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Berkeley Mathematics vs. Stanford Statistics


babana
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Hi all,

 

With April 15 approaching, I've been hugely unsuccessful in making my decision between these two PhD programs -- Berkeley math and Stanford statistics. I'm quite desperate now, with only a couple days left to decide, so I thought I would give it a shot on this forum.

 

My main research interest is in probability theory, which is an active area in both departments. Here are a list of other details and considerations that will probably affect my decision...

  • I am currently finishing my undergrad at Berkeley, majoring in both math and statistics. So there's the issue of staying at the same institution for ~9 years, or going somewhere new.
  • I really enjoy learning all areas of pure math; however, I'd say I'm less inclined toward statistics (outside of probability theory).
  • Faculty: there's basically only one person at Berkeley whom I would like to work with, and I already know him so it would be easy to have him as my advisor if I pick Berkeley. On the other hand, at Stanford, there's one person whom I would really like to work with, but a couple others whom I would also be happy to work with.
  • Job market: if I go to Stanford and discover that I actually like certain areas of statistics, the academic job market in statistics is significantly better than that in math. 
  • Funding: both offers are fully funded for 5 years. Stanford is $27k, Berkeley is $24k (academic year stipend). Berkeley has significantly more teaching duties, though. 
  • Rankings: Berkeley math is among the six top tier PhD programs for math. Stanford statistics, from what I've been told, is widely regarded as the undisputed #1 statistics PhD program.

Maybe some other factors too that I didn't think of while writing this post. Any opinions would be appreciated!

Edited by babana
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I'd say Stanford based on you doing undergrad at Berkeley, and also more flexibility with advisors. It's also possible you'd be exposed to new takes on things and develop interests in new directions by changing schools.

 

However, these are not really strong reasons. Do you have a preference for personal fit or location?

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Just having read your post, and not knowing a whole lot about the field, it sounds like Stanford is your best bet. First off, I don't think it's ideal to stay at the same institution for all of your degrees (not just because academia views it that way, but also because I think it's important to get a fresh perspective in a new environment). It might matter more if you plan on going into academia, but that, plus your job market bullet point, plus the fact that Stanford is the #1 undisputed stats program, tells me that Stanford might be better in the long-term. I also think it's risky to attend a program with only one professor you'd be willing to work with, because you never really know what can happen. If he can't get funding, or he leaves, you might be stuck. Points to Stanford for having several people you're interested in. To be perfectly honest: I know they're both fantastic schools, but I'm not seeing much in your post that tells me why you're having trouble deciding. Unless there's other significant factors you haven't mentioned, it seems like everything points to Stanford. 

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I'd say Stanford based on you doing undergrad at Berkeley, and also more flexibility with advisors. It's also possible you'd be exposed to new takes on things and develop interests in new directions by changing schools.

 

However, these are not really strong reasons. Do you have a preference for personal fit or location?

 

Well, I like Berkeley's campus and location a bit more, but barely -- they're both in sunny California so I'm pretty indifferent. I'd say one of my big emotional dilemmas is that I've been working toward the goal of doing a PhD in math for the last three years, and it just feels weird if I were to hop off to statistics, even though I would largely be doing math there anyway. In terms of fit, it's hard to say. I think I like the culture at the Stanford stats department a bit more -- it's much smaller and the graduate students get to know each other. 

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I've certainly heard some unpleasant things about the atmosphere in the PhD program at Berkeley, but perhaps you know better, since you're there. The closer knit atmosphere at Stanford would be my preference as well, but that's a personal choice. Stats vs. probability is your own call, I don't think anyone can help you there. No matter what you choose, you are going to a good place. You can't make a horribly wrong call here.

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I've certainly heard some unpleasant things about the atmosphere in the PhD program at Berkeley, but perhaps you know better, since you're there. The closer knit atmosphere at Stanford would be my preference as well, but that's a personal choice. Stats vs. probability is your own call, I don't think anyone can help you there. No matter what you choose, you are going to a good place. You can't make a horribly wrong call here.

 

It's very interesting that you say that, because when I had my interviews at Stanford, people who had also interviewed at Berkeley said the opposite: better, closer-knit environment at Berkeley. I guess it must be very different between our fields. 

 

Back to the original topic, I want add that I think you should focus less on what the degree says (math vs. stats) and more about what the classes are and what sort of research you'd be doing. Which ones interest you more?

 

I also agree that you can't make a bad choice, because you have two really great options.

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Just having read your post, and not knowing a whole lot about the field, it sounds like Stanford is your best bet. First off, I don't think it's ideal to stay at the same institution for all of your degrees (not just because academia views it that way, but also because I think it's important to get a fresh perspective in a new environment). It might matter more if you plan on going into academia, but that, plus your job market bullet point, plus the fact that Stanford is the #1 undisputed stats program, tells me that Stanford might be better in the long-term. I also think it's risky to attend a program with only one professor you'd be willing to work with, because you never really know what can happen. If he can't get funding, or he leaves, you might be stuck. Points to Stanford for having several people you're interested in. To be perfectly honest: I know they're both fantastic schools, but I'm not seeing much in your post that tells me why you're having trouble deciding. Unless there's other significant factors you haven't mentioned, it seems like everything points to Stanford. 

 

Hmm I didn't realize that my bullet points are all pretty much pointing toward Stanford. I guess internally I am giving a lot of weight to the fact that I'd be getting a PhD in math vs. a PhD in statistics. Also, the biggest thing in favor of Berkeley is that I've already established a relationship with the professor here whom I would like to work with; he's young, extremely active, and well-respected in his field, and furthermore his first PhD student landed postdoc offers from just about all the top places. Not to mention, I like his personality!

 

It's very interesting that you say that, because when I had my interviews at Stanford, people who had also interviewed at Berkeley said the opposite: better, closer-knit environment at Berkeley. I guess it must be very different between our fields. 

 

Back to the original topic, I want add that I think you should focus less on what the degree says (math vs. stats) and more about what the classes are and what sort of research you'd be doing. Which ones interest you more?

 

I also agree that you can't make a bad choice, because you have two really great options.

 

In terms of classes, at Stanford I have to take the three core first year sequences, two of which are theoretical statistics and applied statistics. I don't think I'll like applied statistics too much, but I might be interested in theoretical statistics. At Berkeley, I can literally take whatever classes I want, as long as I can pass the prelims. It's a pretty unstructured program. In terms of research, I'll probably be doing the same sort of stuff at either place, although I would say that I have more options within probability at Stanford than at Berkeley -- since the one professor I want to work with is pretty specialized. 

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Are you certain the prof at Berkeley would take you?

 

Almost certain. He's definitely trying to sell Berkeley to me, and he knows I'm interested in working with him... Of course some things are unpredictable and there's always the possibility that the match doesn't work out. 

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It sounds like Berkeley offers more breadth, while Stanford offers more depth in your research area.  Some questions you need to ask yourself are:

 

1) How important is it that my degree say "Mathematics" versus "Statistics"?

 

2) Am I willing to compromise having to take a few applied statistics courses and forgo the flexibility of being allowed to take variety of electives in order to have more opportunities to delve deeper into research area? 

 

3) Which program is more conducive to my career goals?

 

4)  Am I willing to give up working with an excellent advisor to work with a new advisor in a new environment? Am I OK with staying at Berkeley for an additional 5 years?

 

5) What does your heart tell you? 

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It sounds like Berkeley offers more breadth, while Stanford offers more depth in your research area.  Some questions you need to ask yourself are:

 

1) How important is it that my degree say "Mathematics" versus "Statistics"?

 

2) Am I willing to compromise having to take a few applied statistics courses and forgo the flexibility of being allowed to take variety of electives in order to have more opportunities to delve deeper into research area? 

 

3) Which program is more conducive to my career goals?

 

4)  Am I willing to give up working with an excellent advisor to work with a new advisor in a new environment? Am I OK with staying at Berkeley for an additional 5 years?

 

5) What does your heart tell you?

Thanks for laying out these questions for me :) However, even after considering all of these, I feel that I am still unable to lean either way. What should I do now :'(

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I really do think that the new perspectives and networking benefits of going to Stanford are worth something. However, I can't know your desire for probability vs. statistics, which is obviously an important factor.

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I really do think that the new perspectives and networking benefits of going to Stanford are worth something. However, I can't know your desire for probability vs. statistics, which is obviously an important factor.

 

I agree; I think it would be better for you to be in a new environment. Go and see what else is out there rather than being stuck in the same place for 10 years (this is a long time..). If you're still unsure, maybe talk to some of your professors and get their opinion? I think they're going to tell you the same thing, though.

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Welp it went down to the last minute (4:54 pm) and time pressure caused me to go with Stanford simply because it's a new environment. Whether it's the right or wrong decision (I really really wanted to work with one professor at Berkeley), hopefully I'll be able to do just as well with someone else. Thanks for all the help guys! :) Wish you all the best of luck in your pursuits.

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Welp it went down to the last minute (4:54 pm) and time pressure caused me to go with Stanford simply because it's a new environment. Whether it's the right or wrong decision (I really really wanted to work with one professor at Berkeley), hopefully I'll be able to do just as well with someone else. Thanks for all the help guys! :) Wish you all the best of luck in your pursuits.

 

Congrats! You were deciding between two fantastic options so you really couldn't go wrong. I'm sure you'll have no trouble at all succeeding at Stanford. Best of luck to you! 

 

P.S. Looks like we'll be sharing a campus!  :D

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Welp it went down to the last minute (4:54 pm) and time pressure caused me to go with Stanford simply because it's a new environment. Whether it's the right or wrong decision (I really really wanted to work with one professor at Berkeley), hopefully I'll be able to do just as well with someone else. Thanks for all the help guys! :) Wish you all the best of luck in your pursuits.

 

Congrats! And you never know, you might be able to collaborate with that professor in the future even if you're at Stanford.

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