Want a career in science? Good at maths? Bioinformatics needs you!

By Tim Dean
Thursday, 05 August, 2010

If there’s one uncontroversial fact about the genomics age, it’s that data is rapidly outstripping our ability to analyse it.

The staggering amounts of data being generated in genomics, epigenomics, proteomics and other ‘omics studies - not to mention systems biology, which attempts to knit the various ‘omics together - is presenting a titanic challenge for life science researchers.

This deluge of data is increasing the demand for those who specialise in bioinformatics, mathematics and statistics, says Laureate, Professor Peter Doherty.

Speaking with Australian Life Scientist, Doherty suggests that young people with an aptitude for mathematics who are contemplating a career in science would do well to consider the life sciences and bioinformatics.

“We’re totally dependent on the mathematicians, statisticians and bioinformaticians. In terms of careers in science, if someone has mathematical skills there’s an enormous need for them in the life sciences,” he said.

Doherty suggested the demand in the life sciences is so high that some climate scientists are losing their statisticians to medical science projects.

Professor Mark Ragan, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland and Director of the ARC Centre in Bioinformatics, thoroughly agrees that there’s an ever-increasing need for bioinformaticians.

“There’s more than a bit of a drought. There’s a gigantic need for these kinds of people. It’s getting rapidly more critical,” he said. “The main driver is that bio-science is an information science now.”

Ragan is also concerned that there aren’t enough bioinformaticians being trained around the country. He also stresses that it’s not just a matter of having people specialise in the computational aspects of bioinformatics, but they need to have an awareness of the science as well.

“We don’t just want a lot of bioinformatics trained people. We want people with solid basis in a cognate discipline, such as molecular genetics, computer science or applied mathematics, as well as being conversant in the language and expectations of the researchers they’re working with.”

Ragan suggests that now is a good time for people to consider a career in bioninformatics. “Bioscience is where a lot of the big problems are. Biomedical, agricultural biotech, environmental biotech, there are a lot of big cool problems in bioscience. These are increasingly being approached in a datacentric approach. We need you!”

There are a number of courses that offer bioinformatics around Australia, such as at the University of New South Wales and the University of Queensland, among others.

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