“I want to improve human health with biostatistics”

Noora Purmonen wants to focus on healthcare and improve human well-being by becoming a specialist in the field of biostatistics. To achieve her goal, she combines her background in statistics with subjects of life sciences in the Master’s Programme in Life Science Informatics.

With the aid of technological advances, people have become increasingly aware of how daily activities affect their well-being. Smart devices for monitoring your health are more popular than ever, and consumers have access to many types of information from sleep schedules to heart rate.

Focusing on the data behind products like smart watches is just one of the many career paths a biostatistician may take. Also for Noora Purmonen developing smart devices and sports analytics is a possible occupational focal point, as it combines her studies and interests.

“I have been doing sports since childhood and found my sport of choice, cheerleading, as a teenager. An active lifestyle has definitely influenced my aspirations to also professionally deal with topics related to health and wellness.”

Tackling topical affairs with applied statistics

Purmonen is advancing her career plans in the Master’s Programme in Life Science Informatics (LSI) where she gets to study topical issues affecting health and the environment. The LSI programme integrates teaching and research with the Helsinki Institute of Life Science (HiLIFE), which is one of the leading life science research institutes in the Nordics.

Spread over three of the four campuses of the University of Helsinki, the multidisciplinary master’s programme focuses on mathematics and informatics with four specialisation areas: bioinformatics and systems medicine, biomathematics, biostatistics and eco-evolutionary informatics.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics, Purmonen decided to specialise in biostatistics. It means that statistical principles are applied to the field of life sciences.

“I was contemplating between two study tracks, biomathematics and biostatistics. In the end, I chose to build upon the statistical knowledge garnered while doing my bachelor’s studies.”

In her master’s thesis, Purmonen focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the multidisciplinary approach at the University of Helsinki, where studies and research across academic disciplines is encouraged, she has been able to utilise her minor subject Media and Communication in her thesis work.

“The thesis project is about statistical uncertainty and in which ways it has been visually represented in COVID-19 modelling. It has been interesting to concentrate on such a topical challenge.”

Current challenges affecting the world are commonly used in the course materials, which prepares students to tackle real-life issues.

“In some of our courses, we have focused on similar subjects by modelling contagious diseases, so I have been able to build upon that knowledge, too.”

Qualifying as a specialist of quantitative problem-solving

In addition to issues affecting human health, the LSI programme deals with challenges affecting nature and the environment.

“On a course focusing on ecological phenomena, an exam question was about the ways to collect data if you were to research the fauna of a coral reef. I have really enjoyed the multifaceted way in which life sciences are looked at in the LSI programme.”

The vast amount of data surrounding modern life creates a constant need of people with the skills to come up with clever ways to process it. Experts in areas such as mathematical modelling and computational, probabilistic and statistical analysis of biological data are in high demand.

With mathematical modelling, real-life phenomena are described by using mathematical language and concepts.

“Mathematical modelling is the basis when it comes to various stages of tackling global challenges. For example, with the COVID-19 pandemic it was used from designing vaccination programmes to presenting statistical information to the public.”

Sustainable solutions to medical matters

In the future, Purmonen hopes to contribute to improving human health. In addition to sports analytics, she could be interested in working in the medical field. In healthcare, biostatistics is used, among other things, to determine how diseases develop, progress and spread.

“Another possible career path for me would be to work as an analyst in the healthcare industry, for instance involved in cancer research and the development of different treatment options.”

Biostatisticians focus on finding meaning in issues that matter. The goal of helping others by improving societal well-being motivates Purmonen.

“Biostatistical knowledge benefits us all. My aim as a biostatistician is to help utilise the information available in a more efficient way and to come up with sustainable solutions.”

Master’s Programme in Life Science Informatics

The Master’s Programme in Life Science Informatics (LSI) is designed for students with a background in mathematics, computer science and statistics, as well as for students with these disciplines as a minor in their bachelor’s degree, with their major being, for example, ecology, evolutionary biology or genetics.

Life Sciences is one of the strategic research fields at the University of Helsinki. The multidisciplinary master’s programme integrates research excellence and research infrastructures in the Helsinki Institute of Life Science (HiLIFE).

As a student, you will gain access to active research communities on three campuses of the University of Helsinki: Kumpula, Viikki, and Meilahti. The unique combination of study opportunities tailored from the offering of the three campuses provides an attractive educational profile.