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2020 Statistics PhD Application Profile Evaluation

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Hi guys, I am a rising senior and will be applying for PhD programs in statistics this fall, but I am still unsure about the range of programs I should apply to. I have talked with one of my letter writers (statistics professor), he is fairly confident that I could get in schools like Ohio State and Florida, but I am afraid that he is too optimistic since I have a couple of bad grades from undergraduate math and statistics classes (B+ in both Calculus III and undergraduate probability), I would love to hear about your opinion on my current school choices. I am also interested in applying statistical methods on ecological problems, so if you know any school that is particularly strong in this area, I would also love to learn about it. Thank you so much for your help!


Undergraduate Institution: Top 80 state school, strong in pure math but meh in stats

Majors: Pure Math (honors program) + Applied Math & Stats

Minor: Biology (ecology & evolution concentration)

GPA: 3.90/4.00

Type of Student: International female

Courses taken:

  • Pure Math/Applied Math (undergrad level): Calculus II & III (A, B+), Differential Equations (A), Group Theory (A), Complex Analysis (A), Topology (A), Real Analysis I (A-), Advanced Linear Algebra (A-), Applied Algebra (A), Numerical Methods (A-)
  • Stats (undergrad level): Data Analysis (A), Probability Theory (B+), Mathematical Statistics (A), Applied Data Mining (A)
  • Stats (grad level): Linear Regression Model (A), Bayesian Statistics (A), Stochastic Process (B+), Mathematical Statistics I (A-)
  • CS (undergrad level): Introductory Programming (A)

Courses taking this fall

  • Pure Math/Applied Math (undergrad level): Real Analysis II, Senior Thesis (2-semester sequence)
  • Pure Math/Applied Math (grad level): Topology
  • Stats (undergrad level): Independent Study supervised by grad-level Mathematical Statistics I professor
  • Stats (grad level): Introductory Probability Theory (will take measure theoretic grad level probability theory next spring)

GRE General Test: 159V/170Q/4.5W 

GRE Subject Math: Will take in September (and maybe October too)

Research Experience

1 research project in statistical ecology in national academy of sciences of home country resulted in 1 published paper (3rd author, mainly responsible for designing the algorithm, writing R codes and running the codes to test hypothesis proposed by the PI);1 summer REU at an ivy school in topology with no major results, gave one talk to the department at the end; doing data analysis for an ecology lab at my home institution since this spring; also doing research in topology at my home institution this summer (topic is related to senior thesis).

Working Experience:

1 year TA for introductory biology, will be TA for calculus sequence starting this fall, high school math tutor during sophomore year 

Letters of Recommendation: 1 from senior thesis advisor (math professor who is also supervising my summer research now), 1 from grad level mathematical statistics I professor (who I will also take grad level introductory probability with and supervise my independent study in statistics in the fall), 1 from either the PI from the published paper or the PI of the ecology lab that I've been working in since this spring 

Currently considering schools: Brown (under applied math department), Duke, Columbia, NC State, Penn State, Minnesota, John Hopkins, Ohio State, Florida, Colorado State Boulder (under applied math department), Pittsburgh, UCSB.


Edited by cateintheriver
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I'm not great at evaluating international students' profiles, so don't put too much weight on my thoughts -- just a word of caution.  

I'd be inclined to take your professor's thoughts as they are;  Ohio State and Florida seem like reasonable places for you.  The B+ in Calc III shouldn't mean much given the time and classes you've had since then, and the B+ in probability shouldn't mean too much either;  those aren't even bad grades, really.  

I do get the sense that you aren't really as concerned as you say, though, since you largely are considering schools higher-ranked than Ohio State and Florida.  Looking at some schools above that level is a good idea, of course, but I'm not quite sure how good your chances of getting into Columbia Stat or Brown Applied Math would be;  again, I'm not good at evaluating international students' profiles, so that is a bit of a shot in the dark for me.  I'd tell you to stay more in that range of Penn State through Ohio State and Florida, with maybe a couple above it (like NC State and Duke, as you have), plus a bit more coverage below Ohio State and Florida for additional choice later-on.  Maybe your research experience would bump you beyond what I'm saying, but I just don't really know how to judge that very well.  

I'm not an ecologist or anything resembling it, so my area knowledge of it is completely lacking.  We did recently have a thread of schools that work on environmental statistics, which might be helpful -- schools that came up there were NC State, Ohio State, and Oregon State.  Additionally, Cyberwulf at one time mentioned some biostatisticians who do environmental statistics, such as Roger Peng (Johns Hopkins Biostat), Francesca Dominici (Harvard Biostat), and Amy Herring (Duke Statistics).  I think the University of Georgia has a good ecology school (one of the Odums worked there), but I don't know that their statistics department is very involved in that work;  even so, you could look there.  I think UNC is tied to the Odums as well, so you might look there as well (along with Florida, so Wikipedia informs me).  Duke Statistics also used to have a professor who explicitly worked on statistics in ecology (Alan Gelfand), but it seems like he retired recently.  

Hopefully this helps, and if you'd like, it wouldn't be a bad idea to consult with your professor some more too to make sure of your choices (their time and willingness allowing).  

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54 minutes ago, Geococcyx said:


Thank you so much for your suggestions! I haven't look into Oregon State and Georgia before and I'll definitely check them out. You are definitely correct that I should remove some of the higher ranking schools from my list. I never actually think I would have a chance to get in Brown (or Columbia), but my professor has strongly recommended both so I have put them on the list. He also suggested me to try to apply to programs with relatively large cohort/number of faculties since usually there will only be one or two professors who work in ecological statistics in a department (if any), and said professor may not eventually become my advisor.

Edited by cateintheriver
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