In the digital age the ability to combine biological knowledge with high-level data science, programming, and analytical expertise is becoming increasingly important.
At the core of this revolution is the way we use data and models to address some of our most pressing global issues, including:
food production and security
environmental management and biodiversity conservation
the treatment of existing and emerging diseases
With jobs and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) growing significantly faster than in any other sector of the economy, a degree in quantitative biology will make you a highly sought-after graduate in a world with an increasing demand for curious, data-driven scientists.
What is quantitative biology?
Quantitative biology is the application of programming, mathematical and statistical techniques to understand and solve problems in the life sciences. One element of quantitative biology involves managing and analysing large, complex data sets – or 'big data’ – to develop new insights into medicine, genetics, agriculture and the environment.
In the Master of Quantitative Biology, you’ll develop an in-depth understanding of data analytics through the lens of cutting-edge biology. You’ll learn:
mathematical and statistical modelling
programming, machine learning and high-performance computing
data analysis and visualisation.
Associate Professor Jan Engelstaedter from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences describes how developing skills at the interface of biology and data in the Master of Quantitative Biology will allow you to tackle some of our most pressing global issues.
“More and more we’re seeing that graduates need deep biological understanding as well as the skills to analyse large, complex datasets to confidently address global challenges in environmental management, species conservation, agricultural production and public health,” he says.
“Conversely, students with a more quantitative background will learn how to apply their skills to biological problems,” says Jan.
“Our graduates end up with a unique and in-demand skill set that is tailored to today’s job market and is far beyond the training that most scientists receive.”
Make your mark on a whole new world of data-driven biology
By combining programming, mathematics and data science together with traditional biological and life sciences, quantitative biologists are securing highly sought-after jobs in a range of important fields, including:
agriculture, forestry and fisheries
Traditionally, careers in biology were more often associated with laboratory or field-based studies. By contrast, quantitative biology builds on this knowledge by leveraging the power of big data to solve biological problems.
Explore the unexpected
Lecturer in quantitative biology, Dr Simon Hart, believes the breadth and diversity of opportunities available to quantitative biology graduates goes beyond what students expect. This means most students enter the program with one idea of where they’ll take their career – and come out the other side with a new appreciation of the many career pathways now open to them.
“Some graduates might be working out how to balance how much fishing can be done to meet society’s needs while avoiding the impacts of over-fishing,” he says.
“Others might be using complex satellite imagery data to predict deforestation in the Amazon, or tracking disease and illness through statistical and mathematical modelling.”
What our experts are working on
UQ’s quantitative biology researchers are currently working on a wide range of basic and applied problems in the world of biological sciences.
Feeding a growing global population while adapting and responding to climate change, is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity – developing solutions to this challenge requires leveraging all the tools in our quantitative biology toolkit.
A team of UQ researchers is currently using deep machine learning on remote-sensed satellite images to quantify forest cover and carbon stocks in West Africa, one of the most important cocoa-growing regions of the world. With this information, we can see how agricultural practices can improve production – while limiting losses to biodiversity and improving climate outcomes.
“This is the sort of transformative project that was just not possible a few years ago,” says Simon.
“Machine learning is really opening new opportunities for improving how we live in our world. But few people have these skills, so there are huge opportunities in this space.”
Meanwhile, other biologists at UQ are using a different set of tools – mathematical modelling – to understand how the complexity of the microbiome affects antibiotic resistance.
Until now, most of our understanding of antibiotic resistance was based on how single pathogens respond to different drugs. But we now know that our bodies are full of hundreds of thousands of different types of bacteria.
“Understanding how antibiotics work – and don’t work – relies on teasing apart the interactions between all these different types of bacteria,” says Dr Andrew Letten, a Lecturer in quantitative biology at UQ.
“One way of simplifying the complexity is to use mathematical models to identify the most important pieces of this puzzle. Mathematical models are so powerful – we can quickly move beyond the limitations of the laboratory to understand how our complex microbiomes influence how antibiotics reduce disease.”
Advanced statistical models are allowing researchers to analyse global datasets of marine and freshwater fish communities to understand how they have changed over the last century.
“Big data is providing unprecedented opportunities, but also comes with huge challenges,” says Simon.
“The statistical analyses that we learnt a decade or more ago are not really designed to meet these challenges – whether they be interpreting databases of genome sequences or databases of fish population sizes in rivers.”
“As a student in the Master of Quantitative Biology, you will have an opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge to tackle real-world biological problems alongside UQ’s industry-leading researchers as a key part of your degree.”
Learn the complex with support from the best
Dr Anthony Romilio from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences engaging with students
Programming, data analysis, machine learning, mathematical and statistical modelling – the world of data science can sometimes sound a bit overwhelming, even to the most passionate number crunchers. But in UQ’s Master of Quantitative Biology program, the small class sizes mean you’ll have direct and constant access to some of the world’s leading experts in biological and data sciences.
These experts, highly regarded for their continued contribution to research and education within the field, are passionate about providing an inclusive and engaging educational environment. They’re dedicated to enabling the next generation of data-hungry biologists to thrive and succeed in their careers.
UQ is currently ranked #1 in Queensland for biological sciences and #1 in Australia for environmental sciences. You’ll be gaining a qualification from a university that not only equips you with the skills to kickstart a fulfilling career, but also makes you an attractive candidate when you enter the workforce.
Students of the Master of Quantitative Biology who have not already completed a related postgraduate degree could be eligible for a scholarship to help with financial support.