should I get into bioinformation?

Walter Heger wheger at us.ibm.com
Mon Nov 2 21:15:23 EST 1998


I am interested in changing careers and getting into this new field of
bioinformation.  Basically, it involves using computers and mathematics
to model biological events.  My primary interest is to be able to tackle
the protein folding problem, (how naive).
        The first question I have is: is this is going to be the boom
industry
of the next decade?  How do I get an unbiased opinion as to much progress
have
we made?  I have been reading about this field as a passing interest.
I read George Rose's (a John Hopkin's professor who claims to have a
computer program which accurately predicts RNA folding based on
electronegativity differences)
article in Science, Dec 95, as well as other literature.  I know that U.
Wash in Seattle and Tel Aviv are offering courses in this field.  I have
audited "Computatation Aspects of Molecular Biology" at MIT, and believe
that
this will be a boom field, but I still wonder.  Fifteen years ago, when I
was
an undergrad, Time magazine claimed that recombinatorial DNA will overtake
the
electronics industry by the mid-1990's.  Is it that the estimates were too
optimistic or is it really that way, but I have not seen it because the
results
are not in my industry and tend to be in other fields, eg. agriculture and
pharmaceuticals.
        Second, is it too late for a 35 y.o. software engineer to try to
establish a background (going back to school) in this?  Not that I can't if
I didn't want to,
but I ask if it will be lucrative enough worth the transition from a
relatively comfortable career as a programmer in visualization to make
it worth my time, money and efforts.  What is the going rate for a
software developer with an M. Sc. in Computer Science and minor in
Biology working in this field?  Is there going to be enough cash going
around?  4years ago, I read an article in the editorial
section of "The Boston Globe" from the director of the biotechnology
program at Harvard who remarked that a secretary working at Harvard made
more money in her first year than a post-doc from Harvard.  I also met
with a graduate student who was in the department who made the same
comment, as well as some other acquintances.  The problems seems to be
one of specialization.  Apparently, employers do not pay anything but a
token amount for a biologist who is not a specialist in the field that
they are currently pursuing.  Now, some of this thought might be just a
circumstance of the economical downturn of '92, but what about the long
term outlook??  I am sure the economy will go through many dips and
highs, so I guess my question is multifaceted.  Lets take the optimistic
approach and ask what is the current predicament today.
        Are there any good references which attempt to do any economical
forecasting [an oxymoron]?  Or is it that if I took all the analysts in the
industry, they would point in every possible direction.
        In Jan 1996, "Computer Graphics and Applications", the editorial
claimed that molecular biology will make as big an impact on the 21st
century
as physics made on the 20th.
        Six months ago, "Red Herring" ran articles about bioinformation and
also seemed to present the view that the boom is just around the corner.
        Recently, I have had a offer from a biotech company, but at a 25%
pay
cut compared to what I am currently making.  Is it worth it to "buy my way
into
the industry rather than spending 4 years in a Ph. D. program?"






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