A program that focuses on computational theoretical approaches to understanding biological systems, including computational models of biological processes, computational management of large-scale projects, database development and data-algorithm development, and high-performance computing, as well as statistical and mathematical analyses.

Careers in computational biology focus on applying mathematical constructs to biological data in order to better understand it.

Computational biologists build models using mathematical tools, and when they don't have the right tools to do a particular job, they develop them. It takes a lot of creative visualization to turn a huge amount of complex biodata into a usable model; computational biologists must consider every element that makes up a system and the ways that variables could affect them. Simulating scenarios in this way allows them to see whether strategies will work before anyone attempts them.

There's a lot of overlap between computational biology and bioinformatics, to the point where few jobs bother to differentiate between the two fields. If bioinformatics is step one, computational biology is the natural follow-up. Bioinformaticians often raise or identify problems; those who work in computational biology are tasked with developing solutions to them.

Work in computational biology may include...

  • Developing data models
  • Modeling biological data
  • Using complex analytical tools
  • Designing, generating, and applying algorithms
  • Addressing questions raised by analysis
  • Collaborating with bioinformaticians and other scientists

Since it's a growing field, we're still discovering new applications for computational biology, and the job count is expected to rise as these become evident. Today, most computational biologists work in research settings. For the most part, their work centers on medical advances in neurology and genetics, though a surprising number work in artificial intelligence research. This work can be conducted in university, hospital, private, or government labs. Bioengineering, technology, and genetics companies can all make use of computational biologists, who may also perform bioinformatics work or collaborate with bioinformaticians to organize and analyze data.

Preparing for a career in computational biology is a lengthy process. The first step is an undergraduate education; a four-year Bachelor's degree is essential, especially since most careers in this field require graduate training. Undergraduate coursework should focus on biology, computer science, chemistry, and mathematics. Developing strong knowledge of statistics, calculus, and programming languages is especially valuable here. It's difficult, though not impossible, to work in computational biology with a Bachelor's level education, since most labs seek out candidates with a Master's or PhD in the subject. Graduate programs in computational biology provide an opportunity for structured exploration and real-world applications of the work, and those who complete these programs have a bright job outlook.

Computational biologists use their grasp of data and math to help all kinds of scientists test their work in a simulated setting. Their work is the fruit of decades of data collection; if you're eager to contribute to that legacy, maybe computational biology is the career for you.

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