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Advice for narrowing focus in biostatistics


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Hello!  I am new to this forum and am hoping to get some advice about narrowing my focus to find a  biostatistics program.


For some background: I am interested in studying biostatistics and will be applying to grad programs this fall.  I majored in math and graduated in 2011 with a 3.9.  


I've decided to study biostatistics because I am interested in applying math to real world problems, and am especially interested in the medical applications.  For this reason, I have also considered epidemiology, but at the moment I am leaning toward biostatistics.  


Another reason biostatistics interests me is the wide range of fields/medical problems it applies so in the long run I will not  be confined to a very narrow field.  At the same time, as I begin to research which schools I will apply to, I am having trouble deciding where to look because I do not have a focus.


I am looking for advice on how others may have chosen a program or, in general, if there are resources which can help me find current topics in biostatistics which I may be interested in.  I have tried, for example, to look at research papers online, but I get overwhelmed by terminology and concepts I do not understand.  


Also, if anyone has advice on programs/internships/jobs which last a year (from August 2013 until I would start grad school in 2014) and are related to the field of biostatistics, I would greatly appreciate any information.  I am finishing a job in Europe in July and would love an opportunity which gives me an idea of the type of work I may do in the future.  

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Whenever I give talks about biostat as a field/profession, I start with John Tukey's quote that "the best thing about being a (bio)statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard." So, I think you've got the right attitude towards the field!


I know that some on here will disagree with me, but I don't think that you need to have strongly developed specific interests in a particular area of biostatistics before you apply. While it's good to have identified some topics of interest to you, most students end up writing a dissertation on something quite different than they originally planned when they entered graduate school. For most students, what they say they want to do has relatively little impact on their admission chances at top departments (there are some exceptions, typically students on the waitlist/borderline who may receive funding or not based on their "fit" with a particular project that has a spot available). The reason for this is that few applicants have meaningful research experience prior to starting graduate school, and the field is still narrow enough that with a few courses worth of training, you can pursue research in a wide variety of areas. The general attitude of most elite departments is: "Let's find the smartest/most talented people we can; they'll probably be pretty good at whatever they choose to do."


Hard to give you much concrete advice without knowing more about your background and goals. A 3.9 in math sounds like a good start, but where you should be aiming depends on where you received your degree (Ivy league, flagship state school, local commuter college, etc.) and whether you are looking to pursue an academic career.


In the meantime, Marie Davidian at NC State has a nice presentation entitled 'What is biostatistics?' that you may find interesting.

Edited by cyberwulf
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