Careers With a Master's (MS) Degree in Bioinformatics

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The data revolution is affecting every area of society, including the study of living organisms. Welcome to bioinformatics, which sits at the nexus of computational science and biology. This field deals with the organization, analysis, understanding, visualization, and storing of information associated with biological data. The applications of data science in bioinformatics stretch into several different fields, and those with advanced education in bioinformatics are pushing the limits of what’s possible every day.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps the bioinformatics specialty under the field of computer and information research scientists—a profession that’s projected to grow 16 percent between 2018 and 2028. That may make it sound like bioinformatics is a small niche in a larger area of study, but in reality, bioinformatics touches several different disciplines at once. Think of them as data scientists who also have a strong foundational understanding of the unique characteristics of biological processes.

According to the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB), bioinformatics professionals generally fall into one of three categories: bioinformatics users, bioinformatics scientists, and bioinformatics engineers. Each category has spiderweb connections with multiple other professions and industries. Medical professionals may utilize bioinformatics tools for the purposes of diagnosis, treatment, and counseling. Scientists employ computational bioinformatics to advance scientific understanding. And bioinformatics engineers develop those computational methods and bioinformatics tools used by others.

But it goes further than that. The strong foundational knowledge provided by a master’s degree in bioinformatics allows graduates to pivot into other fields like general data science and software engineering. It can also be the stepping stone to further education and a career as a professor or microbiologist. Bioinformatics is a rapidly developing industry, and becoming fluent in it can open the doors to a number of different careers.

To get a glimpse of what you can do with a master’s degree in bioinformatics, read on.

How to Become a Bioinformatics Scientist

Bioinformatics scientists conduct research using bioinformatics theories and methods in areas such as medtech, biotech, proteomics, and computer information science. They may also develop their own algorithms and databases for processing genomic information or other biological information.

Bioinformatics scientists have either master’s or doctoral degrees, and their jobs often require a strong understanding of biology, computer science, and mathematics. Further tech skills in analytical software (SAS), database management software (Hadoop), development environment software (Azure), object-oriented programming (Python), and web platform development software (Django) are also highly valued additions to a bioinformatics scientist’s resume.

According to PayScale (2020), the average salary of a bioinformatics scientist is $96,370, with the 90th percentile earning $128,000 per year.

How to Become a Bioinformatics Technician

Bioinformatics technicians apply bioinformatics principles to assist scientists in areas such as med tech, biotech, pharmaceuticals, and computer information science. Usually working under the direction of a bioinformatics scientist, microbiologist, or geneticist, they may utilize bioinformatics tools to visualize, analyze, or manipulate molecular data in the name of scientific inquiry.

According to O*NET (2020), 41 percent of bioinformatics technicians have a master’s degree. But it’s sometimes still possible to join this profession with only a bachelor’s degree, making it a potential stepping stone to positions of higher responsibility or more advanced education. Tech skills in analytical software, database software, and file versioning software are highly sought after.

The salary for bioinformatics technicians can vary widely based on the specific context and nature of one’s work, but ZipRecruiter (2020) puts that average annual pay for bioinformatics technicians at $74,804 per year.

How to Become a Biostatistician

Closely related to bioinformatics scientists, biostatisticians develop and apply biostatistical theories and methods to the study of the life sciences. Their typical responsibilities may include drawing conclusions or developing predictions based on statistical analyses, designing research studies, or providing biostatistical consultation to clients or colleagues.

According to O*NET (2020), practically all biostatisticians have graduate-level education, with 44 percent of surveyed respondents holding a master’s degree, and 40 percent holding a doctoral degree. Tech skills in analytical software (SAS), database software (SQL), and object-oriented programming (Python, R) are highly desirable.

Salary data from PayScale (2020) suggests that biostatisticians earn an average of $76,653 per year, with the 90th percentile earning $117,000 per year.

How to Become a Clinical Data Manager

Clinical data managers apply their knowledge of healthcare, database management, and bioinformatics to analyze clinical data, and to identify and report trends from within that data. Their typical responsibilities may include designing and validating clinical databases, processing clinical data, generating data queries, or developing project-specific data management plans.

While O*NET (2020) reports that the majority of clinical data managers currently hold only a bachelor’s degree, it’s becoming increasingly common for clinical data managers to earn graduate-level degrees in clinical research management or bioinformatics. Further technical skill in open-source clinical data management systems (CDMS) like TrailDB and OpenClinica is a plus.

According to PayScale (2020), the average salary of a clinical data manager is $77,563 per year.

How to Become a Data Scientist

Data scientists use statistics and computer science to extract insights from data. Their typical responsibilities may include determining which data sets and variables to use, cleaning and validating collected data sets, analyzing data to identify trends, and reporting their findings to other stakeholders through the use of visualization tools.

Most data scientists have a master’s degree or higher, and, according to the BLS, those who work in a specialized field, such as bioinformatics, need specialized technical knowledge. Important qualities for data scientists include analytical skills, detail orientation, logical thinking, and strong mathematical ability.

According to BLS (May 2018) data, computer and information research scientists, a category which includes data scientists, earn an average of $123,850 per year.

How to Become a Microbiologist

Microbiologists investigate the growth, structure, development, and other characteristics of microscopic organisms. This category also includes medical microbiologists, who study the relationship between organisms and disease, or the effects of antibiotics on certain microorganisms.

According to O*NET (2020), only 13 percent of microbiologists have master’s degrees, but extensive knowledge of biology, chemistry, mathematics is a requirement. Some technical skill in analytical software (TreeView) and database user interfaces (Microsoft Access) is a plus.

The average salary for a microbiologist, according to PayScale (2020), is $53,360, while GlassDoor (2020) puts the average microbiologist salary at $43,860 per year.

How to Become a Software Engineer

Software engineers develop, modify, and implement software applications—including those which analyze biological data. Typical responsibilities for a software engineer may include analyzing user needs, designing custom software, and analyzing large databases within a specific application area.

Software engineers typically have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in an area of computer science, but a master’s degree in bioinformatics can supply the specialized knowledge necessary to work with biological data sets. This profession demands high competency in programming languages like Python, Java, and C++.

The average salary for software engineers, according to Indeed (2020), is $107,006 per year.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

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