How should I prepare for MS, eventual PhD in epi?

Discussion in 'Public Health Degrees (Masters and Doctoral)' started by KGkhan23, Jun 18, 2008.

  1. KGkhan23

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    Hey everyone, I'm an undergraduate economics major and have recently become interested in pursuing a career in epidemiology. I am I pretty sure I want to do research in this area, but I can't tell whether other educational paths, such as a PhD in economics, would be more beneficial to this end. (If you want to know why, check out Emily Oster's talk on TED.com) So I'm trying to prepare myself for both degrees.

    Anyway, I'm two years in, I haven't taken any science classes aside from from basic chemistry, and basically no math. So I have a few questions:

    1.) What do I need to do to maximize my chances of getting into a top MS program in epidemiology? If you can, address whether it's possible to take grad classes while still an undergrad (I am located near Emory), what kind of research positions/jobs will help me out post undergrad, and what classes most people take, beyond what's actually required. Any other information you have is also welcome, of course.

    2.) I have an irrational, but nonetheless strong desire to spend some time abroad; how do epi programs at places like McGill, Edinburgh, Imperial College London, and Cambridge compare to those in the united states? Would a masters from one of these places open doors into good PhDs in the US?

    3.) Should I consider an MPH as well? I've seen on schools' websites that plenty of PhD students have prior MPH degrees; how does this compare with an MS in terms of getting into a good PhD program? Also, what kind of research experience do I need?

    4.) Do I sound ridiculous? I don't know anyone working in public health, and whatever I know about the field or the graduate programs is what I've read on a few schools' websites. If I need a reality check, please, please give me one.

    Looking forward to hearing what you all have to say. If I should have posted this in another forum, please let me know. Thanks in advance!
     
  2. LeafsFan93

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    If you want to do Epid Research, then obviously an Epid Phd is better. Do you know what branch of Epid (social epid, infectious disease epid, genetic epid, pharmacoepid, etc.)? There is incredible diversity within the field of Epid.

    It sounds like you are considering a Phd in Econ OR Epid. How do you like Econ so far? If you like it a lot, I would recommend an Econ PhD since you can rake in a lot of dough with that in the private sector, in case you find out that research doesn't float your boat. If you do end up liking research, you can become faculty in an SPH if your research is relevant, for ex. health economics or research of SES and health. Take some more science classes (Bios, Chems) and see how you enjoy them. If you like them a lot, go ahead and do the Epid PhD. If you hate them, stick with the Econ Phd. If you are still unsure between these two tracks (Econ Phd vs. Epid Phd) after taking the Bio/Chem courses, then apply to PhD programs in both Econ and Epid and decide when the time arrives.

    I'm astonished that you have no math background in an Econ program. Econ Phd's are math-intensive. You will need high-level calc, algebra, etc. I'm seriously shocked!

    1.) What do I need to do to maximize my chances of getting into a top MS program in epidemiology? If you can, address whether it's possible to take grad classes while still an undergrad (I am located near Emory), what kind of research positions/jobs will help me out post undergrad, and what classes most people take, beyond what's actually required. Any other information you have is also welcome, of course.

    #1 thing--> Get good grades!
    Generally schools frown upon taking grad classes if you're an undergrad. There may be some exceptions, where they let you take 1 or 2 (max) lower-level grad classes. If you have to travel to another school for this, it might not be worth the effort, since it won't make you incredibly more competitive as an applicant. For Epid, I would recommend basic Bios, Microbio, Genetics, Mol. Bio, Basic Chems, Orgo Chems, Biochem, Methods, Stats, Math. Don't fret about taking a grad class. It won't impress them much..most grad classes are easier in some ways than undergrad classes anyways.

    Any research position will help, but relevant ones will help more. If you are interested in Epid, try to get involved with research in a health dept. or local Dept. of Epid. There are often quantitatively-oriented positions (which sometimes amount to ****ty data entry) in various health settings. Just look around and you will know when you see something that is relevant!

    2.) I have an irrational, but nonetheless strong desire to spend some time abroad; how do epi programs at places like McGill, Edinburgh, Imperial College London, and Cambridge compare to those in the united states? Would a masters from one of these places open doors into good PhDs in the US?

    Not irrational in the least.
    I can't speak for all those places but I would rank McGill Epid in roughly the same tier as some of the better state schools like UM, UW, UNC, although I'm sure it won't be as big as them.

    POI: You are going to find it difficult to get funded for an international education, unless you are amazing and can get something like a Rhodes or other prestigious international scholarship. My advice is to stay in the US- more access to funding in your home country.

    3.) Should I consider an MPH as well? I've seen on schools' websites that plenty of PhD students have prior MPH degrees; how does this compare with an MS in terms of getting into a good PhD program? Also, what kind of research experience do I need?

    Apply to MSPH, MPH, MS Epid. MPH=coursework, MS=thesis-based. MS is arguably a better precursor for a Phd, but typically, for an Epid Phd, they are familiar with applicants from MPH, MS Epid, even MS in Stats or Microbiology, etc.

    4.) Do I sound ridiculous? I don't know anyone working in public health, and whatever I know about the field or the graduate programs is what I've read on a few schools' websites. If I need a reality check, please, please give me one.

    Nope...sounds great. The only reality check you need is to really know what you are getting into with a Phd. Research what you are getting into carefully.

    Best of luck.
     
  3. igotshoe

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    if you are wanting to do anything in economics, get started on math and take as much math and statistics as possible. you won't even get into a masters program with out at least Calc 3 (and thats a lowball).
     
  4. CMVMPH

    CMVMPH Epi & Health Educator
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    :pI'm going to add my 2 cents here because I have a lot of personal experience with your situation. Not the same, but similiar :D. I'm also going to differ on a few points with the previous poster, but again, I have an MPH in Epidemiology, and I have a great job and have Ph.D. aspects so...

    1.) The math thing is a little surprising. You may not need it at the Master's level, but it's in your best interest to take Calc I and II if you haven't already. A lot of the great Ph.Ds want this, and even if they don't, excelling in it makes you look strong. Best to take it before you start a Master's program as well. There usually aren't much req.s for a Master's level program except good GREs/GPA, but look at your preferred Ph.D. program and see what they require. Take what you don't have now, and you'll be strong at both levels. I don't believe the Calc III thing unless you're biostats - I strongly disagree on the previous posters point. Ph.D.? Even the best only require Calc 2.

    In regards to the sciences, while I don't think that physics and chemistry (Unless you're looking into molecular epi) are really that necessary, take some basic general sciences and do well in them. Don't kill yourself with Orgo, honestly. It won't be worth your time. Take 200-300 level Maths and Sciences, but don't waste too much money and time on taking undergrad classes. It will just put you back in your timeline. Your best bet? Call the schools you're interested in and ask them what classes look good for prospective applicants.

    One word of warning - if you do need research experience, you probably will NOT get paid for it. The best epi opportunities are going to be part-time and free, but worth it. Once you have some experience under your belt, it might help you specialize and focus your epi interests.

    2.) Another BIG word of warning - While McGill may be different, public health education is very different in England/Scotland than it is in the US. It's not better or worse, just different. I was looking into that myself, and found that they really only accepted already established health professionals. However, you CAN get loans to fund your education over there (to correct the previous poster). It's a recent (last 3-4 years) development with FAFSA...but they won't let you over there to study based on loans alone. You'll still be an international student and they want proof of funding.
    I also don't think, unless you have a great research position lined up at Oxford, let's say, it's worth the cost. Getting experience here and a master's here is better. Save the traveling abroad for a great fellowship, perhaps? IF you like traveling, maybe you could get a research fellowship studying emergening infections diseases... :)

    3.) I don't agree with the MS necessarily preparing you for a Ph.D. better. An MPH in Epidemiology will still give you a strong backbone for a Ph.D. I recently received my MPH and had to write a thesis. If you're interested in working in public health and the general public sector, I think it would be advantageous to take the 3-4 extra classes to get the MPH. An MPH usually requires either a thesis or a few internships or both (mine was both lol) IF you're a strong student, almost any school will let you write a thesis anyway. Maybe even ride on the coat tails of some awesome study already going on. I do not feel at ANY disadvantage having an MPH going into Ph.D. admissions... you just need to be focused (find out your research interest and delve into it! For instance, if you like cancer epi, like me, do some cancer survelliance or american cancer society work ASAP, even volunteer), have great research/work experience, and great grades. That's what counts.

    4.) The only reality check that I will give you is that while it is good to look ahead and think of the Ph.D. element of Epi and what not, you have to work on one thing at a time. Epi isn't impossible, but it's a different world than Econ. Focus on the Master's level right now, and focus on working towards making yourself the most marketable Ph.D. student that you can.

    Best of luck! Contact me if you have any questions.
     

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