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Bioinformatician: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Bioinformaticians require significant formal education. Learn about the degrees, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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A bioinformatician combines research in biology, medicine, and health-related studies with information technology in order to collect and interpret data covering a range of fields, such as genetics or pharmaceutics. Typical job titles that are relevant to bioinformaticians can include biostaticians, biochemists, computational biologists, or biophysicists. Each of these professions typically requires a Ph.D., and in some cases a medical degree is also mandatory.

Essential Information

Bioinformaticians apply information technology to biological, medical, and health research. They use computational tools to gather and analyze data in fields such as population, biology, genetics, and pharmaceutical development. Careers related to bioinformaticians include biochemists, biophysicists, and medical scientists. A Ph.D. is usually required of these medical professionals. Those interested in this career path should be prepared to undertake a significant period of formal education and research.

Careers Biochemists and Biophysicists Medical Scientists
Required Education A Ph.D. is typically required A Ph.D. is typically required; many of these professionals also have a medical degree
Other Requirements Most undertake temporary research positions upon receiving their Ph.D. Being licensed as a physician is necessary if administering healthcare to patients
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 8%* 8% (except epidemiologists)*
Median Salary (2015) $82,150* $82,240*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for a Bioinformatician

Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary approach using data collection and modeling to analyze biological data. Bioinformaticians create mathematical models, develop dynamic simulations, and perform pattern analyses of biological systems. They are also known as biostatisticians, biometricians, and computational biologists.

Bioinformaticians work within different medical science and health fields, including biology, genetics, proteomics, and pharmaceuticals. Some professionals come from a biomedical research background while others specialize in computational tools.

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Duties of a Bioinformatician

Bioinformaticians develop systems to gather data. Examples include constructing a survey methodology, designing a clinical trial for a new medication, and programming a statistical model for population growth. They also develop databases to compile vast amounts of information from activities such as gene expression profiling and protein expression.

A key aspect of bioinformatics is the creation of data algorithms and specialized computer software to identify and classify components of a biological system, such as DNA and protein sequences. They consult with other scientists and researchers to analyze data sets.

Bioinformaticians in leadership positions oversee other scientists and laboratory technicians, maintain laboratory documents and keep current with relevant scientific or medical journals. They may perform fundraising activities such as attending events and writing grant proposals.

Requirements to Become a Bioinformatician

Some entry-level laboratory technician positions only require a bachelor's degree. Academic posts, research positions, and development jobs generally require the completion of a doctoral degree program.

Common undergraduate programs include biology, physics, chemistry, and statistics. Relevant coursework includes computer science, mathematical modeling, and probability theory.

Students typically specialize at the graduate level. Relevant programs, which can combine classroom education with research work, include bioinformatics, genetics, and pharmacology. Doctoral degree programs last five to six years, and students can attend a postdoctoral research fellowship to gain experience prior to pursuing permanent positions.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) does not provide information specific to bioinformaticians, it does publish data pertinent to both biochemists/biophysicists and medical scientists. The BLS predicts that the employment of biochemists and biophysicists will likely grow by about 8% between 2014 and 2024, and job opportunities for medical scientists, with the exception of epidemiologists, will also grow by about 8% during the same time frame. Biochemists and biophysicists earned a median of $82,150 a year in May 2015, according to the BLS; the same source indicated that medical scientists earned a median of $82,240 a year.

Sometimes a bachelor's degree is sufficient for entry-level work in this industry; however, most bioinformaticians go on to complete graduate studies where they can choose a specialization in a field such as pharmacology, bioinformatics, or genetics. Because they rely on computational data, bioinformaticians need to understand specialized software and how to create and interpret data algorithms. More advanced positions in this field may provide bioinformaticians with the opportunity to contribute to medical or scientific journals.

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