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How competitive are bioinformatics grad programs?


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How competitive do they all compare with each other?

I'm actually an astro/physics/math triple major, but I really love the biosciences too (and I got a 3.7 in a graduate level biophysics of neurons course). And which programs would I have the highest chance for?

The main problem is that I only have ~1.5 years of astrophysics research (not that intensive) and a low GPA (3.15 due to untreated ADD combined with early entrance, although it's 3.6 for my last two years). I also have huge amounts of grad-lvl courses in applied math, atmospheric sciences, and a couple other fields. I also have decent grades >=3.6 in a couple of other 400-level biology courses (but I could only take those available to non-biology majors, and there were very few of them). I do expect to get high GRE and Physics GRE scores though.

But I really have no clue where I should apply. The advice is so far less clear-cut than the advice you get for physics/astrophysics grad programs. And I'm seeing some discouraging figures of 10% acceptance rates at some programs. Are there any acceptance rates of like 30%? Or are there programs that get huge numbers of mediocre applicants? I know that a lot of people do get in with low GPA but VERY good research experience, but I don't have that type of amazing research experience that others have.

Edited by InquilineKea
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  • 3 weeks later...

I have a MS in bioinformatics so I know a little about the bioinformatics landscape...

BINF is a really new field and there isn't any real rigid criteria and/or standards. Also, bioinformatics and computational biology are very similar and often the same thing with different names at different schools....hopefully in the future academia will adopt one name.

Anyway, because of how new it is there really isn't a set "ranking" and profs/students in the field just have differing opinions on the strengths of various programs.

1. Georgia Tech has the oldest BINF PhD program in the US. However, it's competitiveness depends on which "home school" you apply to. You can get a BINF degree from school of biology, school of biomedical engineering, cs, etc...

2. UCSF is pretty well regarded and competitive

3. Princeton has a program called "quantitative and computational biology"

4. CMU has a computational biology program that is housed in their cs department, which is ranked 1 in the nation. Because of this, it has high potential for reputation and growth

5. There are a lot of others...but again, no one really know their relative competitiveness

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Hi,

I'd like to second everything that MrOptimistic said. I currently work in computational biology as a programmer. Like InquilineKea, my background is originally in physics. I am applying to bioinformatics/ comp. bio programs in this admissions cycle.

First of all, don't be too concerned about not having a perfect GPA. Grad admissions is not like med school where GPA and test scores are everything. Rec letters and a strong personal statement will be extremely important too.

As far as acceptance rates go, one thing to keep in mind is that rates are very different for international students and domestic students. Some schools might accept half their domestic applicants and only one international and wind up having a final rate of 15%. So, if you're international you need to be extra competitive. If you're domestic, it's much easier.

WIth that said, you will be much more competitive if you get some research experience in the field you're interested in pursuing in graduate school. Admissions committees love seeing that you've taken lot's of math courses and bio courses, especially if you've done well, but they would love it even more if one of your rec letters can highlight your potential in bioinformatics specifically. It's fairly unlikely that professors in bioinformatics will have heard of your letter writers if they are coming from astro, and those professional connections and reputations mean a lot for admissions.

If you get some experience in bioinformatics you will be able to write a more focused personal statement and tailor your applications better to the research specialties of the schools you are most interested in. I took some time off from school before applying to get this experience, and personally I think it was a very good decision.

I think you could still be competitive without this experience, but it's hard to say without knowing more about your potential letter writers and specific research experience, etc.

In addition to the schools previously mentioned (all of which are good places to study) you might consider:

UCSC bioinformatics (through biomolecular engineering)

Stanford biomedical informatics

Berkeley bioengineering (many good computational biologists here)

UCLA bioinformatics

U Washington genome sciences

Yale bioinformatics & computational biology

Good luck to you and anyone considering this field!

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I have a MS in bioinformatics so I know a little about the bioinformatics landscape...

BINF is a really new field and there isn't any real rigid criteria and/or standards. Also, bioinformatics and computational biology are very similar and often the same thing with different names at different schools....hopefully in the future academia will adopt one name.

1. Georgia Tech has the oldest BINF PhD program in the US. However, it's competitiveness depends on which "home school" you apply to. You can get a BINF degree from school of biology, school of biomedical engineering, cs, etc...

I called Georgia Tech today to see if they have extended all the interview invites and apparently they are in the process of reviewing my app right now.

::Crossing Fingers::

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  • 2 years later...
  • 1 month later...

1. Georgia Tech has the oldest BINF PhD program in the US. However, it's competitiveness depends on which "home school" you apply to. You can get a BINF degree from school of biology, school of biomedical engineering, cs, etc...

I thought that at least for the Masters Program in Bioinformatics, you can only apply to Georgia Tech from the School of Biology.

 

I got into the Professional Masters Bioinformatics program at Georgia Tech, the Masters of Science Bioengineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the Masters of Science Bioinformatics program at UMich. If I were to pursue Bioengineering at RPI, I would go for the computational track, so I consider my choice for RPI to be equivalent to a Bioinformatics program (RPI doesn't have a formal Bioinformatics program yet). Any idea which program I should pick, and what are the strengths/weaknesses of each?

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higurekon, what do you hope to get out of the program? Or what do you want to do with your degree afterward?

 

U-M is a really great school and the program is pretty intensive there and very well regarded. Previous students have found a lot of positions in industry and some have continued on to a PhD. However, the program is very expensive with little to no funding and will take about 2 years to complete. The school is also rather large, even this program is significantly larger than many I applied to, and, for me, it didn't really have the personal feel other programs really did. 

 

I'm not entirely sure about the other two programs, but I know that RPI has a lot of strength in their engineering department and have worked with many colleagues from various engineering backgrounds that were all very successful after school. 

 

Also, you can generally complete professional  master's degrees in the same amount of time you can a normal one, but you might want to look more into if this will have any effect on your education, final degree, etc. 

 

Keep in mind, too, the different cities each of these are in. I can only speak about Ann Arbor and it's really an awesome place. Though, it can be somewhat expensive compared to other places I've lived. Good luck with your decision! I'm sure you'll do well with any decision :)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi

 

my master major is plant breeding. I'm wondering if I can apply for computational biology or not? so far every university I checked was hopeful regarding background in biology or computer but I want to know whether I could get a phd position in bioinformatic with plant breeding masters or not? is it better to apply for plant breeding instead of bioinformatic> 

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Melina, it all depends on what you want to do with your degree. From my perspective, granted I don't have much experience with plant breeding, bioinformatics seems to be more general and, in fact, there is a huge section of students at my university that actually are doing projects in plant pathology, which is similar.

 

I would say that it totally depends on your background and what courses you have taken. Obviously, each program is different. The specific focuses of a bioinformatics program can vary from university to university, honestly, but the general areas are biology, computer science, and statistics / mathematics. You need not have great experience in all of these areas, and it sounds like you would have a decent background in biology, which is very common to come in with just that. 


I would say try to identify some potential schools and contact them with questions like what do typical students backgrounds look like, what classes are necessary (if not shown on website), what are current research topics PhD candidates are researching, etc.

 

Bioinformatics is a very diverse topic and supports students from pretty different backgrounds. I'm sure you are qualified and good luck with your future endeavors! :)

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  • 6 months later...

Most students at the Bioinformatics and Medical Informatics program (http://informatics.sdsu.edu/) are funded in one form or another. US citizens and Permanent Residents receive an annual scholarship. The rest receive either a research or a teaching assistantship. Highly qualified students from outside of California (usually international students) also receive a noneresident tuition waiver.

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