When you find out that a master’s in biostatistics is one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, you might wonder which option is better, biostatistics or statistics. Both fields focus on using quantitative methods to acquire and analyze data, usually for the purposes of applying your findings to real-world problems and opportunities. The field of biostatistics has a more specialized focus than general statistics, which is reflected in the coursework in these different degree programs and the work professionals in these respective fields do.
Specialized Vs. Generalized Fields of Quantitative Work
The difference between statistics and biostatistics is generally one of specialization. Biostatistics is one subfield of statistics. Statistics, generally, is a mathematical science that revolves around empirically collecting, processing and analyzing quantitative data. Work in the field of statistics can be theoretical, but much of the work in this field is applied to the challenge of solving real-world problems in a variety of fields.
One of those fields is biostatistics, or the application of statistical methods to data that relates to living organisms. Biostatistics is the specialization with statistics that encompasses problems in public health, healthcare and medical care, environmental health and conservation and agriculture. Work in biostatistics contributes to medical advances by quantifying things like the efficacy of treatments and the relationships between risk factors and diseases and among different diseases that often co-occur.
When you’re looking at biostatistics, you’re focusing on one small – but important – area of statistics. As a whole, statistics is a much larger field that encompasses numerous areas of research inquiry and practical application.
Differences in Master’s Degree Curricula
One big difference between biostatistics and statistics graduate degree programs is the school or department out of which these degree programs are offered. Statistics programs are usually part of a mathematical sciences department or a dedicated statistics department, often in a graduate college of science or liberal arts and sciences. Biostatistics programs, on the other hand, are frequently offered out of schools of public health or medical science.
Students of both statistics and biostatistics will usually take graduate-level courses in probability, mathematical statistics and linear models. Biostatistics students will often take coursework in the concepts and methods of epidemiology. The elective courses a biostatistics student takes might include the design and conduct of clinical trials, public health surveillance methods, genomics data mining and statistics and statistical methods for clinical trials.
For students in a more general statistics master’s degree program, additional core coursework will often include more advanced studies in linear models and the foundations of stochastic processes. Elective courses might go to deepening your knowledge of statistical methods and tools or to building knowledge in an area of application, such as engineering, education, economics, political science and psychology.
Differences in Biostatistician and Statistician Careers
Biostatisticians most often work in environments such as public health agencies, hospitals and healthcare systems and pharmaceutical companies, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As a whole, statisticians can work in many other settings, from government agencies like the U.S. Census Bureau and research universities to the manufacturing industry. Biostatisticians’ narrower focus on the quantitative measure and analysis of data related to living things limits their potential career directions.
For statisticians without this specialization, career options might include helping major retail corporations assess data from customer feedback surveys to improve shoppers’ experiences or working in research and development in machinery, prepared foods, and other consumer products. The finance and banking industry and the insurance industry also employ statisticians. Quantitative data can be used to make better decisions in pretty much any area of business, government or nonprofit operations, so the possible career opportunities for statisticians are virtually endless.
The more specialized skills and areas of knowledge a biostatistician has can increase their earning potential. Both statistics and biostatistics are among the highest-paying master’s degrees, but biostatisticians tend to earn more. Salary.com reports an average salary of $76,390 for intermediate statisticians and $95,093 for intermediate biostatisticians.
The median salary for statisticians of all types was $92,270 as of 2020, the BLS reported. Statisticians working for the federal government earned the most, with a median salary of $112,940, while colleges and universities pay the least, with a $77,920 median salary.