Both master's degree programs and graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics are relatively common in online formats. In general, students learn how to use computer technology to process and interpret biological information. Research and advanced computational techniques are key components of both programs. These programs require that applicants have bachelor's degrees and some specific coursework may be required.
Master of Science (M.S.) in Bioinformatics
The online M.S. was designed for students working full-time. New college graduates could enroll in this type of program, and so could experienced scientists with Ph.D.s whose research now requires bioinformatics expertise. While some students may work in the biotechnology field, others pursue careers in public health and medicine.
Program Information and Requirements
A prerequisite for a bioinformatics master's program is a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Some schools require that the degree be in a field-related major, such as biology or engineering. A master's program can be fully completed online; reliable Internet access is necessary. Students may interact online with the instructor and fellow classmates through e-mail, message board discussions and chat room sessions. Course content can be distributed in a variety of ways, including downloadable text files, PowerPoint presentations and streaming video clips.
Applying computer technology to chemistry in multiple ways, the course may cover the retrieval, analysis, organization and visualization of chemical information. Instructors may review chemical structure representation, graph theory, ring perception, structural fingerprints, symmetry perception, QSAR historical approaches and simulated annealing.
This course teaches principles and applications of modern molecular modeling methods. Students learn how to interpret a biopolymer structure using modeling tools and algorithms. Specific topics include protein structure modeling, structure-based drug design, binding prediction and chemoinformatics.
Protein Structure Bioinformatics
A protein molecule is a long string of amino acid molecules, folded in upon itself; interactions between the various amino acids determine the shape into which the protein folds and its action within the body. In a bioinformatics course, students learn to predict the eventual shape, or structure, of a protein and to search databases of protein sequences.
Certificate in Bioinformatics
The graduate certificate program often incorporates several of the same courses offered in a school's bioinformatics Master of Science program. Students may opt for the certificate if their careers do not require the formal degree, or if they are seeking education to supplement training needs for their current employment or research.
Program Information and Requirements
Students must already have a bachelor's degree and have successfully completed several undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, engineering or computer science prior to acceptance. Like the master's program, the certificate can be earned entirely online, so students need access to a computer with an Internet connection. Some schools may permit credits to be applied toward a master's degree in bioinformatics, should the student decide to pursue one after completing the certificate program.
Concentrating primarily on the background and execution of methods for machine learning and data mining, students gain a mix of theoretical education and practical skills. Focus is given to methods for analyzing protein function prediction, gene expression data from genome comparisons and microarray experiments.
Statistical analysis gets applied to biological experiences and observations in this branch of biology. A biostatistics course teaches basic algorithms and statistical analysis theory. Topics include multivariate analysis, longitudinal data analysis and theory of distributions in statistics.
This class provides a general overview of critical ethical and legal issues within the biotechnology industry. Coursework may include the differences between ethics and law when considering issues in marketing, research methods, ethical analysis and other related issues. Key topics include animal welfare law and intellectual property protection.
As of 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) did not report specifically on bioinformatics specialists, though it does profile other relevant careers. Employment for biochemists and biophysicists as a group is projected to grow 8% from 2014 to 2024, which is average. During the same decade, the BLS projected job growth of 8% for medical scientists as well. As of 2015, biochemists and biophysicists had median salaries of $82,150, while medical scientists earned a median of $82,240 per year.
Deciding whether to pursue a graduate certificate in bioinformatics or a full master's degrees is a personal choice that an individual will have to make depending on their time availability, their career prospects, and their interests. After completing one of these programs, students will be prepared for work as biochemists, biophysicists, medical scientists, and more.