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Pitt vs. William & Mary Pre-Med

juice24juice24 10 replies2 threads New Member
edited September 15 in University of Pittsburgh
Hey guys,

There are a few days left until May 1st and I'm in a huge dilemma right now between Pitt and W&M. I'll be a chemistry major at both schools on the pre-med track. In regards to money, I'll be paying very similar prices at either so it isn't a factor for me. I also broke down what I like and don't like about both schools:

Pitt
Pros:
- Admitted into the honors college
- City
- Tons of shadowing and clinical experience on campus
- Top 10 in NIH grant money (lots of research with good possibility to find paid work)
Cons:
- Big school (~20k undergrads; I prefer mid-sized)
- Not a traditional enclosed campus

WM
Pros:
- Mid-sized (~7k undergrads; just where I like it)
- Academics are rigorous (heard it's hard but don't know relative to Pitt)
- One of the best undergrad teaching with small classes (great for getting recs)
- Enclosed campus
Cons:
- Williamsburg
- Social scene (greek life dominant and overall mindset is work hard play hard without the play hard)
- The closest hospital is a few miles away and can't compete with UPMC resources

I think both are great schools but have a few things that are missing for my perfect college. If you could let me know your thoughts, that'd be great! Thanks!
edited September 15
7 replies
Post edited by CCAdmin_Vic on
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Replies to: Pitt vs. William & Mary Pre-Med

  • PennpostdocPennpostdoc 9 replies0 threads New Member
    edited April 30
    Recommendations are more impactful if they are from faculty you are closely working with over a longer period of time in which they'll get to really know you, such as in research lab settings. Meaningful research experience and medical volunteering is a big deal for med school admissions committees, especially at more prestigious schools. Much better, and significantly more research and medical experience is available at Pitt than W&M. You can't really make up the difference by doing summer experiences...for research you need multiple semesters working on a single project to produce significant results that might result in publications and meaningful presentations. It's not really close between the two in that regard.
    edited April 30
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  • IzzoOneIzzoOne 501 replies0 threads Member
    edited May 1
    You have probably already made up your mind, but I will comment that I don't agree with Pennpostdoc's assessment. The most important thing in choosing a school if you want to do pre-med is selecting one where you will thrive and do well. Good grades (and MCATs) are of paramount importance.

    Pennpostdoc also seems to suggest that you need to be involved in a big, externally-sponsored research project. That isn't the case either. You can do faculty mentored and directed research. Nearly all William & Mary science majors do research. (You can take a look at the USNWR undergraduate research ranking as a reference. William & Mary ranks #13, just behind Duke.) You should also consider that STEM PhD applicants also benefit from doing science research. Among public universities, W&M ranks 3rd for the percentage of graduates that go on to earn STEM PhDs. You can see data on this government website: https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/ids/#anchorAdd If you take out engineering PhDs (William & Mary doesn't have engineering), leaving life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and statistics, etc., W&M may be first on a percentage basis among publics.
    edited May 1
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  • PennpostdocPennpostdoc 9 replies0 threads New Member
    edited May 4
    It is important to pick a school where one thrives the best and does well. That is the most important thing. I have no disagreement with that and did not suggest otherwise.

    But as someone that has and PhD in a biosciences, and has taught and conducted research at a variety of universities types including Ivies, and has worked with people on med school admission committees, there is a substantial difference in the opportunities and experiences that can be obtained at a major research university compared to those that are not. The pool of candidates applying to top med schools is filled with students with stellar GPAs and MCATs. Because of this, research and volunteer experience and letters of recommendations can be the difference in getting an interview at top med schools. That doesn't mean students from non-research universities and liberal arts colleges can't be absolutely successful, but there are real advantages at research institutions for students in fields that are research based, and biological science is such a field.

    But the comment about externally-funded research needs to be specifically addressed. In academia, scientific research projects of any real substance that do not have external funding do not exist. Peer reviewed, externally funded projects are the ones doing experiments that advance their fields and contribute to scientific literature. Labs that aren't funded by externally mechanisms aren't producing and will ultimately shut down. At whatever institution a student ends up at, when considering whether to work in a particular lab, they should absolutely consider whether a lab is well funded and publishing regularly. It is also important for students to consider whether undergrads in a particular lab, after an appropriate time of training and experience, get the opportunity to participate in meaningful research that results in presentation posters and authorship on scientific papers. Having authorships can set otherwise identical looking medical applicants apart, and frankly, it is essential to have demonstrated substantial research resulting in authorship when applying to any notable graduate PhD program.

    Another important caveat to consider is that, no matter how enthusiastic one might be about research or clinical medicine, careers in these fields are not for everyone when the reality of the lifestyle, lab work and grant writing sets in. It is greatly beneficial to experience what it is really like to work in these fields before deciding to go on to professional and graduate studies. At any one institution, not all labs (or the type of research) will offer the same enjoyment or conducive environment for any one particular student. If doing research in a particular lab isn't a good fit, the opportunity to try out a different type of research or lab can be invaluable in deciding if the issue is that medicine or research in general isn't the right fit for that student, or whether it is just an issue with the particular type of research or the environment of the particular lab. To that end, it is not just the quality of research at an institution that can be important, but also the breadth of opportunities for students to explore.

    William and Mary is an excellent undergraduate school and and many students will have excellent medical careers and research careers after they leave it. But with only 2 active R01 grants, William and Mary is not viewed as a player in the medical or life sciences, and regardless of whatever US News says about undergrad research opportunities, it simply will not be able to provide the same opportunities or experiences in biology or medicine as any institution within the top 100 of NIH funding.
    edited May 4
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  • IzzoOneIzzoOne 501 replies0 threads Member
    @Pennpostdoc I think you are emphasizing the wrong things at an undergraduate level. You are implying that undergraduates need to be involved in a large, externally-funded research project to become a medical doctor or get a doctorate in science fields. That is not true at an undergraduate level, and you can readily see this in available data.

    As you point out, Pitt does significantly more R&D than William & Mary. However, the National Science Foundation maintains a site where you can see the number of doctorates by field and undergraduate institution. William & Mary graduates go on to earn doctorates in life sciences at 2X the rate of Pitt graduates on a per capita basis. (I took a 5 year average.) William & Mary graduates earn physical sciences doctorates at 3.3X the rate of Pitt graduates on a per capita basis. For mathematics and computer science, it is 2.3X in favor of William & Mary.

    https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/ids/#anchorAdd

    The reason, as I said, is that faculty-mentored and guided student research is readily available at William & Mary (this is what the USNWR ranking was considering) and it is very useful in graduate school admissions. The model does not have to be what you describe.

    I would also argue that large research programs are not always beneficial to undergraduates. Faculty typically spend their time doing research, teaching and mentoring graduate students, or teaching and mentoring undergraduate students. At universities where there is a large incentive to publish and bring in grants, more time devoted to research and graduate students at the expense of undergraduates. But the downside is not limited to time. There is also cost. To get external grants, research universities must also come up with their own "institutional" funds to cover expenses not covered by the grants. (In the case of Pitt, this institutional funding is $157M of the $940M in total R&D for 2017. https://ncsesdata.nsf.gov/profiles/site?method=report&fice=3379&id=h2 ) Where does that money come from? I will not argue any specifics on Pitt, but in general it is highly likely that some portion of this is funded through cost shifting from undergraduates.
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  • PennpostdocPennpostdoc 9 replies0 threads New Member
    edited May 6
    No, I'm not emphasizing the wrong things.

    True understanding and experience in laboratory research fields, like the biological sciences, comes from meaningful participation in real research projects even at the undergrad level. Classroom instruction provides a necessary background, but real understanding will take place in applying that background knowledge in a lab where students often first learn to think and write scientifically. It is a significant advantage for students so interested to get that experience and get it as early as they are comfortable engaging in it. Such experiences put such students well ahead of peers at institutions that don't provide those opportunities and that is a consistent observation across multiple institutions.

    While I won't pretend research experience is as critical for someone interested only in a clinical practice medical career, although it could be helpful for an application as noted above, for those interested in careers in the biological sciences, including those interested in becoming a physician scientist, the advantages of being at a institution with more, and move varied, research experiences is undeniable. I will caveat that if the student isn't comfortable at that particular school, and won't excel because of the environment, then they should look elsewhere because you first have to do well academically in order afford oneself the time to do well in a laboratory.

    Pertaining to your statistics, Pitt had 55% more undergraduate students go on to earn doctoral degrees (e.g. PhD) in the life sciences than William & Mary according to the data that you cited. The "rates" you state, based on per capital student counts, are uninterpretable without adjusting for the desired career path of a student. In fact, doing a rough adjustment based on the % of life science undergrad degrees renders the rate nearly identical. However, a school like Pitt, which has six different professional schools of health sciences, has many more pre-professional degree programs and students. Professional doctorates (MDs, PharmDs, DMDs, DNPs, CScDs) are terminal degrees that aren't included in the NSF doctoral numbers. Likewise, many more students are pursing careers in things such as business, law, engineering, compsci, communications, public health, and education which are fields that aren't incentivized or are atypical to pursue doctorates. Nor taken into account is where the students are receiving their doctorates, doing post-docs, any funding received, or other career milestones. But because there is no adjustment for intended professional degrees or other intended career paths, there is no way to know a "rate" based on per capita counts, and the suggested comparison is frivolous at best and misleading at worse. The US News rankings based on dean surveys aren't statistically valid to begin with and are absolutely irrelevant to real world settings of obtaining laboratory science experiences. What is relevant for a student interested in a research field is to look through the diversity of courses offerings and the faculty in those departments and the research they are pursuing and see what interests them (admitted hard at that age and lack of experience, but not unusual to already knows if they have a general interest in a something like a neurodegenerative diseases or cancer vs botany or ecology).

    One example of why it is important to investigate these things is the explosion of undergraduate programs in neuroscience, a trendy degree program now offered by many smaller schools. If that is a program of interest, a student should look to see if it is actually a department with its own dedicated faculty and course offerings, or is it a program cobbled together by relying on faculty and courses borrowed from other departments such as biology and psychology. There's a big difference in places with mature programs housed in dedicated departments and these frankenstein programs that were created primarily to attract students and not actually to prepare them for actual work and advanced study in the neurosciences.

    I will have to excuse you on the R&D funding bit because most people do not have a knowledge of research funding but you are making sweeping assumptions not based on actual reality. Internal research funding at Pitt comes largely from institutional support from its affiliated medical center, over $200m a year, as well as distributions from its $4.2 billion endowment dedicated to research and academic support, other investment income, as well as strategic reserves. It does not come from undergraduate tuition. If you believe universities with a lot of research funding and a large numbers of research projects consist only of large labs, or if working in such lab is not necessarily beneficial to undergrads, then I think it is fairly obvious that you do not have knowledge or experience of these settings. Each lab, large or small and irregardless of the college they are at, varies in its culture and how undergrads are utilized, and that is always reliant on the principal investigator of that lab. Larger labs can have many more opportunities for projects and also have many more postdocs, grad students and technicians to spend time with undergrads. Plenty of smaller labs with more accessible principal investigators also exist at large research universities. There are benefits to both settings, and it is advantageous for a student to find the best fit combining both one's research interest and ideal lab environment. And again, what any lab needs to function, at least in a relevant and productive way, is external sources funding. W&M has 5 total NIH grants: two R01s and three R15s. Not that those labs aren't doing good work or there aren't good undergrad experiences to be had in them, but there is a very narrow and limited range of experiences to be had there.
    edited May 6
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  • IzzoOneIzzoOne 501 replies0 threads Member
    Where precisely is your evidence that tuition does not fund research at Pitt and other universities? How would you know? Where specifically does the university say tuition is not used to fund research? You used many words, but did not actually account for any of the institutional sources. Since you were patronizing in your dismissal of my knowledge of higher education R&D, take a look at this piece by a former Provost at USC (who oversaw R&D):

    https://www.changinghighereducation.com/2016/08/the-high-cost-of-funded-research.html

    You say Pitt has 55% more undergraduates earn doctorates. Well, Pitt has 200% more students. Yes, you can say we can't measure career intent, and I won't disagree. But it does provide some evidence that you can go on to get doctorates in STEM fields at a school that is less research intensive. Just look at LACs like Swarthmore and you see more evidence. Swarthmore does much less R&D than W&M but still produces STEM PhDs at a higher rate than any large research university.
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  • PennpostdocPennpostdoc 9 replies0 threads New Member
    edited May 11
    Because I know from working in academic biomedical research for decades, at institutions in the east, south, and west coast, and I am familiar with how multiple universities and institution types operate, including but not limited to the University of Pittsburgh, and how research is funded having worked on obtaining research funding in the biomedical sciences, set up and managed labs, trained and taught undergrads, and have also worked within grants management administration. Not all are institutions are the same. I have direct knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of research university vs liberal arts colleges in the biomedical sciences having spent time at both types of institutions. You have your opinion, and I have mine based on direct experience. My advice to students, if they know they want to be in a research field, is to find a school that they will thrive in academically and socially, and if possible in combination with that, one that will provide easy on-campus access to a wide and varied number of real (productive) research opportunities. Find out as early as possible if research is something you want to pursue as a graduate track and career, and if it is, find out the field that most intrigues you.
    edited May 11
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