Navel-gazing — this opinion piece, called “Who qualifies to be a bioinformatician?” seems to have prompted rather a lot of it. I’m breaking my extended silence to add my two-pennyworth on what being a bioinformatician means to me…
- Being a bioinformatician means being a biologist, programmer, sysadmin, statistician and grief counsellor, rolled into one
- Being a bioinformatician means writing thousands of lines of glue code in [scripting language of choice]
- Being a bioinformatician means teaching experienced scientists something new, and getting to see the dawning realization that it might just be useful
- Being a bioinformatician means jumping through a 112 hoops to compile the latest and greatest tool, just to find it segfaults on anything other than the test data
- Being a bioinformatician means embarking on what seems like a simple job, only to find six weeks later you’ve written yet another short-read aligner
- Being a bioinformatician means crafting an exquisite pipeline that has to be subtly changed with each run because every dataset is a special little flower that needs bespoke treatment
- Being a bioinformatician means writing yet another hacky data munging script that will break on the 32,356th line of the poorly defined, exception riddled, lumpen slurry of an input file you’re having to deal with this time
- Being a bioinformatician means learning that Excel is an acceptable interoperability format, whether you like it or not (I don’t)
- Being a bioinformatician means knowing enough biology, computing and statistics to be looked down on by purists in all three disciplines
- Being a bioinformatician means playing a key role in an unparalleled range of exciting, cutting edge research
- Being a bioinformatician means being part of an open, collaborative worldwide community who are genuinely supportive and helpful
Now, this list may be a little flippant in places — but it is intended to make a point. There are no hard and fast rules about what a bioinformatician is and isn’t, the label will mean different things to different people. But what it does involve is an unusually wide skill set, usually hard-won over many years, and the knowledge of when and where to apply those skills. It definitively doesn’t involve looking down on hardworking partitioners in the field purely because they don’t fit your elitist mould — the only thing this is likely to do is exclude those interested in the field, but who don’t fit your preconceived ideals.
If you want to let me know what being a bioinformatician means to you, feel free to comment below.