Biostatistics PhD programs

#1
Hello everyone, I am a new poster and have a few questions about biostats grad programs. I see this is not an uncommon topic on this forum, so I really look forward to hearing your responses.

I am currently pursuing my MSPH in Biostatistics in the Philippines (though I am from the US). After finishing my degree, I will attend medical school in the US. Originally, I had decided to study biostatistics out-of-interest and because I received a scholarship for my glide year, but I am truly enjoying the theoretical coursework and am now considering studying biostatistics when I enroll in medical school. The topical application areas also interest me deeply, particularly genomics and environmental health. Since I will already have a master's degree by the time I matriculate into med school, it seems that the next logical step would be to shoot for a PhD. The problem is though that I am a 27 yo non-traditional student and if I did the PhD that would mean I would be dedicating another 6-8 years just for the MD/PhD... I want to have a family and need to start making an income and this would prolong my non-income-generating years...

I have some experience with mathematics and statistics, but it is not as strong as I would like it to be. I graduated from a top 10 US school with a major in econ and a minor in math, but my math GPA is around a 3.5/4.0 (middle-of-the-road). My lowest grade was a C+ in ordinary differential equations (that was kind of a problematic time in my life). In real analysis and probability theory I received a B and a B+, respectively. All the rest of my math courses, including two other calculus courses and matrix theory were A's.

My eventual career goal in getting an MD/PhD would be either working/researching biostatistics while practicing in an academic hospital or consulting for industry (e.g. pharma or biotech) while practicing.

Questions:
1) Is pursuing an MD/PhD at my age impractical?

2) Would my relatively low math GPA hurt my chances? Would I need to retake any courses?

3) Assuming I did pursue a PhD, would I be able to bypass the master's level courses given my MSPH? If so and assuming that I work diligently and do not burn out, what is a reasonable estimate for the number of years I could shave off the dual degree? Could it be done in 6 years?

4) This is a longshot, but does anyone know if you can do a post-residency medical fellowship in biostatistics that would get you to the same place as an MD/PhD? I have tried searching for "biostatistics fellowships" and the ones I have seen are for post-docs.

Thanks so much in advance for your responses!
 

Link

Ninja say what!?!
#2
It seems like all your questions revolve more around "life choices" than they do about statistics. However, I will try to answer them to the best of my ability.

1) This is a personal choice that you have to come to on your own. Providing my own experience, I have a bachelors in Math, masters in Epidemiology/biostat, and am working towards my phd currently. I've wanted an MD since undergrad and originally had planned on getting one. However, being 28 currently, I'm in the same situation as you and feel I need to start getting my loans paid off so that I can also have a family and enjoy something more beyond school and work. After finishing my masters, I wasn't sure I could devote another 6-8 years to getting both. Hence, I decided to just go for my phd and see how I feel. If I'm able to continue with an MD afterwards, then I will. If not, then I still have a doctorate and can continue doing research.

2) To be honest with you, any low GPA will always hurt. However, I do feel admissions boards will put a lot of weight on how well you bounce back (and will weigh it against other candidates). How well does your GPA look after that period? Also, you say you're getting a masters in biostat right now. How high is your gpa for that? If you truly are that worried, an possible option is to go out and retake diff equations at a city college or something and show them you were indeed able to master it by getting an A.

3) This again is up to you. How comfortable are you with masters level stats? Do you understand how stat models work? How to set up different estimators? Various stat topics such as decision theory, mle, and expectations (note: there are may more; I just listed some off the top of my head)? Look into the courses offered for the Phd degree and see what you're already comfortable with and could bypass.

4) This request is a long shot, as almost all biostat fellowships will be for post-docs. They require you to know and understand your stuff before giving you that opportunity. Skipping the training to go straight to this is in a way cheating, and most professors would be hesitant to provide you with that opportunity since you would have to "catch up" to other more common applicants. I'm not saying it's impossible; just highly unlikely.

Good luck on your choices though. You appear to be a hard worker and ambitious. I hope things do work out well for you and that you're able to accomplish some solid breakthroughs (assuming you do go into research as well as MD).
 
#3
Thanks Link, I really appreciate the feedback and comments.

To be honest with you, any low GPA will always hurt. However, I do feel admissions boards will put a lot of weight on how well you bounce back (and will weigh it against other candidates). How well does your GPA look after that period? Also, you say you're getting a masters in biostat right now. How high is your gpa for that? If you truly are that worried, an possible option is to go out and retake diff equations at a city college or something and show them you were indeed able to master it by getting an A.
I am satisfied with how I bounced back afterwards. It was rather unfortunate because my string poor grades actually came in my senior year of college, so they were doubly painful for me while I was interviewing for jobs. I did a pre-med post-bacc and got a 3.97 GPA, which included all the required pre-med coursework plus biochemistry. I am still in my first year of my MSPH, but I am happy with my grades so far. The scale in the Philippines is out of 5.00, and it's inverted so the highest GPA possible is a 1.00. I have a 1.10/5.00. Would obtaining an MSPH from another country hurt my chances of applying directly to a US PhD program?

This again is up to you. How comfortable are you with masters level stats? Do you understand how stat models work? How to set up different estimators? Various stat topics such as decision theory, mle, and expectations (note: there are may more; I just listed some off the top of my head)? Look into the courses offered for the Phd degree and see what you're already comfortable with and could bypass.
I have taken a look at some of the programs where I am looking to apply and I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the courses I am taking now (or will take) parallel those offered at the master's level in the US. I cannot yet vouch for the quality, though, we will see. Titles and course descriptions are similar though, but the devil is probably in the details. My question was more if you think PhD programs are more lenient or stringent when it comes to passing out of master's level courses? Do they tend to trust that you know what you can handle and that you will brush up your knowledge as necessary for your research, or do they expect you to take placement exams? I imagine the answer depends of course on the university, but would be curious to hear your experience given that you came into your program with a master's already.

I happen to know very few PhDs or PhD candidates, so I would be curious to know either on this thread or through a PM how you are liking your program in biostatistics so far?