What’s life like as a bioinformatics analyst at an academic research center? How do analysts apply their backgrounds in life sciences with the analytical and programming skills needed for their work? What are the typical projects done by analysts with ten years experience in this field?
To get a snapshot of the analyst’s work, I interviewed two of the bioinformatics analysts here at IGS – Heather and Sean, who both have biochemistry backgrounds. They discovered their interests in informatics while working in laboratory research. While initial programming classes that they took as graduate students were helpful in giving them a baseline of bioinformatics concepts and tools, they are both emphatic about how many people in this field learn on the job. Today, each has about 10 years experience in this field, and they work on different projects as part of teams with bioinformatics engineers.
“We are always learning new tools to support faculty research projects,” explained Heather, “and there are many resources online and within the Institute to help you advance. Others on the team are a great resource, giving us direction and feedback.”
“A lot is trial and error with new bioinformatics tools – at five to ten years into this career, you are expected to be self-sufficient so you can figure out how to get more support online and to find resources to keep projects and deadlines moving forward,” explained Sean.
Both emphasized how programming classes provide a good theoretical framework, but isn’t sufficient for managing “real-life” projects.
“Class projects are a great start for someone with a life science background, but insufficient to handle real grants and real workplace projects. Once you have a job in bioinformatics, you need to be ready and adept to keep learning on the job – to continue locating new software and tools online and to find people to help you use these tools effectively,” said Heather. “This field changes so quickly that even people with bioinformatics and programming degrees need to keep researching and learning new tools.”
There are different levels of Bioinformatics Analysts. Someone with 10 years experience in this field is expected work on a variety of projects that are progressing on different schedules, to be excellent at project management and to be able to mentor others who are newer on the projects.
Here at IGS, the Analysts are assigned to help analyze the sequencing on various faculty projects, as well as be a part of the grants that are direct to the Bioinformatics department, such as the HMP DACC.