What is bioinformatics? The term came about in the late 1970s and it refers to informatic (i.e., information) processes in biotic (i.e., living) systems. Studying in this field involves knowledge of biology, chemistry and computer science. A degree in bioinformatics can lead to an exciting career at the forefront of medical discovery. Job-seekers in this field of expertise will not be short of work because the study of bioinformatics is very specialized and graduates are in demand.
This page contains more details and lists schools where you can take these programs. You might also like to read the pages for associated areas such as: Medical Informatics and Nursing Informatics. You can also use the search boxes on this page to find schools offering bioinformatics programs.
What do the programs cover?
This primarily involves genetics and genomics with special emphasis on DNA sequencing. It entails creating and advancing algorithms, databases, statistical and computational techniques and theories to resolve practical and formal problems that arise in the analysis and management of biological data.
“Bioinformatics” and “computational biology” are often used interchangeably. Some people maintain that the difference is that the former tends to describe data analysis, whereas the latter tends to describe modeling. Similarly, “medical informatics” is sometimes confused with “bioinformatics”. But the former is the science of how to collect and manage medical and health information using computers whereas the latter concerns the analysis and management of biological data.
Because bioinformatics comprises computer science with chemistry and biology, undergraduates have to take a combination of two majors. A degree will prepare you to model and research structures like pharmaceuticals or DNA. Therefore, coursework is related to research, particularly in DNA sequencing. Sometimes, people with knowledge of advanced computer languages can get by with the biology courses only.
Because this combination of IT systems and molecular biology is a relatively new and vibrant field, academic institutions are offering bioinformatics programs at undergraduate, graduate, or doctorate level at an increasing rate. It therefore appears likely that the number of people entering the job market with these degrees will increase proportionately. It has been said that someone who holds this degree has enough biology knowledge to be a biologist, enough chemistry knowledge to be a chemist, and enough computer knowledge to be a programmer. Most degree-holders will work in industry, for the government, or in academia. Increasingly, it will be necessary to get a masters in bioinformatics in order to get the best jobs, and to work in academia, a bioinformatics PhD is usually required.
What are the career prospects?
This provides career options related to research, database analytics, computer programming, biology, and chemistry. You may work in a job that requires you to use all these skills, or you may work in an environment where the focus is on just one. For example, you may work in software development involving chemical structures for a pharmaceutical company. Other employers may expect you to work in tandem with other software engineers and researchers to help them develop new DNA sequencing techniques or chemicals.
If you have a masters degree, there are other career options. You could become a microbiologist and work with microscopic organisms to gain knowledge about human diseases. People with masters degrees can also work as professors at a university or college and teach chemistry, bioinformatics, and biology. On graduation, you can expect to earn a starting salary of around $70,000 a year. Experienced and highly skilled researchers can earn between $100,000 and $150,000 a year.
A biophysicist is a person who uses computer technologies to establish a better understanding of the link between living organisms and physics. The average annual salary of a biophysicist in the USA is in the region of $85,000. Job opportunities for biophysicists are expected to grow by as much as 37 percent by the year 2018.
Another option is to get into the area of medicine and pharmaceutical manufacturing. This work involves developing and producing vaccines and medicines. Or you could work as a materials scientist doing research, experiments, and analysis that apply to various areas of engineering and science. The relationship between the macroscopic properties of molecular or atomic materials is investigated using chemistry and applied physics.
List of schools and programs