Learn to Draw Conclusions From Biological Data Sets – Study Biostatistics in the Life Science Informatics Master’s Programme
The study track Biostatistics in the Life Science Informatics Master’s programme combines the fields of biology and statistics and encourages students to tackle large biological data sets with statistical computing software.

To learn more about this in practice, we talked to two students and one teacher in the study track. Linda Ottensmann is an alumnus of the Biostatistics study track currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Helsinki. Juha Riikonen is a current student in the programme. Matti Pirinen is an Associate Professor of Statistics at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and also works as a Research Group Leader at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM).

Who is the Master’s programme in Life Science Informatics (LSI) and the study track Biostatistics for?

Matti Pirinen: “The Master’s programme in LSI is for students who want to be involved in the current revolution in life sciences caused by the availability of a lot of data. Biostatistics is about making inferences from large data sets. For that, we need statistics and biostatistics in particular.”

Juha Riikonen: “After my bachelor's degree in computer science, I wanted to specialise in something more oriented toward natural science and research. That's why I decided to apply for the LSI programme. Even if there are a lot of biological concepts in the courses, the emphasis is usually on the computational side. Some tasks usually require programming skills or some statistical understanding or background.”

Linda Ottensmann: “The LSI programme and study track Biostatistics is good for everyone that is generally interested in biostatistics or has a background in biology and statistics. I studied bioinformatics for my Bachelor’s in Germany and spent my exchange semester at the University of Helsinki. During that time, I heard about the LSI programme, and because it fit well with my background, I decided to apply.”

What is it like to study Biostatistics in the LSI programme in practice?

Matti Pirinen: “The biostatistics courses are motivated by the current research questions in the field. We extensively use computers in the exercise classes so that students also learn to use statistical computing software. Our main research applications are related to epidemiology and human genetics. That is because our teachers have close connections to the Finnish Institute for health and welfare (THL) and Human Genomics Research Programme at Meilahti Campus of University of Helsinki.”

Linda Ottensmann: “The programme offers many interesting courses that students can choose from. I took many bioinformatics and biostatistics courses that involved work with programming languages like Python or R. I specifically like that the LSI courses bring together students from various backgrounds enabling students to learn from each other.

Juha Riikonen: “I initially started following the Eco-evolutionary informatics study track but changed to biostatistics when I realised that my master’s thesis topic would be more closely related to that. There is so much freedom in selecting the courses in the programme, so almost everything I had studied so far was almost entirely transferable to biostatistics.”


What kind of career opportunities does the programme open?

Matti Pirinen: “There are excellent opportunities to continue with PhD studies. Half of my former students have continued with PhD studies while the other half went to work in industrial companies. Many companies are interested in biostatisticians, for instance, in the medical and pharmaceutical fields.”

Linda Ottensmann: “The biostatistics track has a good link to the Institute for Molecular Medicine in Finland. In one of my courses, I heard about a summer student position in the institute, which I applied for and got. After the summer, I continued as a research assistant and wrote my master’s thesis there as well. I am still working in the institute and am also pursuing PhD studies in the Doctoral Programme in Population Health at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki.”

Juha Riikonen: “After my first year of studies, I got a summer trainee position in a research group at the University of Helsinki that studies statistical population genetics. In the future, I would like to apply my skills by working with tasks that I find meaningful and interesting, such as public health or population history. Currently, I plan to apply for a PhD position at the University of Helsinki after graduation.”

What is it like to study and live in Helsinki?

Juha Riikonen: “Helsinki is a very nice environment for students with many campuses and libraries and lots of space for studying. There are a variety of activities and events targeted at students everywhere in Finland. So even if it's sports classes, cultural events or just partying, I think everyone will find something they like.”

Linda Ottensmann: “There are many student associations in Finland which are a good way to meet other students. I joined the mathematics student association Matrix and was also a tutor for exchange students twice, which was really fun. I took some Finnish courses, which is also a good way to meet other international students.”