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Importance of program choice?


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Hi guys,

I was just wondering what the importance of program choice (at the same school) is when multiple programs could lead to the same eventual thesis advisor?

I ask because having stalked around this forum the impression I got is that some programs (e.g. CSBi at MIT) are more competitive than others at the same school (e.g. normal biology) even though both could lead to the same PhD supervisor. So what's the advantage in choosing CSBi over biology (assuming your main interest is computational/systems biology)?


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The coursework for each program will differ. If you join the biology program, you will have to take their required courses, which may include topics you're not interested in. The administrative help will be different, and funding situations will be different. Some programs may have safety nets in place in case your advisor loses funding (teaching assistant) and some may not. Even at the same schools, programs can treat their students very differently. My current lab takes rotation students from a molecular biology/biochemistry program and an integrated biomedical program. They have to take different courses, have different comprehensive exam rules, have different seminar requirements. The stipends may be quite different.

For your case in particular, I think it depends on your undergrad degree. If you have a computer science degree, the courses in a biology program will cover many new topics including many topics not related to systems biology. If you have a biology degree, you might not get the appropriate amount of computer science background to have the kind of thesis project you want. If you want to use a lot of computational methods, it may be difficult to catch up on all of the methodology.

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