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How to Become a Biostatistician

If you are a natural when it comes to numbers and enjoy working with them, a role as a biostatistician could be the perfect job for you. Biostatisticians work with data and are usually found in the medical or pharmaceutical fields.

The word “statistician” may conjure up an image of someone crunching numbers all day long – which isn’t far from the truth. Statistics are important in many areas that we encounter daily, such as medicine or finance, so statisticians are highly sought after professionals.

This profession requires that the person knows how to work with various advanced statistical techniques. These are often used to analyze clinical trials or large-scale patient databases, combining epidemiology and statistics knowledge. They work in areas such as medical research, pharmaceuticals, public health, and clinical investigations.

Sample job description

As a biostatistician for [Your Company Name], you’ll design, analyze, and interpret data for scientific research. The biostatistician combines epidemiological knowledge with statistics to work in areas such as medical research, pharmaceuticals, public health, and clinical investigations.

You will interact closely with a research team, so it helps to be able to communicate well. The ability to produce readable reports, which summarize their findings and generate hypotheses, is essential. You must know how to use statistical programs like SAS Software. The ideal candidate should also be familiar with other software packages, including Java Programming Operations Research (JOR) Package, Minitab Statistical Packages, S-Plus Statistical Packages among others.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Programming knowledge of at least one statistical software package such as SAS, JMP, STATA, or R.
  • Statistical analysis of medical research data
  • Interpret statistical analysis to draw conclusions on a wide range of topics
  • Design and conduct experiments, surveys, observational studies, and clinical trials as needed
  • Summarize findings in reports or presentations.
  • Communicate with team members regularly via email, phone calls, or meetings.
  • Maintain a database of research materials

Education and experience

  • Master’s degree in statistics, biostatistics or related field
  • Many employers prefer candidates with 5-7 years of experience
  • A master’s degree will enable you to apply to entry-level positions in biostatistics
  • Some people do choose to pursue a doctoral degree, but this is not necessary

Required skills and qualifications

  • Good communication and presentation skills
  • Ability to work in a team environment
  • Creativity, resourcefulness, and the ability to mentor junior staff
  • Knowledge of epidemiology and medical terms is a plus
  • Knowledge of public health and clinical trials is a plus

Preferred qualifications

  • Knowledge of various statistical software packages including SAS Software, Minitab Statistical Packages, S-Plus Statistical Packages among others
  • Able to demonstrate the use of statistical approaches and techniques in analyzing data related to biomedical research
  • Knowledgeable about statistical analysis, probability theory, and modeling for generating predictions
  • Familiar with Microsoft Excel

Typical work environment

The typical work environment for a biostatistician will vary depending on the type of employer. For example, a biostatistician employed by the federal government will typically work in an office environment. They may also need to travel for specialized research projects. A biostatistician working for an internet publishing and web search company may be conducting their work from remote locations, such as home or client offices. Regardless of the setting, it is important that the biostatistician is comfortable with collaborating with others to work on projects.

Typical hours

Many biostatisticians work during regular business hours Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM or 9 AM 6 PM. However, some biostatisticians may have irregular hours due to project deadlines or having to meet with colleagues outside of typical business hours.

Available certifications

Biostatisticians work in a variety of sectors, and many offer professional certifications. Here are some of the top certifications for Biostatisticians:

  • Mastering Software Development in R Certification by Johns Hopkins University (Coursera). This specialization in R programming provides rigorous training in R language and also teaches the best software development practices for building data science tools that are not only robust, modular and reusable but also collaborative (thus suitable for use in team-based and community environments). Through this program you will gain the necessary skills for handling complex data, building R packages, and developing custom data visualizations.
  • SAS Certified Clinical Trials Programmer Using SAS 9. This programmer works exclusively with clinical trials data, transforming raw data into polished, validated reports. There are two different paths to achieving this certification:
  • Clinical Trial Programmer Exam: The certification exam features 90 to 100 multiple-choice questions, a three-hour time limit and candidates must answer at least 70 percent of the questions correctly to pass the exam. There are no prerequisites required to take this exam.
  • Clinical Trial Programmer – Accelerated Exam: The certification exam features 70 to 75 multiple-choice questions, a 120-minute time limit, and candidates must answer at least 70 percent of the questions correctly to pass the exam. Candidates must already have completed the SAS Base Programmer certification before they can sit for this accelerated exam.
  • Certificate in Applied Biostatistics – Online (Harvard Catalyst). This advanced-level program is for individuals with MD, Ph.D. or equivalent degrees. The comprehensive classes provide a comprehensive introduction to biostatistics in medical research. Review the common techniques in this field as well as the manners in which they can be applied in standard statistical software. End the lectures by choosing an appropriate study design, calculate the sample size needed to complete the study, analyze the collected data, and communicate the results from their experiments.

Career path

The career path for a biostatistician is an exciting one. It begins with the completion of a bachelor’s degree in statistics or biostatistics, followed by post-baccalaureate instruction in social sciences, management, or public health.

Next, there are two alternatives available: (1) take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and enroll in graduate school to earn a Master of Public Health or MS in Biostatistics; or (2) take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and apply to an MBA program.

The next step is to intern as a statistician at a biomedical company, followed by either earning an MS degree from a master’s program, taking the Certified Professional Statistician exam, or finding employment as a statistician. Some go on to work in research and development in biotechnology fields, while others become data analysts for pharmaceutical companies.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 15-2041

2020 Employment42,000
Projected Employment in 203056,900
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 35% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift14,900 increase

The field of biostatistics has grown significantly since its inception in the late 1800s when it was primarily applied to medical research. Nowadays, there are many applications including genetics, cancer treatments, and pharmaceutical drugs among others which have expanded this field into a multifaceted discipline that also integrates engineering and computer science disciplines with mathematics. The demand for qualified professionals has been on the rise leading to an increased number of universities offering graduate programs in biostatistics. The increasing need for qualified professionals has caused companies to increase salaries for those with the proper experience and education.

Biostatisticians are usually required to possess a PhD or Master’s degree in biostatistics, mathematics, statistics or computer science as well as substantial practical experience. A desire for an academic career is not required, and many biostatisticians start their careers in the private sector.