Biostatistics involves the development and application of statistical techniques to scientific research in health-related fields, including medicine, epidemiology, and public health. From the beginning of this century, biostatistics has become an indispensable tool in improving health and reducing illness.
More widely, biostatistics (sometimes called biometrics or biometry) involves statistical work in areas of environmental study, agricultural research, and biology. For an overwhelmingly good view of what biostatistics is, you could consult the Encyclopedia of Biostatistics, a six-volume set published in 1998.
The Role of the Biostatistician
Biostatisticians play essential roles in designing studies and analyzing data from research problems. They help formulate the scientific questions to be answered, determine the appropriate sampling techniques, coordinate data collection procedures, and carry out statistical analyses to answer those scientific questions.
Research problems are as diverse as the study of factors affecting heart and lung disease, testing new drugs to combat AIDS, assessing indoor air quality in schools, working with various cancer studies, evaluating dental health and dental procedures, evaluating psychiatric symptoms and drug and alcohol use, transplanting organs and bone marrow, and studying inner ear infection.
Biostatisticians also help develop statistical techniques. Active areas of research include Bayesian methods, high-speed computing and simulation, survival analysis, analysis of geographical patterns of disease, longitudinal data analysis, and methods for analyzing data from epidemiologic studies and clinical trials.
Opportunities for Graduates
Biostatisticians with advanced degrees can look forward to excellent career opportunities in government, industry, and academia. The shortage of biostatisticians is noted in Objectives for the Nation and the Seventh Report to the President and Congress on the Status of Health Personnel in the United States.
Job prospects for new graduates with master's and PhD degrees in biostatistics are excellent. Typical starting salaries range from $35,000 to $65,000 for master's-level graduates and $55,000 to $85,000 for PhD-level graduates.
Recent graduates have found positions with employers as diverse as pharmaceutical companies, university research groups, hospitals, and health-related industries.