How to Choose a Bioinformatics Degree

This article will describe what the field of bioinformatics is, the degree options that you have in this growing field, job opportunities and also important information about specific bioinformatics degree programs. Last, we will discuss which types of accreditation you should look for as you evaluate degree programs.

What Is a Bioinformatics Degree?

A degree in bioinformatics focuses on how computer technology can be applied to managing biological data. Bioinformatics uses modern computer technology to process, store, analyze, manage and retrieve huge amounts of genomic and biologic data. When this is applied to people, bioinformatics is usually used to support drug discovery at the genetic level.

A typical bioinformatics degree in the US is a master’s degree that brings together biosciences, bioinformatics and computer science. These programs will typically immerse the student in the following advanced topics:

  • Computer modeling
  • Molecular biology
  • Systems biology
  • Structural biology
  • Genomic sequencing
  • Microarrays
  • Microarray analysis

With a master’s degree in bioinformatics, you will have the educational background to successfully analyze biological information that is very complex, and to perform complex analysis of sequence data with modern bioinformatics software.

Why Earn a Degree in Bioinformatics?

A bioinformatics degree is for people who have a passion for advanced science and to manage, process and analyze genomic and molecular information to advanced medical science. Bioinformaticists spend their careers building and maintaining databases to contain this type of complex information, and they also create and select algorithms to process the data and to interpret it.

Many scientists in bioinformatics will use advanced data mining technologies and also statistical software. Further, they often use computer programming skills at a high level to improve software package capabilities.

Many professionals who earn their bioinformatics master’s degree will eventually work as a medical scientist in many different public and private sector organizations. Medical scientists spend their careers doing complex research to improve human health. They will often use clinical trials and advanced bioinformatics methods to reach their conclusions.

If you want to earn your degree in this advanced field, it is very helpful to have a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or some type of related science. You also will benefit by having a good background in life science, physical science and mathematics.

You also will need to have courses in your pass that have strongly developed your writing and communication skills; as you will need to be able to write effectively when conducting research.

Job Outlook Bright

Medical scientists with a bioinformatics background should be able to find good employment in the years to come; the Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS reports that job demand in this field will grow by almost 10% by 2024.

Because there is a growing elderly population and higher rates of chronic medical conditions and more reliance on pharmaceuticals to extend life, we think that there will be steady increasing demand in this field. The majority of professionals in bioinformatics will work for pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing companies.

There will be more of a need in coming years for advanced research related to AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and other serious diseases that affect particularly the older populations of America. Also, more density of population and more international travel could cause there to be a faster spread of serious diseases across the globe.

Pay Is Excellent

BLS reports that the median salary for all medical scientists is $82,000 as of May 2015. It is thought that the top 10% earn over $155,000 per year. Pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing professionals tend to earn the highest salaries, at $108,000.

Online Master’s in Bioinformatics Degree Options

For ambitious professionals who have a science background and want to do potentially groundbreaking work in medical science and bioinformatics, we recommend these following online master’s programs:

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University offers an online Master of Science in Bioinformatics that will provide you with a high degree of expertise in computational modeling, molecular biology, structural biology, systems biology and genetic sequencing.

This program can be taken on campus in Baltimore or Rockville MD, but you also may take all of your classes online.

This renowned bioinformatics degree program covers all of the theoretical aspects of the field but also the more practical sides of bioinformatics. It also is taught by expert Hopkins faculty who are very active themselves in developing these new technologies in the real world.

Your required courses, which may be completed in two or three years are:

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Advanced Cell Biology I and II
  • Biotechnology
  • Bioethics
  • Creating a Biotechnology Enterprise
  • Research Ethics
  • Economic Dynamics of Change in Biotechnology
  • Legal Aspects of Biotechnology
  • Bio-Organic Chemistry
  • Foundations in Bioscience

This program features a Center for Biotechnology Education that is designed to build a more knowledgeable workforce that you will be able to participate in and learn from in your time at the university. Some of the aspects of this Center are:

  • International Partnerships – Ongoing, close partnerships with Peking University where students and faculty may participate in lectures via video conferencing
  • Montgomery County, MD Campus Laboratory – The Center has a state of the art lab and works with both public and private entities to offer students the chance to boost their bioinformatics skills in the lab.
  • Non-Credit Training Programs for Professionals – A very valuable resource for biotechnology firms and agencies around the US who want training programs and workshops for their scientists.

Brandeis University

Brandeis University offers a three year, Master of Science in Bioinformatics that will offer you the advanced scientific skills to work as a leader in many biotechnology and pharmaceutical organizations. This program is made for working professionals who want to improve both their skills and their educational background in bioinformatics.

Many students choose this highly rated MS in Bioinformatics program because it allows them to:

  • Develop specialized bioinformatics tools through modeling, prediction and optimization.
  • Come up with new scripts and programs that allow them to manipulate data and to solve complicated bioinformatics issues.
  • Apply advanced methods of statistical genetics to find diseases in human populations.

If you are interested in this master’s program, you should have taken undergraduate work in molecular biology, organic chemistry, programming in Java or C+, and also statistics.

This program consists of 30 credit hours and there are six required classes and four electives. The required classes will provide you with a highly focused education on the most important bioinformatics topics. The electives will build upon specific skillsets and allow students to both enrich and improve their studies.

Your required courses are:

  • Bioinformatics Scripting and Programming
  • Structural Bioinformatics
  • Biological Sequence Analysis
  • R for Biomedical Informatics
  • Mathematical Modeling for Bioinformatics
  • Statistical Genetics

Students who graduate from this program have held these types of job titles in major biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, as well as other related organizations:

  • Staff scientist
  • Research associate
  • Manager of infrastructure software
  • Biological science manager
  • Senior scientist
  • Staff scientist

Past graduates are currently employed by Astrazeneca, Biogen Idec, Partners Healthcare, Novartis, ImmunoGen and Millennium Pharmaceuticals.

Accreditation Information

As you are thinking about earning your master’s degree in the field of informatics, we advise you to be certain that any program that you are considering has been accredited by one of these regional accreditation agencies that is recognized by the US Department of Education:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education, formerly part of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

You know if your university is so accredited by one of the above organizations, the university has a strong reputation for quality.

Summary

Earning a degree in bioinformatics is a great option for those who want to pursue a career in medical science and make a real difference in the medical and health field for years to come.

Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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