Program in quantitative biomedical sciences offers new master's degree

by Isabel Adler | 1/12/18 2:00am

The Program in Quantitative Biomedical Sciences is unveiling a new master’s of science program for the 2018-19 academic year. The program, which will offer two different concentrations in health data and epidemiology, intends to accept 12 students for the first year.

According to QBS operations assistant Shaniqua Jones, the program “aims to provide the core skill sets that a data scientist will need.”

Quantitative biomedical science is an interdisciplinary study that incorporates biostatistics, biomathematics and epidemiology. The program at the College currently only offers a handful of students a Ph.D. program, the result of a partnership between the Geisel School of Medicine and the School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, with faculty from multiple departments.

While the Ph.D. students usually move on to academia, incoming master’s students will likely work in business, such as the insurance, pharmaceutical and technology industries, according to current QBS students. The program plans to increase its enrollment to a maximum of 40 students in coming years.

Kristine Giffin A&S’10 Med’10, the curriculum director for the Ph.D. and master’s programs, said that the health data concentration has a stronger focus on industry and modeling whereas the epidemiology concentration emphasizes theory and application. The master’s degree program will provide an avenue for students who want to get into the workforce faster or who are interested in academia.

“The idea behind a QBS degree is that you come out of it with a skill set that is broadly applicable to those three disciplines,” said fourth-year M.D.-Ph.D. candidate Christiaan Rees. “It’s becoming increasingly true that there are large data repositories, and when you gather data together, a lot of the basic models you use start to fall apart and you need a broader and specialized training in analysis of big data.”

The College is late to the game when it comes to having a data science master’s program, Jones said. However, the College is “one of only a handful, including Harvard [University], that has a program offering focusing on biomedical or health data science,” she said.

QBS programs have been in high demand in recent years. Jones said these trends in biomedical data science drove the program’s creation. Similarly, Giffin said that while recruiting, the school encountered many students who inquired about an epidemiology program.

Ellen Nutter, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the QBS program, explained that she was interested in the College program because she “wanted to be able to be able to ask and answer a variety of questions, and a lot of Ph.D. programs felt a little too narrow for my personal preferences.”

The idea for having a QBS master’s program began in the fall of 2016, but the real work on creating the program for the 2018-19 school year did not begin until this past March. The program went up for approval in June and will be supported by existing programs, Jones said.

Following the Dartmouth undergraduate model, the program will also offer the opportunity for students to have internships over the summer by postponing their capstone projects. Nutter describes this as “a real strength of the program.”

Nutter and Rees said they are excited for the program. The new master’s programs means that there will be more class offerings in coming years available for Ph.D. students, some of which have already been tested.

“We’re all very excited for the start of these two programs, and I think they’re going to be great additions to the Dartmouth graduate community,” Giffin said.