QERM Applicant FAQ

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(Are you satisfied with the variety and choices for research projects?: Answered)
(Which other programs did you consider, and what made you choose QERM at UW: Answered)
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'''[[User:Chloe|Chloe]]:''' Once I found QERM, it seemed like I couldn't have created a better program if I tried, and I couldn't find anything else like it.  So yet another QERM or bust.
'''[[User:Chloe|Chloe]]:''' Once I found QERM, it seemed like I couldn't have created a better program if I tried, and I couldn't find anything else like it.  So yet another QERM or bust.
'''[[User:Kai|Kai]]:''' I looked into a few other programs, but nothing else really compared to QERM. After much consideration, QERM was the only program I applied to.
===Do you have any suggestions for visiting? Anything else I should be asking about?===
===Do you have any suggestions for visiting? Anything else I should be asking about?===

Revision as of 23:31, 22 April 2014

Please everyone feel free to add questions and/or answers.


Is QERM great?


Why did you choose QERM? What are some strengths and weaknesses of the program, in your opinion?

Tommy: I chose QERM because the program both satisfied my statistical and ecological curiosity. I was a stats major in undergrad and took a lot of ecology/wildlife programs additionally. When applying to schools I was considering purely stat programs, but ultimately decided that I could still get that statistical rigorousness while working on more applied problems that I found interesting in QERM. On the other hand, I think one of the weaknesses of the program is that especially in the first year, not enough fundamental biology/ecology is taught or emphasized. It is assumed that you either know this material or will learn it on your own. I think the program should be more balanced in its approach to learning and emphasize more fundamental ecosystem concepts.

Ian: It provided a unique opportunity to apply pure math to real problems that mattered to me and the world. It was in Seattle.

Kevin: I chose QERM because it did a wonderful job of merging my quantitative background and environmental interests. I was a math major as an undergrad, and QERM provided the perfect application of those skills in a broad field I was interested in. I looked into other environmental policy programs as well as some more purely statistical programs, and QERM was the only one that struck the right balance for me.

One big strength of QERM is that it provides you with quantitative skills to tackle a variety of issues, and likewise it provides a variety of research opportunities to suit almost any interest. Another big plus for QERM is its location. Seattle, and the northwest in general, provide a beautiful setting to study environmental questions, and there are many management applications to your research here.

One weakness is that after the rigorously defined first year, there are so many opportunities, it can be overwhelming. But if you make good use of your first year, go to a variety of talks and speak to professors in different fields you can find your niche. I would also echo Tommy's comments about a lack of focus on fundamental ecological concepts. You can certainly learn these on your own, and there are some cool seminars that explore many of these concepts, but it is up to you to seek those out.

Aditya:The freedom to pick a quantitative research area, even if QERM does not have a professor currently engaged in that research. I wanted to study disease transmission dynamics, and when I found a professor at the UW whose interests matched mine, he was voted in to the QERM program. Usually if you have an interest that is quantitative and falls under the broad category of ecology, you will have an opportunity to pursue it.

However, currently many of the QERM students are in the school of fisheries, and hence most new students in the program are exposed to fisheries research projects. There are some faculty from other programs who are currently listed on the QERM faculty page, but they may or may not have a student currently. If you want to find a professor outside of the programs QERM students traditionally are affiliated with, it takes a little more effort, but is definitely possible.

Amber:I chose QERM because it was the perfect blend of theoretical and applied problem solving. I took a single biometrics class in my undergrad my senior year and LOVED it, and decided that what I really wanted to do, other than be a marine biologist (my undergrad degree) was use rigorous quantitative methods to solve real-life problems. I think one of the big strengths of the program is that it is so statistically rigorous. You really come out of it knowing statistical theory and how to apply it. It's a good mix of statistics, applied math, and ecological modeling. It is also very flexible--after the first year you can really tailor your courses to support your research and interests. As for weaknesses, well, it is rediculously hard to wrap your brain around everything at the pace you are expected to go your first year.

Chloe: I had been out of school for a while and was looking to do a career switch to something more ecology related. I also had a math degree, so QERM appealed because I liked the quantitative focus and being able to do ecology but not being in a straight biology program.

Kai: I chose QERM because I wanted to apply my background in math modeling to real world problems, and I was specifically looking for an interdisciplinary program. I also wanted a program that let me choose an advisor I wanted to work with after I knew what I wanted to do, and didn't force me into making an early decision. Lastly, there are some VERY smart people affiliated with the QERM program, and I wanted to get to work with them.

Strengths: Flexible to choose an advisor/project. Amazing faculty, staff, and students. Weekly soup. Cool projects (at least in my opinion).

Weaknesses: Smaller program that many have not heard of before. Have to piggy back on other departments to use their shiny toys.

What is your workload like? I've heard the first year is pretty intense. Have you had time for extracurricular activities? (I'm interested in exploring the Seattle ultimate frisbee scene)?

Tommy: First year workload is intense, but I think you'll find that with any program. The classes stretch your thinking, but more so just consume your time. Looking back, I think everyone values the skills and tools they gained during that time regardless of the work load. Things definitely mellow out considerably as you progress past the first year and start working on your thesis. With out a doubt you'll have time for other activities. At least for myself,I think I'd go crazy if I did work all the time so I'm always hoping over to the mountains, running around in parks, going to the coast, etc.. There's got to be an ultimate frisbee club on campus and I know of several disc golf courses.

Ian: I had no problem finding time for Ultimate during my first year as part of these leagues http://www.discnw.org/

Kevin: The first year was intense, but there is definitely time for extracurriculars. I find plenty of time to play soccer, cruise out to one of the many state and national parks in the area, and explore Seattle. It does lighten up a bit after the first year, when your time becomes more of your own.

Aditya: The first year is intense, and your prior statistical/mathematical training is potentially a major factor. A strong math background is what you need most, but no stats experience means the coursework takes a little getting used to. If you have some stats then it is much better. Of course, most of my friends in math, biostats, stats and so on all have intense first years, perhaps more so than QERM. So QERM is definitely not unique in this respect. It would be great for you to explore the ultimate frisbee scene. I think some healthy outdoors pursuits are very essential. I have myself been playing co-rec soccer for sometime, and doing other things. In the spring, QERM also fields a world-class softball team.

Amber:The work load is really really rediculously intense. But I still managed to plan my wedding (mostly over the summer, but here and there throughout the year too). I also participated in Ride in the Rain (a bike commuter thing) in the winter and played softball in the spring.

Chloe: The 1st year is definitely intense. After that it's still busy, but your schedule is more self-directed. Expect to work nights and weekends the 1st year, but I think you'd still have time to do ultimate, and it might help keep you sane.

Kai: The first year course work changes from time to time, but always seems to be pretty tough. During my first year, I had "free" time for extracurricular activities during the fall and winter quarters, but spring quarter was too full. After the first year it's up to you and your committee to decide what your workload is like. Technically, you'll have completed all program required courses in the first year, so after that you only take courses that you want to / think will help with your research.

Are you satisfied with the variety and choices for research projects?

Tommy: I wasn't satisfied with the variety and choices of research projects. That is one of the dangers of going into a ecology program with no thesis direction (For most programs this would be more well defined). However, others have said that they had an overwhelming amount of choices so this will likely depend on when you enter the program and whether professors are looking for graduate students at that time. You can certainly write your own ticket if you would like, it's just a matter of bringing in that faculty member into QERM and insuring that he/she is quantitative enough.

Ian: I was one of many QERM students who ended up doing research with a professor in the School of Fishery and Aquatic Sciences. This was an excellent place for me and I was pleased by the choice. However, I think QERM's strength is derived, in part, from the diversity of departments and research subjects, so I think we should do our best to encourage people to search far and wide for things that interest them and not all follow the well trodden path to Fisheries.

Aditya: Yes, see above.

Amber:I was completely happy with the variety of research projects. Really, I came to learn the principles and methods and how to apply them to all sorts of things, so the project itself wasn't a big focus. Happily for me, my project is a review on all sorts of methods, so it worked out very nicely for me. And I think most people are able to find a project that at least somewhat interests them. And most projects are funded as research assistantships.

Chloe: QERM is very flexible about what a project can be as long as it is quantitative. Some of it is up to you--how many people you meet with, whether you seek out people not currently in the QERM program who could be. I didn't have a clear idea of what I wanted to work on when I started, and I had a harder time picking among interesting projects than finding them in the first place.

Kai: I was, but I also had no idea about what I wanted to work on. In the end, I had my choice of several interesting projects from a variety of departments. However, if you know that there is some very specific type of project you might want to work on, there is certainly no guarantee that it will be available. Some effort is definitely required on your part, you'll never know what's out there if you don't look for it.

How would you describe the departmental culture? Is is a tight-knit community?

Tommy: QERM is a very small program so yes we're pretty tight-knit. We get together every week for soups and most several of us get together on weekends for beers, games, etc.. You'll also get submerged into whatever specific department you go work in and can also get involved in that community (For me, fisheries).

Ian: Having grown up in the Northwest, I have a lot of friends and family in the area. Therefore, I don't spend that much time with QERMies off campus. On the other hand, I hope to keep coming to soup for a long time. I think this wiki is proof of the knittedness of the program. Something like half the QERM students show up to sit around the table over soup and can discuss ideas like this and then go out and make it happen. The small size seems to empower the students, and we the students have a great deal of influence on the program as there is not a big departmental bureaucracy to seek approval from. Joanne does a great job as program coordinator and since the program is small, she knows us all and can help us out as needed.

Aditya: Fairly, though second year onwards people tend to be scattered around campus a little more, though we have a weekly soup and then often we meet for beer at the local Seattle pubs. Most of my core group of friends here are current/former QERM students.

Chloe: You definitely bond with your cohort. After that, people disperse to different departments, and are more or less involved. And soup as mentioned above is a nice way of keeping a more cohesive feel to such a spread out department.

Do most students work as teaching or research assistants? Have you had a good experience with this?

Tommy: Most students work as RAs and yes I've had a good experience with this. There are several students who works as TAs, but the majority of students are funded. If you are interested in teaching, there's definitely an opportunity to do so, but most students seek out an RA position.

Aditya: While most QERM students do have RAships, there are some TA slots that are available. I have got plenty of experience working as a TA, but TA resources for QERM students are limited because we don't have a base of undergraduate courses outside the Quantitative Science program, which is very small. Depending upon how much money and slots other programs have, QERM students have been hired by the statistics department, and could also potentially be competitive for available slots in applied math, biostatistics, and math. But these are dependent upon the timing and availability, and cannot be relied upon indefinitely. A mix of RA/TA is definitely possible, however.

Where do you see yourself going after you finish your degree?

Tommy: I have no idea where I'll be heading after my degree. The most likely place would be the National Marine Fisheries Service (a branch of NOAA) since they are funding me right now. The QERM website has lots of information on careers.

Aditya: Probably getting a human-health/stats related post-doc somewhere. (Or becoming a cook). I disagree with Ian below. The Moroccan chick-pea soup was one for the ages!

Ian: I finished my Ph.D in QERM almost 1 year ago. I am now a post-doc with NMFS. I am not a cook.

As someone with a primarily math background, am I likely to fit in with the statistical aim of the program?

Aditya: I think strong mathematical skills is what you need most. Between now and starting the program, if you are able to take a course or two in mathematical statistics, that would certainly help. Also knowing a bit of computing is helpful, for the applied work, but most students learn that after starting in the program.

And I must add I am not sure the phrase "statistical aim" fits the QERM program well. I think the aim of QERM research projects is ecological, and the approach, statistical, computational, mathematical, simulation-based, with lots of overlap between these categories, is chosen to fit the question being asked. In my opinion, these fields are not that different anyway. I think the purpose of the first year is more statistical, so we can get a wide variety of tools to tackle problems. (Others may have a much different opinion here.)

Ian: I agree with Aditya. Here are two diagrams that represent to some extend the aims of the QERM program. People's interests fall all over the place: QERMaxes.png Equation black small.png

As someone with a primarily biology background, am I likely to survive?

Ian: Prior knowledge of statistics isn't required for the required courses. I'd taken one boring intro stats class 4 years earlier and had forgotten everything and yet managed to survive. However, calculus skills, and a general comfort and happiness with math are pretty important. In the past, folks whose math was rusty have had a harder time. On the other hand, if all we get is math folks, the program will surely suffer.

Amber: I came in with a degree in marine biology and a lot of supplemental math classes from a community college. Having a strong background in biology definitely helped in certain classes, especially the applied math and individual based modeling classes. I was pretty strong in math, coming in, but I did wish I had a better understanding of probability theory.

Which other programs did you consider, and what made you choose QERM at UW

Aditya: I wanted to apply my mathematical skills to ecological problems (broadly speaking) and I found no other programs with the unique balance that QERM has. I was accepted to some other math programs, and some environmental science programs, but QERM matched my interests best. The first year fellowship for incoming students is also very nice.

Amber: I didn't consider any other program, because QERM was the perfect combination of theory, application, quantitative rigor, and real-life problem solving. It was QERM or bust for me!

Ian: Likewise QERM or bust, but I'm not sure we should advocate this approach. After all, the program will always be small, and yet if we get the word out about how great it is, then there will surely be a lot of talented folks applying and not being admitted.

Chloe: Once I found QERM, it seemed like I couldn't have created a better program if I tried, and I couldn't find anything else like it. So yet another QERM or bust.

Kai: I looked into a few other programs, but nothing else really compared to QERM. After much consideration, QERM was the only program I applied to.

Do you have any suggestions for visiting? Anything else I should be asking about?

Tommy: When you visit, just be yourself, be relaxed and smile.

Ian: No wonder Tommy has come so far...it's his winning smile.

Aditya: No, just be relaxed and most of the "interviews" are really just conversations.

Chloe: Definitely try to talk with as many people as possible--everyone has a different perspective/opinion.

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