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[Newly admitted stat statistics PhD] How PhD students choose their topic? / How should I choose school?


storyny
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Hi 

I was recently admitted to several Statistics PhD program (Let me say "Schools"), and their rankings are really close each other (based on US News). Admittedly, each "School" has different configuration of professors, and now I roughly know which "school" is stronger in certain fields of statistics. 

My problem is that currently I don't have any specific interests (Just have a slight interest on some topics). Rather, I want to study and explore various areas during my coursework, then choose my topic. 

 

To choose one of the "Schools", I am currently studying about topics (causal inference, high-dimensional inference etc.) But, I quite wonder if this would be actually helpful for my final decision. I think my interest can change if I study deeper, even I get greatly intrigued by one topic while dabbling on it. On the other hand, I think this process will repeat when I choose my research topic after my PhD coursework.

 

So, I would like to ask how statistics PhD students choose their dissertation (especially for those who didn't have specific interests before). 

Plus, under this situation, how should I choose my final school...? Maybe it would be better to choose school that has faculty with wider range of topics?

 

Any replies would be appreciated.

Thank you in advance.

 

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  • storyny changed the title to [Newly admitted stat statistics PhD] How PhD students choose their topic? / How should I choose school?

If you don't feel super strongly about a topic, I'd personally lean towards choosing a school based on location, ranking, environment, etc.  One thing I would look at when choosing a department is the level of research and the journals they are publishing in and how that matches with your career goals.  If you want to be a professor, you want to work with someone publishing in top stats journals.  Some lower-ranked programs don't have many people doing this.

Some people I know had a strong passion when they went into grad school (eg spatial statistics, or clinical trials, etc) and chose the advisor that they came to the school specifically for.   This is a minority, in my experience.

A lot of people don't have strong preferences.  For instance, if you want a pretty "standard" job, like being a data scientist or working as a biostatistician at a medical center, it really doesn't matter that much what your specific dissertation was on.  Even for an academic job, some people just choose a good professor they feel they will be productive with.  And thus some people just sort of fall into their positions with their RAships, or based on taking a class with someone they like, etc.

Some people don't have a strong passion for a specific topic, but choose a hot topic that may land them the type of job they want.  If you want to be a researcher at Facebook or Google, studying network science/causal inference/deep learning might be a good idea.  Or some people might think genetics sounds cool and they start doing research in genetics.

Of course the topic you choose for your dissertation has some importance and you have to find something that is interesting enough to you that you enjoy it.  But I recommend not stressing too much about this if you don't already *have* a strong preference.  You'll never find the "perfect" research topic, and you will learn a lot by working on different topics and can always change directions during a post-doc or later in your career, too.  I wish I had spent more time earlier in my career just jumping into research instead of stressing about what I'm going to work about in the future.  But going to a department with a variety of options never hurts.

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10 hours ago, storyny said:

Hi 

I was recently admitted to several Statistics PhD program (Let me say "Schools"), and their rankings are really close each other (based on US News). Admittedly, each "School" has different configuration of professors, and now I roughly know which "school" is stronger in certain fields of statistics. 

My problem is that currently I don't have any specific interests (Just have a slight interest on some topics). Rather, I want to study and explore various areas during my coursework, then choose my topic. 

 

To choose one of the "Schools", I am currently studying about topics (causal inference, high-dimensional inference etc.) But, I quite wonder if this would be actually helpful for my final decision. I think my interest can change if I study deeper, even I get greatly intrigued by one topic while dabbling on it. On the other hand, I think this process will repeat when I choose my research topic after my PhD coursework.

 

So, I would like to ask how statistics PhD students choose their dissertation (especially for those who didn't have specific interests before). 

Plus, under this situation, how should I choose my final school...? Maybe it would be better to choose school that has faculty with wider range of topics?

 

Any replies would be appreciated.

Thank you in advance.

 


In your case, I would find a department that has diverse research. I was in your same position, so I chose the department that (1) had a great culture and location and (2) had someone doing research in many diverse topics with little intersection. That really gave me a lot to choose from when year 3 came around. 

Other points to consider:

  • Have any departments given you a research assistantship years 1-2? If so, that's pretty substantial. When I was a year 1-2 teaching assistant, I easily spent 10-15 hours/week teaching labs, grading, office hours, answering emails, etc. This was a major time suck and distraction, although I kind of enjoyed it.
  • While I generally don't recommend looking at financial aid packages since it's a short-term thing (as long as they are at or above subsistence level), if one package is substantially higher than the others, you can save the excess money in a Roth IRA over 5-6 years which could easily be worth six figures when you retire. I really regret not putting at least $1-2k in a Roth IRA each year when I was a PhD student. 
  • Location matters, if you're into "culture" and sports and whatnot. I wasn't. All I needed was a gym, a running trail, a liquor store, and a dive bar. Which meant I would be happy anywhere. Some people need to be near museums, theatres, sports games, or whatever. Also consider weather - if you're a lifelong Florida resident, going to the University of Wisconsin, Michigan, or Minnesota could make for some very rough and depressing winters.
  • If you're planning on going into industry, you may want to consider a university that's near a lot of companies. This will make getting internships slightly easier since there's no relocation involved.
  • You may want to consider the culture of the departments as well. Some departments are super social and fun. Others are super lame. 

Best of luck to you.

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