Career Opportunities in Bioinformatics
Bioinformatics specialists must acquire an unusual background, an eclectic blend of molecular biology, chemistry, and computer science. They work in close collaboration with bench scientists, helping them to plan and organize experiments and data collection so as to maximize the production of reliable and useful information. They are found in academic, government, and industrial research labs.
If you're interested in this exciting field and not sure about whether you want to invest yourself into a PhD program, University of the Sciences is the place for you. Opportunities for bioinformaticists are especially abundant at the MS level.
The master's degree is often seen as an ideal compromise between the very lengthy training required for a PhD and the restricted skill level attained with the bachelor's, which often limits prospects of career advancement. At the same time, a master's degree provides an excellent foundation, in both coursework and practical experience, for further study leading to a doctoral degree.
Specific areas that fall within the scope of bioinformatics (all of which will be a part of your master's program) include:
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 has 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.
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.
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 anemia) but also with reduced or increase 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.
From career counseling and helping you develop networks with other alumni, to assisting you with making contacts in the pharmaceutical industry, we can help you advance and develop your career. For information and assistance, contact our Office of Career Services at 215.596.8735.