You don't have to choose between a career in biology and one in computer science: the field of bioinformatics combines them both! Bioinformatics specialists can find jobs working in biological research, pharmaceuticals, and medical technology, among other fields. A bachelor's degree is needed for lower-level positions but most senior jobs require a graduate degree.
In the field of bioinformatics, biology, information technology and computer science meet to facilitate research and discovery. A bioinformatics specialist uses computer programming and software development to design large, complex databases for biological information, such as the human genome. Many years of advanced study are typically required to become a bioinformatics specialist, although some lower-level positions may be open to those with only bachelor's degrees. Common fields of study for aspiring bioinformatics specialists include bioinformatics, computer biology, computer science and engineering.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree at minimum; graduate degree recommended|
|Project Job Growth (2018-2028)*||6% (for biological scientists, all other)|
|Median Salary (2018)*||$79,590 per year (for biological scientists, all other)|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Salary Information for Bioinformatics Specialists
Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not collect specific wage data on bioinformatics specialists, they are grouped within the category of other biological scientists. According to this BLS data, the median earnings for these scientists were $79,590 per year as of 2018 (www.bls.gov). According to PayScale.com, however, the median salary for biotechnology research scientists with bioinformatics knowledge was much higher: $83,306 per year as of September 2019.
Bioinformatics specialists are computer and data specialists who work within biotechnology and other biological research areas. They collect, store, analyze, and present complex biological data that can include DNA and genome information, protein sequencing and pathways. According to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), other areas bioinformatics specialists can work in include pharmaceuticals, computer information science, and medical technology (www.onetonline.org).
The bioinformatics specialist must be well versed in computer science and programming in addition to biological science. The day-to-day duties of bioinformatics specialists can include:
- Designing and manipulating complex databases
- Creating web-based analytical tools and algorithms
- Developing new software for project and research needs
Extensive formal education is required to become a bioinformatics specialist. According to the BLS, an undergraduate major in biology is an important first step, with courses taken in computer science in addition to the life sciences and advanced mathematics (www.bls.gov).
One or more advanced degrees are also usually required. Several universities offer a Master of Science or a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics or Computational Biology, degrees which prepare the would-be specialist well. A graduate degree in computer science or engineering is also applicable. These programs can take two to five years of study to complete.
According to the BLS, employment prospects for these specialists will be competitive. The employment of all other biological scientists is projected to decrease 0.4% in 2014-2024. Those with a doctoral degree should have good job prospects for non-academic positions.
There are many career options available to a trained bioinformatics specialist, ranging from medical research to database management or software development. It's advisable to pursue a graduate degree in order to qualify for the best jobs in this highly competitive sector. Compensation is generally very good for those who find work in bioinformatics.