Careers in Bioinformatics
For a description of bioinformatics click here.
The bioinformatics jobs market has changed considerably in the past few years
and can be attributed to a number of factors, mainly the increase in the number
of bioinformatics academic programs, leading to an increase in the number of
graduates chasing jobs, the steady decrease in the rate of increase of
bioinformatics jobs, and the almost flattening of the amount of investments in
the biotechnology sector.
All this have led to an increasingly harder market for recent graduates. The
increases of number of jobs candidates has led employers look more to
experience, as compared to the nineties when just possessing the necessary
skills was enough to bag the candidate the job. There has also been a
significant shift, with a increasing number of academic jobs and decreasing
number of industry jobs, as compared to a few years back.
However it is not all bleak news for bioinformatics, there is still a wealth of
biological information out there to be deciphered, and there also be an
increase in the number of bioinformatics research programs, so in some
years to come, some of the research would begin to filter into the industry, as
many innovations nowadays seem to begin in the research labs (look no
further than Yahoo! and Google). Also the bioinformatics market despite
everything is still growing worldwide and is expected to surpass the 50 billion
dollar mark soon.
The pharmaceutical industry tends to be the major employer of bioinformaticians,
although biotech companies, especially those involved personal care products,
industrial organisms and agriculture have seen bioinformatics play a more
important role in their industry.
Biotech companies have received a lot of bad press in the past few years as many
have apparently failed to deliver on the promises of “money printing” products.
This has led to a decrease in the rate of investments in biotech companies.
However there are signs while the biotech companies may be down, they
definately not out and as many consolidate thier efforts to
produce the goods, the question is not whether they can do it but when.
Research and academic institutes have also become big players in the employment
market as more candidates look to acquiring a PhD and acquiring some essential
researching skills in the hope that it would lead to better opportunities in
While gene sequencing and analysis might currently be the main focus in
bioinformatics, the field is quite diverse and opportunities also lie in other
Below are brief descriptions of some of the areas within bioinformatics that
opportunities are arising are:
This involves the use of sophisticated computer-based methods to assemble the
thousands of fragments that make up the genome of an organism.
Genomic Sequence Analysis:
This involves mapping out the regions of a genome that code for a particular
protein’s production. It also involves mapping out areas of the gene that is
clipped out or discarded. All these are done using sophisticated software
programs and results are then compared with databases of already mapped out
This is the process of determining the functions of genes and determining
whether they would suitable for drug discovery.
This involves the discovery of disease causing genes and using that knowledge
to identifying individuals who are susceptible to such diseases.
An offshoot of genomic studies, this is the study of the portion of a genome
that is expressed in particular cells. This usually involves the use of
micro-arrays (a cutting edge technology that allows the expression of level of
thousands of genes in a cell sample to be quickly determined) and the results
are entered in a database. This area is especially useful for drug and/or gene
Here databases of single nucleotide polymorphisms (gene mutations that cause
particular disease states or increase/decreased sensitivity to drugs) have an
important role to play in future drug development efforts and in the design of
Database Administration: This usually involves the design and
maintenance of huge databases of genomic sequence and biochemical information.
These databases need to be constantly updated. There is also the involvement in
the development of intelligent search algorithms to search through the database
and retrieve relevant information.
The current trend in seeking potential employees seems to be looking for those
that have firstly been trained in the biological sciences and have acquired
computational skills. However, there is room for those with an IT background
with strong interest and knowledge in the biological sciences, especially
Skills that potential employers tend to look for can be grouped into the
Informatics problem solving skills which include computer science and genomic
expertise. This would include a good understanding of how and why DNA is
transcribed into RNA and then expressed as proteins.
Database administration and programming skills (e.g. SQL Server, Oracle,
Sybase, MySQL, CORBA, PERL, Java, C, C++, web scripting). UNIX tends to be the
operating system used for many biological programs. Being able to write
programs, especially using PERL and C, on this platform and using SQL, which
tends to be the language used of querying relational databases where the
biological information is stored, would be highly desirable.
Experience with genomic sequence analysis and molecular modelling programs
would also be a good skill to possess for those looking to get into
Act as an effective bridge between biologist and computers scientists,
especially during the design of effective tools for data analysis, storage and
Possess the necessary skills needed to effectively filter information and from
possible relationships between datasets.
Detailed knowledge of the bioinformatics field and the problems it addresses.
Getting started in bioinformatics would usually require some training in
biological sciences coupled with knowledge of computational sciences or vice
versa. The strongest demand is for those who have degrees in both the life
sciences and computer sciences, coupled with a few years of IT experience under
Those who find themselves in this category are probably ready to take their
first steps into the field of bioinformatics if they are not already involved.
However those with life sciences PhDs with self taught computers skills are
also well sought.
For those with either just a biological sciences or computer sciences degree, a
Master’s degree in bioinformatics or computational biology is probably the best
route to follow to get on the bioinformatics careers ladder. This is especially
true for those with a biological science degree.
The Master’s degree should arm the graduate with some of the necessary skills
needed to get a job in bioinformatics. This is especially so for those with a
biological sciences background. A Master’s degree increases the market value of
the graduate and is looked on favourably by recruiters, especially if it comes
with industry experience.
Doing an undergraduate degree in bioinformatics is also another way of getting
in on the bioinformatics train but unfortunately they are very few of them
around and existing programs have not been around for long. This makes it hard
to evaluate the value that they actually contribute towards one’s career.
However it is an option that should be looked at as bioinformatics is a career
what considering getting into.
There are far more academic training programs available now than they were five
years ago, with more universities planning to roll out their programs. The
profiles of some of the available academic programs in bioinformatics and
computational biology can be found here.To view a list of academic programs,
Jobs titles to look out for searching for a job in bioinformatics vary greatly,
meaning that there are a lot on hidden opportunities out there, so one would
have to actively seek them out. Some of the job titles can be viewed