QERM Applicant FAQ
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.