As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, biostatisticians are playing a central role in tracking outbreaks, determining which vaccines will work best and deciding how vaccines can be rolled out to communities. Over the years, biostatisticians have also been instrumental in cancer research, drug trials and other medical studies.
A biostatistician’s exact role varies depending on where they work. But, they’re typically responsible for designing studies, collecting data and performing data analysis. What they uncover helps the health care sector make data-driven, informed decisions about illnesses and outbreaks, public health trends and how to best distribute resources to the public.
Biostatisticians typically work with pharmaceutical companies, in public health and medical settings or at universities in collaboration with other statisticians and scientists. Many opportunities for biostatisticians exist in both the public and private sector, and over the next 10 years, the need for qualified individuals in these roles is expected to grow.
Most jobs in the mathematics and statistical fields, including biostatisticians, require at least a master’s degree in mathematics or statistics, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the private sector, a doctorate may also be needed, and for some federal government jobs, a bachelor’s degree may suffice.
Anyone planning a career in biostatistics should also take college courses in physics, biology, chemistry or other health sciences, and computer programming, since most data analysis is performed using software. Even before college, high school students interested in biostatistics should take as many math classes as they can.
What other skills do biostatisticians need?
Biostatistician jobs usually require some level of real-life work experience in addition to academic degrees, such as an internship or teaching at the university level while earning a Ph.D.
The most-desired skills for biostatisticians, according to BLS, include knowledge of mathematics, such as statistics, calculus and linear algebra, and analytical skills to apply mathematics to data analysis. Communication and problem-solving skills are necessary for proposing new solutions for data analysis, including computer software and processes, and presenting data in a way that’s easily understood by others outside the field.
Private sector vs. public sector jobs
Opportunities for biostatisticians exist across industries in the public and private sector, including agriculture, pharmaceuticals, technology and public health. Private sector organizations, such as Parexel, Genentech, Cytel and Moderna, often seek biostatisticians.
In 2019, most biostatisticians were employed in the public sector, however. The federal government was the largest employer of mathematicians, followed by colleges and universities and management, scientific and technical consulting services, according to BLS. For statisticians, the top employers were research and development, the federal government, health care and social assistance, and colleges and universities.
What is it like to work as a biostatistician?
Biostatisticians typically work in an office environment, often as part of a team of other scientists and researchers. Most work 40 hours per week, with many projects driven by deadlines.
Depending on the organization, a biostatistician’s day-to-day tasks may include:
Designing studies or clinical trials using mathematics
Setting up data collection methods
Collecting and analyzing data to draw conclusions and make predictions and informed decisions
Preparing reports to guide public health initiatives
Monitoring how studies are conducted to ensure results aren’t compromised
How much do biostatistician jobs pay?
The median annual salary for statisticians was $91,160 in May 2019, according to BLS. Federal government jobs paid about $106,600, research and development salaries were $102,500 and $80,920 for health care and social assistance jobs.
Mathematician roles had a median salary of $105,030, with management, scientific and technical consulting services jobs paying $123,270, the federal government offering $112,800 and colleges and university salaries at $62,780.
Long-term job prospects for biostatisticians
Through 2029, the job growth for statisticians is expected to grow 35%, and 33% for mathematicians and statisticians, which is above average compared to all occupations, according to BLS. Roles in statistical analysis to help make policy, business and health care decisions are projected to be especially in high demand.
Applicants with high levels of mathematical and statistical knowledge, strong qualitative and data analysis know-how and computer programming skills will see their job prospects increase. Communication skills and the ability to understand and present data and research results in a relatable way will particularly stand out.