Expert Insights: Choosing the Right Degree for a Career in Bioinformatics
This blog will delve into the top Bachelor's degree subjects to consider for a career in bioinformatics. But before we dive into that, let's take a moment to understand what exactly bioinformatics is.
What is Bioinformatics?
Bioinformatics can be defined as the intersection of three critical sub-fields: computer science, biology, and statistics. As depicted in the below Venn diagram, bioinformatics lies at the center of these disciplines.
If you want to work in bioinformatics, you don't necessarily need to have a degree in bioinformatics itself. A degree in biology, computer science, data science, biostatistics, computational biology, or any other subject that could be placed somewhere in this Venn diagram will provide you with a solid foundation for a career in this filed.
Filling in the gaps
While it is possible to specialize in one of the three subfields, it's important to understand that bioinformatics is a multi-disciplinary field that requires a balanced understanding of both biology and computer science. To achieve this, you will need to close any gaps in your knowledge. One way to do this is through further education, such as obtaining a Master's or PhD degree. Another option is to gain experience through self-study, outside projects, or a thesis project that emphasizes the skills you are lacking. There are also ample resources available online to teach yourself, such as free university lectures and coding tutorials on platforms like YouTube, with channels like MIT OpenCourseWare and freeCodeCamp.org being great places to start.
Accademia vs Industry
Is there a difference in what Bachelors degree people study between industry and academia? Having worked in both academia and industry, I analyzed the backgrounds of my colleagues in terms of their Bachelor's degree. The results are shown in the below figure.
Here we can see that the majority of individuals (~60%) working in both academia and industry have an undergraduate degree in a biology related subject (In the figure I have put biology but this also includes any biology-related subject such as biotechnology, biochemistry, biomedical sciences etc.). Similarly, around 7% of individuals come from a computer science background in both groups. The take away from this is that your bachelors degree will not influence you ability to get into academia over industry or visa versa. It's also important to note that having a biology-related degree does not guarantee a higher chance of entering a career in bioinformatics. It is simply more common for individuals with a background in biology to pursue a career in bioinformatics.
To conclude, bioinformatics is a dynamic field that presents a wealth of career opportunities for individuals who are drawn to the intersection of biology and computer science. If you are interested in pursuing a career in bioinformatics, it's ideal to study something under the umbrella of biology, computer science, or statistics. I wouldn’t get too hung up the subject, it is more important to focus on your personal interests and passions when choosing a degree program as it is a long-term commitment. You will likely forge your own unique path and develop your own unique strengths and abilities no matter what you choose. Best of luck on your journey!
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