MS in Biosts vs MPH in epi?

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Mar 26, 2015
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I love statistics, data, and anything even tangentially related to biology or health. I like the flexibility of biostats (can go to various other fields for PhD, can do genetics, can do environmental health, etc.). However, while my programming and statistics background and grades are strong, my pure math skills are lackluster at best (B- in theoretical linear algebra). I'm a Psychology major (Neuroscience track), Stats minor for reference, with all pre-med courses fulfilled by the end of college.

Would I be better suited in Epi? How much "pure" math (I.e. Proofs) are in a masters in biostatistics? How flexible is a masters in Epi if I'm interested in both clinical trials/pharmaceutical industry as well as more academia-centered topics such as genetic epidemiology and environmental health?

P.S. also tangentially interested in policy


Tiniest deer
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Jan 6, 2015
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I think that if you really want to study biostatistics, then the MS is the way to go. Don't let a B- in linear algebra stop you. Do you have all of the prereqs for a biostats degree? MS programs typically want three semesters of calculus (including multivar) and linear algebra, and PhD programs will suggest one or two semesters of advanced calc as well (those that don't have it will take it during the program).

If you are worried about pure math, another option is to do an MPH in biostats, which is a more watered down version of the MS. With an MPH, you will be required to take additional core coursework in health policy, environmental health, etc. versus the MS which requires more biostats and offers few interdepartmental elective options. However, I firmly believe that if you want to do biostats, then the MS is a better option than the MPH. There is one exception, and that is Yale. Yale's MPH is identical to its MS with the addition of core courses, a practicum and a more public health focused thesis.

I unfortunately can't tell you about the mathiness of MS biostats programs, as I am an MPH epi person. Grad cafe may be a good resource to find out more about these programs. What I can tell you is that after I finished my MPH, I was hired as an analyst, so there are options to work in the data and programming environment with both an MPH in epi and an MS in biostats.

Hope this helps.
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Do you want to be an expert in public health with a touch of biostats exposure, an epidemiologist, or a biostatistician?

I agree with the above that you should go for the biostats MS full steam ahead. Most classes will have more of an applied bent than straight statistics classes you may have taken, unless you're taking the core theory classes, but that's what adds to your expertise. You know that an error in SAS or R about "maximum likelihood estimation failed to converge after X iterations! Quasi-separation or separation are present in the data...last iteration results are shown but may be unstable..." or something of that nature, needs to be handled carefully and not just by excluding variables until the program doesn't spit out an error message. You'll know much better what the results of a test mean and, at least as importantly, what they don't mean (which most PIs struggle with despite a lengthy pub list). You won't have that background from an MPH w biostats concentration nor an Epi program more likely than not.

Don't buy the Maserati Ghibli (MPH biostats) just to say you have a Maserati. Go for at least the quattroporte (MS biostats)... unless you want to be an epidemiologist, then go for that. Just realize what each degree really qualifies you for out of the gate.
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