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How to Become a Research and Development Biostatistician

Research the requirements to become a research and development biostatistician. Learn about the job description and explore the step-by-step process to start a career in research and development biostatistics. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a R&D…
  • 1:28 Step 1: Earn a Math Degree
  • 2:11 Step 2: Complete a…
  • 2:52 Step 3: Land an…
  • 4:14 Step 4: Consider a…

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Research and Development Biostatistician?

Degree Level Master's, Ph.D. preferred
Degree Field(s) Math and statistics
Key Skills Critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills; mathematical reasoning and medical knowledge; understanding of statistical analysis and database software including specialized database programs for clinical trial data
Salary $77,860 (2016 median for biostatisticians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, PayScale.com

Research and development biostatisticians may participate in basic scientific research, applied research, and product development. They develop and apply statistical techniques to analyze data produced through public health and medical research. Biostatisticians may be employed by research foundations, corporations, academic institutions, or government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health or the Food and Drug Administration. Research and development biostatisticians often work in teams with other research professionals. Generally, biostatisticians of all types work on a full-time basis with relatively consistent schedules. There is little physical risk or demand associated with this career, but mental demand is high. These professionals should have critical thinking, problem-solving, and mathematical reasoning skills, as well as medical knowledge. They should also have an understanding of statistical analysis and database software, including specialized database programs for clinical trial data. Salary potential for biostatisticians varies greatly by industry, but the median overall salary for all biostatisticians was $77,860 in January 2016, according to Payscale.com. Is your interest in this career piqued? Let's take a look at the steps you can take to become a research and development biostatistician.

Step 1: Earn a Math Degree

The first step to a career as a biostatistician is to earn a bachelor's degree. These professionals generally hold bachelor's degrees in statistics or math to fulfill the admission requirement for a graduate degree in one of these fields. Students who do not major in these fields must still complete advanced math and statistics courses to be accepted into such graduate programs. Suggested statistics classes include probability theory, regression analysis, and experimental design.

During undergrad, it may be wise to choose electives in biostatistics. Such coursework may include biostatistics, statistical mathematics, data mining, stochastic processes and applied survival analysis.

Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree Program

Most biostatistics jobs require a master's degree or higher. In fact, O*Net Online reports that 44% of biostatisticians held a master's degree, as of 2016. Master's degree programs typically take two years to complete, and they usually culminate in a thesis or written exam.

Biostatistics master's degree students may learn to analyze various types of data, including longitudinal, survival, and categorical data. They may also study statistical methods like regression analysis and analysis of variance. Other typical course topics include epidemiology, probability and statistical computing.

Step 3: Land an Entry-level Job

After earning a master's degree, biostatisticians may go on to obtain entry-level employment in the field. Common biostatistician employers include universities, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. Keep in mind that many research and development biostatisticians cater their entry-level employment to a biostatistics specialty, such as agriculture, epidemiology, public health, environmental science, and medical research. The American Statistical Association asserts that career prospects for biostatisticians with graduate degrees are excellent. After all, these professionals apply their knowledge to a wide array of industries. For example, in pharmaceuticals, some biostatisticians help create experimental designs for pharmaceuticals while others write drug safety research reports that inform regulatory agencies. Across all industries, the job outlook is very strong in the coming years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 34% job demand increase for all types of statisticians from 2014 to 2024. The strongest job prospects are expected to be in internet data research, business data analysis, and pharmaceutical development, in which biostatisticians are needed to research and test products to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Step 4: Consider a Doctoral Degree

According O*Net Online, 40% of biostatisticians hold a doctorate. This degree may lead to greater job opportunities as well as career advancement into a senior biostatistician role. Senior research biostatisticians usually work for the government, corporations and research foundations, as well as in tenure-track positions at major research universities. Some students with strong backgrounds in advanced mathematics and statistics may enter biostatistics Ph.D. programs immediately after earning their undergraduate degrees. Other students earn their master's degrees or gain work experience (or do both) before pursuing their doctoral degrees in order to advance their careers.

Here's one last tip for success: choose an appropriate dissertation topic. Statistics doctoral candidates must complete an original research dissertation concerning statistical methodology development. Students should be able to meet with a dissertation director before choosing an approach.

Research and development biostatisticians generally need a bachelor's and master's degree in math or statistics to gain entry-level employment in the field and a doctoral degree may lead to career advancement.

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