Career compass: bio statistics

# Join the virus warriors

Usha Albuquerque

The world today is in the grip of a deadly viral disease — this is no horror fantasy movie. In fact, it is much worse, as the deadly strain of a new evolved virus is spreading rapidly across the globe having infected more than 3,00,000. More than 11,000 have died due to this around the world. It is a pandemic like no other and governments, doctors, health workers, and others are scrambling to treat the infected, counsel the quarantined, and most importantly study the pattern of the virus’ mutations and try to predict its spread so as to contain and mitigate its lethal effects.

Among those working against the clock in helping solve the corona virus crisis are Bio-statisticians who, together with doctors and epidemiologists, are collecting data about the numbers infected, the causes for the spread of the infection, the pattern of contagion and so on, conducting statistical analyses and mathematical modeling so as to help advise government and health advisors on how to tackle the spread of this deadly epidemic.

Bio-statisticians have been using base raw data from those infected in countries like China, S Korea Italy and Iran and through mathematical modeling and a range of statistical studies and tools warning governments and health workers about the likely peak in infected cases and fatalities, and the need to 'flatten the curve' by introducing mitigating constraints such as social distancing, quanrantine and enforced hand washing.

Biostatisticians play a very important role as they analyze data and statistics on living things collected during medical research studies to draw conclusions or make predications. They use their knowledge of mathematics, statistics, and science to research on matters of healthcare. Moreover, by applying statistics to their scientific research, a bio-statistician in help develop statistical processes to address issues of human health. Today’s bio-statisticians are also exposed and trained in some of the top-tier, cutting-edge statistical software packages such as SPSS or R and trained to quickly provide descriptive reports on variables, statistics that examine relationships among different variables, statistics that speak to whether some findings likely generalised to broader populations, and more.

Work profile

Biostatisticians typically work in a hospital, research lab or office, alone or with a team. They will formulate or help formulate questions or challenges related to medical issues, gather data from various sources, coordinate the collection of the data, and then analyse the data to answer those questions. They may perform data gathering through numerous sources, use a variety of technologies and tools to analyse the information, prepare reports on their findings, and consult with others in the medical field to arrive at their conclusion. The work of a bio-statisticians can include:

n Testing new drugs and using data to determine risks and effectiveness

n Studying various risk factors leading to disease

n Designing principles for randomised controlled trials

n Using statistical data

to look at links that could highlight causes or cures of disease

n Evaluating results of cancer and other death threatening disease studies

Job prospects

Most bio-statisticians work in academia, with government or private research facilities, hospitals, and for national, international, public and private organisations involved in the study of patterns of health and disease in populations. Government and international organisations like the National Centre for Disease Control, Indian Council of medical Research, World Health Organisation(WHO), United Nations, Médecins Sans Frontières and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and other international charities targeting disease outbreaks overseas, regularly recruit bio-statisticians, epidemiologists and public health experts for field support of projects.

Job opportunities in bio-statistics are projected to grow as the incidence and spread of diseases increase. Moreover, advances in the availability and processing of “big data”, along with the growing integration of advanced mapping software, will open up new opportunities in this area.

So for those interested in bio-sciences and with a curious and inquisitive mind, this career will be vitally significant in the coming months as we fight this pandemic for the humanity.

Getting in

Biostatistics is a branch of statistics related to medical and health applications, and so those getting into this field must have a strong background in science, particularly Biology and Chemistry. You also need to be good in maths and statistics and be data proficient as you will be working with statistical analysis and data presentation software programs. While there are B Sc courses in Bio-statistics, to work in this highly complex scientific field would require a minimum of a Master of Science (MS) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Biostatistics, mathematics or statistics. You can get into an MS or MSc in Bio-statistics after a bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences, maths or statistics. Coursework will focus on statistics, advanced maths, data analysis, and more. It will also cover certain areas of medicine in order to provide a solid foundation on which to apply the findings of the research.

The master’s in Bio - Biostatistics is offered by several universities and institutes, including Delhi and Mumbai University and the Indian Statistical Institute. Some institutes such as SRM University offer an MSc Biostatistics & Epidemiology which focuses on the integration of epidemiology, biostatistics and public health.

Some of the colleges offering courses in bio - biostatistics:

• Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), New Delhi
• Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkatta
• Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, Mumbai
• Manipal University, Karnatka
• Shri Venkateshwara University
• SRM University, Chennai

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