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Columbia and UCLA

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by GBN22, Apr 7, 2004.

  1. GBN22

    GBN22 New Member

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    Hello

    I am currently trying to decide between Columbia and UCLA MSTP for next year. I was hoping that anyone with familiarity with either program would mention what they know or have heard is good/not so good about either program. I will be going back to revisit both, but there is probably some info that they don't tell you at revisits that people know about from word of mouth or experience. Any input is appreciated

    Thanks a lot.
     
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  3. Habari

    Habari Senior Member
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    i was accepted to both programs last year - they are both great. in terms of research in most fields they seem to be about equal. both have excellent neuro programs, if that is your focus. ucla has more integrated studies centers, but i'm not sure what they have produced at this point, though they seem promising.

    both programs have relatively 'hands-off' mstp programs. both program offices seemed relatively disorganized. in columbia's case it is because the main admin is in charge of a larger graduate program - and maybe something to do with laid-back [email protected] ucla's director is a high profile [hhmi], goals oriented guy - whereas columbias director isn't very involved. the stipend:ratio is better at columbia - though it's up to you - westwood looked awesome to me.

    the med school curriculum is very different, and i'm personally highly partial to ucla's. they changed their curric last year, and should have a lot of the kinks worked out.

    i think one has to consider the institutional attitude towards mstp students - and ucla seems to value their own much more. ucla has a sort of institutional directive to retain their md/phds for faculty posts [statement by the deans to that effect are in the ucla med magazine, last year some time].

    columbia has some great research going on in other fields besides neuro - if you happen to find a number of people you are interested in, it would be a good option.

    as far as lifestyle, med school, research opps go - i would personally have chosen ucla. it isn't advertised, and not a guarentee [happens almost every year] - but of the students who are accepted to ucla/caltech, some of them stay at ucla for their phd, freeing up their caltech spot to someone else their year.
     
  4. ATLien1224

    ATLien1224 Member
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    Hey GBN22,

    While I didn't apply to any of the West Coast schools (so I can't say much about UCLA's MD/PhD program organization/feel in particular) I would definitely say that Columbia has a better reputation both as far as the medical school and overall research goes. I'm not sure what your area of interest is, but I don't know of any areas (with the exception of some opportunities at Caltech) at UCLA's program that could trump those available at Columbia.

    Also New York is by far a better place to live (but hey...I'm a East Coast guy...maybe this is a bit of bias). Columbia is definitely a "hands off" program, but this allows for a lot of flexibility within your education while still having plenty of advising and guidance. Columbia has a great program and I would definitely recommend it over UCLA.
     
  5. Habari

    Habari Senior Member
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    not to be needlessly contrarian - but i could name a few. both school have great strengths - they certainly don't always overlap.
     
  6. sluox

    Physician 10+ Year Member

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    I got into both last year (UCLA/Caltech) and ended up at Columbia. Initially I got into only UCLA (and not Caltech) along with Columbia. As far as research reputation, *overall* Columbia is probably slightly better than UCLA. However, right now brain imaging is very strong at UCLA. Genetics is probably slightly stronger at UCLA compared to Columbia (with the exception of neurogenetics). Structural biology is stronger at Columbia. The impetus at Columbia was the neuro center, which has a new primate based group that I wanted to work at. Also I dig New York much more than I dig LA. So, in the middle of Febuaray I decided that I'm going to go to Columbia.

    Then, at the beginning of march the director at Caltech told me that they will take me. I was completely thrown off the board because Caltech is sort of the crown jewel of everything. Both of my two advisors told me that Caltech has a better graduate school. One of them said, "caltech is really a germ of an institution and one of a kind." The "computation and neural system" CNS program is one of the first and most prestigious systems neuro programs in the country. Bascially every single PI at Caltech from molecular biology/virology to population genetics is a huge name in the field. The only other place I can think of that is somewhat similiar is the Rockefeller University.

    The drawback: most of the labs are really large. Yes, you are probably going to work with some Nobel prize winner if you want (I talked to some dude who works for David Baltimore, along with the big cheese himself, at the interview lunch), but you'd have to be within a group of at least 20 or more. Also, Pasadena sucks for social life. even though westwood is awesome (And expensive), most caltech md phd move to pasadena (it is an hour and half from all the cool parts of LA)


    So, in the end, my choice was more of my personality. Also, caltech was horrible in that they want the decision in three days. I couldn't even get a revisit. So i guess in the end they didn't really want me that badly afterall. I really wanted to live in New York in my 20s, and I hate driving in LA traffic. California is beautiful, but I don't think it's for me right now. Columbia probably has a better medical school/hospital. Also, right now the Columbia program is much better organized, especially compared to the UCLA/Caltech program. (Basically it's an UCLA MD + a Caltech PhD affair, with no overlap in courses, so the length is amazingly long. Even if you don't do your PhD at Caltech, there is a California State mandate that says all licenced physicians must go for two years of clinical training before getting the M.D. hence, you don't get a fourth year break as you do at Columbia. So the "california" system often tends to elongate MD/phd program, almost always unnecessarily: for more information, read some of the comments made by Duke's MSTP director at intransit.com) As one of my advisor said in the end, it'd probably not matter as much where you go--he trust that I'll be fine anywhere :) And I trust that you'll be fine anywhere you go.

    P.S. several other people at Columbia right now also had the same choice last year. Hope my experience has been helpful
     
  7. Habari

    Habari Senior Member
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    i hadn't thought about this, and it is something to consider. also, what sluox mentioned about the caltech part is quite true.
     
  8. NGN47

    NGN47 Member
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    Quote:
    "Basically it's an UCLA MD + a Caltech PhD affair, with no overlap in courses, so the length is amazingly long. "

    This is not really an accurate statement. I am in the second PhD year of the UCLA-Caltech MSTP. Actually, they do not require MD/PhD students to take courses for your PhD (at least in the chemistry department, and I belive...but do not quote me...that biology is the same...I don't know about the others). Also, there is absolutely no TA requirement. Thus, essentially all your time is spent doing productive research, which is the whole point in my opinion.

    About the length of the program. This is a tough question since the program is new. My guess is the PhD will probably take 4. A total of 8 years for an MD/PhD is typical. However, I know some who will finish sooner, and some later.

    Columbia and UCLA are both awesome programs. This is one of those decisions where either choice is correct.
     
  9. pseudoknot

    Physician PhD Faculty Lifetime Donor Classifieds Approved 10+ Year Member

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    I thought it might be worthwhile to add a comment or two about Caltech. I'm a third-year PhD-only student in biology here, so I cannot say anything about the interface to UCLA's med school. Anyway, as far as courses, it shouldn't matter much that there's no overlap, since there's only one required course for the Biology PhD program, and it's not particularly demanding. I wish I could agree with the first sentence quoted below -- there are some truly awesome PIs here, but there's some dead weight too, including an assistant prof who seems very unlikely to get tenure. There are some pretty large labs here, but there are also plenty of small labs--maybe sluox didn't get exposed to those. A possible disadvantage for MD-PhDs not mentioned yet is that there's really no one working on stuff that's very medically related.

    As for Pasadena, it's not quite as bad as that. It's really about 45 minutes away from Westwood (or Santa Monica, West LA, etc.). Yes, we don't have quite the club scene they do in Hollywood or NYC, but there's plenty to do, especially considering how little free time you'll have. Of course, that's certainly a matter of taste--I just wanted to offer another perspective.

    some
     

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