Online Bioinformatics Degree Program Information
Bioinformatics is the use of computer technology to process and interpret biological information. Advanced training in biology, engineering, chemistry and computer science is needed for a career in the field. Online programs in bioinformatics include the Master of Science (M.S.), as well as graduate-level certificate programs.
Both master's degree programs and graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics are relatively common in online formats. Bioinformatics is a broad field with a wide variety of career possibilities, including technical assistant, technical sales representative, database administrator, database programmer, biological software engineer, biostatistician, research scientist, computational biologist and physician. These careers encompass a wide variety of educational, certification and licensure requirements. When choosing a bioinformatics program, make sure it closely matches your career goals and meets any educational requirements for licensure or certification in the career you intend to pursue.
Overview of an Online Master of Science (M.S.) Degree in Bioinformatics
The online M.S. was designed for students working full-time. New college graduates could enroll in this type of program, and so could experienced scientists with Ph.D.s whose research now requires bioinformatics expertise. While some students may work in the biotechnology field, others pursue careers in public health and medicine.
Program Information and Requirements
A prerequisite for a bioinformatics master's program is a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Some schools require that the degree be in a field-related major, such as biology or engineering. A master's program can be fully completed online; reliable Internet access is necessary. Students may interact online with the instructor and fellow classmates through e-mail, message board discussions and chat room sessions. Course content can be distributed in a variety of ways, including downloadable text files, PowerPoint presentations and streaming video clips.
Description of Typical Courses
Applying computer technology to chemistry in multiple ways, the course may cover the retrieval, analysis, organization and visualization of chemical information. Instructors may review chemical structure representation, graph theory, ring perception, structural fingerprints, symmetry perception, QSAR historical approaches and simulated annealing.
This course teaches principles and applications of modern molecular modeling methods. Students learn how to interpret a biopolymer structure using modeling tools and algorithms. Specific topics include protein structure modeling, structure-based drug design, binding prediction and chemoinformatics.
Protein Structure Bioinformatics
A protein molecule is a long string of amino acid molecules, folded in upon itself; interactions between the various amino acids determine the shape into which the protein folds and its action within the body. In a bioinformatics course, students learn to predict the eventual shape, or structure, of a protein and to search databases of protein sequences.
As of November 2013, the BLS did not report specifically on bioinformatics specialists. As of May 2012, the average hourly employment wage for professions classified in the 'Biological Sciences, All Other' category, including bioinformatics specialists not classified as medical scientists, biochemists or biophysicists, was $36.64. The median annual wage was $72,700. The federal branch of the U.S. government employs the most in the field, followed by colleges, universities and professional schools. Payscale.com reports that senior research scientists in biotechnology earned salaries ranging from $67,527 to $134,397.
Overview of an Online Certificate in Bioinformatics
The graduate certificate program often incorporates several of the same courses offered in a school's bioinformatics Master of Science program. Students may opt for the certificate if their careers do not require the formal degree, or if they are seeking education to supplement training needs for their current employment or research.
Program Information and Requirements
Students must already have a bachelor's degree and have successfully completed several undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, engineering or computer science prior to acceptance. Like the master's program, the certificate can be earned entirely online, so students need access to a computer with an Internet connection. Some schools may permit credits to be applied toward a master's degree in bioinformatics, should the student decide to pursue one after completing the certificate program.
Description of Typical Courses
Concentrating primarily on the background and execution of methods for machine learning and data mining, students gain a mix of theoretical education and practical skills. Focus is given to methods for analyzing protein function prediction, gene expression data from genome comparisons and microarray experiments.
Statistical analysis gets applied to biological experiences and observations in this branch of biology. A biostatistics course teaches basic algorithms and statistical analysis theory. Topics include multivariate analysis, longitudinal data analysis and theory of distributions in statistics.
This class provides a general overview of critical ethical and legal issues within the biotechnology industry. Coursework may include the differences between ethics and law when considering issues in marketing, research methods, ethical analysis and other related issues. Key topics include animal welfare law and intellectual property protection.
The BLS reports that as of May 2012, the U.S. held approximately 31,000 individuals working in specialized biological sciences, including bioinformaticists. Employment for biochemists and biophysicists as a group is projected to grow 31%, much faster than the average for all occupations, from 2010 to 2020. During the same decade, the BLS projected job growth of 36% for medical scientists. Top-paying workplaces for 'all other' biological scientists include physicians' offices, management/scientific/technical consulting services and scientific research and development services, the BLS reported as of May 2012.
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