Derive Models From Real-Life Biological Processes – Study Biomathematics in the Life Science Informatics Master’s Programme

The Biomathematics study track in the Master’s programme in Life Science Informatics (LSI) offers a uniquely wide range of in-depth courses in mathematical ecology.

We talked to two students and a teacher in the study track to learn more about their experience in the programme. Sofia Backlund and Johannes Lintula are both Master’s students specialising in Biomathematics. Eva Kisdi is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Helsinki. She specialises in mathematical ecology and teaches in the Biomathematics study track.

Who is the Master's programme in LSI and the study track Biomathematics for?

Eva Kisdi: “The Biomathematics study track focuses on mathematical ecology and evolution. Teaching mathematical ecology is rather different from simply juxtaposing mathematics courses with courses in biology. We discuss how to build ecological models from the underlying processes of individual behaviour using diverse mathematics, and we show how to analyse and extract predictions and knowledge from these models. We teach what we practise as researchers.”

Johannes Lintula: “As opposed to other mathematically-inclined study programmes, biomathematics emphasises problem-solving and practical thinking. In that way, it prepares you better for the real world. I learned that when you do biomathematics, you have great versatility with your career choices and studies.”

Sofia Backlund: “The Biomathematics study track is not as programming-based as the other study tracks. It allows more of a pen-and-paper math approach to many of the problems.”

What is it like to study LSI and Biomathematics in practice?

Eva Kisdi: “We give advanced courses on many areas of mathematical ecology, a total of 70 credits, at a depth that is rare to find elsewhere. Teaching advanced courses also interacts with research, we have scientific publications that started from the need to figure out something for our courses. We also offer original research projects as thesis projects, and I have publications authored jointly with master students based on their thesis work.”

Sofia Backlund: “The classes that I have been to have mostly been relatively small, which is nice because teachers can support you with any problems that might come up. The introductory course on mathematical modelling was something that really inspired me. Even though there were some things that I didn't understand immediately, it was an approachable course that made me really excited.”

Johannes Lintula: “Before studying in LSI, I did my bachelor's in mathematics and mostly dealt with pure abstract math. I think this is a really nice change of pace because now I am modelling things that could actually be related to real-life populations. And sometimes I see that my models match how real-world populations or diseases behave, and it feels inspiring that you are doing something that exists.”

How much mathematics is involved in the Biomathematics study track?

Eva Kisdi: “Biomathematics is a branch of applied mathematics, there is more mathematics involved here than in other study tracks of the LSI programme. Our courses are shared between LSI and the mathematics master's programme, the LSI students sit in the same class with math students. Most of our courses require matrix algebra, differential equations and basic probability. Programming skills for numerical work are indispensable for most thesis projects. Beyond this, we rely on the students having some practice with mathematical thinking, the ability to study more advanced mathematics.”

What kind of career opportunities does the programme open?

Eva Kisdi: “Because of the exceptional range and depth of our Biomathematics courses, this study track is ideal preparation for a PhD in mathematical ecology or theoretical biology. Our students can apply for both mathematics and biology PhD positions, and we are happy to assist them in the process. The modelling skills and the diverse mathematical approaches we teach are useful in general, be it, for example, in the health sector or at environmental agencies.  ”

Johannes Lintula: “Biomathematics teaches you a lot about mathematical thinking in the real world. So, if you do any complementary studies like machine learning, programming, statistics, or physics, I think you are very well prepared for an analytical role. I will either become a machine learning or software engineer or continue doing a PhD.”

Sofia Backlund: “My goal was always to continue into a PhD, and that's what I will be doing soon. There's no way I could be doing that if I hadn't gone through this Master's programme. I wouldn't have even known about the PhD programme if it wasn't for the teachers in LSI because they're the ones who recommended it to me.”

What is it like to study and live in Helsinki?

Johannes Lintula: “Studying at the University of Helsinki comes with a lot of freedom to structure your days and time. I get to schedule my study and free time very well, which I enjoy.”

Sofia Backlund: “When I started my studies in LSI, we had really good and active tutors, and I got to meet a lot of international people. Many of the people I met became close friends of mine, and I think that was a very nice way to start my Master's. There's a lot of collaboration between different student organisations, and I think it's quite open and nice.”

The Master's Programme in Life Science Informatics

The multidisciplinary Master’s Programme in Life Science Informatics (LSI) provides the tools to gain knowledge from models and data. The programme integrates research excellence across the Faculties of Science, of Medicine and of Bio- and Environmental Sciences with the Helsinki Institute of Life Sciences (HiLIFE) to provide cutting-edge education from experts in the life sciences, medicine, mathematics, statistics, and informatics.

The programme has four study tracks to specialise in

  • Biomathematics
  • Biostatistics
  • Ecological Informatics or
  • Bioinformatics and Systems Medicine.

While gaining deep knowledge in your specialisation, you will also get a broad overview of several fields to support your future career.

Read more about the programme