By Katherine L. Monti
Biostatistics is a rewarding career, with a lot of opportunity—and the compensation is good.
How does one prepare for a biostatistics career? There is no single path, just as there is no one career path in biostatistics. Nonetheless, here are suggestions that will help you consider a degree in biostatistics, whether you’re in high school, college, or beyond:
- High School: Take as much math and science as possible and a technical writing class. Learn some programming, if possible. Also, research biostatistics undergraduate programs to see if any are appealing.
- Undergraduate School: You don’t need to major in biostatistics as an undergraduate. However, most graduate schools require a strong math background, so plan three semesters of calculus, a semester of linear algebra, and introductory probability and/or statistics; some require real analysis and advanced calculus. Many recommend biology, epidemiology, ecology, or other science courses. Also, learn a programming language or statistical package and work on your communication skills—written and oral. To round out your education, take literature, art, music, science, history, philosophy, psychology, or whatever interests you.
- Degrees: Degrees matter because they open doors. If you want to develop new theoretical statistical methods, you should obtain a theory-based doctorate from a theoretically inclined statistics or biostatistics department. If you want to teach in a biostatistics department, you will need a doctoral degree. If you want to work in government, industry, or an academic or nonacademic clinical trial research environment, a doctorate is an option. With a bachelor’s degree, you can obtain a position that allows you to confirm your interest in biostatistics before entering a graduate program.
- Jobs: Chances are you do not know what career is best, and even if you’re sure, your plans may change. I graduated with my PhD thinking I would teach biostatistics forever. That never happened. I ended up moving into industry and consulting. While this career path was not my plan, it has worked well for me.