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Biostatistics programs focused on epidemiology


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Hello, I was wondering if people could help me find biostatistics (or statistics honestly though I just figure that biostatistics programs are where these would be) programs that are focused on applications to epidemiology and infectious diseases. 

I want to work for NGOs in global health hopefully focusing on east Africa after getting a PhD but I'm having trouble determining the schools that would best prepare me to do this. 

Another related question I have - would I be able to do this sort of work even if my PhD work is not particularly related? E.g. if I did a pure statistics PhD focused more on methodology, would I still be able to find my way to global health work?

Thank you all for the help. 

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If you interest is in epidemiology and infections diseases, it might be best to go for a PhD in Epidemiology or a PhD in Global Health rather than Biostatistics or Statistics (though I think many Epidemiology PhD programs require an MPH). An MPH or PhD in Public Health/Epidemiology would probably best serve your needs and teach you the applied statistics and methodology you need to know to conduct public health research without bogging you down in mathematical and statistical theory (if those are not of interest to you).

If you still want to do Statistics, the only program I can think of which may be somewhat relevant to your interests is the Statistics PhD program at University of Washington -- UW Stats has a PhD concentration in Statistics in the Social Sciences: https://www.stat.washington.edu/academics/graduate/programs/statsocsciences

 

Edited by Stat PhD Now Postdoc
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Thank you very much for your response!

I did actually consider applying for a PhD in epi or global health. But like you said many such programs require either an MPH (or similar graduate experience) or at least a biology background which I don't have.

My background is in pure math. And I do really really love math - did an REU, did some other research, took a ton of math classes. But I realized I couldn't do something so divorced from practical applications as a career, hence stats. And I've since worked as a days analyst for a university's global health program, hence the interest in biostats. I really want to do any kind of work that helps people with public health, doesn't need to be epidemiology if that isn't reasonable.

But do biostatistics PhDs end up working for NGOs? I have mainly seen a lot of academia, tech companies, or big pharma - not so much of NGOs. Is that something I could do? If not, then maybe a PhD in stats really isn't for me. I just think that I have a chance at getting into some programs and also that I'd really enjoy the math, but if it wouldn't be possible for me to do the sort of work I'd like to, then I'll think more seriously about an MPH. 

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I agree that a PhD in Epidemiology or Global Health might fit your interests more if you are looking for an entire program that's focused on those issues, but if you are in fact looking for that additional mathematic rigor, you can definitely find epidemiology research in Statistics programs, and certainly Biostatistics programs. 

Remember that many Biostatistics programs are actually housed in Schools of Public Health, so many (if not most) departments probably have at least somebody working on epidemiology. When looking through faculty at the department, look for areas statistical methodology that might be particularly useful for epidemiology like network analysis or spatial data analysis (and there are probably several others, but I'm not really an expert in this realm). In particular, Emory, with its close proximity to the Center for Disease Control, almost certainly has people working in areas of epidemiology. 

Even strict Statistics departments might have some professors that would meet your research interests. For example, Mark Handcock at UCLA. I remember UCLA Biostatistics also having a lot of research on HIV epidemiology, so look into that as well. UW is probably the highest ranked program for somebody interested in social statistics, but it definitely is not the only program you could consider. 

About choosing which type of program is better for your interests, you should note that while you can find something related to epidemiology at many places, the focus will be different. In (Bio)statistics, the emphasis will be on developing methods, and your dissertation would probably be meaningless if it wasn't focused on the mathematics of the problem at hand. In other public health programs, there is probably more room to research policy, implementation, and other non-mathematical topics.

And about whether you'll be able to do global health type work coming from a statistics background, I don't think you'd have any problem. Your required coursework for the first 1-2 years will likely have less direct relevance to your research questions, but after that, you'll be able to take additional courses, pursue internships, and do research (finding collaborators in other departments as necessary) on the questions you find interesting. I myself am interested in statistics for applications in public policy, and I passed up a couple of Public Policy PhD offers specifically because I believe the more strictly mathematical training offered in a Statistics program will prepare be better for that type of work (or at least, give me a set of skills that others in the field might not have). I'm only just about to begin my program in the fall, so I'm not saying this career trajectory will definitely work, but there are definitely people out there with similar thinking as you. 

Best of luck!

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Thank you @penguinbombs for your reply! Yes, the additional math is a huge selling point for me - as well as the fact that I am somewhat confident that I can get into some programs, which isn't the case for pure epidemiology or PH programs. 

Thank you for your recommendations about relevant areas of statistics and the specific schools/professors you mentioned. I'll definitely keep an eye out more for those keywords. 

Thanks again and best of luck to you as well!

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I think you should definitely look into UNC's biostatistics program. UNC's program is known for being theoretically rigorous but it's housed in the Gillings School of Global Public Health which is one of the top public health departments in the country. When I visited last year, they devoted some time to discuss their certificate in global health and it seemed like a really great opportunity particularly if you're interested in working on international projects. If I remember correctly, there's some required courses/seminars as well as an (international?) internship. It seemed like they were trying to get more biostatistics students into the certificate program, so it would probably be pretty easy to get into if you express interest.

If you'd like to reach out to the department to learn more, I believe Annie Green Howard is the person to talk to.

Edited by Taheel
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Yeah, you should just go to a biostatistics program connected to a good school of public health (most of them).  Go somewhere that will let you go out of your way to take public health classes, and make connections with those professors.  Find out if there are biostatistics professors doing that type of collaboration too.

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That's with a big caveat though. If you get a stat/biostat PhD, the most you'll likely be doing is collaborating as the statistician on these projects.  Do you actually want to be a statistician? Look at what both careers actually do day to day.  Being good at math is not a good enough reason to get a PhD in statistics. 

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