Graduate Certificates and Degrees in Bioinformatics: Program Info

Learn about master's and Ph.D. degrees as well as graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics. Get information on prerequisites, courses and career opportunities in this field.

Essential Information

The field of bioinformatics uses techniques from computer science, engineering, statistics, math and other sciences to process the large amount of data generated by biological research. Students interested in learning about bioinformatics may enroll in a master's or Ph.D. degree or a graduate certificate program. Admission to these programs requires at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant field.

Graduate certificate programs usually consist of about five courses that teach students to understand and interpret data from research projects. A master's degree program teaches students to conduct experiments and research studies in biology. An internship may substitute for a thesis.

In a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program, students conduct research and work on a dissertation. Participation in a seminar program may be required, and students may have to pass comprehensive oral and written exams.

Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics

Graduate certificate programs train students in the various methods used to make sense of the massive number of data points from biological research projects like the Human Genome Project. Students learn about topics in computational biology and bioinformatics. The aim of the program is to help student understand how to use various methods to isolate key results from a large database of experimental data and create models of complicated biological systems. An institution may offer a certificate in bioinformatics technology or bioinformatics applications. Applicants need a bachelor's in computer science, biology or a related discipline. A background in computer programming, statistics, calculus and biology is beneficial.

Program Coursework

Certificate programs generally consist of five courses. Possible courses include:

  • Computational biology
  • Molecular biotechnology
  • Gene expression
  • Genomics
  • Bioinformatics methods

Popular Career Options

Graduate certificates in bioinformatics are good preparation for future studies at graduate school in bioinformatics, life sciences and genomic medicine. Generally, programs are geared toward individuals who need to update their skills or learn new ones. Individuals who may be interested in taking a graduate certificate in bioinformatics include:

  • Healthcare professionals
  • Biologists
  • Computer scientists
  • Professionals in bioinformatic field

Master of Science in Bioinformatics

Master's programs in bioinformatics, often called professional programs, focus on giving students the tools and experimental methodology to solve complicated biological questions. Students may receive instruction in online database development, molecular modeling and data analysis (genomics). Students generally complete an internship instead of a thesis, although some programs offer a thesis option.

Education Prerequisites

Students must apply to graduate school. This involves filling out an application, as well as providing the school with letters of recommendations, transcripts and GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores. Applicants ideally have a bachelor's in nursing, engineering, computer science, biological science, pharmacy or chemistry.

A prospective school may require applicants to supply the bioinformatics department directly with a completed application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, GRE scores and statement of professional goals. A department may require applicants to have a background in statistics, computer science, math, chemistry and biology and knowledge of C, PERL, probability, cell biology, biochemistry and physical chemistry.

Program Coursework

Students are required to complete core courses and attend seminars. Most programs include an internship with an institution (governmental, industrial or educational) that employs professionals in bioinformatics. Courses may include:

  • Biological research
  • Biochemistry
  • Database management
  • Data structures
  • Computational biology

Popular Career Options

Graduates with a master's degree in bioinformatics may find research opportunities in governmental or pharmaceutical laboratories, as well as in academia. Career opportunities can include:

  • Bioinformatics analyst
  • Bioinformatics programmer
  • Medical researcher

Doctorate of Philosophy in Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics at the doctorate level involves conducting research. Doctoral programs require students to develop an original research proposal, complete the research, write a dissertation on their findings and defend their results through an oral exam. Students may be required to take part in a seminar program.

Educational Prerequisites

Most programs allow students with a bachelor's degree to apply for admission to a Ph.D. program in bioinformatics. Acceptable disciplines include bioengineering, computer science, biology, engineering or chemistry. Students applying to the post-bachelor's program take more credits (generally 64) than do students who apply after a master's program (32 credits).

Prospective students must apply to graduate school and submit their GPA (Grade Point Average), letters of recommendation, purpose statement, CV (curriculum vitae) and GRE scores. Applicants should have completed coursework in genetics, statistics, C++, linear algebra and calculus. A program may require applicants to take core courses then pass a qualifying exam (oral and written) before being granted Ph.D. candidacy.

Program Coursework

Programs usually have required courses in bioinformatics and electives in areas like chemistry, analysis and math. Core areas of study may include molecular biology, informatics, computing, bioinformatics, statistics and probability. Possible courses may include:

  • Parallel computing
  • Applied statistics
  • Basic bio lab in bioinformatics
  • Gene structure
  • Mathematical modeling
  • Molecular physical chemistry

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Employment for bioinformatics scientists was anticipate to increase approximately 3%-9% from 2010-2020, which is slower than the average for all occupations, according to O*Net ( Bioinformatics scientists may work for the government or in education. The success of the Human Genome Project has led to pharmaceutical companies increasing their research activities and thereby, increasing the need for more bioinformatics professionals. O*Net reported the median annual wage for a bioinformatics scientist was $72,700 as of 2012.

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