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What is a bioinformatics degree?

If you're interested in life science, computer science, and IT, a career in bioinformatics may be for you. Explore our guide to bioinformatics degrees and find out.
maura-deering
Written by Maura Deering on
Reviewed by Whende Carroll MSN, RN-BC, FHIMS
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A bioinformatics degree prepares students for careers at the intersection of biology, computer science, and information technology. 

Also known as computational biology, bioinformatics is involved in developing medications, genetic research, agricultural productivity, and public health policies. 

Potential employment areas span agriculture and wildlife, computer and data science, pharma and biotech, and the public sector and academia.

Job titles in the field include:

  • Bioinformatics software engineer
  • Clinical bioinformatics data analyst
  • Computational biologist
  • Genomics specialist 
  • Research scientist

Read on to discover available degree levels, knowledge and skills that help students succeed, and where you might fit in the field of biometrics.

What is bioinformatics?

Bioinformatics combines biology, computer science, and information technology to assemble and analyze biological data. 

It enables exciting projects like the Human Genome Project (HGP). The HGP mapped base pairs of DNA segments to understand the complete set of human genes. 

Biometrics includes subdisciplines like biomedicine, biotechnology, energy development, and environmental restoration. 

Within those subtopics, bioinformatics professionals use such tools as databases and algorithms to make medical discoveries like cancer biomarkers and research the human impact on climate change. 

What knowledge and skills do bioinformatics programs teach students?

Using scientific and analytical software, including IBM SPSS Statistics, SAS statistical software, and MATLAB

  • Developing and customizing software applications
  • Communicating research results orally and in writing at conferences and in publications and reports
  • Analyzing large molecular datasets and biological samples for clinical and research purposes
  • Developing data models and databases
  • Complex problem-solving
  • Knowledge of biology, mathematics, chemistry, computers, and electronics
  • Proficiency in applied statistics, machine learning, and programming
  • Deductive and inductive reasoning 

How hard is a bioinformatics degree?

Bioinformatics students must master many subjects, which can make it challenging. 

Learners have to switch gears from topics in sciences like biology and chemistry to English, business, and training. 

They also hone skills in computer hardware and software, processors, and circuit boards, along with algebra, geometry, calculus, and statistics. 

Depending on your career goals, you may spend several years earning a bachelor's, master's, or even doctoral degree. 

Students who excel in active listening, complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and reading comprehension should be successful. Staying engaged with group projects and class participation can help you stay focused and motivated.

What kinds of bioinformatics degrees are there?

Bioinformatics degrees span all levels, and the right one for you depends on your interests, career goals, and the length of time you want to spend in school.

Associate degree in bioinformatics

Job listings on Indeed require at least a bachelor's degree for employment, and associate degrees in this field are not common. 

Associate bioinformatics programs exist for students who want to explore the major and often comprise the first two years of study before transferring to a bachelor's program.

Graduates may qualify for entry-level or assisting roles in medical and clinical laboratory technology or biological technology.

Coursework may include:

  • Introduction to interdisciplinary bioinformatics
  • Biostatistics
  • Computational biology

Bachelor's degree in bioinformatics

Bachelor's degrees in bioinformatics typically take four years to complete.

Curricula include capstone projects and interdisciplinary courses in computer science, life sciences, mathematics, and general education topics. Students may specialize in the biological or computational areas of bioinformatics. 

At some schools, bioinformatics is a concentration area of a biochemistry, bioengineering, biology, chemistry, or computer science degree. Other programs offer electives in informatics in those and other fields of study. 

Bioinformatics jobs include research scientist, computational biologist, clinical bioinformatics data analyst, and bioinformatics software engineer.

Courses may include:

  • Introduction to bioinformatics
  • Data structures
  • Introduction to probability and statistics for scientists and engineers

Graduate certificate in bioinformatics

Graduate certificates offer multidisciplinary, non-degree training in bioinformatics for computer scientists, engineers, and scientists. 

Graduate certificates in bioinformatics programs generally admit bachelor's degree-holders, but some programs require students to be master's or Ph.D. program enrollees or post-graduate professionals. Certificates can be earned in 8-36 months, depending on full- or part-time enrollment.

Programs often incorporate case studies, seminars, literature review, individual and group research projects, and learning to code. Graduate certificates support professional roles in data science and modeling, biostatistics, and software development. 

Courses may include:

  • Statistical genomics
  • Machine learning
  • Molecular modeling in bioinformatics

Master's degree in bioinformatics

Master's degrees in bioinformatics typically take 12-24 months to complete. 

They prepare graduates for roles in drug and vaccine development, disease research, and database and software engineering for biomedical data. 

Opportunities exist in biotechnology, environmental science, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals. 

Some students opt to continue studying for a doctorate or enter medical school.

Potential master's program components include computer lab courses, experiential projects, internships, and a thesis or capstone. Programs may offer focus areas like biotechnology, computer science, laboratory science, and translational science.

Courses may include:

  • Molecular biology for bioinformatics
  • Epigenetics, gene organization, and expression
  • Biological database systems

Doctoral degree in bioinformatics

Ph.D. programs develop bioinformatics professors and research scientists. 

Specialization tracks include biological data analysis, evolutionary genomics, evolutionary medicine, and structural bioinformatics. Courses geared to career development cover oral communication, research ethics, and scientific writing. 

Laboratory rotations, research or teaching assistantships, and dissertation proposals and defense round out the curriculum. Completion could take up to seven years.

Courses may include:

  • Proteomics and biomarkers
  • Quantitative science to solve global problems
  • Theoretical principles of biostatistics

Accreditation for bioinformatics programs

Accreditation indicates that a school or program receives regular assessments to ensure the quality and effectiveness of the curriculum. Check for school-wide accreditation, which is required for a college to offer federal financial aid.

Also, confirm programmatic accreditation by organizations like the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology or the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education.

In conclusion

If reading through this guide makes you want to learn more about earning a bioinformatics degree, start by thinking about potential careers you might be interested in pursuing. 

Next, consider whether a bachelor's will get you there or whether you'll need a master's or doctorate. Finally, research programs and available specializations to understand your options. 

This article was reviewed by Whende M. Carroll, MSN, RN-BC, FHIMSS

Whende Caroll, a woman with brown eyes and pulled-back hair, smiles outdoors in a headshot.

Whende M. Carrollis the founder of Nurse Evolution — a health IT hub established to educate nurses about using emerging technologies, advanced data analytics, and innovation strategies to improve health outcomes and boost the overall nurse experience. 

She is currently the director of clinical optimization at Contigo Health. Whende graduated from Walden University with a master of science in nursing with an informatics focus. She also holds board certification in informatics nursing from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She is a senior editor at the Online Journal of Nursing Informatics, for which she regularly writes about big data-enabled nurse technology topics.

Whende M. Carroll is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network. 

Last reviewed May 30, 2022.

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