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Aspiring epidemiologist, underqualified for MPH?

Discussion in 'Public Health Degrees (Masters and Doctoral)' started by cutiepie83, Nov 30, 2005.

  1. cutiepie83

    cutiepie83 Member
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    Hey Everyone,
    This is my first time here, and I'm an aspiring epidemiologist. But..I'm a little confused. My interests is not clinical epidemiology, I definately do not want to work in a laboratory, but I would like to work in field studies, like determining preventative measures for diseases, identifying carcinogens locally, etc. How can I ensure that I am not applying to right programs? Now I know you'll say read the websites, and I did, and I could distinguish in some of them, but some universities dont make it clear, and some programs are MSc in Epidemiology and others are MPH in epidemiology, I do want to get into public health, but since MPH they require experience, (and I've been told not as experience is required much for MSc, but I could be wrong).

    As far as my public health experience goes, I have volunteer experience in acancer centre, a co-op position in a hospital's pediatric ward, a secretary position in a dental clinic, and a seasonal pharmaceutical position (where I focused on assisting on a project in a cubicle setting). Is that enough? or do I need more hands on experience??

    My cumulative GPA is 3.0 and my last 2 yrs GPA ranged around 3.4. I will be writing my GRE soon, although I dont have a good feeling for my Verbal score (ranged around 370), since I started studying too late for it, but because deadlines are approaching, I had no choice but to book my test date. However my quant score (from what Ive been doing) seem to range in the high 700. (760-780 range). I have a week left to study and realllly hoping to get admitted to a school for the fall term.

    Including 3 good recommendation letters and a letter of intent which Im' hoping to perfect (and I WILL), what do you think my chances are for getting into a MPH program? and if not, will an MSc be what I like?

    These are the schools I have to pick from (well I'll have to pick 15 out of them)
    John Hopkins
    University of Michigan
    Standford University
    University of Iowa
    University at Buffalo
    Universiy of Illinois
    University of Tennessee
    University of Alabama at Birn.,
    Univerity of South Carolina
    University of Southern California (Keck)
    University of Arkansas
    Columbia University
    University of San Diego (California State)
    University of Miami

    Can you suggest other universities that I dont have on my list that I shoud consider?

    Can anybody give me some direction as to how I should approach my selection, what to eliminate, and if my qualifications seem reasonable for entrance? Thanks!
     
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  3. uhoh!

    uhoh! Phobophile
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    First off, congrats on your decision to go into epi!! :thumbup: :thumbup: like they say, epidemiology is a simple, two-step field - Follow people till they die, then count them. :D

    i wouldn't worry about the "Lab Work" bit because it is not in the traditional mould of looking at glass tubes etc. you will spend lots of time indoors,if that's what you meant. it will be on a computer analyzing the data relating to your study. you can look forward to spending more than a few nights/ weekends trying to master a completely new statistical software package..fun, but is part of the "Lab" you dread so much. secondly, just because you learn a subject in school doesn't mean you will spend a career doing only that.

    Also, don't worry about your (in?)experience. i think you have done plenty. and you can't really go back and change it, so why worry? what IS important is how you tie in what you have done thus far to your desire to go into public health.

    as far as selection goes, the universities you have picked are good,though i don't really know enough about most of their public health departments. my understanding, however, is that the bigger name the university has, the more research grants a program is likely to receive. this translates into more research going on there, professors who are more research oriented and opportunities for gaining lots of first hand experience by way of internships and assistantships. but unfortunately, this also means a lot of people are trying to get in there, and so these programs act snooty, and jerk you around more often than a smaller program might. one program i know kept my friend's admission on hold till june,before he gave up on them and came to my school..it sucks, but its true. also, because of a lot of qualified applicants trying there, they begin to have some criteria which,to me, seems a bit much.like they prefer people with "experience" or "publications" , which used to bug me no end.. i mean, how will they get any sort of substantial experience if not by first studying public health?!

    the way most people go about selecting which programs to apply to is arbitrary and very individual. however, common wisdom says you should spread the places you apply to as Upper 1/3-Middle 1/3-Lower1/3..this is mainly a reflection of the school's reputation and your chances of gaining admission. i picked 4 programs for each category.the top places are the super prestigious, snooty places, where you are hopeful,but not dependent. the middle rung places are those where you think you would definitely like to go to. the lower rung places would be those where you are sure you would definitely gain admission,no matter what. the "ranking" of these programs by USNews is the yardstick i used..for better or worse! see what others you know who are in public health say about the programs you choose before applying to any of the programs. no matter what, there will always be people who feel your system of selection of places to apply to is "funny".

    Definitely give your best to the GRE. it is not a make-or-break exam. however a good score is yet another feather in your cap, rather than something you need to cover up/explain..bottomline,you have to give it asap, so give it your best shot in the time you have. study hard if you need to, but whatever it takes to get the job done. and do LOADS of practice tests. whatever you get in the test, you can be assured you will get into a decent program. i know people with scores in the low 1000s get int nice places. they were not research demons, but regular folks who tailored their applications correctly in ALL aspects.

    every part of the application is important..make sure your recco writers know what is required of them in the letter and how important it is to your admission process. get your statement read by as many people as you can, from all different fields. in fact the peopple who gave me the best suggestions were not even in the field of Public Health. ensure you get all this done and have the application packets sent to the univs as soon as possible, preferably by the end of December. even if you don't have your GRE done by then. lots of places have rolling application reviews and select the candidates as and when the applications come in.i canot emphasise enough how important it is to get the applications in asap.

    As far as MPH vs MS goes, it is a matter of individual choice. the MPH is more practical training oreinted, while MS is usually a research oriented, thesis-track program. that by itself should set off your "lab-work" alarm!! if I were you, i'd also look into the fields of Public Helath practice, and Community health before investing so much into Epidemiology. they might be fields more in tune with what you picture yourself doing as a public health practitioner.

    that was my lengthy $0.02. hope it all works out for you.let me know if there are any further questions..
    Good Luck!! :luck:
     
  4. cutiepie83

    cutiepie83 Member
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    thank you sooo much, that was VERY helpful, I really do appreciate it!!! Well to be honest with you, i have an admiration for math and statistics, and I'm one of those people who will feel empty if math was completely out of my life. On the other hand, I like it only in moderation, and I am good at it, well I guess compared to the level being taught in my program, nevertheless, I have a love for it. My first passion was to go into Genetic counselling, I like numbers, but I realized that I'm more interested in looking at a larger population chance than just a married couple assessing their chances of having a certain disease, I've learned that I'm more interested in the bigger picture.

    Are you working as an epidemiologist? You know, after looking at every single program offered in the world, yes..EVERY program, epidemiology was the only thing that offered what I was looking for, well .. from what I read. Can you give me any advice on the program, the ups? downs? post grad careers, I didnt know a forum like this existed until today(can you tell by my number of posts?? :laugh: )

    It's really funny, cuz I never thought I'd want to do something like this, I'm just sad that I found out so late about it.

    OH btw, I looked at the Usnews, and I found a ranking for the following schools:
    1. Johns Hopkins University 4.9
    2. Harvard University (MA)4.7
    3.University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill 4.7
    4. University of Washington 4.5
    5. University of Michigan--Ann Arbor 4.2
    6. Columbia University (NY)3.9
    7. University of California--Berkeley 3.
    7 University of California--Los Angeles 3.7
    9. Emory University (GA)3.6
    10. University of Minnesota--Twin Cities 3.5
    11. University of Pittsburgh 3.4
    12. University of Texas--Houston Health Sciences Center 3.2
    13. Boston University 3
    14 Yale University (CT)3.
    15. University of Alabama--Birmingham 3.0

    16. Tulane University (LA)2.9
    17. University of Illinois--Chicago 2.9
    18. St. Louis University 2.5
    19. University of Iowa 2.5
    20. University of Massachusetts--Amherst 2.5
    21. University of South Carolina

    Alot of them I'm past the deadline, but the ones in bold are the ones I'm considering applying to. There are also a few other schools not on the list. What do ou think? BTW, which school are you in?
     
  5. uhoh!

    uhoh! Phobophile
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    glad i could help!! :) :)

    here is what i think of the programs you listed..first be aware that these opinions from my limited knowledge and personal experience. i might be totally wrong, but this is what i remember from my application process..when in doubt, contact the program directly.
    1. Johns Hopkins University 4.9 - great program! the MPH is really short but super intense! don't know much else. i didn't apply there, but did consider it. this is like what i meant by Upper 1/3 program

    5. University of Michigan--Ann Arbor 4.2 another place i didn't apply to, and did not even consider..
    6. Columbia University (NY)3.9 excellent program! great faculty, and loads of research going on here..lots of opportunities for practical experience.

    11. University of Pittsburgh 3.4 another research oriented place. i think they have some work experience criteria, and recommend you find out..plus they have a very active Medical Center, so i really wanted to go there to see the actual application of Epi in a Hospital setting..

    12. University of Texas--Houston Health Sciences Center 3.2 - this is a nice place, say middle 1/3 type..practice oriented.great opportunities for experience.
    13. Boston University 3 - snooty! they didn't show ant interest in me when i tried to get in touch with them, so i didn't consider it an further.
    14 Yale University (CT)3. research oriented.dunno more.
    15. University of Alabama--Birmingham 3.0nice program! great faculty, lots of practical experience to be gained. solid Middle 1/3 place.

    17. University of Illinois--Chicago 2.9 no idea!
    19. University of Iowa 2.5 - no idea!
    20. University of Massachusetts--Amherst 2.5 - nice place! make sure you haven't gone past the deadline here.a solid middle 1/3 type program..however, there are some accreditation related issues to find out about, if i remember correctly..

    i think you should look to apply to a few of these places, and few from the "not on this list" places too. say 8-10 programs should be a more-than-sufficient number. i know for a fact that the SUNY system has a few very good programs, and they allow you to do internships at the NY State Dept of Health. That is really good for you, as that sort of experience is what you should be looking for.

    for finding still more programs, try petersons.com (check the spelling) and see the list of places offering MPH/MS Public Health (Epi). then go down the list 1-by-1 to each program's website etc..i wish there was an easier way, but this is how i did my deciding. it is not quite as tedious because some places you can outright reject based on outlandish requirements, insufficient infrastructure, or long past deadline!! then, maybe call the progs(mailing doesn't work quite as well, if you ask me, esp this holiday/admission season).it is a grind, but i don't know any other way..

    :rolleyes: I am from one of those schools you listed..that should suffice for now! :cool:
    and welcome to SDN! i haven't been here for long myself, but its a great place.. :D now, as long as i stay anon, i can say pretty much what i want. as for my location, i'm "Close To A World Below" ;)

    i am glad you found exactly what you want to do. i totally know how you feel. i am doing my MPH in Epidemiology, but am gearing up for my Pathology residency. they are totally similar fields in terms of what they set out to achieve and how they look to help people. the difference is that while Path does it at a person level, Epi does it at a much larger scale, as you mentioned. but path is so totally what i want to do, and i plan to use this background to do epi oriented research in the future. Epi as a field has sooo many fields it is related to, so many ways it is applicable, i cannot see how i will not be able to apply it in Path...but enough about me! :laugh:

    since i never intended to be solely an epidemiologist, i really don't know about the career scene after grad school..you will have to ask older and wiser folk than me. what i do know, however is that if you are in a field you love, nothing else really matters. and things work out for the best, as they usually do.
    would be glad to answer any more questions! :)
    Good Luck!! :luck:
     
  6. namazu

    namazu Member
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    Hi there,

    Several comments.

    There are plenty of opportunities to do epidemiology in non-clinical settings. I'm very much a non-clinically-oriented sort of person, and there are many others in the field. Based on the kinds of things you mentioned you might want to do, you might want to look into schools that have emphases in environmental epidemiology, social/behavioral epidemiology, infectious disease epi, and other tracks that will let you get out of the clinic and into the world. As uhoh! mentioned, you will learn methods to design studies well, and also to use statistical packages to your advantage (saves lots of ugly calculations!), but a) you can then apply this knowledge to problems in the field, and b) career-wise, epidemiologists can work in a number of areas designing and implementing programs, not just crunching data or doing pharmaceutical testing.

    About the MPH vs MS vs ScM vs MHS vs whatever else... As you've noticed, schools are incredibly inconsistent in their terminology. Different schools have different names for what's essentially the same type of program, and sometimes even within a school, there can be an applied MS and a research MS or something like that. In general, the MPH tends to be more broad and applied, and the MS or MHS is more research-oriented and focused. But this is not always the case,and in some cases there is a lot of flexibility in MPH requirements (e.g. you can choose to do a capstone project or write a master's thesis, or write a master's thesis about a capstone project...). At many schools, including Michigan and Minnesota, you can apply to the MPH program directly out of undergrad. While it always helps to have experience working in the field, or at least volunteering, you can still be admitted without having years of experience or an MD degree. At others, for example, Johns Hopkins and Harvard, you can't apply to the MPH program without more work experience. At Hopkins, though, they have an MHS program which, depending on the field, very closely resembles an MPH, but doesn't require the work experience for admission.

    About your qualifications - they sound fine. Your GPA is fine. I wouldn't worry about the verbal GRE score too much, especially if English isn't your first language, or you just aren't a vocabulary whiz. If you write a well thought-out statement, that will help compensate at most places and show the admissions people that you're capable of writing something intelligent. (Of course, if you're taking the test again anyway, maybe it'll come out a little higher, which would be great, too.) The quantitative score is great, and epi programs do like to see that you'll be able to handle statistics. You'll certainly get some "credit" for your volunteer and health-related work experience. I had a similar experience profile: volunteered at a hospital, did an internship for a state health-related agency, etc., but nothing full-time before applying, and it was fine.

    Some advice on selecting schools:

    - Learn about the programs. Find out what tracks are available. In general, if an MPH program is affiliated with a school of medicine, it might emphasize clinical epi more so than a School of Public Health, but that's not always the case. Also, you can use the rankings as a guide, but keep in mind that individual schools may have strengths in particular areas that don't show up in the overall rankings, and even highly-ranked schools can have weaker areas. Also, programs that aren't housed in Schools of Public Health don't routinely get ranked by US News, but some are quite good nonetheless. (And all the other usual caveats about placing too much emphasis on rankings...)

    - Figure out what's required for the master's degree. How do you feel about writing a thesis? Some schools require internships or capstone projects, others want a research-based thesis. In some cases, it is possible to combine these options. Depending on your feelings about these matters, it can help you prioritize programs that will allow you to do what you want. Keep in mind that larger programs tend to offer a wider range of electives, but your classes may also be larger.

    - Find out what sorts of research centers are associated with the program. These are usually interdisciplinary centers, outside of particular departments, that focus on a particular topic, for example, a "Center for Rural Health" or "Health Care Disparities" or "Urban Environment" or "Sexually Transmitted Diseases" or "Children's Health" or "Addiction" or "Health and Human Rights" or "Native American Health" or... Each school will have a different collection of these types of reserach centers/programs, and these can give you an idea of where a school's priorities, foci, and faculty are. And who knows, one of these might inspire you or open your eyes to an area of epidemiological research you didn't know existed.

    - In a smiliar vein, browse the faculty listings to see if anyone is dong research that particularly gets your attention. If no one seems to be doing anything you relaly care about, that should probably clue you in to look elsewhere. Conversely, if you find someone doing something really cool, you could consider e-mailing that faculty member to find out more about their research, what opportunities they see for a master's student to get involved, etc. This can open doors, both for admissions purposes and getting an assistantship of some sort, and it can also give you an idea about how personable the faculty tend to be. Did they make you feel like you were wasting their time, or did they respond enthusiastically, like they'd want to have you as a student or colleague?

    - What connections to the State Health Department, local or regional nonprofit organizations, or other similar entities does the program have? If you are interested in doing an internship or getting some applied field experience under your belt, these things can be helpful. Also in getting a job when you're done.

    - How hard or easy is it to get funding, either in the form of a scholarship or through being a research assistant? My general impression is that the more "prestigious" schools tend to be more, um, "selective" with funding, while a well-qualified applicant may have better chances of getting scholarship money at a less-prestigious or less well-known school.

    - Finally, don't neglect general quality-of-life things. Is there decent housing available? Do you like the location? Can you get around well enough? If you visit, do you like the students in the program? Etc....

    Hope this helps!
     
  7. cutiepie83

    cutiepie83 Member
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    I realllly appreciate your help guys, I never thought I'd get this much information in here, although I wish I found out about this forum a little earlier :( .. I guess better late than never right..

    To be honest, English is my first language, well ever since 96 :oops: (that would be 9 years ago). My only concern is learning all 1000+ words in the GRE, especially since I had only one month to study for it (well now it would be less than 2 weeks). I just never considered grad school in the US, especially because tuition costs were so high. But its only been recent that my parents said they will provide me wish assistance if needed. I know there are grants, scholarships, loans out there, but I heard international students may have a harder time getting any.

    OK Barron's calling me once again, time to memorize some more words. :sleep:
     
  8. uhoh!

    uhoh! Phobophile
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    :clap: :clap: well put!!
    i agree with what namazu says. i was never going to be solely an Epidemiologist, so i never considered the MS degree. i have done my Med School, and had done a bit of Public Heath related research there as well,but not a ton. don't know whether it really helped my applicaton or not..also, i was looking mainly at programs affiliated to a Medical School/Hospital system, as i was looking for a more "clinically-oriented" experience. also, i was geographically restricted as i wanted to stay close to family.. in the end, a lot of where you apply is upto you, as long as you know what you are getting into. i say apply to wherever you would be willing to go, if offered admission..

    i especially think going through the faculty interests is a great idea. i rarely got replies from the faculty i tried to mail, but that is understandable. they receive so many during the application season, it might be unfair to expect them to sound all excited to get (another :rolleyes: ) mail from an "interested applicant". that being said, some are really nice and give well considered answers regarding your application and how you would fit in there.

    Finding out about the State Dept of Health collaborations, and about the ease of getting assistantships etc, would require some spadework by you..maybe try mailing some of the students currently in the schools for an "inside" picture.wouldn't hurt, and if i received a mail, i would certainly try giving the best answer i could.

    anyhow, namazu gave some really strong suggestions..set the ball rolling as soon as you can!
    :luck: :luck:
     
  9. tara14

    tara14 Member
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    You are definately not underqualified for an MPH. You should be realistic, however, for some of the schools that you listed on your original post. I have an MPH in epi (but from Emory), but I did go to Johns Hopkins as an undergrad and was a public health major in which I was able to take a lot of courses at the public health school and learn more about it. You do need professional degree (i.e. MD/DO, PhD) or at least 2 yrs experience (i.e. peace corps) to get an MPH there. I had considered the MHS route but was warned against it from some people at the school (based upon my future interests).

    Some of the schools you listed like Columbia, Boston U, and Michigan you can get an MPH without all the criteria schools like Hopkins require. And you should look into environmental/occupational epi programs. I applied to Columbia and Michigan but did not go because they were too expensive for me. As it is now, I am in debt up to my eyeballs from even going to Emory which was a lot less in loans than the other schools. Look into scholarship programs at the schools. For example, if I had known Emory had a partial scholarship for students in the environmental/Occupational health epi program I would've gone that route instead, but they didn't really advertise about that too much so I didn't know. Unfortunately, all these public health schools are private and expensive and there aren't really too many scholarship opportunities. I can tell you that the expected salary once receiving a MPH in epi is not that great (compared to the amount of debt you may be in). I was lucky enough to get a quasi-epi job that paid >$40K but most of my friends (and some of them work at the CDC) are only getting paid $35-40K. Over time you can probably make more or if you work for a private consulting company. Just something to keep in mind. But if you really like the field don't let that hinder you - it just was a reality check for me once I graduated >$70 K in debt and had to start paying back my student loans.

    One other thing you may want to look into for epi is to see how the program is - is it more quantitatively based or is it more clinically based? My program was more quantitatively based which made it very dry and boring sometimes. But some people like that. I personally would have preferred the more clinically based program.

    Also - as the other posters mentioned look into what type of resume building/experience building opportunities would be available for you at the school. Look at what organizations are located nearby that you can work at so you can gain experience (and get paid at the same time), perhaps work on your thesis there and get your foot in the door for a future job perhaps, as well as build some networking in which you can get some great references for the future. A lot of these schools may even have programs where you can travel abroad during the summer to gain some field experience - that may be something you might want to look into and ask the schools about.

    But your grades are good, EC's good, and as long as you meet the minimum criteria for the GRE's and have good recommendations, you should be fine anywhere you decide to apply. All the schools you listed are great schools and will give you an excellent education - you just have to make sure that they are right for you. PM me if you have any questions about epi or the application process.
     

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