FSU’s new Ph.D. program in biostatistics fills a void in Florida

Daniel McGee

A new doctoral program being unveiled at Florida State University will prepare students for highly specialized careers in dozens of fields in academia, industry and government.

The Ph.D. program in biostatistics was approved this spring by the State University System’s Board of Governors, making it the first program of its kind at a Florida university. Program graduates will find themselves highly sought after by employers in such varied areas as biotechnology, public health, pharmaceuticals, AIDS research, epidemiology, insurance, food science and agribusiness, to name a few.

"This program, which will begin offering courses in the fall 2007 semester, offers access to and production of advanced degrees in a high-demand specialty that previously were attainable only outside the state of Florida," said Professor Daniel McGee, chairman of the department of statistics at FSU. "Now we should be able to attract those top students who are looking for degrees in this area."

Biostatistics is the application of statistics to a wide range of topics in biology. The discipline has been around for decades; now, however, with an aging U.S. population, the never-ending development of new drugs and advances in the understanding of biological functions at the level of individual genes and proteins, the need for more people trained to design studies and analyze data from research problems has skyrocketed. And nowhere is this more true than in Florida.

"As the state continues to grow and age, many areas, including medical care, will create an even larger demand for trained, Ph.D.-level biostatisticians," McGee said. "In addition, the availability of biostatisticians will increase both FSU’s and Florida’s ability to build world-class academic programs and research capacity."

Students pursuing a doctorate in biostatistics at FSU will be granted a significant amount of flexibility in pursuing their degrees, McGee said.

"Biostatisticians play an important role in interdisciplinary research programs in the life, social, biological and computational sciences," he said. "Therefore, students pursuing a Ph.D. in biostatistics will take coursework that brings them to the frontiers of knowledge in both statistics and biostatistics. However, they also will take coursework in medicine, biology, computer science, life science and epidemiology, among other areas, in order to develop as true interdisciplinary scientists."

The nationwide shortage of biostatisticians means that there are positions available in:

  • Academia—in university departments of mathematics, biostatistics, statistics, public health, epidemiology, and in the biological, medical, agricultural and environmental sciences.
  • Industry—pharmaceutical, biotechnology, food science, nutrition, genome data banks, agribusiness, biochemical, software, statistical consulting, biostatistical and environmental consulting, medical diagnostic and therapeutic technology, medical informatics, medical clinical trials, life insurance, health insurance, health care and HMOs, think tanks, health policy, etc.
  • Government—federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the Census Bureau, the National Biological Survey, the National Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control; state agencies such as health offices and environmental agencies.
  • International Agencies—the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization, to name two.

The job prospects for a new graduate armed with a Ph.D. in biostatistics are quite promising, McGee said.

"Straight out of school, a graduate could expect a starting salary between $90,000 and $100,000 in an industry position; between $65,000 and $75,000 in academia; in the $65,000 range in the federal government; and less with state agencies."
To read more about FSU’s new doctoral program in biostatistics, visit www.stat.fsu.edu.