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Epidemiology as compared to biostatistics

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Greetings, brave new forum.


I know very little about epidemiology departments. Can somebody please give me a quick run-down on the differences between epidemiology and biostatistics as academic/professional disciplines? I suppose I'm most curious about differences along three main dimensions: (i) curriculum, (ii) culture (academic and professional) and (iii) demographics (which undergraduate majors, what sorts of work experiences, etc.). But if anybody has any other salient contrasts to share, I would certainly welcome your input -- these are just what I came up with off the top of my head.


Thank you!


Edit: research would also be another dimension I would like to hear about! What is it that y'all actually do?

Edited by epimeleia_heautou
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Here is a presentation from Johns Hopkins: http://ocw.jhsph.edu/courses/fundepi/PDFs/Lecture1.pdf


Basically, biostatisticians are almost pure mathematicians. They develop and use methods to calculate various measures.


Statistics are part of an epidemiologist's figurative tool belt, but they use what the statisticians develop. They also do study design, and statisticians will use that data. Epidemiologists will apply the results to public health problems. 


But this presentation is better at explaining it.


Statisticians typically make more money based on the MPH concentration alone (if you tack on an MD to the epi concentration, then the tables are obviously turned). 


When I was choosing between the two, I chose epidemiology because I felt like it gave me a wide variety of career opportunities. Biostatisticians have a more rigid role. Some people prefer more flexibility, some would rather be more of a technical specialist.

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AS far as undergraduate background, in my experience biostatisticians tend to have been math or statistics majors in undergrad (there are always exceptions; a friend of mine was a chemistry major and had an MPH in the social/behavioral sciences before getting her DrPH in biostatistics).  Epidemiologists come from a wide range of undergrad backgrounds - sometimes math or stats, sometimes the life/biological sciences, sometimes the quantitative social sciences.  I would agree with holykrp's characterization - biostatisticians (at the PhD level, and to a certain extent at the MS level) develop and refine the statistical tools necessary to do a lot of public health research, whereas epidemiologists use these tools to conduct substantive research in the field.  Some epidemiologists are quite math-heavy and do participate in the creation and refinement of statistical tools, if they like; many biostatisticians also have substantive interests and their statistical research is geared towards that particular area.

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