September 14, 2016 - Georgetown University Medical Center has offered a master’s degree in biostatistics since 2006. Now, given the success of that program and the growing need for professionals with more advanced training in the field, the Department of Biostatistics, Bioinformatics & Biomathematics is preparing to launch a new PhD program in biostatistics. Up to five students will be recruited this fall to start in 2017.
The new degree offering will help fill a need for expert biostatisticians regionally as well as nationally, says Ming T. Tan, PhD, the department’s chair and creator of the new PhD program.
Given the department’s strength in biostatistics and the strong cancer and biomedical research environment at Georgetown, the PhD students will initially focus on addressing statistical issues in cancer research, Tan says.
“Starting a biostatistics PhD program now is timely because of the shortage of biostatisticians nationwide,” he says. “Last year, Fortune magazine ranked biostatistics as one of the best graduate degrees for jobs.”
Understanding “big” data
Statistics is the foundation for so-called “big data” science that both biomedical research and business increasingly encounter, and biostatistics is the application of statistics in biomedical research, Tan says. Moreover, biostatistics methodology and collaboration are widely recognized as essential components for research on the mechanisms, causes, risk factors, preventative and therapeutic interventions for complex conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and HIV.
“Understanding data is much more difficult today,” Tan says. “With big data, you must apply statistical, mathematical and computational methods to the design and analysis of studies in public health and biomedical research. It is all about better decision making in uncertainty..”
A “natural evolution” of GUMC’s mission
Biostatistics is an interdisciplinary field so students will collaborate with faculty throughout Georgetown, including the departments of mathematics and statistics, computer science and oncology, Tan says. Students will also work with individuals from the tumor biology program, the School of Nursing & Health Studies and MedStar Health Research Institute.
The program will take students four to five years — two years of coursework and two to three years of dissertation research on biostatistics methodology and its applications in biomedicine.
“We are very excited about this new PhD degree program. We expect it will compare favorably in both size and quality to those in our peer institutions,” Tan says. “Offering the degree is a natural evolution of the excellent biomedical research enterprise at Georgetown.”