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Biostatistics Degree and Certificate Program Overviews

Biostatistics is a sub-field of statistics that focuses on the mathematical analysis of data from public health or life science studies. Graduate degrees and certificates are offered in biostatistics.

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Essential Information

Students in a biostatistics program learn to analyze data that may be used to improve clinical services; specific topics may include analyzing data from a drug trial or monitoring rates of disease in populations. These programs are offered at the master's, Ph.D., and certificate level. Some schools also offer Ph.D. degree programs and graduate certificate programs in biostatistics that are aimed at medical or science professionals. Students in such programs are trained to become scientists, nurses, professors and biostatisticians.

All programs require strong undergraduate background in mathematics and statistics; Master's programs require a bachelor's degree in a related field and GRE scores, while doctoral programs require a bachelor's or master's degree in a related field, GRE scores, and sometimes a high GPA in related subjects. For a graduate certificate program, individuals should have already completed a bachelor's degree and prerequisite coursework to gain admittance.


Master's Degrees in Biostatistics

Biostatistics combines the acquisition of medical and public health data with statistical analysis. Students interested in earning a pre-professional degree or in eventually pursuing doctoral research may wish to complete a Master of Science (M.S.) in Biostatistics. Most full-time programs are 1-2 years long and require students to complete a research project, thesis or practicum. Students who wish to focus on the practical applications of statistics to public health data or who plan to pursue doctoral degrees in public health can pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Biostatistics. These programs typically focus on the broader and more practical applications of statistics within public health. MPH programs also involve more work in epidemiology.

A typical M.S. degree program tends to emphasize math classes, whereas an MPH covers a broader range of epidemiology and public health topics. However, both the M.S. and MPH programs in biostatistics offer similar core coursework in statistical analysis and data management, often including studies of these topics:

  • Probability theory
  • Statistical computing
  • Linear models and regressions
  • Survival analysis
  • Statistical inference

Ph.D. in Biostatistics

In order to start a career in advanced research or teaching in biostatistics, an individual generally needs a doctoral degree. The average length of these Ph.D. programs is 4-5 years. Students spend their first couple of years studying increasingly advanced course topics in statistical analysis as it relates to life science. In order to complete their degree, students must research a topic of their choosing under the advisement of a faculty member and complete a dissertation. Many students complete a master's degree while working towards completing their Ph.D. Students take advanced courses in mathematical models of data, as well as choosing elective courses in the life sciences. Common topics explored include these:

  • Statistical inference
  • Bioinformatics
  • Population biology
  • Clinical trials
  • Bayesian analysis

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Graduate Certificate Options in Biostatistics

Students or professionals that work in a related field, such as pharmaceutical research, biological research or public health, may wish to learn biostatistics in order to expand their skill set and increase employment opportunities. Many schools offer a post-baccalaureate or graduate certificate program in biostatistics. These certificate programs can typically be completed in one year of full-time study, and they cover the basics of data analysis as it relates to life science research or medicine.

Courses generally start with an overview of the relationship of statistics to the data from clinical trials or biological science research. Since this type of program is aimed towards graduate students and professionals with previous professional background in research or medicine, courses increase in complexity rapidly and may include the following topics:

  • SAS programming
  • Linear regressions
  • Epidemiology
  • Survival analysis
  • Covariance analysis

Possible Career Options

Most careers in biostatistics require applicants to earn a 1- or 2-year master's degree or a higher credential. Many industries employ graduates with Ph.D.s in biostatistics. Government agencies, private research companies and medical schools are among the common employers of such individuals. Some popular career options include:

  • Professor of biostatistics
  • Senior pharmaceutical biostatistician
  • Principle clinical biostatistician

Those who complete this certificate program learn concepts of statistical analysis and explore how to accurately depict trends in data. They also explore the techniques used in advanced statistical software programming. The following professionals may benefit from the knowledge acquired through a certificate in biostatistics:

  • Nurse
  • Supervisor for clinical trials
  • Biological scientist

Employment Outlook Salary Info

While information wasn't available for statisticians employed specifically in biostatistics, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), reported that employment of statisticians in general is predicted to increase 34% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS stated in 2015 that these workers earned $80,110 as a median annual wage.

The field of biostatistics is quite varied, both from an educational and career standpoint. Depending on the degree that a student achieves, they are able to then pursue careers as professors, scientists, epidemiologists, and many others.

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