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Time Crunch: UMD (PhD in Applied Statistics) vs. GW (PhD in Biostatistics)


kgbfan
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I'm having trouble coming to a decision between these two as I am in a somewhat unique situation.  Any input/insight you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

 

I was accepted into GW's PhD program in Biostatistics in February without any formal funding package, however, it was suggested that I get in touch with the school's Biostatistics Center to talk about obtaining full-time employment (35 hours a week, 9-4 M-F) in exchange for 90% tuition remission for two courses per semester (half-time status, which comes out to about $1000 per semester not including fees/books) and about 60K a year as my annual salary.  The courses are at night, so there wouldn't be any time conflicts.  I was told by their HR dept. that they were definitely interested and that they would contact me soon.  I also recently came to find out that 24 of my units from my Master's program would be transferrable, which would decrease my time to completion by 1-2 years.  The graduate director also mentioned many students end up tying their work at the Center into their dissertation.  This is all great and dandy except I have gone weeks without hearing from them, that is, until today.  I've yet to call them back, and there is no guarantee I'll be offered a job by the end of this week, if at all.  

 

Now here is where things get interesting.  Early this morning, I came to find out I've been taken off the waitlist for the University of Maryland's AMSC PhD program with guaranteed funding for 5 or 6 years, which includes 100% tuition remission, 20K TAship, and 10K fellowship (5K X 2 years).  Pretty neat, right?  I have until this Friday to notify them of my decision. 

 

Here are the pros and cons I've come up with:

 

George Washington

 

Pros:

1) High yearly salary as compared to UMD's stipend

2) More course options that are related to what I studied during my Master's (Biostats, but I'm definitely open to branching out)

3) Research fit is slightly better than University of Maryland's

4) Entire department is dedicated to Biostatistics

 

Cons:

1) More course requirements, but transferred credits from Master's helps mitigates this

2) Huge time commitment commuting and working at the Biostatistics Center 5 days a week, which might affect my quality of life (this one is a BIG con for me)

3) Not a big fan of being tied to one particular job in order to finance my education (Also a BIG con)

4) Only 90% remission, but salary mitigates this

5) Funding not yet secured, but will interview over the phone today 

5) Program is unranked, although its Stats program is ranked at #53

4) Less prestigious overall 

 

University of Maryland

 

Pros: 

1) More variety in course offerings and research topics outside of statistics (I only have a vague idea as to what I want to research, to be perfectly honest)

2) Fewer course requirements

3) I get to be a full-time student and work part-time instead of the other way around

4)100% tuition remission and guaranteed funding

5) More prestigious overall (Ranked #10 in Applied Math)

 

Cons:

1) Department emphasizes applied math more than statistics (but like I said, I am open to branching out)

2) Fewer statistics course offerings

3) Significantly smaller annual income

4) Few if any of my credits are transferable

 

I should add that I am still unsure whether I want a career in academia or industry.  So given all of this, where should I go, assuming I am offered a position by this Friday?

Edited by kgbfan
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There are a lot of considerations and I think you've done a great job outlining them. In my opinion UMD is the right choice. Like you wrote, it's not ideal to be married to a 35 hour/week job to finance your funding. You would be extremely busy when you consider classes, homework, and 35 hours per week of work. On the other hand, your funding at UMD is guaranteed with few strings attached. Much more flexible and in my opinion more likely that you will be happy there. Best of luck! (By the way I am in a biostatistics PhD at a mid-ranked program)

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There are a lot of considerations and I think you've done a great job outlining them. In my opinion UMD is the right choice. Like you wrote, it's not ideal to be married to a 35 hour/week job to finance your funding. You would be extremely busy when you consider classes, homework, and 35 hours per week of work. On the other hand, your funding at UMD is guaranteed with few strings attached. Much more flexible and in my opinion more likely that you will be happy there. Best of luck! (By the way I am in a biostatistics PhD at a mid-ranked program)

 

Thank you for responding!  That is what I'm thinking as well.  I figured I should get some outside input before being too hasty in making my decision, so thank you for that.

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I agree, UMD seems better. 35 hours/week is too much - I have family members working full time while doing PhDs, and it's taking them a very long time to finish. They are also very stressed.

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UMD is a great place. I am from that area and took some classes there with faculty members who are part of the AMSC program. I really liked the faculty I interacted with, and I like the school a lot as a whole. It's true UMD is not an elite statistics department, but as you say they are elite in applied math and the AMSC program offers opportunities to explore a variety of different interests. UMD is also strong in computer science, physics, and economics, and many of these faculty participate in the AMSC program, so if you have any research interests that might involve those areas, you would be well positioned to pursue them. They also have people from the math department who work in probability and stochastic processes.

 

As others have said, the work hours and certainty of funding are also big draws. It's also true UMD's program is longer on paper, but in actuality the extra time you would get there from the lighter workload might mitigate that difference. I think that unless you are dead set on some career path that you are confident is only possible with a biostats degree, UMD is a better choice.

Edited by WhiteLion
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I'm not a math person, but just based on how you've described the two programs I definitely would pick UMD. It sounds like it will give you a lot more flexibility overall, and you'll be less stressed about workload and more able to focus on your studies. Another plus would be more community support in your cohort at UMD; it sounds like you could be pretty isolated by being a full-time worker taking night classes in the GW scenario. For quality of life and prestige, UMD sounds like a solid pick. 

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If you want to be a full-time student, then UMD is the clear choice. I personally think it's awesome that they're giving you a full-time job. I understand it will take longer to complete the degree (maybe even double the time), but you also would get to live in DC pretty comfortably (I live in Adams Morgan with a comparable salary), and you would get some valuable work experience. Granted, I have not been to College Park, so I cannot attest to how it is over there. I also imagine that the job might get you on some papers. I don't think it's as clear of a choice as the people above say. And, as you said, UMD is really applied-math focused. This is an imperfect substitute.

Also, I could be wrong, but I believe all of GW's grad classes in statistics are night classes. I remember looking into taking a few classes there (but it was going to cost me like $5,000 for one class).

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I agree, UMD seems better. 35 hours/week is too much - I have family members working full time while doing PhDs, and it's taking them a very long time to finish. They are also very stressed.

That's exactly what I'm worried about.  I can already see myself feeling overwhelmed with having to work that much.

 

UMD is a great place. I am from that area and took some classes there with faculty members who are part of the AMSC program. I really liked the faculty I interacted with, and I like the school a lot as a whole. It's true UMD is not an elite statistics department, but as you say they are elite in applied math and the AMSC program offers opportunities to explore a variety of different interests. UMD is also strong in computer science, physics, and economics, and many of these faculty participate in the AMSC program, so if you have any research interests that might involve those areas, you would be well positioned to pursue them. They also have people from the math department who work in probability and stochastic processes.

 

As others have said, the work hours and certainty of funding are also big draws. It's also true UMD's program is longer on paper, but in actuality the extra time you would get there from the lighter workload might mitigate that difference. I think that unless you are dead set on some career path that you are confident is only possible with a biostats degree, UMD is a better choice.

Thank you for your response. I find that the flexibility and collaborative opportunities are especially appealing considering I haven't narrowed down my research focus quite yet.  

 

I'm not a math person, but just based on how you've described the two programs I definitely would pick UMD. It sounds like it will give you a lot more flexibility overall, and you'll be less stressed about workload and more able to focus on your studies. Another plus would be more community support in your cohort at UMD; it sounds like you could be pretty isolated by being a full-time worker taking night classes in the GW scenario. For quality of life and prestige, UMD sounds like a solid pick. 

That's a very good point  Now that I think of it, I only know of one student who was offered a TAship at GW and nobody else who was offered a full-time position like I was, so I wouldn't be surprised if my cohort were no larger than 2.  I was told UMD's cohort is 10 students.  

 

If you want to be a full-time student, then UMD is the clear choice. I personally think it's awesome that they're giving you a full-time job. I understand it will take longer to complete the degree (maybe even double the time), but you also would get to live in DC pretty comfortably (I live in Adams Morgan with a comparable salary), and you would get some valuable work experience. Granted, I have not been to College Park, so I cannot attest to how it is over there. I also imagine that the job might get you on some papers. I don't think it's as clear of a choice as the people above say. And, as you said, UMD is really applied-math focused. This is an imperfect substitute.

Also, I could be wrong, but I believe all of GW's grad classes in statistics are night classes. I remember looking into taking a few classes there (but it was going to cost me like $5,000 for one class).

Those are all very good points.  If I were more confident that I could handle such a grueling schedule, I would probably opt for GW for those reasons.  And yes most of their stat courses are offered at night, which is convenient, but also a little depressing.  I've always preferred morning/afternoon courses over night courses.  

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footballman2399 raises a good point. I'm biased, because I want an academic job. There could be a lot of benefits of the job experience at GW. I still think it will make completing the PhD much harder, though.

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So after today's interview, I found out that the earliest I could be offered the position at GW is long after May 1st.  I know that it's likely I'll be offered the position, but the lack of a guarantee would make it hard for me to pass up guaranteed funding at Maryland.

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footballman2399 raises a good point. I'm biased, because I want an academic job. There could be a lot of benefits of the job experience at GW. I still think it will make completing the PhD much harder, though.

I've got to agree with footballman2399.  I think you give the work experience was less credit that it is worth.  Yes, it's 35 hours a week, but that's 35 hours a week of experience that you can use to your advantage later in your career.  Since you're still unsure if you want to work in industry vs academia, that experience would surely put you leaps and bounds ahead of the normal post doc in industry, and it would surely make you more experienced and mature in the eyes of any position, both academic and industrial.  By the time you graduate you will have X years experience of graduate school plus X years work experience, which makes you twice and matured as a typical post doc.  Furthermore, the salary plus tuition remission is definitely better than the stipend at UMD.  I would definitely look into biostatistics center position further.  In my opinion that seems like the better move for you interests set.  

 

GW is also a statistics focused program, while UMD is not a strong statistics school.  I think the combined focus on your interests (stats), plus the added bonus of extended work experience with an additional sizable salary makes GW the stronger contender.  

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So after today's interview, I found out that the earliest I could be offered the position at GW is long after May 1st.  I know that it's likely I'll be offered the position, but the lack of a guarantee would make it hard for me to pass up guaranteed funding at Maryland.

Definitely a hard call. Perhaps you could ask UMD for an extension? It might be a long shot to get it extended that long, but it's worth asking. Does GW know the time crunch you are under with UMD's offer?

 

When is your deadline to respond to each offer?

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I've got to agree with footballman2399.  I think you give the work experience was less credit that it is worth.  Yes, it's 35 hours a week, but that's 35 hours a week of experience that you can use to your advantage later in your career.  Since you're still unsure if you want to work in industry vs academia, that experience would surely put you leaps and bounds ahead of the normal post doc in industry, and it would surely make you more experienced and mature in the eyes of any position, both academic and industrial.  By the time you graduate you will have X years experience of graduate school plus X years work experience, which makes you twice and matured as a typical post doc.  Furthermore, the salary plus tuition remission is definitely better than the stipend at UMD.  I would definitely look into biostatistics center position further.  In my opinion that seems like the better move for you interests set.  

 

GW is also a statistics focused program, while UMD is not a strong statistics school.  I think the combined focus on your interests (stats), plus the added bonus of extended work experience with an additional sizable salary makes GW the stronger contender.  

I am honored that you chose to write your first post in my thread. :P Thank you for your input, though, really.  At first I thought it was kind of a no brainer, but you and footballman2399's post prove otherwise.  I have a lot of ruminating to do tonight.    

 

Definitely a hard call. Perhaps you could ask UMD for an extension? It might be a long shot to get it extended that long, but it's worth asking. Does GW know the time crunch you are under with UMD's offer?

 

When is your deadline to respond to each offer?

So GW's deadline is May 1st and UMD's is April 17, and no, GW doesn't know about the time crunch.  Based on what was said during the interview, I got the impression that the hiring process couldn't really be expedited.  I suppose I could ask UMD for an extension, but, I don't know...do I really want to be in limbo for a few more weeks?  Besides I think it's highly unlikely they'd give me that long.    

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I think it is worth being upfront with both schools about the timelines you have. GW cannot honestly expect you to attend if you don't receive that job (no funding? come on!), and perhaps they can speed things up. At the very least, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that they extend the deadline until you know about the job, since that's obviously a huge factor in the decision. UMD may be able to extend your deadline, as well.

 

I would pessimistically guess that the transfer of your Masters degree credits at GW will be counteracted by the time spent at the centre job slowing down your PhD progress. Thus, I'd say you would probably not graduate any earlier at GW. But, as biostat2015 said, you would come out with a few years of experience already. If you want an industry job, that could be huge, if this job is taken seriously. I don't know what the reputation is.

 

If UMD does not extend their deadline, I would accept their offer (waiting at long as possible to do so). If GW comes through with the job offer while their admissions offer is still on the table, and you decide that's what you want to do, it's possible you could get a release from UMD and attend GW.

Edited by MathCat
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I think it is worth being upfront with both schools about the timelines you have. GW cannot honestly expect you to attend if you don't receive that job (no funding? come on!), and perhaps they can speed things up. At the very least, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that they extend the deadline until you know about the job, since that's obviously a huge factor in the decision. UMD may be able to extend your deadline, as well.

 

I would pessimistically guess that the transfer of your Masters degree credits at GW will be counteracted by the time spent at the centre job slowing down your PhD progress. Thus, I'd say you would probably not graduate any earlier at GW. But, as biostat2015 said, you would come out with a few years of experience already. If you want an industry job, that could be huge, if this job is taken seriously. I don't know what the reputation is.

 

If UMD does not extend their deadline, I would accept their offer (waiting at long as possible to do so). If GW comes through with the job offer while their admissions offer is still on the table, and you decide that's what you want to do, it's possible you could get a release from UMD and attend GW.

Why don't you try pressing GW a bit?  Tell them you have an offer with a ta-ship and tuition benefit at a different school, but you are still interested in their program and you need more information.  Try to lock them down on the likelihood of the position working out and the details of when it would start etc.  Maybe playing a little hard ball would make them come forth with specific details faster.

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Why don't you try pressing GW a bit?  Tell them you have an offer with a ta-ship and tuition benefit at a different school, but you are still interested in their program and you need more information.  Try to lock them down on the likelihood of the position working out and the details of when it would start etc.  Maybe playing a little hard ball would make them come forth with specific details faster.

 

I think even if you give GW the benefit of the doubt that funding with the 35 hour/week job will go through, UMD is still the better option. I don't see how you can work 35 hours a week while in a full-time PhD program.

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I think even if you give GW the benefit of the doubt that funding with the 35 hour/week job will go through, UMD is still the better option. I don't see how you can work 35 hours a week while in a full-time PhD program.

It's not full time though.  It's two courses per semester and there's the added benefit the GW allows him to transfer 24 credits from his masters, which UMD will not.

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I'd take the UMD option.  UMD is the more direct path to your goal of earning a PhD.  Plus the funding is assured.  Part-time study while working a full-time job sounds like a recipe for endless grad school.  And the longer you drag out grad school the greater the risk that something will come up or circumstances will change and you won't finish. 

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Since nothing is guaranteed I'd consider the worst case scenario of GW and what that would look like and if you'd still attend if it happened. If this means no funding at all, is that a risk you want to take?

 

You also did not mention how long the funding would last at GW if you get funding. Consider that you would be working full time and working towards your PhD either parttime or fulltime if you can manage 2 fulltime jobs over a number of years without burning out.

 

If you do not do the workload of 2 fulltime jobs, your progress towards the PhD will be slower and it will take longer to graduate than you originally expected. If you get the funding you're hoping to get, would you be guaranteed this funding for the duration of your time in school, even if your graduation is delayed? Is there a guaranteed tuition waiver for the entire degree or is there a chance you could get a decrease in funding (or no funding at all) and also be on the hook for paying tuition out of pocket if it takes you an extra year or two to finish?

 

This all sounds too risky to me. I personally would go with UMD based on the info you've shared here. If you still want to consider the offer, try to talk to current students in the program and see what they have to say about this.

Edited by jenste
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I can see the pro-UMD posters' points and they are all very good points. By no means was I trying to persuade you to go to GW--I was just trying to point out that their offer is very good. I would echo the above posters that you should give GW a call and explain to them your situation--you need a guarantee about the funding. If this is provided, then I would definitely choose GW over UMD. A lot of people want to get in and out of a PhD program--and for good reason! It's time to make money. But you're already earning a 60k+ salary while in grad school. This would likely imply your commanding an even higher salary relative to those graduating in PhD programs without work experience. I would even dare to say that this experience would put you, at a minimum, where your peers at UMD will be graduating on-time.

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GW's offer is certainly a very good offer, and if that was my only option, I wouldn't hesitate. However, I would personally go for UMD, because teaching two courses (I have done this) is a LOT of work; it will most likely take you 35 hours a week. Also, you will have to deal with the attention and stress that comes with it. It would certainly be like having TWO full-time jobs. Now if that's what you want, if the finances are really important to you, and you think you can handle it, then go for it!

For me, as a grad student, I would much prefer concentrating mostly on my studies, make some money as a TA or GA, but knowing that my priorities lie in my own work as a student.

Yes, it is nice that GW will accept your credits, but you will still have your research and possibly some other classes that you need to take. And then you might be in a position at some point when you need to finish grading papers for the classes you teach, but also have a test for a class that you're taking. Since the teaching is an actual job, you may in that case need to finish your job before you can study. Now is that something you'd be prepared to do? I know I would be much less happy doing that. 60k is nice, but I think I'd prefer to make less and give my own studies my undivided attention. The big money will come when you're done.

Also the uncertainty about the job at GW is a HUGE negative. Unless they can give a guarantee, that would be the big decider for me. No certainty means you may end up having to foot the full bill for your studies yourself, and I am sure you would not want that.

Again, if that was your only option, then fine. But it's not, and there is no way I would give up a certain support package for a not-so-certain one.

Edited by Ellies
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GW's offer is certainly a very good offer, and if that was my only option, I wouldn't hesitate. However, I would personally go for UMD, because teaching two courses (I have done this) is a LOT of work; it will most likely take you 35 hours a week. Also, you will have to deal with the attention and stress that comes with it. It would certainly be like having TWO full-time jobs. Now if that's what you want, if the finances are really important to you, and you think you can handle it, then go for it!

OP would be taking two courses at a time, not teaching them on top of the 35 hr/week job.

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OP would be taking two courses at a time, not teaching them on top of the 35 hr/week job.

Oops, you are right! For some reason I assumed the 35 hours was spend teaching two classes and doing all the work that comes with it (which is about 35 hours). But I see that I was wrong; it does not appear to be a teaching job at all.

In any case, it is still a 35 hour job, so the rest of my argument still stands.

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I would absolutely go to UMD. At GW, you wouldn't be a full-time PhD student and wouldn't get the resulting research experience. That is, the beauty of grad school (and really academia as a whole) is you can think about whatever problems you like, whenever you want - with as minimal limits as possible. Having to sandwich your research time around a full-time job is not going to allow you to even approach the depth of thought that you would achieve as a grad student full time. 

 

Yes, money is nice - I went through similar challenges when debating full time work versus grad school - but over your entire career, the difference in salary is a drop in the bucket compared to the benefits you'll get from getting to spend lots of time thinking about hard problems (far harder than you'll get in the GW job). 

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