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Hi everyone, hoping to find some help on this thread. I've been accepted to a few biostats programs for Fall 2021 and am having a tough time picking a destination. My math background's not too deep --  only have calc 1-3, linear algebra, probability (C/B), math stats (C/B), normal & nonlinear modeling in R, and biostatistics. As for research interests, anything on the epi side of things interests me as I have prior coursework there as well. I don't have any interest in academia but rather would like to work in industry or the public sector down the road. Really interested in coming out with a solid understanding of theoretical foundations and a very robust technical skillset in statistical programming/computing.

See below for the list of programs I'm choosing among. I'm still waiting on Harvard's MS program to get back to me.

  • Washington MS (thesis) - no funding
  • Michigan MS to PhD - funded
  • VCU PhD - funded
  • MUSC PhD - funded

Right now, I'm pretty torn on trade-offs between going for a lower ranked PhD vs. a higher ranked MS with (1) option to get into the PhD if I do well / like it, or (2) even transfer to another field if it's not the right path -- I know I'll eventually want a PhD in some quantitative field. And aware there's also the risk of mastering out of any PhD program for various reasons (e.g., don't like it, quals, unexpected life things), so also have that in the back of my head.

Realize this is kind of a strange place to look for advice, but any input would be really helpful. Thank you!

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20 hours ago, bayessays said:

I feel like Michigan is far and away the best option here. Not quite as good as Washington's department, but it's funded, you're virtually guaranteed PhD admissions, and you can apply to other PhD programs after two years if you don't like it there.

Curious to your take on one more q -- I've heard the Michigan ordeal is ~4-5 years after the MS and highly theoretical. Do you think an extra few years and a more theory heavy courseload actually outweighs going to a lower ranked and finishing in 5 years if academia isn't the end goal? 

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That's a very personal decision and there's a lot of stuff to weigh. What are your career goals?

Here's a couple things to consider:

First, some people at Michigan do finish in 5 years, although you're right that 6 is probably closer to the average.  The second year theory course is very theoretical, and unfortunately it is on the qualifying exams.  Some people do fail and get kicked out and it will probably be stressful, especially if you are not a math/theory-oriented person.

I am not super familiar with VCSU and MUSC, but they are known entities that have been around for a while so I think they are probably fine for a lot of industry jobs or applied academic research - I see some of MUSC's students get jobs as professors and unranked biostatistics programs or teaching-oriented colleges too.  I suspect VCU will provide even more options as I think it's a little more prestigious, but I'm not sure if there's a huge difference.  

Your dissertation will likely be more applied at VCU and MUSC.

My suspicion is that what is gained by going to Michigan is the possibility of being a professor at another ranked biostatistics program, and you might have a slightly easier time getting a resume read if you applied for a data science job at Facebook or a startup or something.  If you're not interested in doing theoretical stats research, I wouldn't worry about the first one but if being a professor at a prestigious program is something you want to do, Michigan is the best choice you have.  I also don't think it's worth spending 5 years of your life doing something you don't like because of what a minority of elitist companies will think when they read your resume -- you will be able to get a good-paying job regardless, but you can try to weigh the pros and cons there.  I will say that I am not very familiar with the pharmaceutical industry, and I don't know if they have any bias toward graduates of top programs.

I personally decided to attend a significantly lower-ranked school than I was admitted to because of coursework requirements and I felt that the program would suffice for what I want out of it, so I definitely think it's something to consider.   You will save the stress of difficult qualifying exams, reapplying in 2 years, and possibly relocating again by not going to Michigan.  It will also be easier to stand out at a lower-ranked school.  Your winters will also be much more pleasant at VCU or MUSC!  

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From my experience, which ever PhD program you are going, it gonna be concentration to theoretical stuff (math stats, regression,...) However, if your goal wanna be in the industry, you need to consider location, famous school or well-know with people in the fields. Studying MS at Michigan may not be a bad ideas because you may choosing to just completed 2 years and then going to industry after that, you do not need to complete the PhD process. However, in the future you wanna chance your mind and want to complete PhD, Michigan PhD also really good!

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