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How can I evaluate potential biostat graduate programs?


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Hello,

 

I'm looking to apply to biostatistics programs for the Fall of 2016. I'm specifically considering applying to Vanderbilt, MUSC, Brown, Duke, and UNC-CH for both MS and PhD programs -- with the last three of those schools possibly being 'reaches', just based on my perception of their reputation for selective admittance.  

 

Considering the possibility that I could be accepted to one or more of these schools, what's the best way to approach selecting a program? From what i've read online, grad school -- especially PhD programs, are best evaluated by the research the faculty at a school regularly produce, one's potential thesis adviser, and job placement of graduates from the program. I've also looked over rankings produced by US News and amstat for biostat programs. 

 

However, from what i've read about biostats, specifically, it seems incoming students to graduate programs generally have little specific research experience in the field, and thus these criteria are less readily applicable. 

 

Given a lack of specific research focus prior to admittance, then, would it best to look primarily at the reputation of a faculties' research? For example, the journals in which they publish, and the number of citations in other research which those papers receive?

 

I realize this is all contingent upon the actual programs which i'm able to get in to, and thus the specifics of my application, but i'm curious to gain some more insight into this process. I'm especially interested in what people can say at MUSC's program, as I am fairly local to it, and the medical school has such a good reputation.

 

Thanks, 

Edited by 2016biostat
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In terms of your assessment of the difficulty of getting into the program, I would say that {Brown, Vanderbilt, UNC-CH} is the harder group, while {Duke, MUSC} is the easier group.

What are your goals?  If you want to be a professor, attending MUSC is probably not ideal.  But it's definitely a respected program and would set you up well for a good job.

 

In terms of looking at programs, if you're not sure what you're interested in, try to apply to a program that is bigger and has more options for research.  Find a place where there are more than just a 1 or 2 people doing something that might sound interesting to you.

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In terms of your assessment of the difficulty of getting into the program, I would say that {Brown, Vanderbilt, UNC-CH} is the harder group, while {Duke, MUSC} is the easier group.

What are your goals?  If you want to be a professor, attending MUSC is probably not ideal.  But it's definitely a respected program and would set you up well for a good job.

 

In terms of looking at programs, if you're not sure what you're interested in, try to apply to a program that is bigger and has more options for research.  Find a place where there are more than just a 1 or 2 people doing something that might sound interesting to you.

 

Thanks for your thoughts; I hadn't thought of it that way. That actually mirrors my ultimate approach to undergrad -- where I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to study, but luckily attended a large school with a lot of options as far as courses to take and majors to select. 

 

I'm not dead-set on picking either industry or academia, though the research experience which I am currently getting has been a positive one, and it's possible I may like it even more as I get more research experience. What exactly would make a program like MUSC not as well suited for pursuing a research profession (being a professor) over another program?  

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It's not that you wouldn't be able to get a job doing great research from MUSC.  You will probably have to stand out more than someone who went to a top 10 school and the jobs at highly ranked departments will likely be out of reach because it is hard to move up to a better school than where you got your PhD from.  Top biostat departments have more people doing theoretical/methodological statistical work, which is the type of work that gets you a tenure-track job in a good biostatistics department.  There are definitely people at MUSC who get academic jobs too (I see they have hired a few of their old PhD students, and saw one more at the University of Kentucky Department of Biostatistics).

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It's not that you wouldn't be able to get a job doing great research from MUSC.  You will probably have to stand out more than someone who went to a top 10 school and the jobs at highly ranked departments will likely be out of reach because it is hard to move up to a better school than where you got your PhD from.  Top biostat departments have more people doing theoretical/methodological statistical work, which is the type of work that gets you a tenure-track job in a good biostatistics department.  There are definitely people at MUSC who get academic jobs too (I see they have hired a few of their old PhD students, and saw one more at the University of Kentucky Department of Biostatistics).

 

In the same vain, for graduate programs/departments not in the top echelon (which I would say are Hopkins, Harvard, Washington, Michigan and maybe UNC)... your advisor/mentor becomes much more important. Generally speaking, what makes those top departments so great is the large number of well known faculty doing important research, whereas smaller, lesser ranked departments may only have 1 or 2. I'd argue that a great advisor from a lesser ranked school will set you up with a better future than a mediocre advisor from a top department. When choosing a place that isn't at the top, look carefully at the faculty you would want to work with, look where their past students have ended up, see if you can get in contact with current students and ask questions! It's obvious, but if you want to go into academia, you want to have an advisor that has a track record of placing students in academia... 

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  • 6 months later...

I'm interested in applying to a few of these schools mentioned for the Fall 2016 application season. I'm wondering if anyone could suggest some programs in the same tier and MUSC that would be "safe" target schools for a Statistics major from a top 50 ranked undergrad stats department (4.0 stats GPA with coursework in biostats, analysis, and some non-monumental research projects including an honors thesis). Not trying to turn this into a profile evaluation, just wondering if anyone could suggest some similarly-tiered schools to MUSC suitable for such a student. 

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