Switching from Econ PhD to statistics PhD

#1
I completed the first year of a top 20 economics PhD program, and I really am unsure if I want to continue. My program is very large, so there is not very much in the way of faculty support, I have found that I am not that interested in economic research. In undergrad, I studied statistics and economics and I enjoyed my statistics coursework much more than economics, I went into economics because I was interested in public policy-that interest has dissipated.

I will post my profile below and would appreciate recommendations as to coursework for the fall and places to apply.

Type of Undergrad: Decent Private University
Undergrad GPA: 3.95
GRE: 560v 790Q 5.5 AWA
Grad GPA: 3.1 (they rarely give out A's in my program)
Undergrad Courses: Standard Statistics Degree (Calc I-IV, Linear Algebra, Regression, Data Analysis, Advanced Calculus, Probability Analysis, Math Stats I-III (at the level of Hogg and Craig). Standard Undergrad Econ courses. A's in all Math/Stat courses
Grad Courses: Standard Year long sequences in Micro, Macro, and Econometrics.
Research Experience: 1 years as RA on an applied econometrics project in undergrad. 1 year as RA on an empirical project as grad school.
Letters of reference: I plan on getting 2 from undergrad stats professors, 1 from graduate school (I think this is acceptable by most schools).
Research Interests: Applied/Computational Statistics specifically biostatistics and high frequency finance.

I plan on applying to: SUNY Stony Brook, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan, Toronto, University of Western Ontario, Purdue, North Carolina State and Washington.


Questions:

1) Should I add/remove any schools from this list? I am looking specifically for stand-alone statistics programs rather than those within a mathematics PhD since I wish to take the GRE math subject test.

2) Should I take any courses in the fall to shore up my profile? (Thinking of Time Series Analysis and Stochastic Processes)

3) Should i apply to MS or PhD programs? In economics, most Master's programs are very disconnected from the doctoral program (most schools do not offer both). It seems like there are some programs that allow for the Master's to be a stepping stone to the PhD programs. Are there any specific programs like this that I should aim for?

3) Will adcoms look past my subpar graduate GPA? I am hoping to improve it in the following semester, since grading is a bit more lenient in field courses than the core.

4) Talkstats seems very interesting and valuable for applied/theoretical/computational statistics and I plan to post in those respective sections, but it does not seem like the education forum is too active. Are there any active sites for prospective statistics PhDs?

Thanks in advance
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#2
There are a couple things that would be nice to know and I think one thing you're leaving out for us (that is quite important) is what you plan on doing with the degree. Are you interested in research? If so do you have any particular fields you're interested in? Are you more inclined to do theoretical work or applied statistics? I'm guessing you're more interested in just standard statistics than you are biostats? Even at that do you want to learn something about biostats? Are you interested in Bayesian statistics?
 

Mean Joe

TS Contributor
#3
I have no knowledge of PhD programs. But a couple of your questions, look discuss-able to me.

2) I don't know what courses would look good on a profile. But I think Time Series Analysis would be a great course to have. You'll probably be doing a lot of that. Stochastic Processes may be good for a PhD student to have. Sorry I'm kind of unfamiliar with your situation.

First #3) I'm not sure how it is in Statistics programs. But I would suggest applying for the PhD program--in my experience the Masters program was the "booby prize"/parting gift for students dropping out of the PhD program. I don't think coursework differs between MS and PhD? Your Economics experience sounds like a different beast from what I encountered. Maybe the reason why schools didn't offer both MS and PhD in Economics was because there's no difference?

Second #3) Well your graduate GPA was for a different field, and it doesn't really seem that bad to me.
 
#4
Thanks for all of the input.

Dason said:
There are a couple things that would be nice to know and I think one thing you're leaving out for us (that is quite important) is what you plan on doing with the degree. Are you interested in research? If so do you have any particular fields you're interested in? Are you more inclined to do theoretical work or applied statistics? I'm guessing you're more interested in just standard statistics than you are biostats? Even at that do you want to learn something about biostats? Are you interested in Bayesian statistics?
Basically, with respect to research interests, I am interested in going beyond analyzing social data, which is all I was really trained to do as an economist. I would like to learn a greater skill-set that has more general applicability than econometrics. For instance, much of econometric analysis is centered around generalized method of moments, but after speaking to statisticians it seems like generalized estimating equations are preferred.

Moreover, use of statistical software within an economics program is expected to be self-acquired; there is very little instruction and many senior professors outsource programming to graduate students and junior professors. In addition, most economists use MATLAB or STATA, two "languages" that I prefer not to use, as they are inferior in almost every respect to R. Not a single faculty member in my department and very few graduate students use R, so I have spend a disproportionate amount of time honing my skills through self-instruction. I still have a long ways to go but I feel that within a statistics department, where R is the unequivocal standard, I would receive a greater degree of instruction and support.

I am interested in applied work, basically in using a wide array of statistical methods to analyze stochastic processes whether they be in social, medical, natural, or financial data. I feel statistics would provide me with a much better skillset of achieving this than economics.

I also have an interest in complex adaptive systems and cellular automation. I am not sure if this falls under the category of biostatistics, but my interests are still malleable. I don't know if I want biostatistics as my primary emphasis, but I would like to learn more about it.

Additionally, one of my macroeconomics courses devoted a module to time series analysis and we scratched the surface of frequency domain/spectral analysis. I would like to learn more about this methodology, but it is rarely used within economics.

I have been exposed to a bit of Bayesian decision theory (not necessarily econometrics-my econometrics professor was a strict frequentist). We basically formed priors and estimated loss functions. We did not do anything with any prior distributions other than normal (or pmfs) and typically used quadratic loss functions.

From my limited knowledge, I feel that despite Bayesian Analysis being relatively controversial within statistics, it is far more theoretically sound than much of contemporary economic theory and I am interested in learning more about it and using it in future research.

My eventual goal is to obtain some type of research job, like a Principal Investigator on empirical projects or running simulations. I also hope to be involved in creating an maintaining statistical software packages in R. I am relatively indifferent between the public sector, private sector, or academia.
 

Link

Ninja say what!?!
#5
1) Should I add/remove any schools from this list? I am looking specifically for stand-alone statistics programs rather than those within a mathematics PhD since I wish to take the GRE math subject test.
Are you looking for the best schools, or just a decent one? Currently, Berkeley and Stanford are rated #1. Check out this site for more info on the statistics programs:
http://www.stat.ucla.edu/program/ranking.php

2) Should I take any courses in the fall to shore up my profile? (Thinking of Time Series Analysis and Stochastic Processes)
One course I'm taking next semester that's been recommended to me on numerous occasions is "Intro to Probability and Statistics at an Advanced Level". I originally didn't want to take it because I thought it might be too easy and repetitive. Turns out its theory based and a must for the PhD. I'd recommend that to you. Time series is good too and I would recommend that as well, but only if you have already taken other foundational classes such as Intro to Multivariate analyses.

3) Should i apply to MS or PhD programs? In economics, most Master's programs are very disconnected from the doctoral program (most schools do not offer both). It seems like there are some programs that allow for the Master's to be a stepping stone to the PhD programs. Are there any specific programs like this that I should aim for?
This seems more like a personal question that you should decide for yourself. I should point out though that it IS easier to get into the school's PhD program if you're already in the Master's program.

3) Will adcoms look past my subpar graduate GPA? I am hoping to improve it in the following semester, since grading is a bit more lenient in field courses than the core.
I'd definitely say yes as long as you have experience, commitment, and can show that you'd be successful. You definitely need to step up and go above and beyond just being a student though.

4) Talkstats seems very interesting and valuable for applied/theoretical/computational statistics and I plan to post in those respective sections, but it does not seem like the education forum is too active. Are there any active sites for prospective statistics PhDs?
I'm not sure what you're asking here.
 
#6
Mean Joe said:
2) I don't know what courses would look good on a profile. But I think Time Series Analysis would be a great course to have. You'll probably be doing a lot of that. Stochastic Processes may be good for a PhD student to have. Sorry I'm kind of unfamiliar with your situation.

First #3) I'm not sure how it is in Statistics programs. But I would suggest applying for the PhD program--in my experience the Masters program was the "booby prize"/parting gift for students dropping out of the PhD program. I don't think coursework differs between MS and PhD? Your Economics experience sounds like a different beast from what I encountered. Maybe the reason why schools didn't offer both MS and PhD in Economics was because there's no difference?

Second #3) Well your graduate GPA was for a different field, and it doesn't really seem that bad to me.
Do you think adcoms would value one course more than the other? I probably won't have the time to take and do well in both, since I still have a few obligations required to obtain my Master's degree in econ.

Most econ programs that offer both actually offer an "MA" in economics, which in the United States, is almost always a slightly advanced undergraduate program in which only a basic knowledge of calculus and economic theory is required whereas a PhD generally requires a much more sophisticated mathematical background. Hence, master's degrees are very rarely used as a stepping stone to doctoral programs, they are mainly for professional advancement and viewed as an alternative to an MBA. Additionally, almost no programs offer financial aid for Master's students.

It seems like at a lot of programs, an individual could apply and get accepted to a Master's program and take the doctoral coursework. I am thinking about this as a backup option in the even that all of my PhD apps are rejected, but I am hoping for direct entry into a doctoral program.
 
#7
Link said:
Are you looking for the best schools, or just a decent one? Currently, Berkeley and Stanford are rated #1. Check out this site for more info on the statistics programs:
http://www.stat.ucla.edu/program/ranking.php
I am just looking for decent programs that I have a reasonable chance of getting into and offer reasonable employment options to most of their graduates. I would prefer the midwest or east coast.

One course I'm taking next semester that's been recommended to me on numerous occasions is "Intro to Probability and Statistics at an Advanced Level". I originally didn't want to take it because I thought it might be too easy and repetitive. Turns out its theory based and a must for the PhD. I'd recommend that to you. Time series is good too and I would recommend that as well, but only if you have already taken other foundational classes such as Intro to Multivariate analyses.
Is it a measured theoretic probability course? I was thinking about that, but I am worried about the time commitment.

Link said:
This seems more like a personal question that you should decide for yourself. I should point out though that it IS easier to get into the school's PhD program if you're already in the Master's program.
My main issue is that I don't know if I am competitive as a statistics PhD applicant. I meet the pre-requisites listed on most (outside of the highly theoretical programs) websites, but from my experience in economics, there is a bit of an "arms race" to get into top programs (e.g. the vast majority of individuals in my incoming class had already taking a year long sequence in doctoral level microeconomics prior to entering). Almost no one who "only" met the posted pre-requisites was admitted to the program. I don't know how far into the rankings this extends in statistics.

I'm not sure what you're asking here.
I am asking if there are any forums devoted specifically to prospective PhD/MS applicants in statistics. For instance, this website exists for economics PhD applicants in which people compare each other's profiles and post results. It was very helpful in evaluating my competitiveness and I have yet to find something similar for statistics. However, after getting several replies within the hour, this subsection is apparently not as dead as I thought.:)
 

Link

Ninja say what!?!
#8
Well, its not really the subsection per-se. Dason, Mean Joe, and I, along with a few other members get on here regularly. We try to help where we can and build up our knowledge through other postings (at least that's what I do).

You seem like you should be fine. You're obviously doing your homework, which is good. Just keep trying to make your app as competitive as possible.
 
#9
Link said:
Well, its not really the subsection per-se. Dason, Mean Joe, and I, along with a few other members get on here regularly. We try to help where we can and build up our knowledge through other postings (at least that's what I do).

You seem like you should be fine. You're obviously doing your homework, which is good. Just keep trying to make your app as competitive as possible.
Thanks to all of you, your advice was very helpful!
 
#10
Thegradcafe.com has an excellent forum that discusses the relative merits of programs, schools, etc by each area of study (i.e, math, econ, business). They also have a lot of information on admissions. Check it out if you got a sec.
 
#11
jamesmartinn said:
Thegradcafe.com has an excellent forum that discusses the relative merits of programs, schools, etc by each area of study (i.e, math, econ, business). They also have a lot of information on admissions. Check it out if you got a sec.
Thanks, I actually posted over there a few days ago but haven't received any responses yet. Hopefully traffic over there picks up around admissions time.
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#12
Note: Possible biased opinion ahead. (Go Cyclones!)

If you're interested in NC State but you want to be in the Midwest then Iowa State is a pretty good choice. I'll admit that Iowa isn't the most exciting place to be but the program is really good with a wide selection of classes and areas of research. There's a really good survey stats group here. I'm not particularly interested in that field but I know we have a group program for that. Just something to look into.

The two places I considered most when applying were NC State and Iowa State. I got good offers from both places but eventually decided I wanted to stay in the Midwest so I went with ISU.
 
#13
Dason said:
If you're interested in NC State but you want to be in the Midwest then Iowa State is a pretty good choice. I'll admit that Iowa isn't the most exciting place to be but the program is really good with a wide selection of classes and areas of research. There's a really good survey stats group here. I'm not particularly interested in that field but I know we have a group program for that. Just something to look into.

The two places I considered most when applying were NC State and Iowa State. I got good offers from both places but eventually decided I wanted to stay in the Midwest so I went with ISU.
Thanks for the suggestion. I have visited Ames and it is a bit desolate, but it looks like a really good program (very large faculty), so I think I'll apply to it.

I am planning on applying to about 10-12 schools if my professors are willing to write that many LORS. Is it standard practice within statistics to apply to a lot of programs or should I narrow my focus? I am trying to avoid small, specialized departments since I don't have well-defined research interests yet.

I applied to 16 econ PhD programs and I know of people who applied to over 20. It seems like the volume of applications to statistics programs is much less than econ. For instance, Berkeley econ claims to receive over 800 applications per year while the statistics programs gets 130-180. Are most prospective stat PhDs applying to a narrow subset of schools where their research interests coincide with that of the faculty or is their simply a much lower demand for stat PhDs?
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#14
Thanks for the suggestion. I have visited Ames and it is a bit desolate, but it looks like a really good program (very large faculty), so I think I'll apply to it.
This is true. There's not as much to do as there is at other locations. However, we do have a pretty active stat grad student club called the STATers which tends to make up for that.
I am trying to avoid small, specialized departments since I don't have well-defined research interests yet.
This was one of the reasons I really liked ISU and NC State.
I applied to 16 econ PhD programs and I know of people who applied to over 20. It seems like the volume of applications to statistics programs is much less than econ. For instance, Berkeley econ claims to receive over 800 applications per year while the statistics programs gets 130-180. Are most prospective stat PhDs applying to a narrow subset of schools where their research interests coincide with that of the faculty or is their simply a much lower demand for stat PhDs?
I really don't know the answer to that. I know that there have been more and more people applying to stats as of late but that might just be due to the general trend of people applying to grad school when the economy is down.
 
#15
Did most people in your program apply directly to the PhD program or the Masters? Also, what is the instruction of core courses like? In econ, we usually have each professor teach about 8 weeks of the course each semester, focusing on his/her research specialty. Though we are exposed to a wide range of topics, there isn't much depth and it can often be difficult to keep up. This doesn't appear to be the case for statistics.

Also is morale among graduate students generally high/is there low attrition? Is the prelim process used to weed people out? Is there enough funding so that you don't have to worry that it might be pulled in a given semester? That is a constant fear in my current program.

Thanks for all of your input!
 

Dason

Ambassador to the humans
#16
Did most people in your program apply directly to the PhD program or the Masters? Also, what is the instruction of core courses like? In econ, we usually have each professor teach about 8 weeks of the course each semester, focusing on his/her research specialty. Though we are exposed to a wide range of topics, there isn't much depth and it can often be difficult to keep up. This doesn't appear to be the case for statistics.

Also is morale among graduate students generally high/is there low attrition? Is the prelim process used to weed people out? Is there enough funding so that you don't have to worry that it might be pulled in a given semester? That is a constant fear in my current program.

Thanks for all of your input!
Most people in my program apply for the PhD. A lot get their masters along the way but the funding situation is better for those on the PhD track. You don't have to get the masters along the way though (I don't plan on getting it if all goes well). With that being said if you're offered funding the department is fully devoted to funding you for 4 years (for PhD track) and there isn't much fear of support being cut (Actually it might be 3 years that they guarantee? I don't know but I know a lot of older students [5/6] years that are still well funded. The department has been hit by the economic situation but in the past years not a single student who has been promised funding has had any of that cut at all. You might find that your assignment has changed and you might have to do something else for your support but they do all they can to make sure you're funded. I'm not saying that things will be this great in the future but they are devoted to the students they support.

Morale is pretty high. It's not easy material and it takes a lot of work to get through but it's a friendly environment here and we help each other out. I've never heard anybody call the masters exam a "weed out" exam. It's a step you need to get through but most are able to get through (if not on their first attempt on their second). Now the PhD core a lot of people refer to as a year of hell. The prelims are really tough but they prepare you pretty well for them. (Note: I just finished my first year so I made it through the masters exam and will be starting the PhD core this year) However, they want you to get through the prelims and everybody works together to prepare for them.