Computational biology - sometimes called bioinformatics, especially when it emphasizes engineering over biology - is an emerging discipline that streamlines biological and medical research by applying engineering and computer science to life science problems, like gene analysis. Master's degree programs in this research-heavy field are available but rare both fully online or on-campus. Students studying online should possess basic productivity software.
A master's degree in computational biology can pave the way for employment as a research assistant or other lab support position, but to advance to leading a research team, you'll need to earn a doctorate. Computational biology Ph.D. programs are not offered online.
Master's Degree in Computational Biology
An online master's degree program in computational biology draws from the fields of biology, mathematics, statistics and computer science to model the behavior of DNA and cells at the molecular level. Working with equations and algorithms rather than performing lab experiments, students learn to apply current models and refine or create new ones. Enrollment requires a bachelor's degree in biology, engineering or computer science.
Program Information and Requirements
Students have the option to complete a computational biology degree fully online, in traditional classrooms or through hybrid online and on-campus programs. Course lectures, readings, assignments and other materials are accessible 24 hours a day through the school's website. Group projects and student interaction with instructors are handled via message boards, online chat, video conferencing, e-mail and phone. A master's degree is typically earned in two years.
A personal computer, Internet access, presentation software and basic productivity software are required to take part in an online program. Schools may use educational content management systems, such as Sakai or WebCT.
Master's degree programs are generally organized into core and elective courses. Core courses in a computational biology program emphasize data analysis.
The theory and practice of searching and analyzing biological databases make up the focus areas of this course. Course content gives particular emphasis to searching accessible integrated data sources.
Students learn to apply statistical concepts and methods of statistical analysis to the biological sciences in this course. Experimental design, hypothesis testing, statistical inference and regression models are among the topics covered.
This course examines functional genomics, chromosome organization and gene expression using analysis techniques developed for molecular biology. Other relevant concepts covered include genomic imprinting, DNA methylation, enhancers and silencers.
Students in this course engage in the process of visualizing and analyzing data from microarrays using statistical scripting software. Topics covered in the course include common pattern recognition techniques, data variability, expressed genes and false positives.
An online master's degree program in computational biology prepares graduates for careers as biological research scientists, primarily in research support positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the employment of biological scientists at 101,970 in May 2015. Growth will be driven by the need for scientists qualified to analyze massive and constantly expanding volumes of experimental research data. Payscale.com reports that as of October, 2016, the median salary of research scientists was $76,961.
Continuing Education Information
Graduates of master's degree programs who want to explore the subject more intensively or lead research teams may want to consider earning a doctorate in computational biology. A number of schools offer doctoral programs, but not online.
Online degree programs in computational biology will help students expand their knowledge in biological and medical research by utilizing engineering and computer science. The degree can help graduates secure a position in research, science or lab work.