“The No. 1 thing is you’ve got to have passion. This rich passion for going ruthlessly after the problem and being deeply intellectually honest with yourself about whether this is a reasonable answer…. The second part is having the ability to be extremely clever with the data. And what I mean by that is: You’re working with ambiguity. And very often you can’t approach the problem with the rigor you would a homework assignment. The only way to survive through that is by being clever—to think of a different question that gets at the answer.”
―DJ Patil, Former US Chief Data Scientist1
In today’s world of massive datasets highly complex algorithms are needed to make sense of biological data. Over the past two decades bioinformatics has gone from a fringe field of science, to one of the fastest growing subfields of the life sciences. Bioinformatics has become an important part of many areas including: molecular biology, personalized medicine, gene therapy, and drug development2. Bioinformaticians are now an essential part of many research publications and discoveries, but the field has a long way to go.
Bioinformaticians work in clinical research labs, analyzing data, managing databases, and building algorithms designed to extract biological meaning from data. Even the scope of data they may work with is broad: ranging from gene expression traits in one individual, to characterizing the millions of organisms living in the human microbiome. Bioinformaticians are curious and analytical problem solvers, passionate, with long-term ambitions of a health system that is data driven, efficient and data informed treatments and therapies, drug developments, and cures for the diseases which have plagued society for millennia.
Bioinformaticians don’t have much of a rule book, as the “rules” of bioinformatics shift and evolve with every new algorithm designed, and every new technology introduced to the market. Bioinformatics necessitates constant learning, no matter where you are in your career. Bioinformatics is not a field for the unmotivated, and bioinformaticians may be some of the hardest working scientists that have to define their niche in the science community, and to define bioinformatics as an independent and promising future direction for basic and clinical research and patient care.
The hard work of the bioinformatician does not come without reward, and research institutions, big pharma companies, and technology companies snatch up bioinformatics students to manage their medical data. The average annual wage for a U.S. bioscience worker reached $94,543 in 2014, nearly double the overall U.S. private sector salary, and biotechnology specifically is the highest paid branch of the life sciences, followed by clinical research and genomics, fields increasingly populated by bioinformatics experts.
And the market itself is booming, with an expected growth of 21.2% between 2014 and 20202. According to a 2016 report from the BIO International Convention3, the U.S. bioscience industry employs 1.66 million people, a figure that includes nearly 147,000 high-paying jobs created since 2001. Many are attracted to data science in general because of it’s lucrative salaries, but the excitement of discovery keeps bioinformaticians enthralled.
As bioinformatics advances it pushes the boundaries of what is known in science, and introduces possibilities which would be impossible without data insights. Bioinformaticians and are staged to change the face of research and discovery – and it’s all happening right. now.
With every disease outbreak, cancer treatment trial, or research study, bioinformaticians are increasingly involved, and taking on increasingly important roles.
1. Delepenha, Lauren. 42 Essential Quotes by Data Science Thought Leaders. KD Nuggets News. Web.
2. Kumar, A and Chordia, M. Role of Bioinformatics in Biotechnology. Research and Review in Biosciences. Web. http://www.tsijournals.com/articles/role-of-bioinformatics-in-biotechnology.html.
3. Goodono, George. National Bioscience Report Shows Industry Creating Jobs and Driving Innovation. Biotechnology Innovation Organization. Web. https://www.bio.org/press-release/national-bioscience-report-shows-industry-creating-jobs-and-driving-innovation.