To most people biology and mathematics seem like two completely different disciplines. Biology is the scientific study of living things; mathematics is the study of quantities, patterns and relationships between quantities. A knowledge of math can help a biologist, however, just as understanding biology may be useful to mathematicians. Biologists collect large quantities of data about animals, plants or microbes, but they may not have the necessary skills to analyze the data properly. Mathematicians know how to analyze data, but they often lack sufficient knowledge of biology to make their analysis of biological data meaningful.
As the biologist’s tools for making observations and collecting data improve there is a growing need for people who are trained in both biology and mathematics. Math can be useful in almost any area of biology as well as in allied sciences like medicine and agriculture. Undergraduate math courses are helpful for anyone who enters the workforce with a bachelor’s degree in biology and are essential for those who want to prepare for a specialized career that combines biology and math. These careers include biostatistics, epidemiology, bioinformatics, mathematical biology and population ecology.
A knowledge of mathematical processes and experience in mathematical reasoning are necessary for someone hoping to enter a biology career that involves math. However, in the workforce math calculations will probably be done by computer software. Therefore, in addition to studying math, someone hoping to have a career that combines biology and mathematics also needs to gain experience in using computers
Biostatistics, which is sometimes known as biometry, is the use of statistical methods to help researchers define a problem that needs to be solved, gather data, analyze the data, draw conclusions and publish their results. Biostatisticians commonly work in the fields of medicine, public health, biology, agriculture and forestry. They collect data from populations and look for meaning in the data.
Here are some examples of questions that biostatisticians might refine and then investigate.
Does coffee reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes? Does a certain medication lower the LDL cholesterol level in the blood? Does walking improve lower body strength in seniors? Does the presence of a certain pesticide on produce increase the risk of cancer? Does a certain nutrient increase the lifespan of AIDS patients? When we read the results of clinical trials telling us that a particular nutrient or medication is beneficial or detrimental in some way, the calculations have been done by biostatistic techniques.
It is possible to get a bachelor's degree in biostatistics, but most jobs in the field require that a student attends graduate school to get a master's degree or a PhD. In addition to majoring in biostatistics as an undergrad, students can also qualify for graduate school by studying for a math degree and including biology courses in their studies, or by studying for a biology degree and taking lots of math courses. Someone interested in a biostatistics career should check the post graduate program of their choice to discover which math courses they should take as an undergrad and to find out whether a math degree or a biology degree is preferred as an entrance requirement