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WHO ARE OUR STUDENTS?
by Lily Xu and Max Su

 

This year, we thought it would be interesting to profile our student body, to find out who they are and what their interests are. Our Department of Biostatistics currently has a total of 47 students in the Master's and doctoral degree programs. Thanks to the efforts of Biostat Staff Assistant Priscilla Vecchio, some basic statistics about our students are compiled and shown below (we might as well do some statistics since this is what we are supposed to be good at!):

  Age
Under 20
20-25
26-30
31-35
Over 35
0
14
16
11
6
 
Sex
Male 
Female
15
22
Country
U.S.
International
40
7
 
Ethnic Origin
European
Asian
African
Pacific Islander
American Indian
32
7
6
1
1
Degrees held prior to HSPH
Ph.D.
M.A./M.S.
B.A./B.S.
2
19
26
Year in Program
1st
2nd
3rd
4th
5th
6th
7
12
10
13
3
2

Directly from Undergraduate School: 13

Students with previous Biostatistics-related work experience: 21

To obtain further details, we conducted a survey in May and a Brown Bag Lunch discussion as a follow-up. The survey asked questions such as "What attracted you to our program," "Have you managed to keep up any hobbies or outside interests while in the program," "Do you like living in Boston," "What would you like to do and where would you like to live after you graduate," and "What advice would you give to a student who is starting our program next fall." And we received interesting answers! Survey responses suggest that the top reasons for coming to the Department include our faculty research interests, and "the feeling I got from the people when I visited". Needless to say, most students came to the program also because of a strong interest in biostatistics gained from various previous experiences. Some people also put down "Boston" as one of the reasons for coming, although this is clearly not the case for everybody.

As for hobbies, the survey discovered some hidden talent. Our students include a windsurfer and a marathon runner! One student has spent time as a volunteer house-builder in Appalachia! Many students are interested in art, music, symphony, theater, biking, racing, artcraft, cooking and reading. Although many people have had to cut back on their hobbies to find time for study (in one case it was also related to the funding situation), many also feel that it is important to keep up with outside interests. An interesting answer to what you like about Boston is that there are many interesting places to do your homework. At the Brown Bag Lunch this led to quite some talk on where people study. Students actually find it quite difficult to do work at the School apart from attending classes. The designated study carrels downstairs often have too much conversation going on and it is hard for one to quiet down and concentrate. Therefore, many students do work mainly at home, and some use the library.

At the same brown bag lunch, there were students from each of the first through fourth years of the program. One first-year student found that much of the first year was spent becoming adjusted to the intensity of the program, establishing good study habits and style, and developing a good plan for which courses to take. A second-year student concluded that the anticipated slow-down after the qualifying exam did not materialize. In fact, the opposite happened, and the program became even more intense with advanced course work and thinking about thesis research. In contrast, a third-year student felt greatly relieved to have most of the courses finished with so that the focus could be on research. Looking back over the past four years, a graduating student told us that it was a pleasant program and he was satisfied. He also cautioned his fellow student that this is a big department and one can easily get "lost" among the many things that are going on, and that you should always be clear about what is best for yourself.

On the improvement of the program, students have overwhelmingly approved of the move of the qualifying exam to the end of the summer. It was also strongly suggested to have more student involvement in the working groups and seminars, and perhaps have a seminar series set up particularly for the third- and fourth-year students because everybody recognizes that the ability to present one's work is important no matter whether one's primary future interest lies in academia, industry, or government. Two other suggestions about our program are 1) to extend the length of the doctoral program to possibly five years, so that students can have more time to take other courses and to have more applied biostatistical experiences and 2) to enhance our practical training programs such as the summer projects, in particular for those who come without a Master's degree or previous work experience.

Finally, for students who are starting our program in the fall, the advice was clear! Brush up on your calculus, real analysis and linear algebra; keep your favorite book nearby (or whatever makes you happy) so that when things don't go as well as expected (and they won't!), you are able to enjoy something. Good time management is crucial; TA'ing is very helpful for one's own learning; take advantage of the various resources that the Department, the School, and the city have to offer; and try to arrive early so that you have enough time to explore before school starts and things get busy.