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Statistics or Biostatistics Master's (or PhD) Program Evaluation (Marine Biology Undergrad)

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Don't worry, I'm not trying to apply under the wire for fall 2017. I'm looking to enter a program in fall 2018. 
Undergrad Institution: Large state school - graduating this semester
Major: Marine Biology 
Minor: Mathematics
GPA: 4.0
Type of Student: White male
Courses/ Background: I went to high school at an early college program that allowed me to simultaneously finish with an Associate in Arts from a community college (4.0). I don't know if that really does anything to help me look more competitive at a graduate school level (or less because community college credits). I don't know any people from my early college program who would have any good advice on this yet because it was new when I entered it and no one has gone graduate school yet. Everything I list here was done in three years at university.
Calculus 1-3, intro to statistics, intro to probability, introductory linear algebra, differential equations 
I have a couple of other courses that I didn't need for my major but I just dabbled in:
organic chemistry II, biochemistry I (chem department), the engineering general physics sequence.
I don't know if these would help my application at all given that they are typically regarded as challenging. 
GRE: Haven't taken yet
  • Undergraduate thesis in biology with a first author publication - involved some ANOVA. Not a top tier journal by any means, but it's international.
  • Internship with NOAA - data sciency (used R heavily) 
  • Did part time research every semester of undergrad in someone's biology lab (and over the summer). I moved around a bit because I wanted a diverse experience. I don't have any REUs because I opted to take summer classes and do part time research on my campus. I'm not sure if my lack of REU is harmful because I see a lot of people have them when they apply to grad school.
Letters of Recommendation:
  • Biology professor I did my publication with
  • Another biology professor (a really quantitative one)
  • Internship advisor


Why I want to enter a program in statistics instead of a more quantitative biology program:


I want to be a more of a statistician interested in biology rather than a biologist interested in statistics if you catch my drift. I'm interested to delve deeper into theory, and just get a broader education in statistics in general than I would get in a quantitative biology program. I think in doing so I would leave more jobs open to myself in the future. I could see myself being a statistical consultant, a wildlife biometrician for the government, or possibly a professor if I had minimal teaching responsibilities. 


Programs I'm Considering: 

  • Stanford
  • UC - Berkeley
  • University of Washington
  • Harvard


I will add another one or two lower ranked schools later on that I am more sure I will get into, but those are my top choices. I think a statistics degree would be more versatile than a biostatistics one because I would have a better chance at making a transition to another field if I ever felt so inclined. My other problem with entering a biostatistics program is that most seem to be geared towards people looking for employment in medical field research, whereas I'm more interested in marine science. However, Berkeley and University of Washington seem to be more appropriate for me in this respect. 



Specific Questions: 


I seem to meet the minimum math requirements of top programs, but I understand many applicants come from pure math backgrounds. Do you think my background and research experience would help boost my application into being a very competitive one?


How bad does it look for my application to those programs that I haven't done an analysis class?


Do you think I should bother to apply to a top phd program?


Any recommendations for what I could do in a gap year? I will likely end up doing something in marine science (because that's what I'm most qualified for), which could very well involve some statistics. I am open to doing a job in just statistics if I could, but I'm not sure my current skill set would give me much hope to compete with statistics undergrads in the job market.


Is anyone from an early college? Are there any anecdotes of early college people in top graduate programs you know of, and did that experience made them more competitive, less competitive, or make absolutely no difference?



Thank you for your help!









Edited by salutations
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So I think the roadblock for your app at top stats (lets say top 10-15ish) and top biostats (lets say top 5ish) is that you don't have any higher level math. Most of the top departments in stats and biostats seem to expect analysis, and it seems like most applicants will be coming from math backgrounds where they've had other upper level math classes that show they can handle mathematical rigor (as a side note if your intro to probability and stats classes aren't calc based you might want to take calc based ones before you apply). If you're really serious about aiming for Stanford, Berkeley, etc. analysis should be a priority to take before you apply.

However if you're looking outside of exclusively the top schools I think you could probably get into some decent programs (especially in biostats) if you clearly convey your reasons for wanting a stats/biostats degree considering you have a 4.0 in your bio degree.

This advice so far is for PhD programs. If you're looking at masters programs, which aren't nearly as competitive, you should be fine for nearly all places in stats/biostats. You could go to a good masters program as preparation for a top PhD program if you can handle a masters program financially.

Also when looking at schools, if you're really interested in the statistics applied to bio thing, I'd make sure there are faculty at the schools you're applying to who are doing work you're interested in. For example, Harvard stats in no way strikes me as a place to go if you're interested in bio applications (it's a small department with a narrow research focus). Don't just apply to schools for the name!


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I would agree with @marmle. Top stats departments favor math backgrounds. Real analysis is the minimal gateway requirement. You indicate that you possibly could see yourself being a faculty. Bear in mind, the top departments are biased towards applicants who have academic career aspirations. Harvard tends to be more focused on social sciences applications, not your interests. Biology-oriented statisticians may be hard to find in departments of statistics. But, they are around if you look. There is Philip Dixon at Iowa State U Department of Statistics; might look him up.

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Harvard was last on my list because I knew this, but I figured if I went there I might be able to do some collaboration (especially over the summer) with people at the MIT- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution joint program since they are right in town. That's more of a stretch I know, but I was looking to put my eggs in a few more baskets as far as top programs go. 

I'll look into Phillip Dixon at Iowa State.

I appreciate the advice. I'll see if I can take real analysis in my gap year. 


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I think Stanford is a definite rejection given your math background, unless you can get an absolutely spectacular score on the math GRE (which I believe is required for them).

As for the other schools, I still think it would be extremely difficult to crack them even if you have analysis and score a very good grade. People tend to get to caught up in the rankings. I understand the want to go to a highly ranked program but overall I think it's overrated. You probably have a good shot at getting into some stats programs ranked 10-25 and some biostats programs ranked outside the top 10 as well, why be so focused on those few "elite" programs?

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