Mohit Sharma – Medical University of Warsaw.
Mr Mohit Sharma is a bioinformatician and currently working as an Overseas PhD Researcher, (International-Program) at SMM, Medical University of Warsaw, Malopolska Centre of Biotechnology, Krakow, Poland.
He got his Master’s degree in Bioinformatics at Institute of Biotechnology and Bioinformatics at Padmashree Dr. D.Y. Patil University, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India.
His Journey, and how he explains it!
What is Bioinformatics?
Bioinformatics: Next Generation Science
Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that is concerned with developing and applying approaches from computer science, mathematics and statistics on biological issues. In the last few decades, Bioinformatics has evolved and is playing a major role in the fields of Biotechnology, Drug Designing, and related fields. The most notable advancement was the invention of a technique known as DNA Sequencing.
Bioinformatics is a meeting point of two key contemporary disciplines – Biology and Computer science. It has had a pivotal role in high throughput projects such as the human genome project. Bioinformatics is the computer-assisted data management discipline that helps us gather, analyze, and represent this information in order to edify ourselves, knowing the life’s progression in the healthy and disease conditions, and find novel or better drugs.
Bioinformatics is being practised across the globe by educational groups, companies, national and international research organizations. This discipline should be thought of as the core of current and future biotechnology.
Bioinformaticians need a solid background in computer science but also a good understanding of biology. Since bioinformaticians work closely with biologists, they need the ability to communicate complex topics in an understandable way and keep up-to-date with new developments in biology.
Why Did I Decide to Study Bioinformatics?
In my last year of Bachelors, I started thinking about possible university programs. If I remember correctly, my approach to select a program was based on two aspects. First, my performances in school and college, and second, my personal interests.
Looking at school, I was performing best in literature and languages but I also really liked life sciences, In fact, I always struggled the most with the natural sciences such as maths and physics but I was having an interest in computers and was very keen to work on computers. I considered my interests, When I was looking into alternatives to computer science, I stumbled upon bioinformatics, which seemed great because it would give me exposure to computer science.
I started my Master’s degree in Bioinformatics at Institute of Biotechnology and Bioinformatics at Padmashree Dr. D.Y. Patil University, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Comparing computer-science and life-science courses, I found the life-science courses much easier and there was less effort involved. While life-science lectures just required attending the lectures and passing the exam, computer-science courses involved much more work because there are weekly seminars where the solutions to the weekly assignments are discussed. Additionally, some classes featured short tests. In these classes, it was usually necessary to reach 50% of the maximum score in the assignments.
What differentiates the Master’s from the Bachelor’s program is that it is more research-oriented and allows for much greater specialization. For example, I used my Master’s to place a focus on learning computer programs and languages like C, Java and PERL as this was a completely new task for me. In terms of research, the Master’s thesis takes up a much larger part of the total credit points than the Bachelor’s thesis, so skills such as literature analysis, method development, and scientific writing become even more important.
Job Prospects as a Bioinformatics Graduate
Studying bioinformatics, I was frequently asked where you can work as a bioinformatician. With my experience and journey in the Bioinformatics domain, about 80% of bioinformatics positions are in research or the public sector.
Nowadays the issue with research positions (in India and in other countries) is that they are generally fixed-term because these positions are often financed using project funds. In the public sector, bioinformaticians are often sought after in the medical field (e.g. in hospitals, private research organizations, CROs and companies) and in health-related government as well as private institutions.
However, a job in a public institution such as a hospital includes system administration duties like setting up computers and databases – tasks that have little to do with bioinformatics itself. Likewise, both research and public-sector positions offer pretty low salaries compared to the industry.
As per my assessment, only about 20-30% of bioinformatics positions are in the industry. There are many reasons for this so low percentage. In my opinion, the main cause is that only industry sector that employs bioinformaticians is huge Pharma companies. In these big Pharma giants, the bioinformaticians are needed to accomplish jobs such as:
- Modeling: Prediction and Estimation of protein structures and simulation of molecular interactions. Many approaches are available like homology modeling, protein threading, ab-initio methods etc.
- Data processing: Execution, processing and analyzing sequencing data, for example, from next-generation sequencing or single-cell sequencing, WGS, HTS.
- Virtual screening: discovery of leads (potential new drugs) using computational techniques.
- Data science: Bioinformatics requires both Data Science and domain knowledge. Both Data Science and Bioinformatics require an understanding of data structures and algorithms. Analysis and interpretation of data
Since bioinformatics is very much research-oriented and jobs in the industry are few, many graduates (maybe 40%) join PhD programs. Those who join industry mostly work in non-bioinformatics positions, like IT consultants, software developers, solutions architects, or data scientists.
Majority of people advice against taking bioinformatics as a full-time career because it is hard to find the suitable job after but nowadays the scenario has been changed people can get many jobs offers from academia as well as from industry.
Due to the high demand for Big Data Analysis in Healthcare, jobs are more with high perks for Biological Data Analysts. Now, I would argue that having a bioinformatics/computational degree, job prospects are well, considering that bioinformaticians have distinctive expertise, which makes them eye-catching for companies.
Specific areas that fall within the scope of bioinformatics
Sequence assembly: The genome of an organism is assembled from thousands of fragments that must be correctly “stitched” together sophisticated computer-based methods, is carried out by a specialist in bioinformatics.
Database design and maintenance: Many pharmaceutical companies maintain private databanks of gene sequences and other biological and chemical information. These repositories must be continually updated with data generated internally and from outside sources. This is a challenging task, and the design and maintenance of these complex databases have become an important part of bioinformatics.
Sequence (gene) analysis: Once the DNA sequence of a fragment of the genome has been determined, the work has just begun; one must next understand the function of the gene. This involves locating regions of the gene that code for a protein product that is involved in regulation and control and also finding those sections of the gene (introns) that are clipped out and discarded.
The gene may be compared against databases of known genes with well-understood functions to find clues to its role in health or disease. All of these analyses are carried out using powerful computers and specialized software, and many would consider this activity the most important area of focus within bioinformatics.
Pharmacogenomics: It is now realized that single-point mutations (alterations in the genome at specific positions) can be associated not only with particular disease states (for example, sickle cell anaemia) but also with reduced or increased sensitivity to particular drugs or with side-effects to those medications.
Databases of these single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are rapidly evolving and promise to play an important role in future drug development efforts and in the design of clinical trials. Again, experts in bioinformatics are at the forefront of efforts to collect, analyze, and apply this crucial data.
Proteomics: A relatively new area, proteomics studies not the entire genome but rather the portion of the genome that is expressed in particular cells. This often involves cutting-edge technology, such as the use of microarrays (“DNA-on-a-chip”) that allow the expression level of thousands of genes in a cell sample to be quickly determined.
Once a large and diverse database of expression data has been collected, the next step is to identify connections between the patterns of expression of genes and a particular disease state. In this way, likely targets for drug and/or gene therapy can be located. Bioinformatics specialists work closely with bench scientists to accomplish the “data mining” that lies behind this next wave of the pharmaceutical industry.
Advice to Prospective Bioinformatics Students and Graduates
If someone asked me whether I would go for bioinformatics again, I would be torn back and forth. I really liked the diversity of this discipline and with a degree in this discipline, there are ample career opportunities. “This the era of bioinformatics and it is the science of the next generation.”
One should understand it very well that working in an interdisciplinary field is exciting, it is also hard. You have to learn a lot in different areas. So my advice is to be patient and be a good learner.
On the other hand, the economic reality is that there are few bioinformatics positions, so when you take a non-bioinformatics job, all your specialized knowledge goes down the drain. Thus, I could also imagine studying a less specialized subject such as computer or data science.
One should keep in mind that bioinformatics is more related to computer science than biology. We need to learn the computational part more than biology as we need to solve the biological tissues by using computational techniques. People who are good in computer science with knowledge of biology are more successful in this field.
There are extremely few biologists who make the transition to bioinformatics. Those who want to work as a bioinformatician in the industry they need to plan in such a way and make it sure to take industry-relevant courses and furnace industry connections like by taking internships.
This is very important for bioinformaticians that they need to be flexible in career ambitions, if you are good enough in programming and data analysis you will not have any issues in finding a suitable job or position.
Mohit Sharma – Medical University of Warsaw
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