Overview of Quantitative Biology Bachelor's Degree Programs
Quantitative biology programs allow students with an interest in biology to learn to apply computer science and statistics techniques to the study of cells, molecules and organisms. Recent advancements in the field of biology have shaped the coursework for these programs to emphasize modern, data-driven research and analysis. Programs are typically interdisciplinary in nature and are offered at select institutions across the nation. Read on to learn about the admission requirements for these programs, how to choose a program, and career and salary information for a degree in this field.
Admission Requirements for Quantitative Biology Programs
Some quantitative biology programs accept students like any traditional major, adhering to the admission procedure set by the university. This might include submitting high school or GED program transcripts, standardized test scores and an application. Other programs only accept students after they have completed one or two years of prerequisite math and science coursework. For these programs, a meeting with the program's admission committee or an advisor is commonly required. As quantitative biology programs tend to be competitive, a strong academic record in the prerequisite areas will be advantageous.
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Quantitative Biology Program Coursework
Quantitative biology is the application of math and computer science to biology concepts. Coursework therefore begins with introductory sequences in each of these areas. Later, more advanced coursework combines the foundational concepts and discusses specific topics and practices, often culminating in a capstone research experience. Below are some courses you might see.
Mathematical Methods and Modeling in Biology
This introduction to quantitative biology uses knowledge gained from prerequisite math courses like algebra and calculus to explore fundamental phenomena in biology. Specific applications might include biomechanics, neural networks and systems of biological reactions. Students will learn to apply different types of differential equations to model these phenomena in a computer lab accompanying lecture sessions.
Introduction to Algorithms and Programming
In order to progress into advanced topics in biology, computer programming abilities are crucial. Different quantitative biology programs use different primary languages such as R or C++. Whichever software is used, this course will cover basic data types, control functions, data structures, file management and memory. It is also an introduction to various types of algorithms and how to analyze them.
Computational and Genomic Approaches to Molecular Biology
The study of molecular systems is one of the more well-developed applications of computer technology within biology. This course includes an exploration of the structure and function of the human genome as well as methods for detecting and mapping genomic features. It may focus on specific technologies such as sequencing, gene expression analysis and prediction, and the use of high-throughput machinery.
There are many identified biological systems, ranging from the molecular level through to entire organisms and even ecosystems. Some examples at the molecular level are gene regulating networks, metabolic networks, and cell signaling pathways. This course applies computational and informatics methods to simulate and analyze these systems. Topics include sensitivity analysis, stability analysis and modeling with differential equations.
Research Topics in Quantitative Biology
Students majoring in quantitative biology are expected to undertake research within the laboratory of a faculty member of their choice. This may be a requirement outside of the course curriculum, or it may occur in conjunction with a seminar-style course. If it is the latter, the course will teach students to think critically about the work they are doing, prepare reports and present their findings on an on-going basis. This course teaches real-world skills important for any scientific career, from creating research proposals to analyzing data.
How to Choose a Quantitative Biology Program
Because independent research is an essential component of these programs, knowing the areas of faculty research might help you decide. You could identify one or a couple areas that particularly interest you, and perhaps begin engaging with the faculty during the admission process.
In addition, you may want to look at how flexible each program is and choose a program most suited to your needs and career goals. Some programs have a rigid course structure that will provide a well-honed education in topics they have identified as most important, and some will be more flexible, allowing students to tailor to their personal interests. For example, a flexible program might allow a computer science or other related major to concentrate in quantitative biology.
Career Options for a Degree in Quantitative Biology
A degree in quantitative biology would be an asset in many graduate programs and industries. One option is to become a biostatistician, for which Payscale.com reported a median annual salary of $75,137 in 2017. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job prospects for all mathematicians and statisticians, including biostatisticians, are projected to grow by 33% from 2016-2026. Below are other careers you could consider with this degree.