Eight months ago I put up a thread after being hired as a computational biologist, I was scared, confused, and helpless. The original topic can be found here on an account who's password I no longer remember. I came into the field with absolutely zero knowledge in any field of bioinformatics, and only a hobbies interest in programming (thank you World of Warcraft). This thread is meant to encourage those who'd like to pursue the field, but have no bioinformatic training and those who like me have been thrown into a sink or swim scenario and are afraid of failure.
The first two months were rough. My PI has no bioinformatic background, my lab members were all purely wet lab and my bioinformatics core was largely unhelpful (more so because I didn't know what exactly I needed help with). I spent hours, and hours every single day combing through literature (much of it outdated simply because of how quickly the genomics field grows and changes), reading through Biostars postings, and Stack Overflow topics. The more time I spent trying to understand various sequencing pipelines and playing with software the easier things became.
At this point, I was coming into lab at 7 in the morning, leaving at 6 in the afternoon and 80% of my time was spent between articles and biostars. The other 20% was split between seminars / meetings and playing with programs, trying to understand their intricacies.
The third month was really when I started to feel like I wasn't a waste of time or money. Around this time my PI was asked to submit a small methods paper for a paper that a recent Graduate student had published, and I was tasked with writing up and creating all the graphs and figures for the bioinformatics portion of the paper. At this point, I had already replicated the Graduate student's paper and results a half dozen times while I was teaching myself. A few weeks of writing and a bit of R later and I had written up something that my PI was happy with, and I was given co-first author on that publication.
After the third month, I understood most of the major programs in my field, how to use them, how to apply them correctly, and just generally how to get things done. At this point is where I decided that I really started putting work into learning R, Awk and Bash scripting in order to automate processes that I was constantly having to manually repeat. I was getting tired of typing the same command line 50 times and only changing the input BAM file, and the output name.
I started with Bash, and it increased my productivity a hundred-fold. I wrote loops for just about everything I had been doing manually. What had taken me a hour before, and was often filled with all manners of human error eventually took me 10. Awk changed my life. No longer did I have to spend 30 minutes importing a text file into R, subsetting it, cbinding columns together and then writing out.
The most important lesson I learned around my fifth month was documentation and Git. I had scripts laying around everywhere, data files from who knows whom laying in who knows where. Eventually I learned how to use Git, and Markdown effectively.
Bash and Awk (and basic Unix commands) are still my most used skills to date, while i've moved most of my pipelines have since moved on to workflow languages such as Nextflow and Snakemake.
It's incredible to think back 8 months ago and read my desperate cry for help. I can now answer my own question. Yes, it is possible to learn bioinformatics on your own. Is it easy? No. But it is possible.
Looking back at some of the questions I had asked, I almost want to laugh. But then I look up and see my cubies stuffed with books, and I see my binders filled to the brim with papers and biostars topics and I remember that the reason I've learned as much as I have is because I worked hard to get here.
Everyday is a new problem, and everyday there is a new analysis I don't know how to do, or a new program i've never used before. But i'm now confident that I can accomplish what I was hired to do.
I want to seriously thank you guys at Biostars. Everyone here who takes time out of their day to answer questions, and provide invaluable amounts of information so that others can learn and grow. I can honestly say that without Biostars, I wouldn't have been able to make the switch into the field.