Study Bioinformatics: Master's, PhD & Online Degree Info

About this article
What kind of job can you get with a graduate degree in bioinformatics? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses on bioinformatics.
View available schools

Bioinformatics Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

The field of bioinformatics entails implementing principles and tools of computer science into the research methods and processes of biology and related sciences. As a bioinformatics professional, you would most likely work in academia or industries such as pharmaceuticals or biotechnology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a master's degree would make you more competitive for entry-level positions against bachelor's degree holders. You'd have the best job prospects if you have a doctoral degree, since that's the minimum requirement for teaching posts at universities and higher-end research positions in the areas of microbiology, genetics, and pharmacology, among others. The BLS projected that the medical science field, in which most bioinformatics experts are employed, would see an expansion of 36% during 2010-2020, which is much higher than the average.

Master's Doctorate
Who Is this Degree for? Students with a sciences background with an interest to focus on the combination of computer science and biology Students interested in working in genomics, biosciences, and/or biotechnology with a deeper focus
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Research associate ($35,000)**
- Biological technician ($42,000)*
- Biological scientist ($73,000)*
- College professor, biological sciences ($86,000)*
- Medical scientist ($88,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 3-6 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - 8-11 graduate courses
- Thesis/research paper
- Internship (optional)
- Roughly 16 graduate courses
- Dissertation
- PhD exams
- Teaching requirement (optional)
- Lab experience
Prerequisites Bachelor's in the biological or physical sciences, math, or computer science Bachelor's or master's in the biological or physical sciences, math, or computer science
Online Availability Yes Not at this time, but some courses may be taken online

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2012 figures), **Payscale.com (May 2012 figures).


Master's in Bioinformatics

Master's degree programs in bioinformatics are multidisciplinary, drawing mainly from the fields of biology and computer science. Graduates will have a working knowledge of computational processes that can be applied to biological research, both at the theoretical and practical levels. As a graduate, you will be able to analyze complex biological data, such as biostatistics and genomics, using specialized software and lab equipment.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Bioinformatics is related to the growing field of medical science (36% projected growth) and biotechnology*
  • You will develop math and computational skills applicable to a variety of work fields
  • Credits may count towards a PhD program

Cons

  • A PhD is typically the norm among research jobs
  • You may have to take extra courses in math and statistics if your background doesn't cover all the program's prerequisites
  • Competition for jobs in the field can be fierce, since positions suited for master's degree holders can be limited

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses and Requirements

Your curriculum will focus on advanced math and statistics, specialized computer science topics, and specific biology areas, such as microbiology and genetics. You will be required to practice your skills in computer and biological labs. Some programs require you to complete a research project or thesis to earn degree, while others demand an internship experience. Common classes include:

  • Computational biology
  • Computational modeling
  • Biological database systems
  • Genomic analysis

Online Degree Options

Though not commonly widespread, a number of universities will allow you to earn your master's degree entirely online. The requirements for the completion of an online program are usually the same as those of an on-campus counterpart, but with a more flexible schedule and a reduced selection of courses. The lab experience may also be lacking from an online program in bioinformatics.

Standing out with this Degree

Internships and relevant lab experience, such as working as a research assistant, may not only provide an opportunity for you to sharpen your practical skills, but they may also allow you to network with potential employers. Participating in research projects that get published in scholarly journals may also benefit you professionally. You may also consider getting additional training in technologies used in this field of study, such as molecular modeling software and bioinformatics databases.


Doctorate in Bioinformatics

PhD programs in bioinformatics build upon the principles offered by master's programs, providing deeper knowledge and more research opportunities. You would be able to specialize in a specific area of your interest; for instance, you could focus most of your doctoral work in genomics. Depending on the program, you may be required to fulfill certain duties, such as reporting regularly on your research or work as a teacher. As a doctoral student, you would have the guidance of faculty mentors and advisers as you work on your dissertation and toward your PhD examinations.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD is the typical requirement for most research jobs in the private and public sectors
  • Holding a PhD would let you be the leader of your own research projects
  • A PhD would allow you to work in academia

Cons

  • You'll have to study for an extra 3-6 years after your bachelor's
  • You may face strong competition for research funding and tenured positions
  • Your level of specialization may reduce your possible areas of employment

Common Courses and Requirements

Aside from taking more classes than in a master's degree program, as a PhD student you would have to take more advanced courses in areas of microbiology and computational methods. You may have to procure extensive lab experience not only in order to complete your thesis/dissertation and pass your doctoral examination, but also to fulfill a formal requirement of your program. You may also have to teach for a semester as part of your program. Some courses that can be found in a doctoral curriculum include:

  • Experimental statistics for biology
  • Statistical theory
  • Epidemiology statistics
  • Advanced and applied biostatistics
  • Molecular genetics

Online Degree Options

Online PhD programs in bioinformatics cannot be found at the time. However, several schools may allow you to take some of the courses online. An on-campus doctoral degree program would be your best choice if you're considering a career in academia, since that would allow you to network and participate in research opportunities needed for your advancement in the field.

Standing out with this Degree

While earning your doctorate, there are several objectives that you may consider accomplishing in order to improve your chances of employment afterwards:

  • If you're interested in a career in academia, try to accrue as much teaching experience as possible.
  • Strive for publication in scholarly journals, either on your own or as part of a research team; being published will make you stand out to potential employers, whether in the private or public sector, since that proves your level of expertise in the area.
  • Establish close working relationships with mentors and researchers who are already established in the field when you work in their research projects and labs.
  • Consider becoming a member of a professional association, such as the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), which would provide you with educational and networking opportunities in the field.

Popular Schools

Featured Schools

Trident University

  • Health Sciences (Ph.D. HS)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Yale University

Worcester Polytechnic Institute