If you don’t shy away from working with numbers and computers, a master’s in biostatistics – one of the highest-paying master’s degrees – could be the perfect fit for you. As a career field and an academic discipline, biostatistics is a type of data science. However, it’s also a health science in that the field’s primary function is to apply statistical methods to the field of health and to other fields related to biological life.
Biostatistics as a Data Science
Biostatistics is a data science, as well as a branch of statistics that focuses on data pertaining to living organisms. Data science is the scientific field that deals with acquiring data and sorting and structuring it into datasets that can be analyzed and interpreted to make meaningful findings. Work in data science consists of five stages – capture, maintain, process, analyze and communicate – that together make up the data science life cycle. These stages distinguish data science from the field of data analysis, which focuses more narrowly on the analysis stage.
When you’re distinguishing between biostatistics and data science in terms of curriculum or career paths, what you’re looking at is mainly a matter of focus. Biostatisticians tend to emphasize the design of public health research inquiries and the methodological techniques used to conduct this research. Naturally, they know a lot about using methods of statistics and data management to make sense of data, but they also understand the research practices and methodologies of acquiring this data.
Generally, data scientists are less involved in the design of biostatistical research studies, but their skills in computer science tend to outshine that of biostatisticians. This is especially the case when it comes to computing and visualizing high-dimensional data, or data sets that are difficult to analyze with methods of classical multivariate analysis because of the high number of features or measurements compared to the number of observations or samples. Doing these calculations, which arise in health care in instances like patient health status in clinical practice or gene expression in cancer research, is statistically and computationally challenging, so the more advanced computer science skills data scientists possess are valuable in this work.
Biostatistics and data science complement each other, and professionals in these fields often work together or work on overlapping areas of research. If you can’t choose between these two degree paths, consider a master’s program in biostatistics and data science.
Biostatistics as a Medical and Public Health Science
There’s a good reason that so many master’s in biostatistics programs are offered by schools of public health sciences or medical science. Biostatistics isn’t just a data science. It’s also a public health science with numerous applications in healthcare.
Biostatisticians apply their methods to research in both public health research and medical care research, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. They may work to answer questions about links among medical conditions or between medical conditions and known or suspected risk factors. Some work in biostatistics examines genetic factors in health conditions. Other biostatistics research is focused on disease treatment, whether evaluating the effectiveness of a new therapy or identifying quantifiable risks of treatment options.
While biostatisticians don’t provide healthcare services to individual patients, their work can influence the course of treatment and the therapeutic options available to a larger population of patients in the future.
Based on biostatisticians’ findings, medical associations may adopt new screening guidelines and new treatment methods may be put into clinical practice.
Biostatistics Beyond Healthcare
Although biostatistics is often linked with the fields of healthcare and public health, the applications of this subject aren’t limited to health matters. Biostatistics encompasses the use of quantitative statistical methods to any topic pertaining to biology, or the science of living things. Some biostatisticians work in agricultural science, environmental science and research in biology.
If you want to work in the area of environmental science, for example, you might apply the quantitative methods of biostatistics in quantitative areas of ecology, conservation, climatology or hydrology. If you never equated statistics with the environment, you’re not alone. Many people underestimate the importance of statistics and quantitative methods in ecology. However, it is through data capture and modeling – key processes within the data science life cycle – that ecologists, conservationists and other environmental scientists are able to understand and interpret threats to the environment and begin to solve these problems.
Statistics are often used in agriculture to measure the population of plants and wildlife, predict future population levels and identify threats to farm crops and animals that could be addressed to prevent a loss of agriculture products.