A Career in Bioinformatics

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A biotechnologist specializing in bioinformatics or computational biology is in high demand for both research and development in medical and pharmaceutical companies. In today's world, the spheres of technology, research, and development all involve the use of computers. In biotechnology, the application of computer technology to manage information on biological resources is termed bioinformatics. Computational biology is its most visible subset. Popular jobs in the field are biostatisticians and computer biologists, but a specialist of bioinformatics may work under any job title commonly applied to biotechnologists. If you are a biotechnologist looking for another job but are not into bioinformatics or computational biology as a discipline, it might be worth your while to consider bioinformatics as a career option.

The Need for Bioinformatics

In research and development, bioinformatics forms the base for developing groundbreaking techniques like metagenomics that allows us to sequence the mixture of microbes in our environment. Bioinformatics techniques help us tap the potential of our environment for finding biotechnical solutions to a variety of problems including renewable energy production, carbon sequestration, and reduction of environmental pollution. Furthermore, the techniques can lead to innovations and discoveries in fields like agriculture and pharmaceuticals.

In bioinformatics, we use computers to collect, preserve, analyze, and integrate both biological and genetic information to support the research and development of gene-based and bio-based drugs. Bioinformatics, which combines molecular biology with computer science, is essential for understanding human diseases and human history. The recent Neanderthal genome project and the human genome project are leading examples of such efforts.

General Skills and Duties of a Bioinformatics Specialist

Although the position of a bioinformatics specialist will usually involve the management of biological data, the duties and required skill sets will vary from job to job according to the employer's needs. This is an emerging occupational field in high demand. Skill sets and duties have not yet found universal industrial consensus, since a bioinformatics specialist can be employed for a multitude of tasks, programs, and projects.

However, to give you an idea of the resume of a bioinformatics specialist planning to join the current pharmaceutical industry, the following is a modified excerpt from a very recent advertisement for a senior biostatistician:

  • Company X's Y Department "receives data defining a patient's disease profile from a variety of domains including clinical information (i.e., race, age), bio-molecular marker expression, and image analysis of the patient's tissue. The department interacts with doctors, biologists, and other mathematical/technical experts to analyze and integrate diverse information domains and build models of cancer growth.''

    Tasks include:

    1. Developing novel algorithms and approaches and/or adapting/improving existing technologies for survival analysis and prognostic predictions.

    2. Developing feature-selection procedures to distill through large datasets in order to identify crucial pieces of information.

    3. Addressing challenges of missing data and small cohorts that necessitate novel approaches.

    4. Analyzing and resolving institutional variances in datasets.

    5. Coordinating with renowned-worldwide research institutions to design studies and analyses.
    While commercially oriented, positions are still research based, though individuals continue to publish papers, apply for patents, etc. Additionally, candidates will work in a small company environment and interact daily with doctors, image analysis experts, molecular scientists, and others to solve challenges at the unique confluence of systems pathology where many diverse fields converge.

    Required Senior Biostatistician Qualifications/Backgrounds:

    • Experience in survival analysis and Cox proportional hazard modeling.
    • Experience in clinical study design and interpretation/analysis of results.
    • Advanced degree in biostatistics/statistics/epidemiology.
    • Extensive familiarity with SAS.
    • Significant industrial/research experience.
    • Excellent verbal and written communication skills with respect to technical and non-technical audiences.
    • Ability to positively interact and engage as a team member within a collaborative environment.
    Additional Desired Senior Biostatistician Characteristics:

    • Experience with data mining /machine learning approaches such as support-vector machines or neural networks.
    • Experience with Mat lab.
    • Experience in FDA interactions, study design, and documentation.
Where to Find Courses on Bioinformatics:

The following is a list of some of the degrees offered in the U.S. The list is not exhaustive, however, and it is likely that there are many more accredited courses on bioinformatics:


  • Computational biology is a key element of the Master of Bioscience degree at the Keck Graduate Institute.
  • The University of California at San Diego has a Bioinformatics graduate program.
  • The University of California, Santa Cruz has a B.S. course in Bioinformatics, as well as M.S. and Ph.D. courses.
  • The University of California, Riverside has a Center in Genomics and Bioinformatics with a Ph.D. curriculum.
  • Stanford University has both M.S. and Ph.D. programs in Biomedical Bioinformatics.

  • Yale University integrates Bioinformatics and Computational Biology with its combined graduate program on Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

  • Georgia Institute of Technology offers a Masters of Science in Bioinformatics.

  • Indiana University and Purdue University Indianapolis offer M.S. degrees in Bioinformatics.
  • Indiana University offers an M.S. program in Bioinformatics.

  • Iowa State University has an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BCB).

  • The Jackson Lab, the recognized world leader in mouse genome informatics, has a graduate training program.

  • Boston University has graduate programs in Bioinformatics, as well as Masters and Ph.D. curricula.
  • Brandeis University has a Master of Science in Bioinformatics and graduate certification programs.

  • Washington University in St. Louis has a doctoral program in computational molecular biology and genome analysis.

  • The University of Pennsylvania integrates computational biology into different standard Ph.D. programs of computer, information science, and biological departments.

  • The W.M.Keck Center for Advanced Training in Computational Biology at Pittsburgh provides graduate and postdoctoral training programs.

  • George Mason University offers courses and a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics and computational biology
A career in bioinformatics is the latest and the best in biotechnology. In fact, nobody with a biotech job can function today without a grasp of bioinformatics and data management. All personnel in technical jobs need to stay up-to-date with their skill sets, and specific knowledge and experience in bioinformatics enhances the employability of any biotechnologist.
On the net:Just the Facts: A Basic Introduction to the Science Underlying NCBI Resources
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/About/primer/bioinformatics.html If this article has helped you in some way, will you say thanks by sharing it through a share, like, a link, or an email to someone you think would appreciate the reference.

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