Managing a molecular biology computer resource

Reinhard Doelz doelz at comp.bioz.unibas.ch
Tue Jun 23 10:37:38 EST 1992


In article <12712 at gazette.bcm.tmc.edu>, steffen at mbcr.bcm.tmc.edu (David Steffen) writes:
|> elliston at msdrl.com (Keith Elliston) writes:
|> >As far as the system manager goes, I agree, most of us are Molecular
|> >Biologists that have "coverted".
|> 
|> How does a molecular biologist "convert" to a career to biocomputing?

Private interest for computers at a very early stage (nowadays, at school)
should be paired with interest in Biology. Excellent examina in math and 
sciences should be necessary to cope with more than one field simultaneously.
It is requires that the candidate is aware of the challenge to get 
employed in another business. Therefore, a broad general knowledge of 
anything, paired with the ability to digest written material rapidly, is 
desirable. The candidate should get the degrees in biology with at least 
25 but already have a privately aquisited knowledge of informatics at that
time. There must not be any irritating parallelism during the studies, e.g., 
biology and informatics should not be taken simultaneously but rather 
emphasis shall be on biology in the first years.
 
Analytic thinking, with a strong background in logistics, at best also 
some knowledge on economy. Not to forget the ability to represent ideas 
in front of commissions. Integer appearance is needed. In Europe, 
fluent english and at least one other language is a must. 
Ability to teach is essential. Didactics should be aquired during the 
whole biology training whereever possible. 

|> How much training in molecular biology is optimum/minimum for the
|> position?  What training does one need on the computer end of
|> things?  

The candidate should know C, Fortran, one other language, an object 
oriented language (e.g. C++), some knowledge in AI (at least, LISP), 
and several platforms of computers (PCs, VAX, UNIX). Networking is 
nice but grows so fast that you can be up-to-date only if you are doing a 
job in that field. 

|> What is the best way of obtaining this training?
|> 

Buy a *REAL* computer at 15 (no games but a workstation). Use C or 
some other language to write small programs in a breeze during the biology 
courses (i.e., a plotting program for enzyme kinetics is a good practice). 
Use a database system for housekeeping in biology (reference lists). 
Get an account on the university mainframe as early as possible and 
read NEWS. Try to get jobs in vacation time to help students in 
practicing computers to train the teaching aspect. 

|> At least one earlier poster who managed a system used by molecular
|> biologists argued that it was better to go from computer science and
|> pick up the biology than to go from biology and pick up the computer
|> science; comments?  Given this alternative path, what training in
|> computer science does one start with?

I strongly disagree. Computers are developing so rapid that it might be lost 
time  to start a computer education first, and do wet lab biology afterwards. 
Sequence analysis in the end requires biological understanding, and computer
knowledge is based on experience at most - in networking anyway. 

|> 
|> My intuition is that it is better to post than to email replies, as I
|> think this will be most useful as a discussion.  Don't worry about

Comments welcome - I'm a chemical engineer by training and did  my Ph.D.
in organic chemistry. During Ph.D. I was involved in biochemical and 
microbiology projects, before switching to protein chemistry and 
biophysical studies during postdoc time. I started sequence analysis 
programming ( on collagen sequences I tried to synthesize ) in the mid-80's
on BASIC computers without hard disk, but learned to punch cards on  big blue
mainframes in '78 already. I recently had a biologist as a diploma student 
who started without C and had only Applesoft as language. Within 2 years 
he managed to become a wizzard, but, admittedly, too early in order to stay 
a real  biologist. That's the opposite of the path desired: If you start too 
early in computers as a biology student, you might loose enthusiasm and 
suddenly endanger your reputation as 'biologist'. 

And, last not least, don't forget the salary. People have been attacked 
on bionet.jobs because they've been offering jobs with $20k/yr and the 
ambition of a 65 hrs/week schedule.  True, we do earn some money in the 
field of managers in the biological computing world. I wouldn't like to 
see that the market collapses because too low-educated biologists start 
at too high positions. You should start low but get a steep increase in the 
first years if you do it right. The only problem is, I'm afraid, to 
educate the administration that such positions should not be temporary. 
Once that is achieved it makes sense to draft curricula. Before that, I'm 
afraid, only those who accidentially make it to get some two different 
jobs done simultaneously will stay competetive. The others need their 
solid biology education to return to non-computer business once the grant 
they've been sitting on is expired. 

Regards 
Reinhard 


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