

“With engineering as our paintbrush and biology as our canvass…”, these words on the Stanford BioE page say everything one needs to know about its programs – the aim to create backed by knowledge of the empirical and medical sciences. 

Standout Features of the Program:

Students also can earn a second doctorate along with a Ph.D. in Bioengineering, such as Medicine (through the Medical Scientist Training Program, or MSTP) or Law (through the School of Law).

The Future of Everything is a Stanford podcast hosted by Prof. Russ Altman (of the Helix Research Group), which talks about the real-world integrative applications of science (physical, environmental, geophysical, astronomical, chemical, computational, life), engineering, and medicine. 

Rice University

Rice University

Houston, TX

Department of Bioengineering

Ph.D. in Bioengineering

Rice University’s Department of  Bioengineering is comprised of nearly 30 faculty members whose expertise range from bioengineering and biosciences, biochemistry, tissue engineering, biomolecular engineering, to electrical and computer engineering, and its integrative applications in the various facets of medicine, like cancer research and global health, to name a few.

Standout Features of the Program:

The Department of Bioengineering is located within the halls of the Texas Medical Center via the BioScience Research Collaborative. This unique location of the department provides Bioengineering students access to medical facilities and professional insights for research proposals and executions. 

The Department of Bioengineering also offers an M.D./Ph.D. pathway, the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP),  through a partnership with Baylor College of Medicine  (BCM). Applicants should submit their applications through the BCM admissions office. 

Boston University

Boston University

Boston, MA

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Boston University’s  Department of BME is the first to offer an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering. Today, the program offers not just undergraduate and graduate programs but also related concentrations that can complement any BME degree and minor degrees.

Standout Features of the Program:

Students and faculty can engage with the 10+ research centers and facilities the department is affiliated with or involved with. Among these is the Bioengineering Technology & Entrepreneurship Center (BTEC), which aims to create bioengineers, and engineers as a whole, with a deep sense of social awareness and responsibility.

The department receives generous funding from renowned BME benefactors like the Whitaker Foundation  (through the Whitaker Foundation Leadership Award) and the Coulter Foundation (through the Coulter Translational Partnership Award).

University of Washington

University of Washington - Seattle

Seattle, WA

Department of Bioengineering

Ph.D. in Bioengineering

UW’s Bioengineering program stands out not only because of its curriculum and research involvement, but also because of the entrepreneurial spirit that envelopes each student and faculty  – from pending patents to marketable inventions, leading to innovative startups that go back to the ingenuity, brilliance, and acumen of the Bioengineering folks at UW. 

Standout Features of the Program:

Students are encouraged to participate in the UW initiative BioEngage, which bridges UW Bioengineering students with relevant companies in the industry for job placements, internships, immersions, project sponsorships, grants or collaborations, and mutual consultations. Some of the partner companies include Philips, NanoString, Fuji Film, and Bristol Myers Squibb, to name a few.

The department leads UW in terms of patents and innovations. As of 2020, the Department of Bioengineering has more than 1700 submitted patents, close to 100 patent licenses, and nearly a thousand inventions, all of which have led to more than 40 UW-connected startups. 

University of Florida

University of Florida

Gainesville, FL

J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

The University of Florida – Biomedical Engineering Department, instituted in 2002, is one of the newest additions to the UF family, particularly the College of Engineering. Its foundation is largely attributed to the Whitaker Foundation. In 2006, Dr. Pruitt and his family doled a significant contribution to the department, making it one of the biggest contributions UF has received.

Standout Features of the Program:

Students can fulfill their elective requirements through the courses offered by the Engineering Innovation Institute (EII). Twelve available courses focus on engineering entrepreneurship, innovation, design thinking, sales, policy, ethics, leadership, and project management.

Aside from courses, students can also enroll in EII’s non-degree Engineering Innovation Certificate to augment their credentials. The non-degree program is also available as a minor degree

University of Minnesota 

University of Minnesota

Minneapolis, MN

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

The BME program at UMN invests heavily in research founded on an integrative approach. The department’s more renowned research work is bioengineering oncology, neurology, and cardiology.

Standout Features of the Program:

First and second-year Ph.D. students are eligible to be selected to partake in the Cardiovascular Engineering Training program (CET), which focuses on the potential innovations relevant to cardiovascular diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. 

Of the nearly 180 Ph.D. students of the BME  program, nearly 50% are female enrollees. Additionally, UMN has strong support for research-based entrepreneurship, that also nearly 50% of faculty research has resulted in successful startups. 

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA

Department of Bioengineering

Ph.D. in Bioengineering

The University of Pennsylvania was the first educational institution to confer the Doctorate or Ph.D. in Bioengineering degree in 1953.

Standout Features of the Program:

The School of Engineering & Applied Science or SEAS, with which the Department of Bioengineering is connected, is affiliated with nearly 30 research institutes in and outside the SEAS. Some of the notable institutes include the Penn Cardiovascular Institute, and the Penn Center for Molecular Discovery, to name a few.

The department faculty has a long history of collaborating with industry leaders and startups, resulting in innovations with extensive applications in medicine, particularly cardiology. These include new treatment approaches for congestive heart failure, biocompatible implants that help predict heart attacks and seizures, and new types of vascular graft that can be used for arterial bypass procedures.

University of California Davis

University of California Davis

Davis, CA

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

UC Davis’ Department of Biomedical Engineering has a long and inspiring history from 1965 when the first consideration for a BME program or research group was made. From being known as the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Group (BMEGG) in 1970, to the Division of BME in 1999, and then finally as the Department of BME in 2001, the department has then expanded its research focus from musculoskeletal biomechanics to medical imaging, MCE, and biophotonics, to name a few.

Standout Features of the Program:

The department is home to  65+ faculty members from different and yet relevant disciplines to BME, such as engineering, medicine, pharmacology, neurobiology, mathematics, behavioral science, physiology, and information systems. A third of the faculty is also connected to the School of Medicine. 

UC Davis’ unique location between downtown Sacramento and  Lake Tahoe affords the ideal balance of intensive academics and research within school grounds while basking in the natural beauty of the school’s exteriors. 

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M University

College Station, TX

Department of Biomedical Engineering

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Texas A&M University is a research powerhouse, and its Department of BME is no exception. Its researches have resulted in 65 patents and 11 startup companies, to name a few. Students are also in good hands as the department’s faculty are fellows in related professional societies and have helmed peer-reviewed publications and board memberships. 

Standout Features of the Program:

Aside from research and innovation, Texas A&M encourages its students to harness their entrepreneurial drive through the BME Design Studio, located in the aptly named Emerging Technologies Building. Once fully equipped (fundraising for the studio is in the process), students will be exposed to research and the application or the development of medical technologies and other biomedical innovations from start to finish.

Researchers from the BME Department have recently developed a 3D model of blood vessels that can closely simulate with almost perfect precision actual human vascular anatomy. This is a significant leap in cardiovascular disease and drug therapy studies, deemed stagnant over the last two decades. 

University of Michigan Ann Arbor

University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI

Biomedical Engineering Joint Department (College of Engineering and School of Medicine)

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

The Department of BME is co-managed by the College of Engineering and School of Medicine. The department’s faculty comprises engineers, medical doctors, and other experts in related fields like information science, biology, neuroscience, radiology, oncology, genetics, pharmacology, and even dental medicine.

Standout Features of the Program:

Aside from research and innovation, Michigan BME also strongly advocates for entrepreneurship. Its Center for Entrepreneurship and the Ross School of Business and are good starting points for BME researchers to learn how to market their innovations or inventions. To date, six startups are either pioneered or are connected to Michigan BME (faculty and or fellow leadership or involvement).

There is no shortage of ideas from Michigan BME researchers. Some of its recent innovations include finger-controlled prostheses, a new methodology for predicting one’s vaccine response (or lack thereof), and medical warning wearables for hospitalized cancer patients

Columbia University

Columbia University

New York, NY

The Fu Foundation School of Engineering & Applied Science (SEAS)

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical Engineering is a collaboration between various Columbia departments. While it calls the SEAS home, it also offers core courses from the Faculty of Medicine, College of Dental Medicine, Mailman School of Public Health, and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (science departments).

Standout Features of the Program:

The department is helmed by 60+ faculty members hailing from various disciplines. Faculty research involvement is significant in biology, biomechanics, imaging, and medicine.

SEAS’  BME program collaborates with several other Columbia departments and schools, such as the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Department of Biomedical Informatics, the Irving Medical Center, and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & Wake Forest University

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & Wake Forest University

Blacksburg, VA

Department of Biomedical Engineering and  Mechanics (BEAM)

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Virginia Tech partners with Wake Forest University  (WFU) to form the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences (SBES), which houses the Biomedical Engineering program. The program is available from the undergraduate to graduate (master’s and doctorate) levels. 

Standout Features of the Program:

A clinical rotation is required for second-year Ph.D. students, which is waived for Ph.D. in BME students under the dual-degree M.D./Ph.D. or D.V.M./Ph.D. pathway. Students are expected to gain insights into medical processes like image interpretation, administration of treatment modalities, and the operation and maintenance of medical devices and equipment. 

BEAM also offers a Ph.D. degree in Engineering Mechanics with the following options for emphasis or concentrations: solid mechanics, applied mathematics, dynamics, control and vibrations, biomechanics, and fluid mechanics.

Purdue University

Purdue University

West Lafayette, IN,

Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering

Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Purdue’s BME programs are housed within the Martin C. Jischke Hall of Biomedical Engineering, home to advanced engineering and science facilities that can aid in research and top-notch BME education.

Standout Features of the Program:

Students can partake in the BIOMEDSHIP joint program, which integrates faculty from the Weldon School of BME, the Indiana University School of Medicine, and the Krannert School of Management to train students on how to capitalize, market, and monetize their work as BME researchers and innovators. 

For students with no engineering background but still wish to pursue research and a doctorate in the applied biomedicine field, Purdue also offers a Ph.D. program in Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences degree with the College of Veterinary Medicine.

University of Maryland College Park

University of Maryland

College Park, MD

Fischell Department of Bioengineering

Ph.D. in Bioengineering

UM’s Bioengineering program is ahead in many ways. It is home to the Robert E. Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices and the BioWorkshop, the department’s facility and equipment center. The BioWorkshop is home to microscopes, particle analyzers, scanners, cytometers, imaging and instrumentation tools, and other research aids and equipment. 

Standout Features of the Program:

UM’s BIOE program is one of the few Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grant recipients. The $1M grant birthed the Center of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI), which modernizes regulatory methods and bases in reviewing medical therapeutics and devices.

Some of UM’s latest published works in the field of BME are in cancer research, drug delivery, specifically gene therapy, and the application of nanotechnology in tissue engineering.  


Why pursue a Ph.D. in Biomedical  Engineering? 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Why pursue a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering? 

While a bachelor’s degree would usually suffice as an entry-level requirement, it would only get the graduate so far in the field. In terms of salary, 2020 BLS data reports a median salary of $92K annually for biomedical engineers and bioengineers with only a bachelor’s degree. From this perspective, it will indeed suffice. 

There are a few who pursue a Ph.D. in BME or BIOE, and the numbers are even way less than those who pursue a Ph.D. in the biological and biomedical sciences (yes, these fields are different, and we’ll get to that later). In 2020, the NCES reported that biological and biomedical sciences conferred the most doctorate degrees over all other science and engineering fields. It edged BME and BIOE by a factor of 8. So, what does this tell us?

One, we need more Ph.D. in BME and BIOE students because this would mean more people in research, and two, based on the latest BLS data, if biomedical engineers and bioengineers with only a bachelor’s degree can nearly break the $100K mark, those with a Ph.D. can reasonably command a six-figure salary.

Why? Simple. Their extensive experience in research, both as a collaborator and as the lead author (at the very least, they are the lead author of their dissertation), which is what the doctorate is all about, will speak volumes about their marketability and value.

Which brings us back to the question, why pursue a Ph.D. in BME or BIOE? The answer is also simple, and it is not for the salary, at least not primarily, but for the passion for research and innovation, which is a primary requirement for admission to any BME program in the country.

Any doctorate program will require students to be engaged in research from the moment they are admitted until they graduate, but the pressure is even more so in a BME or BIOE program, which is why these programs are highly selective. 

Biomedical, Bioengineering, Biomedical Science… what’s the difference?

Simply put, bioengineering is more encompassing, and in many ways, it could subsume the field of BME. Bioengineering is broader and focuses on a theory using advanced mathematics and computational or statistical modeling. In contrast, BME has a greater focus on applying and integrating practical engineering principles and techniques, especially in the varying fields of medicine. 

But the lines between these two are quite blurry that they tend to crossover. And in terms of programs, schools may treat these two fields synonymously, especially when the programs’ faculty’s research areas are also identical.

For example, whether you are enrolled in a Ph.D. program in BIOE or BME, you might see the following research areas in both programs: neuro-engineering, systems biology, computational modeling, bio-imaging, and bio-mechanics/mechanobiology, and regenerative medicine, to name a few. 

On the other hand, Biomedical science differs from the two as it has a more theoretical approach and less engineering approach. Research and application are also required, but it is more intensive in BME and BIOE. 

Who can apply to the program?

Undergraduates with a bachelor’s degree can apply even without a master’s degree, even if the undergraduate degree is a non-STEM degree. Most BME/BIOE programs will require many mathematics, statistics, calculus, physics, and elementary engineering courses. If the undergraduate applicant lacks these, they can take these courses on a remedial basis to complete the requirement. 

Of course, those with a master’s degree can apply and will have the advantage of completing less coursework than those with just a bachelor’s degree. 

Are GRE scores required? 

GRE scores are optional for AY 2022 unless withdrawn by the school. Best to check with the school’s admissions committee. 

What are the usual degree requirements? 

All BME/BIOE programs require an original and publicly defended dissertation accepted or deemed satisfactory by the dissertation committee. But before that, students must first complete the required coursework plus TA work, usually for two terms.

They must also pass the qualifying exams, one usually before the third year and the second for doctoral candidacy admission. Many programs also require an on-campus residency of at least one year.

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