The area under the curve of the obesity epidemic is my future?
July 12, 2010 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Help me find a career path or course of study that combines the topic I'm interested in (obesity and public health) with the methods I enjoy (applied math and computer science).

I have an undergraduate degree in math and computer science -- I did research projects during college in computational biology (positions I obtained based on my math and computer skills), but have no formal training in biology otherwise.

I find obesity and issues of public health fascinating, but I'm having trouble reconciling that with my background/desire to continue working in applied math/computational science. What career paths or courses of study would be good for me? Harvard School of Public Health has an interdisciplinary concentration in Obesity Epidemiology and Prevention that looks pretty interesting, but that's all I've seen so far.

I realize that this question is really vague, and I obviously lack direction (okay, you think obesity is interesting and you like math... but what do you want to DO?), but that's why I'm asking.
posted by telegraph to Education (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Any research-based MPH in epidemiology should allow you to focus on obesity or whatever else rings your bell. Keep in mind that a math degree is considered quite desirable for MPH candidates, but programs in epidemiology are ridiculously competitive, and you'll need at least a couple of years of work experience in a health field to get in (also, apparently almost everyone who applies/gets admitted has a 4.0 undergraduate GPA, from what I've been told from admissions committee members in two of the top five programs in the U.S.)
posted by halogen at 7:55 AM on July 12, 2010

Apply to biostatistics MS programs that require a thesis or project (not just coursework) and support students through research assistantships (rather than just teaching assistantships). You may not get to work in obesity research right away, but I'm assuming this is a long-term interest?
posted by esoterrica at 8:31 AM on July 12, 2010

My first thought was something in the insurance/actuarial field.
posted by CathyG at 8:54 AM on July 12, 2010

ASU Public Health/Biomed Informatics
UIC Public Health Informatics (all online!)
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 9:12 AM on July 12, 2010

I should also add this is my professional area of interest, so please feel free to mefimail me.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 9:17 AM on July 12, 2010

Also search for "Preventive Medicine." You could look into becoming a Database Administrator, Data analyst or statistician for a research group. This type of research could likely be long-term and so job security would be there. If you want to continue finding it "fascinating" then I would suggest sticking with an academic research team.
posted by sarahnade at 9:22 AM on July 12, 2010

Seconding that you look into epidemiology. Obesity is one of many health conditions that are influenced by behavior/life style (as opposed to infectious agents). These health conditions are profoundly serious and have a major effect on individual's lives, public health expenditures, public policy, etc. You can get involved in any of these strands by focusing on public health careers.

Usually people who become epidemiologists get MPHs from from schools of public health, though some have MS degrees. There are many strands to epidemiology from community health programs to those with a heavy emphasis in biostatistics. You might want to check out the Association of Schools of Public Health and the American Public Health Association to find out more about the field.
posted by jasper411 at 9:27 AM on July 12, 2010

There's tremendous interest in public health in the human-computer interaction (HCI) community. Any decent HCI department will have people developing and testing software for e.g. reminding people to exercise, not smoke, etc.
posted by miyabo at 9:33 AM on July 12, 2010

(IamaBiostatician)...Nthing epi.

CS and programming are great fall-back skills from almost any area. Obesity is an area of research that is decently funded, and likely to grow. Biostats sounds like a great area. Otherwise, maybe consider genetic epidemiology. Math and tech help are *desperately needed* by many 'soft' researchers in the field. I happened to have gone to the U of MN SPH, if you need particular advice.

(Whatever you decide, I suggest focusing on the Stats/CS part of things, which are in demand *lots of places* in and outside academia.)
posted by gregglind at 9:20 AM on July 13, 2010

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