A bioinformatics degree is a bachelor’s or master’s program that teaches students about using computer science, chemistry and biology for research and development. This degree can be used eventually for a career in pharmaceutical and/or biotechnology research, or work in related fields. Depending upon the level of the degree, aspiring biochemists, computer scientists and database programmers may need to complete various independent research projects or internships in bioinformatics.
What Is Bioinformatics?
Bioinformatics involves integrating computers, software, and databases to answer complex and challenging questions of biology. Bioinformatics is typically used for major research projects that generate large sets of data. Two vital large-scale activities using bioinformatics are genomics and proteomics. Genomics is the analysis of genomes, which are a complete set of DNA sequences that provides the code for hereditary material that is passed through the generations. Proteomics refers to analyzing the complete set of proteins in the genome.
The next wave of bioinformatics is generally thought of as systems biology. This is a new approach to tackle new and complicated biological questions.
As the US economy experiences strong economic growth, employment in the life, physical and social sciences is expected to climb substantially. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports employment in these occupations will rise by a healthy 10% through 2026, faster than average for all occupations. There will be more demand in biomedical research, environmental protection, energy management and psychology, among other fields.
A common career path for a professional with a bioinformatics degree is biochemist or biophysicist. These professionals study the physical and chemical properties of living organisms and biological processes, including cell development, growth, heredity and disease. They use advanced technologies, including lasers and fluorescent microscopes, to do scientific experiments and analyses. They most often work in applied research, which is done without any known application at present; the goal for these workers is to expand human knowledge and to eventually solve certain problems.
Job growth in this field is expected to rise by 11% through 2026, faster than average. More basic research is going to be needed to boost scientific knowledge and to develop new products and processes that improve lives.
The median salary for biochemists and biophysicists in 2017 was $91,100, with the top 10% earning more than $177,000 per year.
Online Degree Programs
Students who want to earn an online degree in bioinformatics have many possibilities today. More programs than ever are offered remotely so that you can continue to work and take care of your personal obligations. For instance, New York University offers a Master of Science in Bioinformatics that is educating the biotechnology rock stars of tomorrow. Students who graduate from this two year program online will be skilled in knowledge to address infectious diseases, genetic diseases, public health challenges, agriculture and green technology.
This program meets the demand in the biotechnology industry for professionals who have a good foundation in proteomics, genomics and transcriptomics. Students also are educated in algorithms, statistics and biotechnology with a focus on the programming languages Python, Perl and R.
This online program is 30 credit hours and provides graduates with a refined skill set in functional annotation, statistical analysis, algorithmic development and genomics. According to US News and World Report, this NYU master’s program is ranked #2 in best online graduate information technology programs.
Required courses include:
- Algorithms and Data Structure for Bioinformatics
- Proteomics for Bioinformatics
- Next Generation Sequence Analysis for Bioinformatics
- Biology and Biotechnology for Bioinformatics
- Biological Foundation for Bioinformatics
- Introduction to Systems Biology
Students who want to get a good start in their bioinformatics career can earn a bachelor’s degree. For example, the University of Maryland – Baltimore County offers a Bachelor of Science in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology that features a demanding curriculum in life sciences, computer science and mathematics. By developing advanced skills in several disciplines, students will acquire knowledge and skills that allows them to access the great amounts of data that are now available regarding genomes, genes and molecules they produce.
Bioinformatics graduates from this university are frequently employed in industry, government and academics. Required courses for this major include:
- Molecular and General Genetics
- Cell Biology
- Biological Chemistry
- Introduction to Bioinformatics
- Seminar in Bioinformatics
- Computer Science I and II
- Discrete Structures
- Data Structures
- Database Management Systems
- Foundations of Biology I and II
- Linear Algebra
- Calculus and Analytic Geometry
Students who want to move into upper level management and research positions in bioinformatics will benefit from earning their master’s degree in this field. The University of Illinois offers a Master of Science in Bioinformatics. In this two year bioinformatics program, students can take classes in several departments across the University of Illinois campus.
The training breadth gives students the necessary multidisciplinary skills that are needed for a dynamic career in developing and managing information systems in the biological related professions. The program features training from internationally renowned faculty who are highly skilled in information management in areas such as bioinformatics, biology, chemistry, statistics and computer science.
This master’s program also is unique because it stresses various critical aspects of library and information science, such as collection development, classification schemes, information retrieval, knowledge representation, data curation and policy standards.
Core course requirements in bioinformatics are:
- Applied Bioinformatics
- Statistical Genomics
- Bioinformatics and Systems Biology
- Introduction to Bioinformatics
- Principles of Systematics
- Computing in Molecular Biology
Admission requirements into a master’s program in bioinformatics commonly include:
- 0 or higher GPA overall; higher GPA may be needed for sciences
- GRE scores often required
- Three academic or professional references
- Prerequisite courses in sciences and mathematics may be required
Each program can have its own curriculum. At Georgia Tech University, these are the required courses for its master’s program in bioinformatics:
- Introduction to Computing Concepts in Bioinformatics
- Genomics and Applied Bioinformatics
- Programming for Bioinformatics
- Modeling and Dynamics
- Applied Human Computational Genomics
- Computational Genomics
- Introduction to Database Systems
- Introduction to Probability and Statistics
If you want to earn your degree in bioinformatics, it is recommended to review the following scholarship and grant opportunities to reduce your out of pocket costs. It also is wise to check with the department in which your program is located. There may be scholarship opportunities specific to your university and program.
- Keynote Scholarship: $10,000
- Regeneron Science Talent Search: Up to $100,000
- Conceptual Mind Works Scholarship: $500
- John C. and Helen Voelker Scholarship: $225
- Terry Albus Memorial Scholarship: $500
- Ray Bourkney Scholarship: Varies
- Science Museum of Eastern Virginia Scholarship: Varies
Some students may decide to earn a certificate in bioinformatics prior to earning a master’s degree in the speciality. In most cases, those courses can be applied for credit to your master’s program. Penn State World Campus offers a Certificate in Applied Bioinformatics that will give you a deep understanding of computational and statistical concepts that you can apply to genomic data so you can make good decisions about cellular activity and behavior.
These associations can be useful to belong to for expanding your networking and career opportunities in bioinformatics:
- International Society for Computational Biology
- American Medical Informatics Association
- American Academy of Microbiology
- American Association for the Advancement of Sciences
- American Institute of Biological Sciences
The bioinformatics field is growing rapidly as technology continues to improve. It is anticipated that students with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in bioinformatics will have many good career opportunities for years to come.
- Bioinformatics Degree. (2015). Retrieved from https://study.com/articles/Bioinformatics_Degree_Program_Summaries.html
- What Is Bioinformatics? (2016). Retrieved from https://www.scq.ubc.ca/what-is-bioinformatics/
- Biochemists and Biophysicists. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/biochemists-and-biophysicists.htm#tab-2