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Statistics/Biostatistics Program Tiers


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I applied to a pretty wide range of stat/biostat PhD programs this cycle (focusing mostly on biostat), and with decisions and interview invites starting to come in from some programs, I'm trying to start weighing the options I may have come March. So far, I have mostly focused on my level of interest in the research being conducted at a program, but there are a lot of other factors (placement, financial, location, etc.) I'd need to consider when actually choosing between programs that I'm already interested in, and one of these considerations will be the program's reputation.

I don't want to rely solely on the rankings to judge this, since I know that they are somewhat noisy. However, I am interested in going into academia, and it seems like rankings do have some impact (https://forum.thegradcafe.com/topic/52537-2014-usnwr-rankings-statisticsbiostatistics/?do=findComment&comment=1058107159).  I have seen that people will often refer to "tiers" instead of using the exact rankings, which seems like it would be a helpful way to think about this.

Could you expand on how you would define the tiers for biostat and stat programs? When choosing a program, would you recommend that I go with a school in the highest tier I am accepted to, or do you think I shouldn't divide the tiers so rigidly?

For example, two of the programs I applied to are Minnesota and Penn. The thread I linked to references the top 10 biostat programs if you want a tenure track position in a strong department, but Penn (ranked 12) also has a good number of professors doing research I am interested in. If I weighed the research topics at Minnesota and Penn equally but preferred some other aspects of Penn, how would you advise me?

Thanks for your thoughts!

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Penn has become a great department in the last ten years and they have some top people.  Minnesota has also lost a few of their top faculty, and the rankings don't necessarily take that type of stuff into account quickly.  I would put those two schools in the same tier, directly below Tier 1 of Hopkins/Harvard/Washington/UNC.

I do think rankings matter somewhat especially if you want to go into academia, but definitely not to an extent that you should decide between two great schools like those because of their rank. Nobody in the profession would think you made a bad choice if you chose Penn out of those two school.

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If you are interested in academia, then I don't see any downside in attending UPenn Biostatistics. Somebody who graduated from UPenn Biostat this past spring got a job as Assistant Professor at Harvard Biostatistics (without having to do a postdoc). In the past, Penn Biostat has also placed someone as an Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon Statistics and Data Science.

It depends on your publication record and your work. The two folks I alluded to were doing research in "hot" fields, which also helps too.

Edited by Stat Assistant Professor
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Thanks for your feedback! Do you know where you would say the second tier would end and the third starts? I have also been looking at several other programs in the 12-18 range, so it would be helpful to know how those departments compare. Thank you!

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