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Hi all,

I have been lucky to have a successful application season and I have narrowed my decision down two great graduate programs in Biostatistics.

  • Option 1: Brown University, Ph.D. in Biostatistics
  • Option 2: McGill University, M.Sc. then Ph.D. in Biostatistics (Admitted to M.Sc. but continuation into Ph.D. is very unproblematic and smooth)

I could really use your thoughts on a decision. Please note that my pros and cons are highly subjective and that my thoughts are still a bit convoluted.

A bit about me:

  • (Educational) Background: I am international student from Europe and I went to a large U.S. state school for undergrad (by no means competitive). I studied Business Economics and Data Science. Then, I worked as a researcher at a lab at UChicago (doing mostly causal ML), became interested in Biostats, and started taking graduate coursework in Statistics without actually obtaining a degree.
  • Strengths/ Weaknesses: My weakest point of my application was the lack of extensive theoretical coursework in stats/math. My biggest strength was that I have almost 2 years of full-time research experience in causal inference and ML and a (not totally irrelevant to Biostats) first author publication.
  • My interests: My current field of interest is at the intersection of causal inference and networks. I am also interested in dynamic treatment regimes and non-parametric methodology. From an applied side, I am most interested in environment and public health.
  • Why graduate school: Though it is hard to quantify what I want to do post graduate school, I would say I want go into academia at a weight of about 40% vs. a public (Think: NHI) / think tank role at 60%. I really care about producing meaningful (mostly in a policy sense) research. That being said, it is important to me to keep the option of academia open. On that note, I feel strongly about wanting to live and work in Canada for personal reasons.

My considerations/thoughts:

  • Location: I love, love, love Montreal. I would be very happy living, studying, and working in Montreal and Canada. On the other hand, being quite extroverted and social I am afraid that Providence might be too sleepy for me (McGill & Montreal is the clear winner).
  • Pay/Benefits: Brown’s stipend and benefits are nearly unbeatable. With Brown’s stipend, I could live very comfortably in Providence (Brown is the clear winner).
  • Research fit: Brown is a very causal inference focused department that supposedly has a great culture (I have talked to a few current students and alumni) which is optimal for me. The small cohort sizes (~6 ppl in my cohort) allow for meaningful interaction with faculty and I think I would work well in such an environment. There is one person at Brown who is a near perfect fit (and they have reciprocated my interest in working together) and about 4 other faculty members whose work interests me. Lastly, I could take a lot of coursework (and even get a Masters) in Brown’s renowned Applied Math department which could be great for my interest in networks. Meanwhile, at McGill I have two supervisors—both of whom are very well established (Bio-)statisticians—who said they’d be interested in working with me. I can research my precise interest at the intersection of their work. Outside of those two profs (who btw are very enthusiastic about co-advising me), I don’t think I align as strongly with most other folks at McGill. (Brown and McGill are both a near perfect fit for me; so I’ll call it a tie)
  • Academic Post-grad outcomes:
    • My goal is to eventually settle down in Canada and I feel quite certain about this. Doing my graduate studies at McGill would make gaining Canadian permanent residence quite easy. That being said, I haven’t seen McGill Biostatistics grads place very well on the academic job market (please correct me if I’m wrong; I haven’t found much info).
    • On the other hand, while Brown is certainly no heavy hitter like UW/JHU/Harvard in terms of academic placements, there are a few recent placements (University of Utah, Rutgers, and Brown’s Applied Math department) that are notable and encouraging. It is important to note that since I want to end up in Canada, a Canadian university could very well prefer someone from McGill simply because they may have their PR. All that being said, if I choose Brown I could potentially do a post-doc in Canada and work towards PR that way. (Close call but I think Brown is the winner in this category, despite my situation being confounded by immigration considerations)
    • I think prestige is also important to talk about. Now, personally I don’t really care that much, I just want to be where I will be happiest and supported well. That being said, I know that the Brown brand name carries a lot of weight in some situations and though McGill is certainly also prestigious, I think Brown has the edge here. With respect to school prestige, I am seeking input on how much that actually matters, especially since both of my McGill advisors have big names. (Brown wins this subcategory)
  • Non-Academic Post-grad outcomes: McGill’s renowned med school as well as organizations like MILA Quebec make McGill/Montreal quite attractive in terms of non-academic employment. Meanwhile, I could certainly have similar opportunities in the U.S. but I want to move to Canada post-Ph.D. either way. The question comes down to whether the prestige gain at Brown is worth the immigration disadvantage (McGill and Montreal is the winner for me)
  • Other Considerations: A big thing about McGill is that I am a finalist for a really cool fellowship/scholarship. It would cover all costs (and pay a stipend) during the Master’s portion of my degree at McGill. Upon entering candidacy, the Ph.D. stipend would kick in. Notably, this scholarship is a really cool way to bridge research with community and leadership, something I care about. With respect to this fellowship, choosing McGill could make for a uniquely rewarding graduate school experience!

I apologize if these thoughts are a bit convoluted. I would be grateful about your input and your assessment of the situation. I am not looking for a solution but rather your point of view/ thoughts. Thank you!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I would say McGill. Choosing a PhD is also choose a place to live for a significant number of years. You love Montreal, and you want to settle down in Canada, I believe these reasons make McGill a really strong choice. Both the schools are prestigious, so pick where you want to stay for a long time.

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