December 2011

Creating your own path: a bioinformatics case study

Furthermore, bioinformatics can be thought of in the context of team-science approaches that are becoming more prevalent as scientific projects grow in size and complexity. Indeed, the high level of expertise required and the increasing demands from publishers make it difficult thoroughly to address all aspects of a given project.

Nowadays, bioinformatics is most always a component of larger scale projects that require a team of experts who may or may not know each other. This team-science approach requires strong communication and the ability to coordinate efforts and keep the project moving along. Keeping everyone in line with the vision of the project and making expectations clear are critical for building a successful team.

Another stimulating aspect of bioinformatics for me is that it is not routine. The majority of the projects I undertake require novel applications and interpretations. A typical project requires unique ways of looking at the data and thus also requires a strong understanding of the biological question at hand. Furthermore, the field is very fast paced. While this attribute may be daunting, it is also very exciting, as bioinformatics is always at the forefront of new technologies and applications.

A whole new world 

Just as the bioinformatics field is very broad, the topics that I touched on in my training (and I am still training!) are also broad. During my Ph.D., I took advantage of lab rotations to touch on very different aspects, including image analysis, Monte Carlo simulations, genetic algorithms and computational geometry/protein-structure modeling.

While my thesis was centered on computational geometry and sequence alignments, I again switched gears in my postdoc and delved into genomics and metabolomics, all with a molecular epidemiology flavor. This switch has opened a whole new world for me, and, importantly, I had chosen to be in a wet lab environment as opposed to a purely computational laboratory.

The reason for this choice was to make sure that I stayed up to date with biology and learned how to communicate well with different participants in a given project. While you can stay up to date via the literature, I found it extremely valuable to be able to interact directly with bench scientists and have learned a lot from this direct interaction.


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