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Biostatistics Master's Vs. PhD

May 29, 2019

Biostatistics programs are available at the master's and doctoral levels and include coursework in statistics, public health, and more. Explore some of the subtle differences between the degree levels in the field and how to apply.

Graduate degree programs in biostatistics are fairly similar at the master's and doctoral levels, but do vary in length, some graduation requirements, and career outcomes. Compare and contrast some of the similarities and differences between a master's degree and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Biostatistics below.

Comparing a Master's to a PhD in Biostatistics

Master's in Biostatistics

Master's degree programs in biostatistics are typically offered as Master of Science (MS) degrees, and some of these programs are science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) designated programs. These programs can usually be completed in 2 years, may require around 36 to 46 credits, and typically require a final thesis, although some programs may accept a final research paper or project. Some programs may also provide additional hands-on training experiences through statistical consulting practica, internship, and/or teaching responsibilities. Students pursuing the degree may take courses that discuss topics in epidemiology, regression, biostatistical consulting, statistical theory, data analysis, and data management. Potential careers for graduates with their master's in biostatistics include working as statisticians and/or researchers for the government, healthcare organizations, and universities with specific job titles like biostatistician, data analyst, and actuarial analyst.

PhD in Biostatistics

PhD in Biostatistics degree programs can usually be completed in 4 to 5 years, may require around 72 credits, and usually require students to complete comprehensive exams and a dissertation. Many of these programs also require students to fulfill teaching responsibilities and/or complete a biostatistical consulting practicum for real-world experience. These programs are often interdisciplinary in nature and may provide unique learning experiences with other departments or areas, such as working in collaborative research teams in the health sciences or pursuing specialized study in areas like statistical genetics. Coursework for the PhD program is highly customizable to meet students' career goals and interests, but may include topics in public health, epidemiology, clinical trials, survival analysis, nonparametrics, and research methods. Graduates at the doctoral level can pursue similar, but more advanced positions than students with the MS and may have specific job titles like senior research investigator, senior biostatistician, assistant professor, or biostatistics manager.

Common Entrance Requirements

Admission to an MS or PhD in Biostatistics program typically requires at least a bachelor's degree, but some doctoral programs may require a master's degree and some programs at either level may require or recommend students meet a minimum GPA requirement. Students are usually required to have prior coursework in subjects such as statistics, probability, calculus, linear algebra, and/or biology. Most of these programs also require students to take the GRE, but some programs may waive the exam if students meet specific criteria, such as holding a graduate degree in an area like statistics, applied math, or biostatistics. Other common application materials for the master's or doctoral program include transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, and/or a statement of purpose.

Students can typically pursue an MS or PhD in Biostatistics and receive hands-on research, consulting, and/or teaching experience throughout the program. The PhD program usually takes twice as long or longer than the master's program and requires a dissertation in place of a thesis.


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