Epidemiology  Interviews


Insider Info

dotWhat to Expect

Students in biostatistics and epidemiology are interested in a variety of subjects: hospital administration, cancer research, university-related research or medicine.

dotWhat epidemiology and biostatistics students do is very relevant to current health-care concerns. That means the results of their studies are seen very quickly. Whether they're investigating lead exposure, asthma, crib death or cancer, their goal is always prevention.

"The work that we do helps contribute to the current body of scientific knowledge and helps advance our understanding of illness and disease, and in turn, how best to manage and prevent those problems from arising," says Atif Kukaswadia. He is taking his master of science in epidemiology. He hopes to work in public health.

Epidemiology student Jocelyn Biagini Myers is interested in pediatric allergy and asthma research. She studies epidemiology at the University of Cincinnati. She hopes to earn a faculty position in the future.

She was lucky when she started her graduate studies. Her advisor was just beginning a new study. She was able to take part in the entire process, from questionnaire development and recruitment to helping out at the clinical visits.

"Interacting one-on-one with the participating families is one of the most rewarding parts of what we do. Data analysis takes on more meaning when you have had interactions with the subjects. Every epidemiology student should have the opportunity to experience field work outside of the wet lab," she says.

Myers entered the program with a background in science. She found the statistical software for data analysis challenging during the program. She suggests students get to know their peers. A senior student or teaching assistant can offer guidance.

"Always ask for help. Chances are someone else has the same question you do," she says.

Kukaswadia agrees. "Working with my colleagues in the program really helped me there -- everyone views things in different ways and talking to others helps to increase your understanding of the topic or concept."

He adds that time management is important to epidemiology and biostatistics students. The first year of his program was course-based, and he spent about eight hours a day on school work. His hours increased during final exams and when assignments came due. His second year was based on a thesis. He worked nine-to-five, Monday to Friday.

Myers keeps similar hours. Plus, she was expected to work 20 hours a week in exchange for a stipend.

Kukaswadia says textbooks are the major additional expense for students. Myers counsels students who plan to pursue a PhD not to bother applying to programs that require a master's degree before the PhD.

"This adds years and much more debt onto your graduate school experience," she says.

How to Prepare

"It is very important to get laboratory experience if you want to get in to an epidemiology or biostats program," says Myers. She says paid or volunteer experience is vital to your graduate application.

"Epidemiologists present their findings to all sizes of audiences. You need to be comfortable doing public speaking. Public speaking classes or even joining a debate team can help prepare you," she says.

In high school, biology, math, statistics, anatomy and physiology are good courses to take. Meanwhile, journalism or marketing classes can help you become a good grant writer to secure research funding.

"The key thing is to find what you are passionate about -- be that research in cancer prevention, economic analysis or social determinants of health -- and take courses that correspond to that," says Kukaswadia. He says outside of school you should get to know the health-care system.