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What is a Bioinformatician?

William Bains william at wbains.u-net.com
Fri Mar 14 01:48:06 EST 1997

In article <E6GoII.As6 at hermes.hrz.uni-bielefeld.de>,
friedric at techfak.uni-bielefeld.de (Friedrich Ackermann) wrote:

> 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.

I agree with this rather pessimistic view. At the end of one meeting on
bioinformatics, when several senior industry figures (especially from
Smithkline Beecham)had said how they needed multidisciplinary
bioinformaticians, how they were the life blood of the company, I asked
whether they would actually hire someone who did not fall into a
pre-defined emplyment box. Rather to their own embarassment, they all said
that, no, their companies would not. They just did not have the mechanisms
for identifying someone who was good at an ill-defined subject (i.e. one
that did not fit into the form on an HR person's desk), nor the mechanisms
for evaluating, using and promoting (or firing) them once they had got
them. So, while evryone talks about multidisciplinary work, the big
companies cannot hire people to do it.

That leaves academics to dabble, and a few biotech. companies big enough
to afford good bioinformatics but small enough to be flexible. Not great
future, really.

William Bains

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