Should I Become a Bioinformatics Scientist?
As a cutting-edge interdisciplinary field with several subdisciplines, bioinformatics offers graduates multiple career options. Bioinformatics scientists may develop new computational tools to address specific research goals, make scientific presentations or create databases for storage and retrieval of biological or biomedical data. These experiences can lead to employment in many sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, information technology, biotechnology and government research, as well as academia. Some positions include bioinformatics programmer, software application developer, engineer, research statistician, scientist and professor.
Bioinformatics scientists tend to make higher-than-average salaries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, they often have to spend a good deal of money on education before they can find work in the field; most wind up earning a doctoral degree. Once they find a position, bioinformatics scientists spend much of their time generating reports in offices and laboratories. Most work full-time.
|Degree Field||Bioinformatics or related field|
|Experience||Research positions and postdoctoral appointments are common|
|Key Skills||Analytical, critical-thinking, communication, problem-solving, logical thinking, advanced mathematical skills|
|Salary (2016)||$83,247 (median for research scientists in biotechnology)|
Step 1: Complete Undergraduate Studies
Several undergraduate programs are available in bioinformatics or related interdisciplinary fields, such as biomathematics and computational biology. Biomathematics can involve tasks such as developing mathematical models to distinguish relationships in immense data sets, which could be used to locate specific genes in sequences, for example. Computational biology emphasizes the interpretation and analysis of data derived from bioinformatics tools, such as databases.
Applying to a graduate program in bioinformatics does not require majoring in bioinformatics or a related field. Applicants may have bachelor's degrees in life and physical sciences, computer science, statistics and math. Regardless of major, to begin graduate studies in bioinformatics, students need to complete prerequisites in subjects that typically include molecular biology, genetics, chemistry, statistics, linear algebra and computer programming.
- Complete an internship program. Internships are typically required in senior year of undergraduate study. They allow students to gain real-world experience and apply classroom learning.
Step 2: Pursue Graduate Studies
Master's programs are available in bioinformatics, which can lead to careers working in biotechnology, bioinformatics companies or labs, among others. A Ph.D. in bioinformatics, genetics or genomics is generally required to engage in advanced research. Ph.D. programs in bioinformatics emphasize research and lab rotations that are responsive to the evolving nature of bioinformatics and computational biology. Core courses may be required in the areas of computing and informatics, statistics and molecular biology. Specific courses may include genomics, computational neuroscience, macromolecular structure, probabilistic modeling and biological databases. Bioinformatics Ph.D. programs require dissertations, as well as intensive oral and written exams.
- Gain experience. Some graduate programs may also offer internship opportunities. For example, students may be able to work on-site solving industrial problems. Also, research and capstone projects provide opportunities to hone an area of expertise.
Step 3: Get Hands-On Training
Doctoral programs typically offer teaching and collaborative research and training opportunities with organizations such as the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. These programs may provide dissertation training. Opportunities to acquire hands-on experience are available at the bachelor's and master's degree levels, as well. Several universities offer summer institutes to provide undergraduate students with bioinformatics research experiences. Bioinformatics students may also gain research experience through on-campus research laboratories in genome science or bioinformatics research centers, as well as seek options in companies.
Step 4: Pursue Supervisory Roles
Bioinformatics scientists who obtain sufficient experience may advance to a lab management role involving the supervision of a team of scientists.