M.S. Vs PhD in Bioinformatics

Apr 02, 2019

Students interested in working in biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry, academia, and more may consider earning an M.S. or PhD in Bioinformatics. Find out how to apply and what is required to graduate from each degree program.

Master's and doctoral degree programs in bioinformatics are interdisciplinary programs that train students in the fields of biology, medicine, engineering, chemistry, computer science, and statistics. These programs are both typically research-based and provide hands-on training, but vary in length, coursework, and other factors. Compare and contrast bioinformatics graduate programs at the different levels.

Bioinformatics M.S. vs. PhD

Master of Science in Bioinformatics

Master of Science (M.S.) in Bioinformatics degree programs may range from about 30 to 37 credits for completion and may be finished in as little as 3 semesters. Most of these programs provide hands-on learning experience through required internship or co-op experiences, but some programs may offer a thesis track or a non-thesis track, which requires an internship in place of the thesis. Although rare, some of these programs may be available in online formats, but are typically on-campus programs due to the research- and laboratory-based nature of the program. Students usually take core courses in areas such as computational methods, programming, genomics, statistics, bioinformatics, and ethics, as well as a range of electives that may include topics in biochemistry, computer science, biomedical engineering, computational biology, and mathematics. Graduates with this degree can work as scientists and researchers in the life sciences, the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology, and more.

Doctor of Philosophy in Bioinformatics

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Bioinformatics degree programs may range from about 60 to 108 credits for completion, are available only on campus, and may take around 5 years to finish. Students pursuing this degree typically need to complete and pass a qualifying, preliminary, and/or final oral exam and complete an original dissertation in an area of interest. Possible research areas may include, but are not limited to, subjects like cancer genomics, software development, synthetic biology, microbial genomics, drug development, and big data. Coursework for these degree programs may include core courses in areas such as database systems, ethics, computational biology, computational genomics, bioinformatics, computer science, and mathematics, as well as seminars, electives, and/or courses for a required minor. Graduates of this doctoral program are prepared to work careers in the life sciences, industry, or academia.

Common Entrance Requirements

Applicants to either the M.S. or PhD in Bioinformatics usually need to hold a bachelor's degree in biology, another physical science, engineering, mathematics, or computer science. Typically, students will need to meet a minimum GPA requirement, which may range from a 3.0 to 3.2, depending on the institution. Also depending on the program, GRE scores may be required, optional or not needed at all, but most doctoral programs do require the exam and may have specific scores or thresholds that need to be met. Some programs may also require specific prerequisite coursework in subjects like computer science, programming, genetics, and biostatistics. Common application materials for both the master's and doctoral programs include transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and/or a resume.

PhD programs in bioinformatics usually take longer to complete, require more coursework, and allow students to focus their studies and research in more specific areas than the M.S. program in the field. However, both programs may require a final paper and usually provide students with hands-on research and lab experience.

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