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What Is Biostatistics? A Look at a High Impact Field


What do you know about biostatistics? Chances are, not a lot. Many people have  misconceptions about the field of biostatistics, and even those who are vaguely familiar with it may not be aware of the details of this complex career path.

So what exactly is biostatistics?

Biostatistics is essentially a specialized branch of statistics that utilizes mathematics to interpret and analyze data that is produced in the medical field. Talented biostatisticians are crucial to the success of medical research. No matter how advanced medical research may become, this information is useless without skilled statisticians to collect and analyze it. As technology inevitably becomes more complex and the amount of available data increases in the coming years, biostatisticians are crucial to helping medical research achieve its full potential.

Biostatisticians have a substantial impact on research and public health.

Did you know that biostatistics has played a role in many groundbreaking medical achievements? Some of the most well-known accomplishments in the field have included developing routine immunizations, drastically limiting fatalities from heart disease, substantially reducing motor vehicle deaths, and conducting studies that ultimately demonstrated the health risks of smoking.

The work that biostatisticians do continues to have significant implications for public health. According to one source, projects that biostatisticians may contribute to in the near future include personalized medicine (which would combine genetics and biochemistry in an individualized approach) and inhibition of disease progression in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

In sum, if you choose to work in biostatistics — particularly in the field of government research or public health — your work may result in increased public knowledge and improved government policy, thereby directly affecting the lives of the people around you.

Career options in the field of biostatistics are numerous and varied.

Employers of biostatisticians are wide-ranging and include pharmaceutical companies, public health organizations, government agencies, research firms, and health care providers. It’s no wonder that Fortune recently ranked biostatistics as the second-best graduate degree to pursue; in its analysis it took into consideration significant factors such as long-term career growth, median salaries, and job satisfaction.

In addition, salaries for biostatisticians are quite lucrative: the median salary for a master’s degree holder in biostatistics is over $113,000 per year, and those with a Ph.D. in this field are likely to see even better compensation due to to their additional knowledge and relevant skills.

What’s a typical day in the life for a biostatistician?

Your daily tasks in this field may vary somewhat, depending on where you decide to work. In the healthcare industry, you might statistically evaluate public health programs and work with epidemiology, whereas in a pharmaceutical research company you could be involved in developing statistical methods and analyzing data. Whichever path you end up taking, it’s sure to require strong analytical skills and medical knowledge!

In sum, biostatistics is a fascinating and complex discipline that is quickly evolving. If you’re interested in learning more about this field, email one of our department contacts or visit SMU’s website to learn more.

Would you like to explore a future as a biostatistician? View SMU's resource on Biostatistics to see if it'd be the right fit for you. 

Discover Biostatistics at SMU

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