The College of Public Health and Health Professions trains future biostatisticians to advance health from Florida, onward.
By Katarina Fiorentino Klatzkow
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, biostatisticians were hard at work, tracking the spread of disease, predicting the next hot spots, designing vaccine clinical trials and analyzing data on these and other interventions in order to inform policymakers. It’s no wonder Forbes magazine has called biostatistics a top master’s degree for job prospects.
Fast forward to 2023. Communities around the globe are coming together again after the pandemic and the world looks quite a bit different than a few years ago.
At the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions department of biostatistics, however, the goal remains the same: Prepare graduates to advance health through cutting-edge research and innovative computing and machine learning techniques to address current and emerging challenges affecting human health.
So, why is biostatistics such a thriving field? And why should students put a career as a biostatistician on their radar?
Steven Foti, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor and director of graduate studies in the department of biostatistics, says the answer boils down to one simple fact: data is everywhere.
“We’ve been saying that for a long time, but every day that goes by, it becomes more and more relevant,” Foti said. “Biostatistics allows us to operate in a world where data is omni-present, and we can make decisions using that data.”
Artificial intelligence is also at the forefront of a career in biostatistics, with new tools amassing large quantities of data that biostatisticians can use to identify patterns, analyze them, and interpret the results for clinical or business decision-making.
There are key differences that separate biostatistics from other mathematical degree programs, including statistics.
“With biostatistics, we are looking at scenarios that are more closely related to, for example, public health, medicine, clinical trials and infectious disease data,” Foti said. “Biostatistics offers more specific pathways because it always has an application to something. You’re rarely just talking about statistics for the sake of it. In biostats, there’s usually a context driving the methodology.”
Despite being a specialized degree, Foti remarks on the flexibility that results from training as a biostatistician and how this discipline opens doors to a diverse set of career opportunities.
While many students choose to pursue positions in health and medicine, such as with Mayo Clinic or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some go on to work for companies like Google or Capital One.
Graduates from UF’s on-campus and online offerings in the department of biostatistics, including on-campus M.P.H., M.S. and Ph.D. programs, as well as an online M.S. degree with flexibility that appeals to working professionals, are prepared to lead successful careers across varied industries.
PHHP biostatistics alumni are working for pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, universities, biotechnology incubators, federal agencies, software companies, finance firms, and more. They hold managerial positions, conduct research and develop methodology in computational modeling.
What’s great about biostatistics, Foti said, is that students aren’t stuck in a niche, even with a more targeted degree.
“It’s crazy how many different titles there are. Our graduates are research scientists, computational biologists, statisticians, data management analysts, biostatistics managers, data scientists, actuarial analysts and consultants,” Foti said.
Those who go on to obtain a doctorate degree are often heading research or industry teams or serving in a high-level managerial role to execute large projects.
So, why should a student choose the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions to launch their career in biostatistics?
As Foti says, pursuing a PHHP biostatistics degree means you’re training at the intersection of flexibility, excellence and community.
“It’s never too late to get involved with biostatistics. We have students coming from a variety of different backgrounds,” Foti said. “At PHHP, the sense of professionalism is profound, and you don’t feel like you’re just another cog in the wheel. Our students are getting jobs.”
The UF online M.S. program is one of the only distance education programs in biostatistics in the country, offering flexibility to working professionals who have busy personal and professional lives.
For both campus and online programs, the department of biostatistics prides itself on student and faculty engagement. With $8.5 million in active grants, an average of 150 research papers published by faculty and grad students a year, and small class sizes tailored for individualized attention, students have the opportunity to learn from and conduct research with faculty who are leaders in their respective specialties.
While biostatistics is very much a hard science, Foti emphasizes the soft skills students need to nurture to be successful statistical communicators.
“You’re going to be collaborating with teams of people, talking with individuals who maybe don’t know as much about statistics,” Foti said. “The department, and PHHP in general, offers students a lot of opportunities for collaboration and team projects. It’s a great network and community to be a part of, the Gator Nation. You go out in the world and find other Gators. And I think that’s a special connection.”