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Hi all,

I am considering applying to statistics, IEOR, and biostat PhD programs. My interests are more in the methodological side of statistics, so OR and biostat departments may be more appealing to me (leaning towards biostat), but I'm not opposed to more theoretical stats. That said, I wanted to have more insight on what should be my reach, target, and safeties for PhD applications. I would also like to point out some problems in my transcript, and see what you guys may think about it. A bit about my profile:

Undergrad: Ivy League (not HYP)

Major: BA in Economics (Major GPA ~3.1, Overall GPA ~3.35) A few C's and several B's in Microeconomic-related courses, but A level in Econometrics, and Macroeconomics

Minor: Mathematics and Statistics (STEM GPA: 3.75)

GRE: (plan to retake)
Q: 164
V: 159
A: 4.0

Graduate: Mid-tier state school

Major: MS in Statistics (GPA: 4.0)

Courses Taken (Undergrad Level): Multivariate Calculus (A), Diff Eq (A+), Linear Algebra (A), Probability (B+), Statistical Inference (B+), Mathematical Statistics (A-), Econometrics (B+), Advanced Econometrics (A), Data Mining (A), Statistical Computing (A), Time Series (A), Real Analysis I (A-), several CS related courses at the A/A- level.

Courses Taken (Graduate Level): Probability (A), Statistical Inference (A), Survival Analysis (A), Linear Regression Analysis (A), Modern and Applied Statistical Modelling and Computing I and II (A), Time Series Analysis (A), Design of Experiments (A), Data Mining (A), Multivariate Analysis (A)

Research Experience: Had 2 research assistant positions in undergrad, doing applied statistics with business faculty. One independent study project in graduate school with a statistics professor (still in the works, trying to get published).

Problem courses (all undergrad classes in sophomore and junior year): Health Economics (C), International Finance (C), Literature in the 1900s (C), Accounting (C),  Several B-level grades in gen ed courses related to social sciences and economics

I am worried about these problem courses since their grades are low. How will these seemingly unrelated courses affect my application in the stats, biostat, and IEOR fields? What schools should I be targeting? What schools should be safety? I am not even sure about the US News rankings, since there are mixed emotions about their ranking scheme. I plan on retaking the GRE to score a higher quant score of 165+.

Any advice and suggestions would be helpful. Thanks a lot.


Edited by kingduck
Added overall GPA
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Is your MS from an R1 university, or better yet, a department that has a PhD program? or by mid-tier state school do you mean something like Southeastern Utah U? This somewhat makes a difference in both the grades and the weight that your rec letters will hold.  Because of this uncertainty, whether you'll improve your GRE, and the inherent uncertainty of unique profiles like yours, the recommendations will be a little vague!

For statistics, I don't think you'll be very competitive for the top 10 statistics schools in US News rankings, but could see you maybe getting into some top 20s and think you should apply widely in the top 60 (there are some great schools still ranked at 50/55).  The US News rankings are a pretty accurate approximation, plus or minus ten ranks, but they don't necessarily tell you difficulty.  For instance, UT Austin and Northwestern are pretty competitive even though they're ranked 50/55.  

For biostatistics, I'd pretty much apply anywhere.  I think the top 3 (UW/Harvard/Hopkins) are probably reaches, but could easily see you getting into places below that. 

I'm uncomfortable ever listing anything as a "safety" for anyone, especially with so many Cs which some people may look on negatively, but I think schools like FSU (stat) and Iowa (biostat) would be pretty safe.  There are some really solid schools even in the 60s and 70s like South Carolina, UVA, that would be safe.  I think you can definitely get into higher programs than these though if you apply to a lot of schools!

I don't know anything about OR.

So, I agree that improving your GRE Q would absolutely help, but isn't 100% necessary.  I don't think you have to worry much about your grades.   Your math grades are really good from an Ivy League school, and you aced your MS classes, so nobody will doubt your math abilities, especially if your MS courses were rigorous.  Like you, I had a lot of Bs in undergrad and even an F in a related course, and I got admitted to plenty of good stats PhDs both before and after an MS degree.

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Thanks for your very helpful input!

I received my masters from an R1 public school, and does have a PhD program ranked in the 40-30 range on US News. I do think that my letters will hold some weight, and the professors I am seeking recommendation from have said I am an "excellent" student, so hopefully that will translate to good LORs. They each have h-indices of 20-25, but I'm not sure if that is a fair way to evaluate their "fame" so to speak.

I'm glad to hear that people with lower than A grades still make it to great programs.

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I wouldn't worry much about your low grades in general ed courses since they are less important. You have good math grades from a top school and if you can improve your GRE Q to 166+, you should be able to get into some top 20s. You may even have a shot at schools like Michigan/CMU/Duke. Admissions for biostatistics/OR is somewhat less competitive than statistics and I can see you get into really good biostat/OR programs. For example, Northwestern and Cornell have a very good OR program and I think you have good chances at those. Meanwhile, you could also consider top schools in Canada like Toronto and UBC.

Edited by Casorati
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Oh yeah, given that your MS is from a top department like that, you'll do better than my above advice, sorry.  I'd apply to any biostat program and could see schools like Michigan as possibilities too, and think you should at the very least get into some departments similar to the 30-40 ranked one you are in now.  

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7 hours ago, Casorati said:

 Admissions for biostatistics/OR is somewhat less competitive than statistics

1 hour ago, bayessays said:

I'd apply to any biostat program and could see schools like Michigan as possibilities too

Thanks for the suggestions @Casorati and @bayessays.

I do worry that my background, not having anything related to medical sciences, may play against me in biostat applications. I have about 1-2 years of work experience in financial data analytics, (not quant finance, just quantitative strategy and market trend analysis using statistical techniques), but I am hoping to angle my research with the professor I am working with now, to a more health related application (in light of COVID 19 there are some studies that my professor is involved in). Without the experience in medical science, is it going to play against me?

PS: The research project I am working on is attempting detecting change points, which I am hoping to relate to applications to epidemiological models such as seasonal flu patterns.



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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, Casorati said:

 You have good math grades from a top school and if you can improve your GRE Q to 166+, you should be able to get into some top 20s

@Casorati You know what, I just reviewed my ETS results for the GRE that I took 3 years ago, and I actually did score a 166 on the Quant. I had forgotten my score over the years lol. Now, my main concern is that my Verbal or AW score may be a bit on the lower side, or does the adcom really weigh in the V and AW scores as heavily?

Edited by kingduck
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  • 1 month later...

Hi guys, unsure whether or not to start a new topic since this is about LOR strategy, and I thought it might be helpful to have my profile attached as well. I wanted to know what the best strategies for getting letters of recommendations are. While I have been through the LOR process for the masters applications, I wanted to take a more nuanced approach this cycle.

As mentioned previously, I have 1 professor (call him professor X) from my masters program with whom I took 2 classes with and we are currently working on 2 research topics, one on time series and one on COVID data analysis. Another professor (call him professor Y), I have also taken 2 classes with: in mathematical stats and survival analysis. I am hoping to receive good letters from them, but what should I ask them to emphasize on (or what is an appropriate way to ask them to talk about my research/math ability)?

My plan is the following:

  • Professor X: ask to speak to my research ability
  • Professor Y: ask to speak to my mathematical stats ability - i have discussed with him some research methodology (regarding the work with professor X) but not extensively

I have three more professors I am considering, a marketing professor from my undergrad with whom I did some text analysis with (call him Professor Q, and wrote my letter for my masters application), a stats professor from my grad program with whom I got an A in his multivariate stats class (call him professor R), and my real analysis professor (call him Professor S, who is a math lecturer at Harvard). 

  • Professor Q: really nice guy, think he will write a letter that speaks to research and data analysis ability, like he did before
  • Professor R: unsure - I also spoke a little about potential research in multivariate stats with him (nothing became of it), probably an average recommendation along the lines of "good at linear algebra/math"
  • Professor S: lecturer at Harvard, found one of his letters online https://www.theodorecaputi.com/files/Math23ALetter.pdf which does not seem to be a strong one (correct me if my assessment is wrong).

My questions really can be summed up as the following:

  1. What type of letters should I aim for? Should they say how good of a student I am, or how good of a researcher I am?
  2. Should I even consider professors R or S, since their letters are anticipated to be pretty average?
  3. It seems like a no-brainer, that I should ask professor Q, since he can speak to my research ability, but will the fact that he's from the marketing department somehow make what he has to say about me weigh a little "less?" 
  4. What is the most appropriate way to ask a professor to write about, say, research ability, or math ability?

PS: checked my transcript, I actually had an A in real analysis 1, not an A-, not sure if that makes a difference at all at this point, and my GREs are Q166 V159 W4.0.

I'd appreciate any advice on LOR strategy, or any profile evals for those coming to this thread for the first time.

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