Cell Biology Major with Almost No Computational Background Looking to Get into Bioinformatics Research
Entering edit mode
8.7 years ago
Alonzo ▴ 20

Hey all, I'm a senior in college, majoring in cell biology. I got into research rather late (started summer just before my senior year), working in a wet lab under a post-doc who was studying biomarkers for metastasis in triple-negative breast cancer. I found that I really enjoyed the research process, and I'd like to get into research myself, but after my experience in the lab, plus the lab class I'm taking now, I realize I'm probably not going to enjoy a wet-lab career too much. In retrospect, I should have realized that when I took my required upper-div stats for biosci course back in '13 and found that our final project was way more enjoyable than any bio lab I had ever done lol.

I've only taken one stats course (the one mentioned above) and one programming course ("Introduction to Programming and Problem Solving", intro course for compsci majors, we used C), so I definitely don't have enough research experience or programming knowledge to be a competitive applicant for a good PhD program. I only have one quarter left before I graduate, and I won't be able to take any stats/math/programming courses then, so I'm going to have to make up those deficiencies post-bac.

Does anyone have any advice on what actions I should take to become a competitive applicant for a bioinformatics PhD program? (Where) should I take extra classes, is it okay to get research experience in a wet lab, what other kinds of experience would be beneficial, etc.

Thanks in advance for your replies.

pure-biology cell-biology pure-science • 7.1k views
Entering edit mode
8.7 years ago
Josh Herr 5.7k

Here's some questions similar to your question that may help you:

I also came into computers and bioinformatics from a wet lab background, but I'm almost 100% computational now. There will be advantages (your knowledge of Biology) and disadvantages (your need to get some knowledge on computation). Depending on how competitive your graduate programs are, I would just apply for the programs you are interested in. Your knowledge in bioinformatics will come from your coursework, but largely from research questions you will address during your studies and collaborative work.

I would highly recommend the book "Practical Computing for Biologists" - after that I would seek out learning Python (here's a good book, but maybe not best for a beginner: Bioinformatics Programming using Python). I would also read biology journal articles with a focus on your area of interest and see which tools are used (BWA, samtools, bedtools, Tuxedo Suite, Trinity, etc, etc, etc.) and go to the manuals of the tools and understand how they work and what they do.

Most importantly -- don't get frustrated. There's a learning curve with anything, but especially with bioinformatics. I've been there. It will be hard work, but you can do it!

Entering edit mode
8.7 years ago

You could do worse by starting with this online class, which recently got underway (again):

Statistics and R for the Life Sciences

And continue through the rest of the 525 classes listed at the bottom of the page. The degree to which they will help you with grad school isn't certain, but they will at least help you figure out if you enjoy it and give you a leg up on classes you eventually take for credit.

I wonder if doing those classes and extending your undergrad by another year or so to double major in a computational discipline wouldn't be a good idea, too ...


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