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I am 29 years old and have majored in political science and obtained a B.A. degree with it.

I'm asking this question since I want to ask for some advice about in what case would there be any possibility for me of getting into a graduate school that majors in mathematical biology.

The reasons why I am hoping to pursue a PhD in a topic unrelated to my BA degree are the following:

  1. I am a great fan of mathematics, especially discrete mathematics.
  2. Working in a field related to biology seems to me a promising career since knowledge related to biology should be needed more and more to our humankind.
  3. I want to be a great farmer someday. Also, if I can be a biology researcher in addition to a farmer, I want to make some food that grows well so that could may assist to reduce some poverty issue throughout our world. (In my opinion, the issue of poverty to our humankind would be getting worse and worse over next 30 years. Maybe much closer than 30 years.)

Everyone can have a dream, so I've just listed inspirations that lead to my dream. However, we all know that what matters are the realistic issue, such as, why would a college and a professor related to Mathematical Biology would choose me as their student?

So I would like to list some of my weakness and strength to explain my situation.

  1. I am not from the top school in my country. However I've graduated with some university that is for some top 2% student in my country. My university is ranked within world top 100 or at least top 200 from any of the magazines which deal with the world university ranking.

  2. I can speak two more languages other than English. Those two languages are from highly industrialized medium-big size countries which can be assumed as economic powers. I can prove that I'm good at those three languages with some certified test scores, and have no problem with reading and writing English.

  3. My GPA is 92.5/100 (I assume it is translated to 3.25/4.00 in my country but I am not sure). It is not high, however I've got demonstrating scores on language classes (the languages which I've mentioned above) and political science classes. I can prove that I am good at studying languages and political science with some certified test scores (which is national authorized). Also I can prove that I am good at dealing with the study of history.

  4. (Edited to be erased)

  5. (Edit after the comments) I've studied microeconomics and macroeconomics. So I can say I know basic calculus and linear algebra. Also I have some scores related to economics which can be assumed as national authorized. I really don't want to go back to my university, since I don't want to let my community in university to know that I'm pursuing some unrealistic dream for most of people. However I may try to get some recommendations from professors on economics.

I am sure that the list I've enumerated above are not enough to appeal to my possible advisors. So I'm thinking of the following. I want ask for your advice, that, would any of the following wish lists would be helpful, or hopefully, being crucial to increase of my chances for getting into the college.

  1. No matter in what country (among English speaking countries) I would be studying, I'm thinking of taking GRE from the United States, including GRE subject test in mathematics to prove that I have basic knowledge to mathematics.
  2. While studying discrete mathematics(especially some topics with combinatorics and related algebraic structure to those combinatorial topics), I've noted myself with some ideas that I've keeping them myself for a possible future publication. Actually I have more than twenty of separate ideas that deals with some different topics to each other. I'm hoping to publish at least 1~2 of those ideas to some low-hurdle journals in mathematics.

It would be grateful if someone could give me some honest advice on my situation.

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  • How do you translate 92.5/100 to 3.25/4.00?
    – Nobody
    Mar 9 at 9:41
  • @Nobody: Actually I wondered that to. Maybe the site I've referred would be wrong. 92.5/100 is sure. 3.25/4.00 is referred from some random site but I am not sure. Please take it as 92.5/100. Mar 9 at 9:42
  • Have you taken Math courses beyond Calculus/Linear algebra level or Biology courses so that you can have some recommendation letters from Math or Biology professors?
    – Nobody
    Mar 9 at 9:48
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    I feel like the country is really important here. For example in germany you won't even get into a Ph.D in your own field with only a B.Sc
    – SirHawrk
    Mar 9 at 10:27
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    I think one thing to bear in mind is that PhDs are often competitive and places are highly limited. Why, as a mathematical biologist / bioinformatician, would I take a political science graduate over a mathematics graduate if I only have funding for one student? I'd also constantly have the question 'if you really are interested in this, why didn't you study it at undergrad'.
    – E. Rei
    Mar 9 at 10:53

4 Answers 4

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I am sorry to say but I do not think you have a realistic chance to get admitted to a competitive PhD program in mathematical biology without any previous record of knowledge in biology and mathematics.

I think you have a few misunderstandings:

  • You say you know basic calculus and linear algebra, since you have studied microeconomics and macroeconomics. So have I during my Bachelor studies. And working as a biostatistican today, I can tell you that the amount of mathematical details that is covered in the standard introductory lectures in microeconomics and macroeconomics is extremely little compared to what e.g. a student of mathematics studies in the first weeks of an introduction to calculus I. If I was in the PhD committee, I would infer from this that you underestimate the complexity of math required for the program.
  • Wanting to become a "great farmer" is a rather unusual motivation to study such a theoretical branch of biological sciences.
  • Language skills (except for intermediate skills of English) are usually irrelevant.
  • The academic background of your professors is most likely irrelevant. (and analytic philosophy is rather far from computational biology)

There is a shimmer of hope if you can turn your interest and knowledge in discrete mathematics in something more formal. If you would actually be able to publish a paper in a non-predatory mathematical journal, you would have definitely proven your mathematical ability. You asked for honest advice: most likely you will not be able to achieve this, because you lack the formal education. Conducting serious mathematical research is something that very few people can do without several years of formal training and professional supervision. If you are one of the few exceptions, though, I am optimistic, that many PhD programs will happily admit you.

The safer route would be to do a related Bachelor's or Master's program, that provides you with formal skills in mathematics and/or biology. For example, you might have good chances to get admitted to a Master's program in Applied Mathematics or Statistics, where you can further specialize in biological applications.

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    I don't think I will get some better answer than you gave me, so I chose your answer. I am old enough so no problem with what you are saying. Mar 9 at 15:24
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    @OrganHarpsichord that is good to hear. I want to add that I have a B.A. in Sociology, then did a M.Sc. in Statistics after some orientiation time, and today I am at the end of my PhD in Biostatistics. Therefore, I definitely have some sympathy for your situation. I can only encourage you to get some more formal proof of your mathematical skills and then you may be able to successfully apply for some programs.
    – LuckyPal
    Mar 9 at 18:21
  • I have to say again that I am old enough to know that it is a precious chance to have some honest opinions from some strangers, which they might be more objective at evaluating others' situations. So this kind of site has to be appreciated as the good part of academia. Mar 9 at 18:30
  • If I have a chance, I would like to ask you about the career advice from @psithurism who recommended to pursue a post-bacc of the related field. It is a fresh concept to me, and I think it is quite an attractive choice. Can I have your opinion on this? Mar 9 at 18:32
  • @OrganHarpsichord I too am unfamiliar with the concept of post-bacc degrees. I am unsure what the benefit of a post-bacc degree over a 1-year M.Sc. would be. But in general, the approach by psithurism seems similar to my suggestion, to get some kind of formal record of your math/biology skills. Internships could also be very helpful and may provide you with the additional benefit of valuable connections.
    – LuckyPal
    Mar 9 at 19:01
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I too have a social science background and am now in a biological science field. Here is my advice:

  1. Email the graduate coordinator or department head for graduate programs you are interested in, and ask them how best to prepare yourself to apply.
  2. Consider doing a post-bacc degree or filling the gaps in your transcript (eg. statistics, CS, life science classes) with continuing education courses.
  3. Get research experience, ideally in a biological science or CS lab at an academic institution.

Points 2 & 3 will give you letters of recommendation from people in the field and experience doing the work, making you a more competitive applicant. Some programs may allow you to make up the gaps in your transcript after being admitted, but if you do it on your own beforehand you will have more choice for programs, and a more concrete sense of what exactly you want to research in your graduate degree. These programs care less about what inspired your desire to follow this path and more about what experience you have and what, specifically, you want to research. Additionally, doing this work before applying will show that you are committed and that this isn't just a passing fancy, something anyone switching fields needs to demonstrate.

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  • Thank you for sharing your experience that there is always a counterexample like you. I wonder whether if I can understand your point 2 & 3 as applying to MS as others have mentioned?? Mar 9 at 16:46
  • No, a post-bacc is not an MS but a second bachelor's degree or sometimes a lengthy research based continuing education experience that doesn't lead to a degree. It is still undergraduate study, and it is easy to be admitted into such programs having already completed one undergraduate degree. Some MS programs may admit you with what you have, but you will have a much better outcome if you do more undergraduate work first.
    – psithurism
    Mar 9 at 16:50
  • Mainly due to my ignorance, post-bacc is quite an exotic concept for me. Do universities in English speaking countries accept some graduate students from other countries as their candidate for post-bacc course, or would it be better if I pursue them in my own country? Mar 9 at 16:55
  • The programs vary, but any program that accepts international applicants would consider you. Some advertise specifically as "post-bacc" opportunities, but you can also just apply to any undergraduate program and then work toward your BS. This latter route takes 2-3 years on average, but consider that if you are admitted to a grad program it may take that much extra time anyway because you will need to make up for the gaps in your experience by taking classes.
    – psithurism
    Mar 9 at 16:59
  • I'm sure your answer and comments would help many people who visit these sites. No need to say I am the most privileged by your help. So thank you. Mar 9 at 17:02
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First of all, try to get admission in MS for biology. If you can do so then complete the MS. After this many thing will be clear to you.

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  • I chose the latter answer but I liked your answer too. It is a clear answer as what you've mentioned. Thanks. Mar 9 at 15:26
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Your motivation points seem to be a bit all over the place.

The crux of the issue will be funding. You are unlikely to be admitted into a decent PhD program over someone with a lot more fitting background; the situation in academia on the whole is not great already.

Instead, I would try to apply for an industry job. If you want to be a farmer, why not get some hands-on experience in that sector? You may find a startup with close ties to academia and weasel your way in or even end up deciding against it. But either way, you would already be learning new things and, with any luck, doing R&D not terribly different from what you would have in a PhD program and arguably more fitting your background and preferences.

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