Ph.D Biostatistics - Advice?

#1
Hi all! First of all, this post is cross-listed over at thegradcafe. Thanks for taking the time to read this thread. I'm currently considering a Ph.D in biostatistics (or something similar) and would appreciate some feed back.

Firstly, I am a Canadian student who did an undergraduate Honors BA in Psychology. A lot of my electives and even my thesis were in the area of applied statistics - quant psych. During my time here, the only 'Math' course I completed was a comprehensive course that was basically calc 1, elements of calc 2, linear algebra and basic probability. I have taken lots of courses from the stats dept including categorical data analysis, probability, and even some related electives like epidemiology.

I have since then been accepted to University of Toronto's Masters of Science program in Biostatistics. I currently have a 3.96 GPA. I've taken courses in Survival analysis, bayesian methods, categorical analysis and a few advanced topic seminar style classes. I also completed Mathematical Foundations of Bio-statistics (which is the Mathematical Statistics course for our program). I am also taking a course in Statistical Inference from the graduate stats dept this term. I haven't any publications as our program is geared more towards 'professional' rather than 'academic' development, though I've been involved in several research projects (as an assistant) but still have no publications. I have not written the GRE though I would be willing to. It doesn't look too difficult. I can also get good letters of reference from profs at both universities.

My main questions are:

-What are my chances at gaining entry into a PhD program in Biostatistics? (provided I write the GRE for american schools) My research interests are well defined and I've considered some schools, but I'm just curious 'in general'. I'm getting the feeling that they are trying to phase out the Ph.D program at my current school but will still apply most likely.

-I know going into a phd program in statistics/biostatistics a course in math stats is necessary. I have taken what my department offers in terms for the requirement. Do you think this will come up as an issue? I'm taking the Statistical Inference class this term to help boost my profile.


-I've also considered returning to my 'psych' roots - so something in quant psych or even evaluation/measurement programs -- I know UNC is big on this..any idea on chances here?

-In terms of American schools, how much (in general) do they really care about the GRE?

-I realize most schools say to have courses in adv calc, linear algebra and even real analysis. My Msc program said that as well, and though I didn't have all of them, I was admitted. What are the chances that will fly with other schools? Will it even be an issue since I'll have my MSc in biostats when I apply?


Again, I know it's a very broad question, but I've been giving a Ph.D some serious thought as of lately. Thanks!
 

Link

Ninja say what!?!
#2
Hi there,

I'm currently aiming for a PhD as well. Before I take the time to answer your question, I'm just wondering: Why not complete your masters and continue on to the PhD?
 

noetsi

No cake for spunky
#3
My doctorate is not in statistics (its in public administration) but there are some things generally true of US universities I think.

-What are my chances at gaining entry into a PhD program in Biostatistics? (provided I write the GRE for american schools) My research interests are well defined and I've considered some schools, but I'm just curious 'in general'. I'm getting the feeling that they are trying to phase out the Ph.D program at my current school but will still apply most likely.
I don't think there is a "in general" answer. Elite schools will have far higher requirements than less elite ones. If you have a 3.96 GPA and a good GRE score, however, I suspect you would get in period (although you should pay attention if a school does the type of research you are interested in if you are going on to a PHD - I failed to do so and it cost me).



-I've also considered returning to my 'psych' roots - so something in quant psych or even evaluation/measurement programs -- I know UNC is big on this..any idea on chances here?
This may seem like a silly suggestion - but why not write to them and ask them (or send them an e-mail)? From my experience it's really not that hard to find out by contacting them. No one from outside the program really can answer this - probably even if they recently graduated. The professors have carte blanche to decide on who to accept to these programs and they are the only real way you will find out. It really does not take that much time and likely you can actually talk to the PHD coordinator or the like. Some graduate programs require a master's degree to apply for the PHD (mine did although it was in a different area) so you should ask if you can go directly into the PHD or apply for the master's and then when you get that degree apply for the doctorate. My guess is the latter.

-In terms of American schools, how much (in general) do they really care about the GRE?
That varies widely with the school you will find. Public schools (that is state supported programs like U of Michigan) likely care a lot more. My guess is you will find that they require a 1,000 minimum regardless - but you likely won't have any problem scoring that high in any case given your background (unless you have problems with American English - we left out all the "u's" in our words) :)

-I realize most schools say to have courses in adv calc, linear algebra and even real analysis. My Msc program said that as well, and though I didn't have all of them, I was admitted. What are the chances that will fly with other schools? Will it even be an issue since I'll have my MSc in biostats when I apply?
It's a safe bet every school will have a different answer, based on the feelings of its admission committees.
 
#4
Hi there,

I'm currently aiming for a PhD as well. Before I take the time to answer your question, I'm just wondering: Why not complete your masters and continue on to the PhD?

Thanks for the reply! Sorry If I wasn't clear, but I plan on finishing the masters degree (this December I'll have all the requirements to apply to graduate). The masters program is a terminal degree, so if I wanted to continue with the Ph.D at this school, I'd have to reapply. However, after talking to some of the profs and senior students, it seems like they are trying to get rid of the Ph.D program altogether and focus on training master level students for applied work in the field.

noetsi: Thank you for your detailed responses! I think I'll write to the folks at UNC's quant psych program directly.

[As a side, I have a lot of questions about the GRE in general because in Canada (Ontario anyways), the GRE is only required for certain programs. For example, almost every graduate program in Psychology here (especially Clinical Psychology) requires the GRE. Something like life/natural/physical sciences or humanities usually don't, but place higher emphasis on GPA and Extra cirrics. However, a lot of programs recommend you take the General and Subject Test to supplement your application.]

Thank you all!
 

noetsi

No cake for spunky
#5
Its likely that some universities don't require the GRE, but I think you would find that pretty rare in the US. They might accept you regardless of your score or set the score requirments so low they are meaningless, but you probably have to take it. In my own field few if any doctoral canidates would ever score below the minimum GRE's I have seen required. If they did they would never have gotten a master's in the first place. :)

I think you will find that most US colleges require you to reapply for a PHD after your masters. I have often heard from graduate students that programs prefer master's students to go elsewhere for their PHD when they don't have integrated master/doctorate programs, but I don't know if that applys to your program.
 
#6
Sorry to derail the thread but I was wondering if you could give some insight into your time at UofT biostats. How did you like the program? Were the people who aimed to go into industry after finishing the program able to secure jobs?
thanks
 
#7
Hi onetime,

Are you a Canadian student?

The program here at UofT is great. Several of the students (including international students whom have returned home) have found jobs very easily. It helps that UofT is affiliated with UHN (major network of all hospitals downtown) and several research based settings (CAMH, ICES, etc). In sum, if you are looking to up your credentials to get a job in the industry, this program will help with both. Hope that helps.
 
#8
Yeah I am a Canadian doing my undergrad in Statistics and Economics at a mid ranked Canadian University.
The fact that the UofT biostats masters could be completed in a year and didn't require a thesis was great for me as I don't plan on a phD afterward and would just like to get a job in industry after.
I just was curious since I came across some information saying having a masters only and not a phD was really detremental to your career
 
#9
The GRE is required for application to any US university to which you would WANT to apply. Spend the time to study (in some cases a lot of time.. you may discover why), take it very seriously, and get an outstanding score that compliments your outstanding GPA. 700+/700+ would be the goal. With a masters degree, great GPA, great GRE and great LORs, many PhD programs will accept you. The only thing you could do to improve your 'blind' chance is to have publications. But many undergraduates get into PhD programs with no publications... so don't let it bother you. What you can do to improve your chances are: 1. Write a great statement - it sounds like you have focus and this won't be an issue. 2. Network! This is highly important. You should have an email dialogue with any potential faculty advisor. It is THE key to getting into a PhD program. When the faculty get together to review applications - irrespective of the quality of the applicant package - the bottom line is "who will take on this student?"... your potential advisor will already know you. And of course, do your homework about that advisor before you strike up a conversation. S/he should be a good fit and good complement to your research interests and you should know a lot about their published research... you could start at their faculty webpage.

One other thing --- over apply! Apply to 10 schools. 5 of them should be elite(ist) schools. Yale, Harvard, Duke, etc. You might be surprised how that turns out. If you apply to a few schools, you run a risk of not getting accepted to any. One common scenario is: you are the greatest applicant ever but the potential advisor currently has 5 PhD students and the department won't let them take on another until someone finishes up. So you are SOL.

I hope this helps!