New Master's Programme in Epidemiology and Biomedical Data Science combines medical and data sciences
University of Oulu trains future pioneers to solve global challenges with science-based solutions. The graduates are expected to have a high demand both in the industry, public sector, and academia.
New Master's Programme focuses in public health and combines medical and data sciences
Graduates will have extensive international career opportunities. Students in the Master's Programme in Epidemiology and Biomedical Data Science will be given a deep understanding of both epidemiology and data analytics for understanding the spread of diseases and developing innovations.
The programme that combines different disciplines will produce public health experts who are able to analyse and predict the prevalence and consequences of diseases at the level of the entire population. Graduates will become key experts in, for example, mapping the occurrence of public diseases such as diabetes and depression or factors that predispose a person to them, and there is also a lack of such professionals during pandemics such as COVID-19.
The Master's Programme has been designed in the Faculty of Medicine's Center For Life Course Health Research. Susanna Pirttikangas, adjunct professor of data science and coordinator of artificial intelligence activities at the Faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, and Jouko Miettunen, professor of clinical epidemiology and vice-dean of the University of Oulu Graduate School, have also participated in the design.
More multidisciplinary experts are needed
‘It is very likely that COVID-19 will increase interest and funding in medical research,’ Miettunen says. Masters of Epidemiology and Data Science may also find employment in the ICT sector, whose shortage of experts also applies to health technology. According to Pirttikangas, the amount of data is increasing everywhere, because everything is digitised: ‘Documents, speech, vital functions, emotions and even different processes are turned into a form machines can read – these days, it is possible to even model and print organs!’
All of this data needs to be able to be analysed. In the past, traditional statistics were utilised in different research areas. Today's expertise includes data science, including data analytics and artificial intelligence. Graduates need to have an understanding of data quality, mathematical models and their application in describing different phenomena. This allows for things such as forming a situational picture, and correlations and associations can be built to predict the spread of diseases.
Employment prospects are excellent. Those who get their Master's degrees through the programme will end up in health-related administrative or educational tasks, as researchers or in research administration. The international eHealth community in Oulu is busy and has a lot of need for experts, along with many ICT ecosystems. ‘For example, it has been estimated that already 50 per cent of companies in the manufacturing industry use artificial intelligence somewhere in their production,’ says Pirttikangas. The field produces exciting innovations and, for example, researcher Denzil Ferreira is involved in developing the technology for the Koronavilkku application, among other things.
The new programme being international and in English makes sense, as the working language of medical research and ICT in Finland is often English. ‘It is worth emphasising that when Finnish or international students come to us, they will not be coming to just Oulu or Finland but to the centre of Europe and to the heart of international development work in our many European research projects,’ Miettunen says. ‘Oulu and the Finnish society are also stable and safe, which is increasingly important for many. And the way we live is close to nature; it's easy to do things like skiing, and Lapland is close,’ Pirttikangas says with a smile.
Diverse specialisation opportunities
The programme includes courses on, for example, data sciences and various aspects of epidemiology and research designs. The programme also utilises internationally unique birth cohort materials from Northern Finland. ‘There are very few population surveys that have been going on for so long and are this extensive. They follow people from pregnancy through their life. Public health diseases often only come up later, and we can investigate things like what are the risk factors during pregnancy that predict that an individual may become ill during their youth or middle-age,’ Miettunen explains.
The faculties and their cooperation networks are able to offer studies based on the students' interest, from introductory courses in artificial intelligence to advanced studies in machine learning. Applicants are expected to have a suitable background, such as a licentiate in medicine or a Master of Science degree.
Caption: The designers of the new programme, Susanna Pirttikangas and Jouko Miettunen, have their knowledge of mathematics and statistics in common, along with an understanding of the importance and need of cross-disciplinary competence.