Bioinformatics is the application of computers to the management of biological data. Bioinformatics uses computers to store, process, analyze, manage, and retrieve large amounts of biologic and genomic data. When applied to humans, bioinformatics is used to support gene-based drug discovery. When applied to wildlife and conservation biology, it may refer to managing data about blood and tissue samples taken by toxicologists, genetic information about particular wildlife communities, conservation genetics, or related biodiversity data.
Bioinformatics specialists are computer scientists who apply their knowledge to the management of biological and genomic data. They build databases to contain the information, write scripts to analyze it, and queries to retrieve it.
What Does a Bioinformatics Specialist Do?
Bioinformatics specialists help scientists manage, process, and analyze genomic and molecular data. They build and maintain databases to contain the information, and create or select algorithms to process, analyze, visualize, and interpret it. They may also use data mining techniques or statistical software. They may use their computer programming skills to extend the capabilities of software packages, Web tools, databases, and database queries.
Bioinformatics specialists may process datasets to auto-enter them into databases, then run tests to check the integrity of the data entered. They also check the quality of analysis outputs to ensure that the algorithms and methods used are adequate and appropriate for the task at hand.
They work with the researchers and staff they support to determine their data storage needs and analysis requirements. They also help with database-related aspects of research, such as devising appropriate queries. Some even assist with experimental design and data collection. Since their work is a critical part of the research process, they may be called upon to help prepare reports and scientific journal articles. They must also document all database changes, modifications, and technical issues, as they may affect the research process and quality. They must keep up with new computational methods and computing technologies in order to support their researchers.
While most bioinformatics efforts focus on the human genome, bioinformatics specialists are increasingly needed to support wildlife biologists and environmental scientists. When applied wildlife biology and ecological modeling, bioinformatics supports population biology, conservation genetics, and the survival of endangered species.
Where Does a Bioinformatics Specialist Work?
Most bioinformatics specialists are employed by pharmaceutical companies that use biological and genomic data to develop new drugs. Others work for biotechnology companies that develop new medical treatments and products. Some work for government health agencies and hospitals. Others work for consulting companies that provide bioinformatics services. Some are employed in the software industry.
Those involved with wildlife and environmental science data usually work as researchers or faculty at colleges and universities, or as technicians or scientists employed by nonprofit organizations. They generally work full time in laboratories and offices, and keep standard business hours.
What Is the Average Bioinformatics Specialist Salary?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an average annual salary of $41,430 for bioinformatics technicians in 2013. However, salaries vary depending on field of application, experience, education level, location, and other factors.
|State||Total Employment||Bottom 25%||Median Salary||Top 75%|
|District of Columbia||220||$43,710||$54,650||$65,080|
Table data taken from BLS (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes439111.htm)
What Is the Job Demand for Bioinformatics Specialists?
Job growth in this field is projected to grow at a rate of 8 to 14 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is in keeping with the average for all occupations. Opportunities for bioinformatics specialists supporting grant-funded research will depend on the availability of funding.
Bioinformatics Specialist Jobs & Job Description
Recent Bioinformatics Job Listings
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- Expert knowledge of statistics, mathematics, and computer science to analyze large data sets
- Engage in data extraction, storage, initial analysis, and delivery to users
- Maintain current knowledge of sequencing techniques, instrumentation, and methodology
- Provide training on data analysis software and consultative services to researchers, and other stakeholders
- Ability to create a theoretical framework to manipulate large amounts of data into theories and correlations which suggest relationships or explain biological phenomena
- Ability to develop and program bioinformatic software that implements and measures analytical rules of the project in question
- Speak about potential significant correlations
- Develop and test analytics software and code for internal use and in the interest of advancing the field
- Provide input and feedback on the scientific research and report generation process.
- Collaborate with partners in research and publication
- Participate in peripheral areas of research and development
- Work closely with other bioinformaticians, engineers, technicians, and software developers
Senior Bioinformatician positions will have expanded job responsibilities that branch into team and budgetary management. While jobs do differ significantly, most roles will require that the senior member:
- Perform administrative, operational and scientific oversight and management
- Identify and provide evidence for technical staff additions and analysis partners
- Manage staff workgroups and external relationships
- Take an active role in staff and advisory committee meetings
- Interact with stakeholders to address issues and anticipate internal and external needs
- Prepare, oversee and comply with operating and capital budgets
- Prepare operations reports and present to administration as needed
- Interact with stakeholders on issues of common interest
Participate in outreach and development opportunities
What Bioinformatics Careers Are Available?
Bioinformatics technicians may eventually become higher-earning bioinformatics scientists who conduct bioinformatics-based research in pharmaceuticals, medical technology, biotechnology, computational biology, proteomics, computer information science, and biology. They may need a more thorough background in chemistry. These research positions generally require graduate degrees in bioinformatics (M.S. or Ph.D.). Many bioinformatics scientists work as faculty members and researchers at colleges and universities. These positions often require a doctoral degree.
How Do I Get a Bioinformatics Specialist Degree?
Entry-level opportunities are available to those with a bachelor's degree. These workers generally have degrees (B.S.) in biology, bioinformatics, or computer programming. Courses in statistics, math, and chemistry are also advised. However, 41% of bioinformatics specialists hold master's degrees, which open up many more opportunities for advancement.
Graduate schools tend to require undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry, or computer science. Graduate programs in bioinformatics generally include coursework in biology, chemistry, statistics, math, molecular modeling, database management, molecular cell biology, biochemistry, algorithms, computer programming, and Web development. Some programs offer internships that provide opportunities for real-world work experience.
Related Degree Options for Bioinformatics
What Kind of Societies and Professional Organizations Do Bioinformatics Specialists Have?
- The International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) provides a forum for bioinformatics specialists and scientific researchers to connect and collaborate through meetings, and keep current through professional publications. It serves as a portal for training, education, employment opportunities, and news from related fields.
- The Bioinformatics Organization develops and maintains open access computational resources to facilitate world-wide collaborations between researchers involved with bioinformatics. It offers group hosting services, online tools, databases, and forums. It also offers professional development courses.