Careers That Combine Biology and Mathematics

Updated on December 15, 2017
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton has an honors degree in biology. She has taught high school biology, chemistry, and other science subjects for many years.

Math can be useful in analyzing population data in biology.
Math can be useful in analyzing population data in biology. | Source

Interesting and Compatible Subjects

To most people, biology and mathematics probably seem like two completely different disciplines. Biology is the scientific study of living things; mathematics is the study of quantities, patterns, and relationships between quantities. A knowledge of math can help a biologist, however, just as understanding biology may be useful to mathematicians. Biologists collect large quantities of data about animals, plants, or microbes, but they may not have the necessary skills to analyze the data properly. Mathematicians know how to analyze data, but they often lack sufficient knowledge of biology to make their analysis of biological data meaningful.

As the biologist’s tools for making observations and collecting data improve, there is a growing need for people who are trained in both biology and mathematics. Math can be useful in almost any area of biology as well as in allied sciences like medicine and agriculture. Undergraduate math courses are helpful for anyone who enters the workforce with a bachelor’s degree in biology. They are essential for people who plan to get an advanced degree and seek a career involving biology and math. These careers include biostatistics, epidemiology, bioinformatics, mathematical biology, and population ecology.

The language of a computer
The language of a computer | Source

The Importance of Computers in a Biology and Math Career

A knowledge of mathematical processes and experience in mathematical reasoning are necessary for someone hoping to enter a biology career that involves math. However, in the workforce math calculations will probably be done by computer software. Therefore, in addition to studying math, someone hoping to have a career that combines biology and mathematics needs to gain experience in using computers. Practice in using different operating systems and different types of software will be useful. Even if the software that is used in school or at home is not identical to that used in a career, a person's prior experience will be helpful.

Biology and Math: Symmetry in Star Anise
Biology and Math: Symmetry in Star Anise | Source

Biostatistics

Biostatistics is the use of statistical methods to help researchers define a problem that needs to be solved, gather data, analyze the data, draw conclusions, and publish their results. It's sometimes known as biometry. Biostatisticians commonly work in the fields of medicine, public health, biology, agriculture, and forestry. They collect data from populations and look for meaning in the data.

Here are some examples of questions that biostatisticians might refine and then investigate:

  • Does coffee reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes?
  • Does a specific medication lower the LDL cholesterol level in the blood?
  • Does walking improve lower body strength in seniors?
  • Does the presence of a certain pesticide on produce increase the risk of cancer?
  • Does a specific nutrient increase the lifespan of AIDS patients?

When we read the results of clinical trials telling us that a particular nutrient or medication is beneficial or detrimental in some way, the conclusion has been reached by statistical analysis.

It's possible to get a bachelor's degree in biostatistics, but most jobs in the field require that a student attends graduate school to get a master's degree or a PhD. In addition to majoring in biostatistics as an undergrad, students can also qualify for graduate school by studying for a math degree and including biology courses in their studies or by studying for a biology degree and taking lots of math courses. Someone interested in a biostatistics career should check the postgraduate program of their choice to discover which math courses they should take as an undergrad and to find out whether a math degree or a biology degree is preferred as an entrance requirement.

What Does a Biostatistician Do?

Epidemiology

Epidemiology is the study of the causes, distribution, and solutions for health-related events and diseases in populations. An epidemiologist is often referred to as a "medical detective". He or she tries to find out why a health-related event or disease has appeared in a community, how it's being spread, why it occurs in some people or areas and not in others, and how it can be corrected, stopped, and prevented. A "health-related event" could be smoking, the use of a certain drug, a nutrient deficiency, or obesity, for example. Examples of infectious diseases that might be investigated include hepatitis A, AIDS, and influenza.

Epidemiologists don't have to be medical doctors, although some are. Medical personnel perform diagnostic tests and treatments and give the epidemiologists data that they need for their investigation and analysis.

In general, a master's degree in epidemiology is required in order to work in the field, or a PhD for some jobs. Epidemiologists use computers and statistical techniques in their jobs, so undergrads need to take biology, math, and computer courses to prepare for their postgraduate studies.

What Does an Epidemiologist Do?

Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics is the management and analysis of information in biology or medicine with the aid of a computer. It's an interdisciplinary subject that requires a knowledge of biology, math, computer science, and information technology.

Bioinformatics is often used in the fields of molecular biology and genetics. As scientists are gathering more information about genomes and the molecules in cells, bioinformatics is becoming increasingly important in dealing with the data. (A "genome" is the complete genetic information of an organism.)

Computers not only store information in databases but also allow researchers around the world to access the data that they need, such as the complicated stucture of a particular protein or the gene map for a chromosome. A "gene map" indicates where specific genes are located on chromosomes. The data can be extremely useful. For example, it's helping scientists to understand the processes that occur in cells during disease.

Just as in biostatistics and epidemiology, while collecting data in bioinformatics is important, it's not the only goal of the discipline. Interpreting the data is very important. New math formulas and algorithms are being designed to extract meaning from the data. An "algorithm" is the series of steps that a computer performs as it carries out its programmed task.

People who want to work in the bioinformatics field need at least a master's degree, but a PhD degree is preferable.

What Is Bioinformatics?

In Silico Experients

An exciting area of bioinformatics is the use of in silico experiments. This term is derived from the names of the two main types of biology experiments. In vivo experiments are done in living things; in vitro experiments are done in laboratory equipment. The term "vivo" means "living" in Latin, while "vitro" means "glass", which refers to the glassware used in experiments. The word "silico" refers to the silicon chips in computers. In silico biology experiments involve the analysis of stored data by a computer and the use of computer simulations and models.

Bioinformatics and Cancer

Mathematical Biology or Biomathematics

Mathematical biology is sometimes known as biomathematics. Like bioinformatics, it's an interdisciplinary field involving biology, math, and the use of computers. Biomathematicians use mathematical models to explain biological phenomena. For example, they are trying to create models that describe wound healing, tumor behavior, the behavior of social insects, the spread of infectious diseases, and the movement of cells.

If mathematical models are accurate, they can be used to make predictions. They may enable us to discover things that we didn't know about a natural phenomenon. Parameters can be altered and the results observed sooner in a mathematical model created on a computer than when using live organisms or their cells. In some cases the models are already useful. They should become even more helpful as we discover further information about the phenomena that they describe and then update the models. The continuing increase in computer abilities should be very beneficial in both bioinformatics and mathematical biology.

People who want to work in the field of mathematical biology need an advanced degree in the field.

Using Math in Biology

Population Ecology

Population ecology is a branch of biology that is concerned with the size, structure, and dynamics of populations. Population ecologists study the interactions between a group of organisms and both their living and nonliving environment. They look for factors that control the population's size, density, and growth. They examine the population makeup with respect to gender and age and determine the birth rate, death rate, immigration rate, and emigration rate. They also examine factors such as the average age at which a female gives birth and the average number of babies born per female. The researchers record data in the field and then analyze it later.

A population ecologist is primarily a biologist but has a good knowledge of statistics and math. He or she must enjoy field work, which may sometimes take place in unpleasant conditions, and must be comfortable using computers and appropriate software. In addition, like all the careers described in this article, the ecologist will need to present his or her discoveries to other people, usually in written form, so English courses are important for undergrads.

It's possible to get a job related to population ecology with a bachelor's degree, but someone is far more likely to get the job that they want with a postgraduate degree.

Population Ecology Study of Weddell Seals

A Biology and Math Career

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Important Subjects to Study

If you're an undergrad at a college or university and are majoring in biology it’s a good idea to include both math and computer science in your studies. You'll probably be required to take introductory courses in these areas. If you want the greatest number of career options, however, you should keep taking appropriate math and computer science courses for as long as you can fit them into your schedule. A good knowledge of these subjects will be helpful if you want to find a job when you've obtained your bachelor's degree in biology.

If you're aiming for a career that involves both biology and math, or if you're thinking of studying for this career at graduate school, it's very important that you take lots of math courses as an undergrad. It's also important that you check the requirements of several postgraduate institutions so that you choose the right type and number of math courses for your undergrad studies.

It's an exciting time for students who like both biology and math. The union of the two subjects is progressing rapidly, offering the potential for some very interesting and important job opportunities for qualified people.

References and Resources

Monti, Katherine L. "How to Prepare for a Career in Biostatistics." American Statistical Association. http://stattrak.amstat.org/2011/08/01/biostaticscareer/ (accessed December 11, 2017).

Information about epidemiologists from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Facts about careers in bioinformatics from the International Society for Computational Biology

Information about biomathematics from North Carolina State University

Population ecology information from Nature Education

Questions & Answers

  • I'm totally confused about my career. I have taken biology and math but am unable to choose a career. How can I discover a career that is right for me?

    The career that you choose must be one that you like. Although it’s important to make enough money from a career to live comfortably (if this is possible), the career must also be enjoyable. You’ll probably be working at a job for many days every week (except during vacation time) and for many years, so it’s important that you like what you’re doing.

    Perhaps you could talk to a career counsellor in your school to ask them questions. You might be able to contact people who work in the careers that interest you and ask them about what they do every day and what the benefits and disadvantages of the career are. Some schools and colleges have career days during which different organizations and companies have displays. These events could be useful to attend. Doing lots of research on the Internet and in libraries about specific careers could also be useful.

  • What other jobs will I find if I study maths, biology, and physical science?

    Becoming a high school or secondary school science and math teacher could be a good option for someone who has studied biology, physical science, and math. This would only be true if the person likes the idea of educating young people, however. Additional studies in order to get a teaching certificate would probably be necessary for this career.

    It may be possible for someone with a knowledge of science and math to work in certain businesses, such as ones that sell science equipment or deal with environmental problems. Once again, further training may be needed, though some positions may be available without this training.

    Science writing or journalism or science illustration are other possibilities for someone with general science knowledge, although getting a full-time job in these areas could be difficult. Writing or artistic skills would be required for these careers.

© 2012 Linda Crampton

Comments

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    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The answer depends on what part of the world you live in and what the universities there offer. Where I live, university students either enter a special program devoted to mathematical biology, major in mathematical biology, or pursue a joint major in biology and math. I think the meaning of a "major" subject in my country is the same as the meaning of an "honour" subject in some other countries.

    • profile image

      Ching Thianhoih V. 

      7 weeks ago

      Is biomathematics/ mathematical biology possible to be opted as the honour subject ?

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      7 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The requirements for becoming a dental therapist seem to be different in different areas, but they all include a period of specialized training at a college or university. A biology background would be excellent for this training. Experience in using computers would also be useful. The statistics topic in math could be helpful as well.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You're welcome, Roozo.

    • profile image

      roozo 

      2 months ago

      thanks, helped a lot!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Riyaj, I don't know what your problem is.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Confidenceon.

    • profile image

      Confidenceon 

      11 months ago

      Thanks alot this information was inspiring

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      13 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Puneeth. I appreciate your comment.

    • profile image

      Puneeth Deraje 

      13 months ago

      Great Information. I was going through this delimma to choose between math and bio. It surely helped

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      18 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Jael. I appreciate your comment.

    • profile image

      Jael 

      18 months ago

      It's informative.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, pipvictor. I think you chose an interesting combination of courses! The career choices in this article may help you, but another thing you could do is talk to a school counsellor. He or she will probably have some career suggestions.

    • profile image

      pipvictor 

      3 years ago

      Surely, i was confused of the course to take since Biology, math, Agriculture and sub ITC were my my favoured subjects i have chosed as a combination in A. level....they all look different but now i have picked a hope for biology and math.....Please! Is there zany other career that fit in the above mentioned subjects..

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Pathum sameera. This article should give you some ideas for a career that combines biology and math. It would also be a good idea for you to talk to a career counsellor. He or she should be able to help you choose a suitable career.

    • profile image

      Pathum sameera 

      4 years ago

      I'm intereted in both maths and biology and also i'm good at both.i love biology so i need to know what is the best career for me and the path to it.please help me

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the visit and the comment, serin.

    • profile image

      serin 

      5 years ago

      thanks

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, mbyL! I appreciate your visit.

    • mbyL profile image

      Slaven Cvijetic 

      6 years ago from Switzerland, Zurich

      How interesting! I love maths and biology is not bad too and it was interesting to read it! Shared Interestind and up with this hub!

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the visit and the comment, girishpuri!

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 

      6 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      Very useful for my son who studies in class 10th, and was looking for this, thanks

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Stella. All these new terms being created for disciplines that combine biology and math are sometimes confusing! Computational biology is often used to refer to a discipline that encompasses both bioinformatics and mathematical biology.

    • StellaSee profile image

      StellaSee 

      6 years ago from California

      Hi Alicia I have a question~ so biostats is applying statistics to study of biological problems, then what's computational biology? Is that the same thing as bioinformatics?

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Peggy! Yes, the amount of data that's being collected in biology is amazing. It's very important that researchers analyze this data so that they can make new and hopefully very significant discoveries about biology and medicine. Thank you very much for the share and the votes.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Alicia,

      This is great information for students to have in order to maximize their job and earning potential in the years ahead. With the aid of computers, it is amazing the data that can be collected and analyzed and disseminated world-wide. Sharing this so that more people might consider these options when considering careers. Up, interesting and useful votes, in addition.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Danette. It would be good if more people were interested in math and science. They're important subjects, and I think they're interesting too!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Interesting information on careers. If only we had more students showing an interest in the math and sciences.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Nell. Yes, combining biology and math is a very worthwhile endeavour! I think that the number of ways in which math can be applied to biology will continue to increase. Thank you for the comment, the vote and the share.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      6 years ago from England

      This is great information for anyone going into this field of work. I was never interested in maths particularly which was a shame because as I got older I would love to have been a physicist. But the field of biology and maths sounds really worthwhile, and the data they collect can only be for the good of everyone, voted up and shared nell

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and all the votes, GoodLady! Yes, it is wonderful that the all data that's collected can be analyzed and interpreted. A knowledge of biology and math is very useful!

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      This is such a helpful resource for people, (such as my niece for example), who are interested in careers which implement their biology and math studies to the max. I'm in awe of such capability and talent, especially when I have health check ups - and all that data is analyzed.

      Voting and also ticking 'useful' 'awesome' and 'interesting'

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, prasetio! Thank you for the comment and for the rating and the vote.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm glad that your statistics class has been useful in at least one way, drbj!! Thank you very much for the comment. I appreciate your visits.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 

      6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Nice career and good combination between biology and mathematics. Once again, I learn many things from you. Good job, ALicia. Rated up and useful. Take care!

      Prasetio

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      This is excellent, detailed information, Alicia, for students who may be uncertain of which path to follow for a rewarding career. For myself, the sciences have always attracted me, but statistics - not biostatistics, but plain everyday statistics - that subject was something else. I worked harder for my A in that class than any other class I ever attended.

      Although I have found it handy when playing Black Jack.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the lovely comment and for all the votes, Joyce!

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 

      6 years ago from Southern Nevada

      You've written and researched this great hub. Hopefully this will help all of your followers.

      Voted up across the top except for fuuny and beautiful, Joyce.

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Ely. Yes, most of these careers are in demand, and at least in North America the salary is good. Thanks for the visit and the comment.

    • Ely Maverick profile image

      Ely Maverick 

      6 years ago from The Beautiful Archipelago of the Philippines

      BioMath careers are always in-demand nowadays. Branching out and growing old with these careers will give those experts huge savings, right?

    • AliciaC profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, teaches. Thanks for commenting! Yes, these careers would all be very rewarding for someone who enjoys both biology and math. They are very important careers too, and offer the opportunity to make significant contributions to human life and to animal life.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Interesting hub topic. I don't believe I could handle the requirements for such high level math requirements. It must be very rewarding for those who have the talents to pursue these options. Thanks for sharing.

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