Bioinformatics is, at a glance, a hybrid field. It combines the biological and computer sciences, and may be of interest to either biologists with an interest in IT, or to IT specialist with an interest in biology. A diverse range of topics are covered under bioinformatics. In general, it is the study and organization of biological systems and interactions using computational programs. Currently, genome projects and genetic engineering are the prime focus of bioinformatics.
The Importance and Possible Uses of the Science
The biotech industry has traditionally had the strongest demand for bioinformatics work. The expectation was that bioinformatics would assist in the development of new bio-based technologies for use in other industries, agriculture, medicine and for general consumer products. As biotech funding has been steadily decreasing, most bioinformatics work is now relegated to university-based research labs.
There is a still a wealth of biological knowledge to be gained and organized. As computers are now the primary means of organizing, manipulating, and sharing complex biological data, bioinformatics remains a vital part of the scientific community. As new technologies are developed, there is likely to be a strong return to the commercial opportunities of the field. Worldwide, the biotech field is still strong, and will likely surpass the fifty-billion dollar mark in the coming years.
Bioinformatics Training and Preparation
Since bioinformatics is a hybrid field, beginning possibilities for training are diverse. The advantages of preparing for a bioinformatics career is that it will have the side-effect of opening up a wide variety of other jobs and careers. Usually the career path starts with a foundation in the biological sciences. Biochemistry, microbiology, or genetics are the most useful specializations, but any degree in biology or life science is useful. From there, a graduate should begin training in computer sciences and IT. They should be competent with programming and code writing and have several years of IT experience before taking the final steps into bioinformatics.
A reverse of this career path is also possible, with a student beginning their undergraduate study in IT and then moving into the life sciences. The actual bioinformatics training will be a graduate-level integration of these two primary areas of study.
While full degrees in biology and software development may not be required, current hiring mangers are looking for experience above all. The best experience will be in one or both of the two primary fields, and jobs in either usually require a full degree.
Where to Obtain a Bioinformatics Degree
Obtaining a bioinformatics degree has been made easier recently with a dramatic increase in training programs across the US and other countries. The following is a list of training courses specifically in bioinformatics. A base degree must already be held.
The first two programs are grounded in biological science. The last program is for those with an IT background.
1. UC Davis Professional Bioinformatics Training Program
2. University of Michigan Medical School Bioinformatics Training Program
3. Chicago Online BiTmaP Program
Possible Career Paths in Bioinformatics
The advantage of pursuing a bioinformatics degree is the wide range of possible career options. Listed below are three popular choices.
1. Geneticist: Average salary is approximately $60,000-$90,000 annually.
2. Biostatistician: Average salary is approximately $60,000-$80,000 annually
3. Bioinformatician: Average Salary is $130,000 annually.