Applied Stats vs. Biostats
October 4, 2013 5:16 PM   Subscribe

How flexible is a master's degree in biostatistics compared to one in applied statistics? Is this even what I want to do?

I am considering applying to master's degree programs in applied statistics. Since my undergrad degree is in a humanities field, and I didn't take a lot of math, a Ph.D. or non-applied master's in statistics is not feasible. I might now have the option to do a M.S. in biostatistics with funding, whereas an applied stats M.S. would most likely not be funded. (Am I underestimating the possibility of funding for applied stats?)

Now I am wondering: if I get a degree in biostats, would I ever be able to get a stats job outside healthcare, or would I be locked into healthcare forever? I think I would enjoy working in the healthcare industry. However, I have a wide range of interests, and I like the idea of being able to switch industries someday if I get bored. In fact, that is one of the reasons I was drawn to statistics in the first place -- the flexibility.

Also, I have one lingering doubt about working as a statistician: I'm worried about sitting in front of a computer all day. Is this a legitimate worry? Any suggestions for fields that would let me make use of stats but incorporate some big-picture work, with a master's degree?

posted by Comet Bug to Education (4 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I did biostats and have since worked as a research fellow in genetic epidemiology, a data analyst / architect, and a quantitative user researcher and strategist.

Things are what you make of them. If you want to be big picture, have big picture advice and insights. Learn viz and biz and communication.

From a biostats background, the place you're most like to be stuck doing scut work is in an actual pharma shop, where the ph.d's will always outrank you, and the FDA cares.

I do lots of computer work and coding (because it needs doing!), but I also do more than that. I get invited as the stats expert at meetings, but most of my advice is coarse and Big Picture, and telling people to worry less about sample size than representativeness.

Applied stats and biostats don't differ much -- more time series vs survival analysis. First year is likely to be similar: regression, stat theory, distributions, categorical, etc.

Best of luck!
posted by gregglind at 8:20 PM on October 4, 2013

I can't tell from the way your question is phrased, but if you actually are more interested in a PhD or a non-applied master's in statistics, they are still "feasible" for you. It is not true that your undergrad degree forever limits what you can do. You may have to take some pre-requisites first, but if that's what you're interested in, you will be happier and therefore more successful in grad school than in a program that you are less interested in. Many people go on to grad school in fields different from those they started in.

As far as other fields that use stats in "big picture" ways, most scientific fields would qualify, especially fields where the data tend to be noisy like organismal biology/ecology, environmental science, or public health (less so chemistry and physics).
posted by hydropsyche at 3:08 AM on October 5, 2013

When I was in graduate school, our department's best stats guy had started his career as a mathematician, so if he could make the switch from pure math to applied stats successfully, I'm sure you could make the switch from one kind of statistics to another. It's hard to remember that you have a broad body of knowledge underlying your specialty, but you do!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:47 AM on October 5, 2013

It is not true that your undergrad degree forever limits what you can do.

Came here to say this. I'm an applied math grad student (at a good school too!); I was a B-average history major in my undergraduate life. Prerequisites and a little life experience are amazing things.
posted by downing street memo at 8:56 AM on October 11, 2013

« Older What are Mike & the bots singing in Outlaw of...   |   Old animated movie with a baby dragon? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.