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What is a Bioinformatician?

Friedrich Ackermann friedric at techfak.uni-bielefeld.de
Mon Mar 3 07:50:44 EST 1997

In article <rb3eupgavr.fsf at work.csb>, Larry Hunter <hunter at work.csb> writes:
|> Scott Legrand said:
|>   Bayer is apparently hiring straight biologists or computer scientists and
|>   avoiding the interdisciplinary types out there.  At the same time, Wyeth-
|>   Averst is seeking the same interdisciplinary types that Bayer shuns.  My
|>   question is which (if either) of these two views is predominant in the
|>   industry today?

Please let me give also my personal view on this question:

I am a computer scientist working on bioinformatic problems that are
related to my "traditional" fields of interest in pattern recognition,
i.e. I am more or less involved in the protein docking problem, in
secondary structure prediction and I understand the HMM--stuff in
sequence comparison (although I am not practically working in this
direction).  I have advised several students during their "Diplomarbeit"
(approximately the german equivalent to a master's thesis).  From
this I am a bit experienced in the question discussed, especially
from the point of view of people actually searching a job in the area.

These experiences are far less positive than soap-box speakers and
journalists tell us.  Whereas they stress the importance of
"interdisciplinary" education, all students of mine getting hold
of "good" jobs, managed to do so, because companies or university
groups were interested in their specialised computational skills.

In addition it seems to me, that (at least in Germany) a
large gap exists between salaries paid for computer scientists
in a software company and the salaries paid for bioinformatic
people (whatever they are trained in) in chemical industry etc.
Nobody   r e a l l y   fullfilling the requirements listed
in a typical bioinformatics-job-posting (SQL, C++, Java, HTML,
Computer Graphics, 4GL-Tools, TCP/IP, ... at least!) would do
so for the salaries paid.  In fact I am not sure whether such a
genius really exists.  Please compare a typical job offer of
a software company with a bioinformatics job offer!

Therefore my conclusion is as follows:  Interdisciplinary research
is nice.  But since reality is exactly how Dr. Elliston from
Bayer pointed out, in computer science education we have no
alternative to train 100%-computer scientist, well specialised on
a "classical" field (databases, parallel computing, an algorithmic
or theoretical field, pattern recognition or whatsoever).  If
in addition they have some knowledge of the field of application,
e.g. molecular biology, it's a plus.

Crosses seem not be accepted by the market. 

Friedrich Ackermann
Technical Faculty
Bielefeld University
P.O. Box 100131
D-33501 Bielefeld
Phone: +49 521 106 2938 (2935)
Fax: +49 521 106 2992
email: friedric at techfak.uni-bielefeld.de

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