1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Stats / Applied Math programs to consider?

  1. Sep 8, 2012 #1
    I'll offer a digest version of my earlier post that appeals to shorter attention spans.

    I'm considering the pursuit of a graduate degree in statistics. My CV in a nutshell:

    Math Major: 3.6 GPA (in major)
    GRE: 159 V / 167 Q
    Research experience: Summer Institute in Biostatistics (SIBS), Undergraduate Project: reproduced results from Tibshirani 1996
    Programming experience: R, SAS, VBA

    1. What tier program can I soberly aim for? Berkely, Davis, and/or CSU? Should I bother applying to top 10 programs?

    2. What opportunities are eliminated in pursuing MA in Stat versus a PhD?

    Any advice is appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 8, 2012 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Hey devinedj and welcome to the forums.

    Does your masters have a compulsory project component? If so what is the nature of the project?

    Also you need to specify what kind of area you are referring to. For example in some areas, a PhD might be required and in others a Masters would be OK.

    I don't have a clue about any programs in the US, but one question you might want to answer is what kind of field firstly you had in mind as well as the kind of work you also had in mind. These are huge things that will dictate specifics in terms of suggestions and comments.
  4. Sep 11, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the response, chiro.

    In many ways your questions are illuminating to the underlying problems that I'm facing in making this decision. My undergrad education was at a liberal arts college and provided little opportunity for career counseling or even a look into applications of mathematics in statistics. The real issue is that I don't have a clear direction of what I want to study (or where/how to start narrowing down my options)

    I want to stick to my guns (math/analytics) so a MA in stat is appealing and seems widely applicable. My motivations for a PhD stem from the desire to teach. I have always been drawn to teaching and the title of 'Professor' is a lofty goal of mine.

    I spent one summer researching Biostatistics at Boston University. Where it lacked in rigor it seemed to make up for in payroll. I was not impressed. My statistics prof. at my undergrad summarized it for me saying, "Mathematicians look down on Statisticians. Statisticians look down on Biostatisticians. And Biostatisticians look down on both from their hilltop estates." All in all, Biostatistics is a fall back for me. I do not feel inspired to pursue it.

    Other than that I have had little/no exposure to the opportunities available to an MA in Stat or a PhD in stat.
  5. Sep 11, 2012 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    This idea of superiority is really stupid and I wouldn't worry about it to be honest.

    Biostatisticians have a role to do analysis, give advice, and do all the things required to support other professionals in the health field and there is no shame or anything of that sort to really have to think about.

    It's really stupid how you get all these people that want to feel more important than everyone else.

    I'm sorry to say, but no-one is more important than anyone else. This world, and the stuff we take for granted works because of the collaborative nature.

    The reason we benefit so much is that people with the right amount of freedom, are able to focus on what they are good at and what they are better at than most of the other people, and using that advantage we can then use that to do what other people would not do as well: but we all do it. We all put in our little efforts and when it all accumulates, you get the final result.

    It is funny though the quote you said about BioStatisticians (and I expect in a great number of cases it is true), but a lot of this superiority stuff sounds a lot like the mental version of jerking off and comparing units with your friends and to me it's just stupid.

    If you contribute, are proud of what you are do, and do a good job then you should never have to worry about all the irrelevant and stupid superiority complexes and put your energy into more productive avenues.
  6. Sep 13, 2012 #5
    Your points are well taken and consistent with my experiences as well. Unfortunately I think that mathematics, as a field based in concrete logic, lends itself especially well to these superiority complexes (see cartoon).

    On a larger scale: ideally, yes, individuals will pursue the career to which their abilities and potentials are best suited relative to others. Under these circumstances, if the drive to excel is based on personal pride (rather than on money) then social benefits are maximally collected on aggregate.

    Socialism works in theory but as long as individual prosperity is preferred to social welfare, money will continue to be the primary incentive in the rational consumer’s decision making process. Under these axioms we see that personal worth is proportional to net worth and thus is born the d*ck measuring consumer that you discuss.

    I tend to agree with your views on socioeconomics. In part, I was turned off to biostatistics because it seemed to be rife with the corruptions of capitalism and greed. I felt a personal resistance because I didn’t want to “sell-out” to this system. You’re completely right though: my considerations should exist outside of this framework. Only then can I act independently of it.

    My goal is to find something that I consider ‘purposeful’ to attach my personal sense of pride to. Becoming a professor is a logical avenue but I am intimidated by the daunting task of a PhD. Not only that but I want to escape academia for some time before returning to teach. I am curious, then, to learn about other opportunities that exist in statistics in order to effectively direct myself into graduate school.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2012
  7. Sep 13, 2012 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Just remember that social conformity pressures are a double edged sword.

    The social pressures act as a way to encourage individuals to act as a group and to contribute to the group but unfortunately this otherwise well intentioned mechanism has been hijacked and completely distorted.

    People become so dependent on achieving a rank that is aligned with both the individuals and immediate social circles group of social prestige and this has gotten to the point where it's basically a dog and pony show for the socially affluent.

    It's also interesting because people hear what they think is social prestige and then they get in a job and they find that they get no reward either individually or collectively but they are so convinced of the social prestige (because funnily enough we want to belong and be part of a community) that they do it just so they can mentally justify their actions as having the ideals of doing the right thing community and social wise.

    Now the shrewd thing is that rulers and dictators have hijacked this very thing: what they do is they sell a message to everyone else that they will setup a society that is for the sake of the community and overall societies progress and what it boils down to is that all the slaves on the plantation because they gave a monopoly to all the rulers because they were conned into the idea that the social prestige was worth their consent to be told to do whatever the hell they had to do in order to "grow and promote the collective".

    Cults do this all the time (it's not only the exclusive right of dictators and crazy megalomaniacs): the idea is use a benevolent sounding message so you can get a monopoly and keep everyone guilty so that they will do whatever the hell you tell them if they believe it fits the social ideals and gives them social prestige.

    One thing I think you should remember is that the majority of the people that keep this world spinning are unknown in almost every way: they get no social prestige at all, no benefits, they get mistreated by the people they try to help, they get no thanks, and maybe after sticking their neck out to do the right thing, they might even get some jail time, or be mocked, ridiculed, and ostracized by other halfwit idiots that have absolutely no idea whats going on and believe whatever the hell they are told by some guy with a bit of charisma and a nice suit.

    These people keep the world going, and nobody knows they exist, yet they still do their own job and get whatever satisfaction out of what they do from the experiences they have, the people they meet, and the lessons they learn.

    It's all these people that don't try and sell themselves on how they have "saved the planet" and "become person of the year" and some other BS that keep this world going, and the sooner people realize that, the better off we all will be.
  8. Sep 13, 2012 #7


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    devinedj, as someone who had completed a graduate degree in statistics and is currently working as a biostatistician, I find your observation about biostatistics curious.

    During my time in graduate school, I had the opportunity to interact with both faculty members and graduate students in the biostatistics department, and I never had the impression that the members of the program were in any way looked down upon by the statistics faculty, nor did I perceive any impression of corruption or greed in the group. But then again, I completed my graduate studies in Canada, which does not have as many large pharmaceutical companies as in the US (the pharma and biotech sector are among the largest employers of biostatisticians there -- most biostatistics graduates here in Canada either pursue further study in the US, or work in teaching hospitals or non-profit organizations).

    If there is a "bias" against biostatistics (here I'm using the word in its colloquial form -- bias has a distinct definiton for statisticians), it would more likely come from the fact that biostatistics is essentially a branch of applied statistics, and thus the focus is on applying methodology to solve specific real-world problems and questions of rigour is a lesser consideration. Some statisticians specializing in more theoretical areas may look down upon this (somewhat analogous to the attitudes of pure mathematicians to applied math, or theoretical physicists to experimentalists), but even such attitudes are quite rare, at least in my experience.
  9. Sep 13, 2012 #8


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    devinedj, more specifically to your original question, with your GPA and GRE results and research experience, at least from those among my friends who have pursued PhD programs in statistics, I would think you can soberly apply to any of the top programs in statistics, including Stanford, Berkeley, etc. (your research experience, and any letters of recommendation from a supervising faculty member, should especially give you an additional edge).

    My suggestion for you is to apply to as many graduate programs as possible, as this would increase your probability of being accepted to a graduate program. I would also recommend getting letters of recommendations
  10. Sep 14, 2012 #9
    @chiro: that sounds like some deeply-rooted social doping that you're talking about. Good stuff to contemplate and take to heart. I'm just a young soul looking for purpose in this mixed up world.

    @StatGuy: I have a feeling that my experiences are somewhat skewed by the nature of the math department at my undergrad. We didn't even have a PhD statistician until last year. The majority of the department is so heavily rooted in theory that they appeared not to grasp the purpose or direction of my senior research (which was in model selection and linear modeling...!). Meanwhile they were leading projects in Poset structure, Mobius inversion, and surreal numbers. I definitely witnessed, and fell victim to, much of what you mention of the "pure > applied" mindset.

    In terms of my experience with biostatisticians, I think that much of my 'bias' was self-imposed. As soon as I heard that a significant percentage of were working in pharma my mind immediately drew images of slimy pharma-reps. Add to this their relative lack of concern for mathematical rigor and I began to wonder what their true motivations were for entering the field. In all fairness though I should reconsider this opportunity without regard to these constructs.

    Correct me if I'm wrong here but I'm of the opinion that it is easier to move into biostatistics with a degree in statistics than vice versa.
  11. Sep 14, 2012 #10


    User Avatar
    Education Advisor

    I agree with you in your opinion that it's easier to move into biostatistics with a degree in statistics, since a statistics degree provides you with a general background in statistical theory, methodology, and applications, which can then be utilized in a wide range of situations, including the health-care/pharma/biotech fields (the traditional concerns for biostatisticians).

    As far as your "bias", I think your pre-conception of biostatisticians are rooted in a misunderstanding of the field and the role they play in the various places they work. Firstly, just like you wouldn't expect an engineer to be concerned about mathematical rigor (even though they may use complex math as part of their work), you shouldn't expect biostatisticians (essentially applied statisticians working in health-related fields) to have similar concerns.

    As far as your preconceptions about pharma, perhaps I'm "biased" in a different way, but I've worked in a number of different industries over a 10-year long career and have found that my fellow biostatisticians (and other fellow co-workers) in pharma & health-care to be among the most ethical, honest, decent people I've ever worked with. So don't let your image of the pharma sales-reps (who in most pharma companies are really low in the totem pole) dissuade you from pursuing a career in this direction.
  12. Sep 15, 2012 #11
    Good info. Thanks for the added perspective and wisdom. It’s reassuring to know that the majority of your encounters in the field have been with upstanding, ethical people. I suppose there is a large self-selection bias between pharma-reps and biostatisticians to begin with.

    I’m interested in hearing more about experiences in the field. What sorts of projects have you or your coworkers been involved in? In what ways is the work challenging? In what ways is it mundane?

    I expect that in the next two years I’ll make a decision between pursuing statistics and some type of engineering. My attraction to engineering is undeveloped but stems from a fear of sitting a cubicle and number crunching as a quant or statistician. As mentioned, my draw to statistics is more from a passion for mathematics and a desire to eventually teach at the university level. In part, this is my way of avoiding the cubicle nightmare and pursuing my curiosities and challenges in math.
  13. Sep 21, 2012 #12

    Stephen Tashi

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I'm curious how the lack of rigor is related to the lack of inspiration. Did you feel that the lack of rigor lead to studies that were wrong or not as useful as a rigorous study would have been? Or idoes a lack of rigor disturb you "as a matter of principle" or as a way of life?

    One way to find direction is to pick a general direction, like a field of study or a profession. Another way is to find problems that will consume you. There are many important scientific , mathematical and social problems. Instead of thinking in terms of finding direction exclusively as choosing a profession, you should also think about what problems you want to solve. if you don't find any then this suggests that you turn your attention to the non-technical aspects of the life you seek.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook