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How to Become a Bioinformatics Professional

Learn how to become a bioinformatics professional. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in the field of bioinformatics.

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Do I Want to Be a Bioinformatics Professional?

Bioinformatics professionals, such as bioinformatics scientists, bioinformatics researchers or bioinformatics technicians, use statistics and information technology to analyze biological data. Professionals in this field need a background in mathematics, computer science and biology, and they may ultimately work for pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies, universities or hospitals. These professionals spend a good deal of time in laboratories sifting through data and generating reports. Most work full-time. Although these positions often require extensive education and training, salaries in the field are generally higher than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Requirements

Most positions in bioinformatics require a graduate degree, but there may be entry-level jobs for prospective candidates with a bachelor's degree. Professional experience can be obtained through entry-level positions or even internship and federal work-study programs. The following table contains the core requirements for becoming a bioinformatics professional:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Graduate degree most common*
Degree Field Bioinformatics, computer science or other related discipline*
Experience Varies; employers typically require 3-5 years of experience*
Key Skills Communication, problem-solving and analytical skills*; knowledge of mathematics, computers, electronics, chemistry and biology**
Computer Skills Ability to use statistical software*; familiarity with database programming and graphic algorithms*

Sources: *Job Listings from employers (October 2012); **O*Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Although a graduate degree is most common, employers may also look for applicants with at least a bachelor's degree. In preparation for a position, aspiring candidates can complete an undergraduate program with a major in bioinformatics. These programs may include relevant courses in areas like computer programming, applied mathematics, statistical analysis, biology and genetics.

Success Tips:

  • Gain summer work experience. Many schools and organizations offer summer internship and training programs for undergraduate bioinformatics students. These opportunities can help students explore areas of research that may become the focus for their future careers.
  • Consider a federal work-study program. In addition to an internship, college students studying for a bachelor's degree can earn additional experience by participating in a federal work-study program. Prospective students interested in acquiring additional experience in bioinformatics could use the opportunity to gain additional skills in the field.

Step 2: Earn a Graduate Degree

Bioinformatics professionals generally need a master's degree in bioinformatics or a closely related discipline. A typical graduate curriculum may include courses in data mining, biotechnology methods and biostatistics. Completing a master's degree program may be sufficient for some bioinformatics jobs in industry and with government agencies. Students who aspire to teach or conduct research at a university or work in research and development for private companies may need to continue their studies.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional association. Bioinformatics professionals may benefit from joining professional associations like the Bioinformatics Organization or American Institute of Biological Sciences. These organizations can provide members with job resource information, opportunities to network with peers and access to member publications.

Step 3: Consider Earning a Doctoral Degree

Some employers may expect bioinformatics professionals to have a doctoral degree, especially for advanced science or research positions. Schools and science-related institutions and foundations offer a variety of doctoral fellowships for individuals aspiring to bioinformatics careers. Depending on their career goals, students may need to identify specific requirements, such as publishing more research papers, to increase their chances of securing fellowship.

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    Areas of study you may find at Harvard University include:
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