So, you think you might like to become a bioinformatics professional? Bioinformatics professionals, such as bioinformatics scientists, bioinformatics researchers, or bioinformatics technicians, use statistics and information technology to analyze biological data. Someone in this field works with research data to develop tools to analyze, store, and present huge sets of 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.
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.
|Degree Level||Graduate degree preferred|
|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; ability to use statistical software; familiarity with database programming and graphic algorithms; knowledge of mathematics, computers, electronics, chemistry, and biology|
|Median Annual Salary (2015)||$83,247 (for all biotechnology research scientists)|
Sources: U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Listings from employers (October 2012), O*Net OnLine
So, what are the career requirements? Starting with the right education is important. Most employers prefer someone with a graduate degree. The degree field should be bioinformatics, computer science, or a related field. Employers prefer someone with three to five years of similar or related experience. Key skills include communication, problem-solving, and analytical skills; the ability to use statistical software; familiarity with database programming and graphic algorithms; and knowledge of mathematics, computers, electronics, chemistry, and biology. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for biotechnology research scientists is $83,247.
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.
- Gain summer work experience. Many schools and organizations offer summer internships and training programs for undergraduate bioinformatics students. These opportunities can help students explore areas of research that may become the focus of 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.
- 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. Other positions may require a doctorate or other advanced education in order to qualify for promotional opportunities. 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 a fellowship.
Earning a bachelor's degree, earning a master's degree, and earning a doctorate are the steps to follow to make the most of a career as a bioinformatics professional.