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khsf45

PhD Biostats: Columbia vs UNC

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Hey everyone, 

I still haven't heard back from some my schools, but I'm currently trying to choose between Columbia and UNC for a PhD in biostats. I'd appreciate any advice. 

I am 95% sure I want to go into academia, but I'm not sure what area of research I'm interested in so I want to be in a department with a wide variety of research, where I'm not cornered into one area. Does anyone know if I can find that at Columbia? I'm worried they are too focused on functional data and imaging. 

I know UNC is better ranked and has a bigger department, but I'm pretty apprehensive about living in the south. However, I don't really want to give up UNC if it would give me a bigger advantage on the job market, since it seems like UNC has more big name faculty and more opportunities for academic jobs post graduation.

I visited both schools and really liked both departments/cohorts, so it's making it even more difficult to decide. 

Thank you in advance :) 

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I think the Research Triangle is a liberal Mecca in middle of an otherwise conservative state. Not sure if you were attending the admit day at UNC (I was there), but I would say the area looks reasonably sized. Plus there are three large universities all within 30 minutes. In addition, Raleigh has 450k people on its own, plus around 250k in Durham and 60k in Chapel Hill make the area pretty big. It's also way more affordable, more highly ranked, and larger (in terms of faculty and research diversity) than Columbia. I would think this decision should be an easy one.

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1 hour ago, footballman2399 said:

I think the Research Triangle is a liberal Mecca in middle of an otherwise conservative state. Not sure if you were attending the admit day at UNC (I was there), but I would say the area looks reasonably sized. Plus there are three large universities all within 30 minutes. In addition, Raleigh has 450k people on its own, plus around 250k in Durham and 60k in Chapel Hill make the area pretty big. It's also way more affordable, more highly ranked, and larger (in terms of faculty and research diversity) than Columbia. I would think this decision should be an easy one.

 

Thanks for the info! I was at the visit. I loved the program and the students seemed great, and I even liked the area when I was with the whole group, but the next day when I was exploring alone it felt different. I know people always say how liberal it is, but it still feels very southern/small towny to me. I had three interactions throughout the day that involved unsolicited political discourse, and idk if I can deal with that long term. These things matter a lot when you have to spend 5 or more years somewhere. 

I did also really liked the Columbia program when I visited! I know they are lower ranked, but among biostats programs they're still top 10 if I'm not mistaken. I just want to know how big of an advantage I would be giving up if I were to choose Columbia over UNC. 

UNC is still my top choice, but I'm trying to make an informed decision, and I'm seriously considering whether it would be too stressful to live there long term. This isn't something I can easily change my mind about. 

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13 hours ago, khsf45 said:

Thanks for the info! I was at the visit. I loved the program and the students seemed great, and I even liked the area when I was with the whole group, but the next day when I was exploring alone it felt different. I know people always say how liberal it is, but it still feels very southern/small towny to me. I had three interactions throughout the day that involved unsolicited political discourse, and idk if I can deal with that long term. These things matter a lot when you have to spend 5 or more years somewhere. 

I did also really liked the Columbia program when I visited! I know they are lower ranked, but among biostats programs they're still top 10 if I'm not mistaken. I just want to know how big of an advantage I would be giving up if I were to choose Columbia over UNC. 

UNC is still my top choice, but I'm trying to make an informed decision, and I'm seriously considering whether it would be too stressful to live there long term. This isn't something I can easily change my mind about. 

Yeah I hear you for sure. I'm also from a large city up north. I can definitely understand the want / need to be in an urban setting. But at the same time, I also feel like much of the you would be too busy (or too poor lol) to ever take advantage of things like Broadway shows, concerts, etc. I think your immediate community (those commiserating with you in your program) outweighs that of your surrounding environment. That's just my opinion though. I trust you'll make the best decision for you.

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2 hours ago, footballman2399 said:

Yeah I hear you for sure. I'm also from a large city up north. I can definitely understand the want / need to be in an urban setting. But at the same time, I also feel like much of the you would be too busy (or too poor lol) to ever take advantage of things like Broadway shows, concerts, etc. I think your immediate community (those commiserating with you in your program) outweighs that of your surrounding environment. That's just my opinion though. I trust you'll make the best decision for you.

4

That's true... Also, @cyberwulf's recent post on the Columbia vs. Berkley thread kinda freaked me out a little about my chances at an academic career if I go to Columbia. So, for now, UNC is pulling ahead. Thanks for the advice! 

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13 minutes ago, khsf45 said:

That's true... Also, @cyberwulf's recent post on the Columbia vs. Berkley thread kinda freaked me out a little about my chances at an academic career if I go to Columbia. So, for now, UNC is pulling ahead. Thanks for the advice! 

It's like Christmas morning when I come on here to a bunch of Cyberwulf laying down his wisdom

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From my perspective, UNC has a better program and the cost of living in NC is way more affordable than NYC. I wouldn't worry about living in "the south" as far as Chapel Hill and the surrounding areas are concerned, that's not an issue. I grew up in the south US... the larger cities are generally not very "southern"

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So... I don't really want to bring this thread back since everyone seems unanimously pro-UNC, but I'm still having a very hard time deciding, so I thought I would ask if anyone can answer the following questions about Columbia biostat: 

1. Do you know of any recent Columbia academic placements? 

2. I get the impression that most people coming out of Columbia go into industry jobs. Do you think this is because their students generally go in wanting industry jobs, or because the program doesn't prep well for academia? In other words, is the reason for a smaller number of academic placements just the fact that fewer people go looking for academic jobs?

3. Does anyone know if biostats students are able to work with stats faculty as co-mentors?

 

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It kind of sounds like you're waiting for someone to say something you want to hear. I would say if the thought of living in Chapel Hill scares you that much, then don't go to UNC. It doesn't make sense to go somewhere you will feel miserable, because you'll end up not being able to finish the degree.

To me, five years in a less desirable place is simply an investment for living in a better place and having a better career in the future. Moreover, if you really are interested in academic positions, there are tons more schools in non-urban settings than otherwise, so it's likely you'd have to bite the bullet and go to a school in a more rural setting anyway. With all that being said, I'll answer your questions.

4 hours ago, khsf45 said:

1. Do you know of any recent Columbia academic placements? 

I would advise you to email the grad coordinator at Columbia and ask them. They should have this information. But overall I think cyberwulf covered this.

4 hours ago, khsf45 said:

2. I get the impression that most people coming out of Columbia go into industry jobs. Do you think this is because their students generally go in wanting industry jobs, or because the program doesn't prep well for academia? In other words, is the reason for a smaller number of academic placements just the fact that fewer people go looking for academic jobs?

I kind of think this is bidirectional causality. Students who want to go to industry choose to go to Columbia (probably because of its brand name), AND the program does not prepare well for academia as a result of this, which causes more industry-focused students to apply, and so on. It's also likely because of the program rank. Advisors' reputations matter more than that of the program, but usually higher ranked programs have more advisors that place well into academia.

4 hours ago, khsf45 said:

3. Does anyone know if biostats students are able to work with stats faculty as co-mentors?

This is probably somewhat program-dependent, but at my current program a lot of the PhD students get joint advised with stats and biostats. There does seem to be a bit of a statistics arrogance though--that stats people view themselves as superior to biostats people. So this may be more difficult at Columbia where their stats department is loaded with people like Gelman.

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10 minutes ago, footballman2399 said:

It kind of sounds like you're waiting for someone to say something you want to hear. I would say if the thought of living in Chapel Hill scares you that much, then don't go to UNC. It doesn't make sense to go somewhere you will feel miserable, because you'll end up not being able to finish the degree.

2

Probably true... I'm honestly just having a much harder time deciding than I thought I would. I've actually shifted to Columbia vs. Michigan, but I didn't want to start another thread for that, and most of my 'cons' for Michigan are just personal reasons so I figured I'd just ask the Columbia questions I had on this thread, and decide on my own. Michigan's visit day hasn't happened yet though. You never know, I might hate it and end up at UNC. Thank you for the advice!

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5 hours ago, khsf45 said:

So... I don't really want to bring this thread back since everyone seems unanimously pro-UNC, but I'm still having a very hard time deciding, so I thought I would ask if anyone can answer the following questions about Columbia biostat: 

1. Do you know of any recent Columbia academic placements? 

2. I get the impression that most people coming out of Columbia go into industry jobs. Do you think this is because their students generally go in wanting industry jobs, or because the program doesn't prep well for academia? In other words, is the reason for a smaller number of academic placements just the fact that fewer people go looking for academic jobs?

3. Does anyone know if biostats students are able to work with stats faculty as co-mentors?

 

3. It is very difficult because in Columbia Biostat is managed by the medical school while Columbia Statistics belongs to GSAS.  So a joint-arrangement would be next to impossible with the current levels of bureaucracy at Columbia. 

You can also check out for students who have co-mentors in the PhD page. Some have co-mentors but they are both BioStat professor.

https://www.mailman.columbia.edu/become-student/degrees/doctoral-programs/doctor-philosophy/biostatistics/phd-student-profiles

 

 

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