Question: Suggested Undergraduate Courses to become a Bioinformatician
gravatar for SusiValkoinen
4.6 years ago by
Hamilton Canada
SusiValkoinen0 wrote:

I'm an undergraduate student in Canada studying Mathematics and Computer Science. 
I am asking to see what professionals suggest they had learnt in their undergraduate years (in regards to courses taken, and what you could have learnt online instead). 

I have already taken:

First year Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science (in Python), Calculus, Linear Algebra

Second year: Cell Bio, Animal Physiology, Genetics, Calculus, Linear Algebra, Principles of Programming (Java), Discrete Math, Data Structures & Algorithms, Introduction to Probability, Statistical Methods and Applications

ADD COMMENTlink modified 4.6 years ago by pld4.8k • written 4.6 years ago by SusiValkoinen0

I would recommend first finding something more specific within bioinformatics, because the field is terribly broad. And you can shape your undergraduate any number of ways to ease into that bioinformatics field of choice. Case in point: I have a degree in theoretical physics, but now my research is mainly in transcriptomics.

ADD REPLYlink written 4.6 years ago by matt.sarrasin80
gravatar for Josh Herr
4.6 years ago by
Josh Herr5.7k
University of Nebraska
Josh Herr5.7k wrote:

This is difficult to answer because we don't know which courses are offered to you in your third and fourth years.  I would try to find a good advisor or mentor to guide you to your local university environment in Hamilton (this might not be the advisor who is assigned to you; this was the case for me and it was my mentor (not the assigned advisor) who took interest in me and who set me on my course).

It sounds like you are on the right track -- I believe it would help you to also try to gain experience working on a research project under the supervision of an advisor or mentor.  This will help you connect the "biology" to the "computation"; for me, these "real life" learning experiences have been the most beneficial and I learned more than in the classroom.

Best of luck in your studies!

ADD COMMENTlink written 4.6 years ago by Josh Herr5.7k

+1 for research experience. It will be invaluable to you in any number of ways. I can virtually guarantee that there are some faculty in your bio department that would love to have a computationally-savvy student help them crunch data. 

ADD REPLYlink written 4.6 years ago by Chris Miller21k
gravatar for alolex
4.6 years ago by
United States
alolex910 wrote:

It is great that you are thinking about this already!  From the courses you have already taken it looks like you are on a good track.  As others have said bioinformatics is a broad field, and seems to have gotten broader since I started in the field.  The best way to find your niche in is to do as @Josh Herr suggested and find a bioinformatics mentor to get some real hands on experience.  For myself, I went all the way through my undergrad as a pure computer scientist before I discovered bioinformatics in my senior year.  When I started an interdisciplinary masters program I only had bio and chem 101 under my belt on the biology side.  I have learned the most by doing and researching on my own, and by having a mentor that could help me along the way.  The one course that helped me the most was biochemistry.  I don't see that listed, so if you are looking for a course to take this one is my top suggestion followed by real life experience.  Taking biochem taught me the language that is part of the foundation of bioinformatics.  It gave me the tools to learn the rest on my own through real projects and collaborations.

Best wishes for the years to come!

ADD COMMENTlink written 4.6 years ago by alolex910
gravatar for pld
4.6 years ago by
United States
pld4.8k wrote:

Sounds like you're already off to a very strong start, this is almost exactly the same line of classes that I took.

As others have said, you might want to see if there are bioinformatics classes offered by your school.

Otherwise I'd suggest:

  1. Looking for classes that teach you the basics of parallel or high performance computing
  2. Take more statistics and/or math (something I regret not doing)
  3. Take a class on machine learning
  4. Take some more advanced "core" biology courses, get deeper into genetics (bacterial or eukaryotic), evolution
  5. Find some biology classes that are personally interesting, e.g. if you're into cancer take a class on that

However at this point, I would very strongly recommend finding some labs to start working in. A semester in a lab is worth a year of classes. Research experience is seriously important for growing your skills in your field/area of interest but also in general as a scientist. It will also help you get a sense of where you want to go in the future. It is a great opportunity to start networking and so on as well.

For me, what I got from undergraduate research was worth many, many times more than what my classes ended giving me.

Additionally, you don't want to come out of your undergrad without any research experience. You won't be as competitive as students who have experience and you'll also run the risk of getting stuck doing something you despise.

ADD COMMENTlink written 4.6 years ago by pld4.8k
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