Bioinformatics is a booming professional field that occupies the intersection of cell biology and computational mathematics. There are tens of thousands of positions for master’s in bioinformatics specialists to be found in every state in the United States with outstanding earnings potential. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the median annual salaries for scientists specializing in bioinformatics are uniformly high. Here are salaries in representative industries:
- $68,250 for bioinformatics jobs supporting academic research.
- $86,420 for bioinformatics jobs with the federal government.
- $95,350 for bioinformatics jobs with companies doing cell manufacturing for Big Pharma and jobs with Big Pharma monitoring cell manufacturing.
- $100,340 for bioinformatics jobs with scientific research services.
Biologists appreciate bioinformatics because it is a career with predictable hours. There’s never a need to do overnight timepoints in a research study. The biggest threat to health is repetitive stress syndrome from clicking on sites on the Internet to find code snippets, code repositories, and posters and presentations from recent bioinformatics conferences.
Computer scientists are drawn from big data and cybersecurity to bioinformatics because they are fascinated by the questions revealing the genetic nature of all life but don’t want to spend a lot of time in the lab. The computational challenges of biology require all of a computer scientist’s skills with algorithms and AI without the need to manage Petri dishes or test tubes filled with fruit flies. In bioinformatics, computer scientists get to apply cutting-edge computer science to real-world problems without close encounters to the pathogens and predators in it.
Many universities offer bachelor’s degrees in bioinformatics, but most employers consider a master’s degree to be a minimum prerequisite for bioinformatics positions. Employers may consider applicants who have considerable job experience who don’t have master’s degrees, but a master’s degree program gives you additional training and experience to bring to your job.
Which universities are best for earning a bioinformatics masters?
When you have a doctor’s degree, your job is asking the questions bioinformatics is all about. When you have a master’s degree, your job is finding the answers that bioinformatics is all about. If you are pursuing a master’s in bioinformatics as a terminal degree, with no plans to pursue a PhD in your foreseeable future, the best university is the best match for your educational background, budget, and time constraints. The process of choosing a school becomes more about the best fit to you than the best fit to the higher-profile opportunities in the field of bioinformatics.
That’s why we have listed US bioinformatics programs in alphabetic order. The school that is best for earning your master’s degree in bioinformatics is the school that is best for you. When you are studying for a Ph.D., the public profile of your degree-granting institution makes a difference in your own public profile. When you are doing bioinformatics at a master’s degree level, it’s not all about where you earned your degree, it’s more about the ingenuity and creativity you show with what you learned to get it. Any of these programs, however, will give you the training you need to pursue a career in bioinformatics with the option to pursue a Ph.D. at the same institution or another university later.
|1||Brandeis University Bioinformatics||Waltham, Massachusetts|
|2||Brown University Computational Biology||Providence, Rhode Island|
|3||Carnegie Mellon University Computational Biology||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania|
|4||Columbia University Biomedical Informatics||New York City, New York|
|5||Florida State University Bioinformatics||Tallahassee, Florida|
23 Best Master’s in Bioinformatics
Brandeis University Bioinformatics
The part-time master’s program at Brandeis University Bioinformatics is housed at the university but conducted entirely online. It’s an excellent option for students who have strong backgrounds from their undergraduate studies in:
- Organic chemistry AND
- Molecular biology AND
- Statistics AND
- At least beginning skills in Java, Python, or C++.
The Brandeis University bioinformatics program is not a degree sequence that gives students an opportunity to fill in the gaps in their preparation. Brandeis graduates have found positions as research specialists, research computing associates, business analysts, data analysts, managed care analysts, teachers, researchers, and even senior scientists. They have been employed by AstraZeneca, Bayer, Novartis, Biogen, Immunogen, and Partners Healthcare, among many others.
Brown University Computational Biology
Brown University offers an M.Sc. degree in biostatistics as part of its relationship with major research institutions. As the department puts it, they seek to transform “I-shaped” students with a firm foundation in one field and a higher-level specialization into “p- shaped” students who can draw from multiple fields to attain research expertise applicable across the entire field of bioinformatics.
Students can use their M.Sc. degree in positions with academic research centers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and in public health. Faculty are active in research programs related to cancer screening and prevention, health care policy, HIV/AIDS, genetic epidemiology, genomics, and neuroscience. They are members of the Center for Evidence Based Medicine or the Center for Statistical Sciences (CSS). The CSS sponsors a multidisciplinary Alcohol Research Center for HIV (ARCH), the NCI–funded American College of Radiology Imaging Network (ACRIN), and , the Biostatistics Core for Brown’s Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).
Carnegie Mellon University Computational Biology
Carnegie Mellon offers an M.S. degree in computational biology and an M.S. in automated science programming. Students who do not have foundations in biochemistry, computer science, machine learning, and statistics may pursue foundation courses, extending the length of their program to three or four semesters. The M.S. program at Carnegie Mellon is a good foundation for admission into a highly competitive Ph.D. program, but it also gives students all the skills they need to pursue careers at organizations ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies. Graduates of the program have been placed in staff positions at Philips Research, the J. Craig Venter Institute, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
Columbia University Biomedical Informatics
Columbia University Biomedical Informatics offers an M.A. in bioinformatics in a highly structured program that requires three or four semesters to complete, including the writing of a thesis with a defense. The department is one of the oldest bioinformatics programs in the United States, cooperating with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital as a hub for data analysis and machine learning. Faculty and students in the Department of Biomedical Informatics have developed new methodologies for clinical natural language processing, machine learning for electronic health record data, and design pathways for clinical information systems.
Florida State University Bioinformatics
Florida State University Bioinformatics has one of the largest graduate programs in computational biology in the world. It’s also one of the more rigidly structured graduate programs in bioinformatics. We’ll include a list of courses so you can know exactly what you will take, whether you believe you have mastered the topic or not.
Every graduate student in the program, whether working for an M.S. or a Ph.D., takes six core courses:
- MAP 5486 Computational Methods in Biology
- MAP 5932 Spatial and Temporal Models in Biology
- MAD 5306 Graph Theory and Networks
- MAP 6437 Biomathematics Projects
- MAP 6939 A Biomathematics seminar (1 hour credit each semester)
Then students take two courses from the Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Statistics, or Scientific Computing departments, such as:
- PCB 5525 Molecular Biology (Biology department)
- BCH 5405 Molecular Biology (Chemistry department)
- PCB 5137 Advanced Cell Biology
- BSC 5936 Membrane Biophysics
- PCB 5845 Cell and Molecular Neuroscience
- STA 5176 Statistical modeling with application to biology
- STA 5236 Distribution Theory
- STA 5325 Mathematical Statistics
- STA 5327 Statistical Inference
- STA 5172 Statistics in Epidemiology
- STA 5179 Applied Survival Analysis
- STA 5166 Statistics in Applications 1
- STA 5198 Epidemiology for Statisticians
And finally students take additional mathematics to add up to 36 hours from courses such as these:
- MTG 5326, 5327 Topology I, II
- MAS 5307, 5308 Groups Rings Vector Spaces I, II
- MAA 5406, 5407 Complex Variables I, II
- MAA 5616, 5617 Measure and Integration I, II
- MAD 5403, 5404 Foundations of Computational Mathematics I, II
- MAP 5345, 5346 Elementary Partial Differential Equations I, II
- MAD 5738, 5739 Numerical Solution of Partial Differential Equations I, II
- MAP 5165, 5423 Methods in Applied Mathematics I, II
- MAD 5305 Graph Theory
- ISC 5935 Computational Methods for Continuous Problems
These courses are foundational to either an M.S. or a Ph.D. degree. Students who stop at an M.S. degree have a good academic foundation for the practice of bioinformatics or further graduate study. Moving beyond coursework to practical experiences to enhance job opportunities, however, is up to the student.
Georgia Tech Bioinformatics
Georgia Tech Bioinformatics organizes its M.S. Binf program around the assumption that M.S. students meet the same qualifications as Ph.D. students, but are motivated to start their working careers sooner. After two semesters of experience in the computation lab, students have opportunities to pursue paid internships in the field. The department boasts a 98-percent job placement rate for its graduates.
While at Georgia Tech students can pursue research projects in algorithm and software development, human clinical and personalized genomics, microbial genomics, metagenomics, cancer genomics, epigenomics, systems biology, molecular evolution, synthetic biology, structural biology, drug discovery and development, and Big Data. Georgia Tech recognizes that its students have to work hard to balance the demands of training for research careers and their family lives, and seeks to support healthy lifestyles for all of its graduate students.
Indiana University Bloomington Bioinformatics
Indiana University offers residential, online, hybrid, and dual-degree programs to students pursuing an M.S. in Bioinformatics. Students learn how to analyze, manage, and model massive amounts of data by combining tools of informatics and statistics along with a strong understanding of biology. The faculty of the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering describe their graduate bioinformatics program as small and tight-knit, with about half of students taking jobs with institutions such as the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the Mayo Clinic and about half going on to earn doctoral degrees.
Iowa State University Bioinformatics & Computational Biology
Iowa State University‘s graduate program in bioinformatics and computational biology is a very small but very well-balanced program in wet lab as well as computational methods foundational to the professional practice of bioinformatics. Every student chooses a major adviser after taking foundational courses. This small program is geared to graduating Ph.D. students, but new students can ask to be admitted to an M.S. program that allows them to pursue professional goals faster. But every student is expected to pursue a research project that is “interdisciplinary, including both biological and quantitative/computational novel components.” The university provides numerous consulting opportunities for its students.
Johns Hopkins University Bioinformatics
Johns Hopkins offers on-campus and online courses for future professionals to develop programming and analytic skills applied to drug development, genomics, genetic counseling, and biotechnology. The master’s in bioinformatics program at Johns Hopkins has students of all ages and all levels of professional experience from countries around the world, offering unparalleled networking opportunities for careers with Big Pharma, government, academic institutions, and cell manufacturing services.
Kean University Biotechnology
Kean University’s M.S. in Biotechnology program offers opportunities to pursue internships and jobs at over 100 research centers as well as at nine hospitals just 30 miles away in New York City. Students can interact with successful biotech startup leaders through the Institute for Life Science Entrepreneurship as they train on state-of-the-art technology to solve important questions in the life sciences. Students can concentrate their coursework in one of four rapidly advancing sectors in bioinformatics and biotechnology: Advanced Biotechnology & Drug Discovery, Analytic Chemistry & Instrumentation, Bioinformatics & Genomic Sciences or Life Sciences Business Management.
Loyola University (Chicago) Bioinformatics
Loyola’s M.S, in Bioinformatics program is all about gaining the basic skills of doing science in close proximity to leading hospitals, research organizations, and biotech firms in Greater Chicago. Students take 17 hours of core courses and 13 hours of electives. A thesis is optional. Most students require three or four semesters, depending on whether they take courses in summer school.
Marquette University Bioinformatics
Marquette University bioinformatics courses are taught jointly with the Medical College of Wisconsin. Courses are offered in both the day and the evening and full-time and part-time programs are available. Classes are taught in Milwaukee for easy access to hands-on opportunities at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and the Froedtert Hospital.
New Jersey Institute of Technology Bioinformatics
The Master’s Degree in Bioinformatics at NJIT was developed to provide bioinformatics skills to students with backgrounds in either biology or information science. Faculty are active in research in bioinformatics, medical informatics, and computational biology.
New York University Biomedical Informatics
NYU’s M.S. in Bioinformatics is designed to train students to develop novel computational methods and then apply them to medical research. New students begin the 12-month program every summer and complete requirements for their degrees the following summer. Part-time enrollment is available if requested at the time of application. Students spend the last 8 months of their program in two practicums in proteome informatics, advanced integrative omics, microbiome informatics, or next-generation sequencing informatics.
North Carolina State University Bioinformatics
The Master of Bioinformatics program at North Carolina State is a non-thesis program that focuses on the quantitative aspects of genomic science. Students use their quantitative skills to study varietal protection of plants, genes affecting economic traits in plants and animals, gene discovery, characterization of structural and functional domains in sequences of DNA, and the quantification of genetic diversity in domesticated and naturally occuring species of plants and animals.
Northwestern University Bioinformatics
The master’s program at Northwestern University Bioinformatics is designed for students who already have an M.D. or Ph.D. degree and who are on a K or T training grant. Students take a course in critical thinking and/or a course in the American healthcare system and then coursework relevant to their research interests.
Stanford University Biomedical Informatics
The Distance Education MS in Biomedical Informatics at Stanford University is designed for students who do not intend to pursue academic careers in bioinformatics, although the courses contain the same rigor as courses taught for future Ph.D. students in bioinformatics. M.S. students must be employed full-time and remain employed for the duration of their program. Some prerequisites can be studied on campus after admission to the program if students lack sufficient training in computers and computational methods.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bioinformatics
The master’s program in bioinformatics at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock exposes students to research but is primarily course-oriented. Students can make up deficiencies in their training in genetics, organic chemistry, biochemistry, calculus-based statistics, and computing at the beginning of their graduate sequence.
University of California at Santa Cruz Biomolecular Engineering and Bioinformatics
The Department of Biomolecular Engineering and Bioinformatics at the University of California at Santa Cruz accepts M.S. and Ph.D. students from a variety of technical backgrounds. Students participate in regular seminars as they acquire academic depth across biology, genomics, machine learning, and Big Data and complete a capstone project before earning their M.S. degree. Students have cutting-edge research tools including cluster computing and high-throughput sequencing facilities.
University of Colorado Denver Genomics and Bioinformatics
The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus offers a master’s degree in bioinformatics in conjunction with one of the oldest NIH-funded predoctoral training programs in the country. Administered by the Department of Pharmacology, the graduate bioinformatics program offers access to a DNA Array Facility for analyzing gene expression profiles in different experimental protocols. DNA Array Facility works closely with the Computational Pharmacology Center to measure changes in gene expression in different experimental settings. This program is clearly geared to Ph.D. students, but M.S. students can also find a home at the University of Colorado Denver.
University of Georgia Bioinformatics
The University of Georgia bioinformatics program welcomes M.S. students from diverse backgrounds with a range of career goals. The school emphasizes flexibility in course selection to ensure that students master all of the subject matter and technical skills essential to their future success. Every student takes coursework in biological data analysis, applied genome analysis, statistical inference for the life sciences, and bioinformatics algorithms, as well as any remedial work the student’s committee deems necessary. A thesis is not required for graduation, but students who choose the thesis route must pass an oral defense.
University of Minnesota Rochester Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
The University of Minnesota master’s program in bioinformatics is extremely unstructured, allowing each student to consult with an academic adviser to choose the best courses to meet the students professional goals. However, every student participates in a one-hour weekly seminar for a semester and a one-hour journal club for two semesters. All students take courses in entrepreneurship and ethics and every student completes a thesis or a capstone project to graduate. In the course of their program, every student is expected to master three core competencies:
- Biochemistry, genetics, molecular cell biology and physiology
- Mathematics, biostatistics and statistics
- Computer science, informatics, computational biology and system biology.
Then students can choose a focus area from 10 categories:
- Genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, microbiome.
- Plant science, animal science, veterinary medicine.
- Biophysics, structural biology, chemical biology, protein engineering, spectroscopy.
- Computational chemistry, cheminformatics, medicinal chemistry and drug design.
- Databases, data analytics, data mining, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
- Data management, data modeling, algorithms and optimization.
- Big data analytics, distributed systems, parallel computing, cloud computing.
- Computer vision, imaging analysis, virtual reality, signal processing and neural networks.
- Clinical and translational sciences.
- Health informatics, electronic medical records, and natural language processing.
Virginia Commonwealth University Bioinformatics
The VCU Center for the Study of Biological Complexity master’s program allows students to choose between a traditional thesis program and a 10- 12-week “professional science master’s” in an externship at a government agency, an academic research center, or a commercial biotech concern. All students are expected to synthesize knowledge across all of the fields of study contributing to bioinformatics, to be able to design and implement experiments, and to communicate findings in a clear and professional manner.
The best programs for master’s degrees in bioinformatics change their policies, their course offering, and their tuition rates. We welcome updated information for any of the schools we list in this article. And some of the most useful information about any graduate bioinformatics program comes from its students. Have you worked your way through a bioinformatics master’s program? Please share your insights and experiences here.