Careers that Combine Biology and Mathematics

Biology and Math: Symmetry in Dandelions
Biology and Math: Symmetry in Dandelions | Source

To most people biology and mathematics 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 and are essential for those who want to prepare for a specialized career that combines biology and math. These careers include biostatistics, epidemiology, bioinformatics, mathematical biology and population ecology.

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 also needs to gain experience in using computers.

Math can be used to study the branching patterns of trees.
Math can be used to study the branching patterns of trees. | Source
Biology and Math: Symmetry in Star Anise
Biology and Math: Symmetry in Star Anise | Source


Biostatistics, which is sometimes known as biometry, 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. 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 certain 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 certain 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 calculations have been done by biostatistic techniques.

It is 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 post graduate 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 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 or 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 post graduate studies.

What Does An Epidemiologist Do?


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 we collect more and more information about genomes and the molecules in cells, bioinformatics becomes extremely important to deal with all the data. (A "genome" is the complete genetic information of an organism.)

Computers not only store the 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 what is happening in human cells during diseases.

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.

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.

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?

Bioinformatics and Cancer

Mathematical Biology

Mathematical biology is sometimes known as biomathematics. Like bioinformatics, it's an interdisciplinary field involving biology, math and the use of computers. Mathematical biologists 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 much more quickly in a mathematical model created on a computer than when using live organisms or their cells. In some cases the models are already useful, and they will become more helpful as we discover more about the phenomenon that they describe and update the model. In addition, the continuing increase in computer abilities will 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 ecology which 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 non living environments. 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 post graduate degree.

Population Ecology Study of Weddell Seals

A Biology and Math Career

Which career interests you the most?

  • biostatistics
  • epidemiology
  • bioinformatics
  • mathematical biology
  • population biology
See results without voting

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 post graduate 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!

© 2012 Linda Crampton

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Comments 30 comments

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 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.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

Ely Maverick profile image

Ely Maverick 4 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 image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

writer20 profile image

writer20 4 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 image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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

drbj profile image

drbj 4 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.

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 4 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!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 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 image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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!

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 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 image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 4 years ago from Illinois

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

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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!

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 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 image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

StellaSee profile image

StellaSee 4 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 image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

girishpuri profile image

girishpuri 4 years ago from NCR , INDIA

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

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit and the comment, girishpuri!

mbyL profile image

mbyL 4 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 image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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

serin 3 years ago


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, serin.

Pathum sameera 3 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 image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

pipvictor 18 months 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 image

AliciaC 18 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

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.

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    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,244 Followers
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    Linda Crampton has a honours degree in biology. She has taught high school biology, chemistry and other science subjects for many years.

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