Training for Careers in Biostatistics
What type of work does a biostatistician perform?A biostatistician is a degreed statistician with additional education in the biological sciences which provides an understanding of the special needs in the science of healthcare. As medical research initiatives, healthcare services, and pharmaceutical industries have continued to expand, the need for biostatisticians has increased. Increasingly, computer software and statistical methods are being used to evaluate all types of healthcare data, to design and analyze clinical study data, and to evaluate the effectiveness of new pharmaceutical products.
Traditional and new biostatistical methods are used to identify the effectiveness and safety of stem cell transplants. With the continual creation of new methods for evaluating and interpreting data, you need to be able to approach project analysis in a creative, but logical and analytical, manner. It is important to note that, as a biostatistician, you will need to be able to work as a member of a research team because you will frequently be asked to work with a wide variety of professionals in technical, clinical, marketing, developmental design, and executive departments. Oftentimes, professional clinical researchers do not understand the complexities of sound statistical analysis and, as a biostatistician, it might be frustrating to assist in the re-organization of data that was collected incorrectly. This can add to the multi-dimensional nature of the job, but it does require exceptional written and verbal communication skills using both technical and business terminology. Finally, it is common for an experienced biostatistician to be asked to meet demanding deadlines with very little supervision. In spite of the demands, however, this career path can provide endless rewards as you turn raw data into statistics that can be utilized to solve a wide variety of healthcare questions.
What degrees are needed to become a biostatistician?
Most biostatistics jobs begin with a general degree in statistics. Some training programs through colleges and universities offer an undergraduate biostatistics track for students who are interested in applying their knowledge and skills to the biological sciences. As the need to apply statistical methods in the health sciences has grown, specialized advanced degree programs in biostatistics have become more prevalent in a field that is still relatively new. If you already have an undergraduate degree in statistics, mathematics, engineering, or computer science, you will be well-prepared for a graduate degree in biostatistics. All graduate programs require you to have a good foundation in mathematics.
Some universities offer Master of Science (MS) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in biostatistics. At this level, your curriculum will include courses on probability, advanced mathematical statistics, experimental treatment design, survival data analysis, and statistical analysis software. An MS degree would require a minimum of 30-36 hours of course work, depending on the program at your chosen graduate school. A PhD will require 4-6 semesters plus 2-4 additional semesters to complete your dissertation. These higher degrees will provide course work that is rich in research design, methods, and theory. If you are interested in working in public health organizations or universities, an advanced degree would be required.