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gc2012

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  1. gc2012

    Duke Stat PhD vs. UNC Biostat PhD

    It's a big program, we seemingly know different people. Most of the people I know in the program have stayed on with the faculty academic advisor to whom they were assigned when they came in. I also would agree that most of them are satisfied with their advisors. That being said, it's clearly a debatable point and a bit of a semantic argument, but I still argue that the student/advisor pairing is far more related to faculty preferences than students. And I think it's misleading to suggest that any student can simply choose to work with any advisor. Second, I think it's valuable to be clearer about what 'guaranteed' funding means. I also have, in writing, 'guaranteed' funding. However, that does not mean the department has a specific grant designated to fund me throughout the rest of my time in the program (they might have this for some students). Rather, I've had year to year GRA appointments, and at the end of each year, I have to talk to the student service managers, they send out my CV to the faculty and other affiliated researchers, and I hope that something comes through. This has worked out thus far, but it's stressful and it's not clear what would happen if nothing materialized. Other students, I think, have more stable sources of funding, but at least in my case, this is 'guaranteed funding' at UNC. Also on that note, it varies wildly by GRA as to whether you will be asked to work 20 hours per week. If your GRA advisor is kind and can afford to pay you for nothing, you might only have to work a few hours per week. However, they are fully within their rights to demand 20 hours of work per week (I have had these types of GRAs), and I know people who have had GRAs where the researcher basically bullied them into working more than 20 hours. I don't think that's common, but it's common enough that student service managers have to intervene (and brought it up to me, unsolicited). Sometimes a 20 hour GRA is workable, but other times (like your qual year), it isn't. Last, again a matter of opinion, I wouldn't say the data science curriculum is a particularly noteworthy feature of the program. Basically they now require first year students to take an introductory course in R and (a little python) instead of SAS (which was previously required, and still heavily used in core courses). The precision medicine and statistical computing courses are newer, so I can't speak to them. I would note that they are electives and therefore might not be offered every year (although I think they plan to do so for computing).
  2. gc2012

    Duke Stat PhD vs. UNC Biostat PhD

    I guess just to clarify, I'm not saying you will have zero agency regarding your dissertation advisor at UNC, it will just be limited. Possibly more so than other programs, but I can't really speak to that. Moreover, for better or worse, if you come to UNC biostat, if you pass your quals, you will probably be so relieved that you won't really care about who you work with for your dissertation. I'm not saying that's a positive trait, but I think a large number of students in the program would say the same thing.
  3. gc2012

    Duke Stat PhD vs. UNC Biostat PhD

    @little white in Stat So the way it works is when you come to UNC biostat, you will get an academic advisor and a research advisor. Sometimes these are the same, but they are often not. The academic advisor will be biostatistics faculty, the research advisor may not be (i.e., they might be an MD with a grant for which you help provide statistical support). The work you do for your research advisor is what funds your stipend and tuition. That work is often statistical programming for some scientific study, not statistical methods development. You will meet with this person once a week. The academic advisor is (theoretically) the person with whom you will do your thesis research, but you likely won't have a lot of interaction with that person until (or if) you pass your qual. You don't initially choose this person, you are just assigned to someone. I believe the faculty review the application materials of all the incoming PhD students and divide them up. I suspect they try to match the research interests expressed in your application essay to an appropriate faculty member, but it's not a guarantee, and nobody will directly ask your opinion. Once you pass your qualifier, you theoretically could change academic advisors, but in practice I think many/most students just stick with their originally assigned person. If you do want to change, you would have to work it out with the faculty members in question. There isn't really a set way to do that, it's kind of ad hoc. For instance, where some programs like Penn have research rotations (i.e., 1-2 month periods where you work with different faculty members and then choose one at the end), we do not. And when it comes to faculty like Danyu Lin, Michael Kosorok, Joe Ibrahim, etc., basically everyone in the program would like to work with them so you can't just 'choose' them, you can express interest in their work, and they decide whether to take you (which for those 3 is not overly likely due to existing volume).
  4. gc2012

    Duke Stat PhD vs. UNC Biostat PhD

    I can't fully answer your question, but I'm a current UNC biostat student, so I can offer a few clarifications about the program. First, (basic) measure theory is covered for one month, there is one test over the material (and measure theory is only half of the tested material), and then it's never brought up again (even on the qualifier). So I wouldn't go to UNC with the idea that you will get a lot of instruction in measure theory. I don't know anything about Duke, but for Duke stat to have less measure theory than UNC biostat, they would basically have to not cover it at all. Second, if you go to UNC, don't expect to do meaningful statistical research until after you pass your qualifying exam, which will be after 2 years if you come in without a relevant Master's (and if you pass on the first try). A small handful of students do a little bit of statistical research prior to passing their qual, but by and large, you basically won't do any work towards a thesis until passing. You will probably have to do some statistical programming for an applied project (i.e. GRA or training grant), but it's typically not the same as thesis work. Third, this is more of a feeling than a hard and fast rule, but it seems to me that students don't really choose their faculty research advisor, the faculty choose their research students. So I wouldn't count on working with any specific research advisor at UNC. Also, for the higher profile faculty, they do tend to have a lot of students, and so many of them co-advise their research students along with a more junior faculty member with fewer time demands.
  5. gc2012

    PhD vs. Microsoft applied scientist

    Yeah, @galois makes a number of good points. When considering a PhD, I think it's important to consider the long term trajectory of your career. Right now, having a bachelor's is enough to get the job you want, but no matter how well paid/prestigious the position is, it's still an entry level job and you will eventually get bored and want a more challenging position. At some point, not having an advanced degree will likely limit your career advancement. Of course this is not the case uniformly across companies, but why take the chance? I do think it's reasonable to take the job, see how it goes, and then reapply to graduate programs in the future. However, as someone who worked and then went back to school, I reiterate the points above, it just gets harder and harder to be an underpaid, overworked graduate student as you get older. Ultimately, if you think you will eventually want a PhD (which seems likely), I think you would be happier if you start now and finish by the time you are 27 or 28.
  6. To the extent this affects your career decisions, I'd like to push back on some of the previous comments. I certainly agree that it is possible to have an academic career in biostatistics regardless of specific PhD program. I personally know (non-tenure track) faculty who trained at non-prestigious institutions. However, I don't think it's reasonable to suggest the rank of your program is inconsequential. Clearly, there is a correlation/causation issue, but in general, I think the likelihood of obtaining an academic position post-graduation will be lower for students from lower ranked programs. Moreover, I don't take it as self-evident that advisor matters more than program, but even if we accept that claim, program ranking largely reflects the strength of the faculty. Thus, there are fewer well known researchers at less prestigious programs. Of course there are exceptions, but my point is, I wouldn't hang my hat on going to a low ranked institution, working with a prestigious advisor, and going on to a prestigious faculty position. That scenario is possible, but I think the much more likely outcome would be work in government or industry.
  7. Agreed that you can get into some biostat programs without real analysis. However, even if you are admitted, some of the material will be much more difficult for you. So if at all possible, you should take real analysis next semester. It probably won't help your application, but it will help you as a graduate student, wherever you end up. Also, if you are still at UNC, Math 521 is offered in the spring and would be sufficient preparation for many programs.
  8. You would be much better off with the stat prof as long as the letter is somewhat strong. Also, there is no reason for you to speculate on whether that's the case, it's perfectly reasonable to ask point blank, 'are you willing and able to write a strong letter of recommendation for me'? If not, then ask the history prof the same question.
  9. I can only speak to the program at UNC. You are correct that it has a lot of required classes, my sense is more than many other programs. If you are coming in with a relevant Master's (meaning you can skip the first year of classes), expect it take you two years to complete the remaining required courses. If you do not already have a Master's, you theoretically could complete the coursework in 2.5 years but more likely it will take 3 years (i.e, 6 semesters). The workload is heavy, so it's unlikely that you will make much research progress during that time, nor will the faculty expect you to. In a more general sense, UNC seems to place an unusually high emphasis on classes relative to research. I think if asked, a lot of the faculty would agree that passing the qualifying exam is the biggest challenge of the program, much more so than completing the thesis. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but definitely something to consider.
  10. I think there is a decent chance that you would be able to find funding at UNC. We get emails periodically from investigators in other departments looking for 10-20 hour/week RA positions, so opportunities definitely seem to pop up. I'm not sure how competitive they are, but it certainly seems possible that you would be able to find something. However, with no guarantee from the school, you would be pretty much on your own and it could be stressful. Also, of the three programs you mentioned, UNC is by far the cheapest both in terms of tuition (particularly if you establish in-state residency) and overall cost of living.
  11. gc2012

    UNC biostats PhD funding?

    I'm not sure how it works for international students, you'll need to contact the program. Unfortunately, this is very similar to basically every interaction I've had with the faculty and staff in charge of administrative matters. In my experience, if you are fortunate enough for them to respond to your question, it will be slow, and there is a good chance it won't be helpful. In fact, there have been times I've gotten advice that was actively harmful (albeit unintentionally). So if you end up at UNC, you need to be prepared to very forcefully advocate for yourself. I've typically gotten what I've needed, but only because I'm willing to repeatedly email, call, and complain in person. Obviously, that's very aggravating, but that's the reality of the program. So to find out about funding, I'd send an email immediately asking for a specific date they will know about your funding. And then follow up at least weekly until you get an answer.
  12. gc2012

    U of Minneasota vs. Boston U

    I worked for a number of years as a Master's level analyst in an academic biostatistics department and I have a few thoughts. First, Master's level work is going to be purely applied. In general, it is good to have a solid theoretical background, but employers hiring out of Master's programs will be looking first and foremost for people who know how and when to apply existing methods (programming ability in SAS and R are important). If any theoretical work has to be done, it will not be entrusted to Master's level staff. Second, programs usually have good luck placing their graduates locally, but not necessarily nationally. So if you attend Minnesota, your first job afterwards will likely be near Minneapolis, and likewise for Boston. Third, at least some employers expect that a biostatistics Master's degree will be two years full time. Having a one year Master's won't necessarily prevent you from being hired, but in some cases you will start off at a lower salary.
  13. I think it's valuable to think about your long term goals here. Keep in mind, your institution and degree program (statistics/biostatistics) will be at the top of your CV for the rest of your life. It will be the first thing every hiring committee sees. That aside, I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that going to a biostatistics program puts you on a track to become faculty in a biostatistics department, and a statistics program points you to positions in statistics departments. Obviously that is not true in every case, but it's a reasonable rule of thumb. I do agree that its easier to go from statistics to biostatistics than the other way around. The other key thing to consider, at least about biostatistics, is that it is very applied in practice. To be sure, there are very high profile academic biostatisticians doing fairly theoretical work, but the vast majority of practicing biostatisticians spend a large amount of time providing statistical support to biomedical researchers. Moreover, methods development in biostatistics will require learning a lot about the underlying science. For instance, if you work in statistical genetics, you need to know a lot about genetics. I don't know enough about regular statistics professors to comment on whether they have similar experiences, but my suspicion is there is less of an applied aspect. As to the salary issue, let's be precise. Amstat news regularly produces a salary survey and biostat professors report making about $20,000 more than stat professors of equal experience. It is true that the salaries for statistics faculty are for 9 month contracts, compared to 12 months for biostatistics. To be clear, though, a 9 month salary means that stat professors are only contractually obligated to work for 9 months, but they also aren't paid at all for the remaining 3 months of the year. So at the end of the day, that 9 month salary is what they get in institutional support over 12 months. So the distinction here is that biostatistics faculty are required to work more, but they do in fact get paid more on an annual basis. With regard to biostatisticians having to get most of their salary support from grants, that is true, but with some important caveats. Namely, it's easier for biostatisticians to get grants than most other scientists. Basically, the way it works for most biostat faculty is they spend a fairly large amount of time writing the statistics sections of grant applications for biomedical researchers. They get in on enough of these grants that when even a few of them go through, they have salary support. So if working on grant applications does not appeal to you, think very hard about going into biostatistics at an academic institution. However, for those willing, obtaining salary support via grants is not so scary.
  14. gc2012

    UNC biostats PhD funding?

    I'm a current student, let me clarify. I have guaranteed funding. I expect most other PhD students in the program have guaranteed funding. Even some of the Master's students have funding. I obviously don't know about every student's funding status, so there may a small number of PhD students who do not have it. However, UNC biostatistics absolutely does guarantee funding explicitly. They will send you a letter specifying your exact stipend and the number of years they will guarantee it. As I recall, the funding letter came shortly before the visit day. If you don't get a letter specifying your funding, you don't have guaranteed funding. As to the tuition waiver, it's not something to worry about. Your first year funding covers out of state tuition. After the first year, you will have lived in North Carolina long enough to establish residency and therefore will be eligible for in state tuition. Getting in state residency requires submitting a few forms to the state. You be reminded many times by the department to do this.
  15. gc2012

    Biostat: UW vs Upenn?

    Fortunately, Michigan does provide their information here: https://secure.rackham.umich.edu/academic_information/program_details/biostatistics/ From 2012-2016, 14% of their graduates were in tenure track faculty positions in their first year after graduation, compared with 44% in business/industry. I haven't found this information for any other programs, so I can't say whether 14% is substantially higher than others, but it certainly doesn't strike me as something to write home about.
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