Forum: Better for my career: Degree in computer science or Phd in bioinformatics?
1
gravatar for YaGalbi
2.5 years ago by
YaGalbi1.4k
Biocomputing, MRC Harwell Institute, Oxford, UK
YaGalbi1.4k wrote:

Hi all,

I'm considering a crazy question but one that needs careful thought.

I have a BSc in biological sciences and will soon complete a MSc in bioinformatics. Which of the following is better for my career?

A) BSc Biological sciences + MSc Bioiinformatics + PhD Bioinformatics

or

B) BSc Biological sciences + MSc Bioiinformatics + A computer science degree

Here are my thoughts:

  • A bioinformatician is basically a computer sciencist/biostatistician first and biologist second.
  • Both paths will take the same length of time (3-4 years) to complete.
  • I am very aware of both the depth of my biological knowledge and the limits of my computing skills.
  • An MSc in bioinformatics really is just an introduction to a vast set of computer based skills.
  • A PhD in bioinformatics makes me an expert in a very narrow area (GREATER DEPTH)
  • A degree in computer science gives me a greater knowledge base (GREATER BREADTH)

EDIT: My preferred career path would be in research at a large institute supporting multiple research teams with bioinformatics analysis of their data.

EDIT 2: I am tempted to delete the above edit to prevent it directing the discussion but I wont. The point of this question is for others to read and see a balanced view of the pros and cons of choosing either path. It is clear that there are probably strong benefits for choosing either one....so what career paths would each option lead to? Clearly a PhD is required for academia (by which I mean university research and professorship). Is this the only benefit of a Phd? Surely there is more.

Edit 3: interesting link: Studying at two undergrads worth it for my future in bioinformatics or follow the traditional course of things is the best?

Edit 4: From my own career goals, the discussion below, and some extra reading.... I'm now inclined toward doing a PhD followed by Post-Docs in industry. MY goal is to earn a decent wage in industry in a settled long term job. I believe a Phd will give me a better chance of achieving this than a CS degree. Some have also advised that post-docs in academia may make it harder to get into industry. This is a fluid plan of course...Im still doing the MSc. But thank you all for the guidance. :)

Hope to read a good discussion here.

Thanks for your input. Kenneth

ADD COMMENTlink modified 2.5 years ago • written 2.5 years ago by YaGalbi1.4k
14

My preferred career path would be in research at a large institute supporting multiple research teams with bioinformatics analysis of their data.

You need a certain mindset to provide service oriented research support. Think about this aspect very carefully as you make a decision.

In research support role, you will have to be ready to be ignored after providing help, getting less than appropriate credit for things that work well and receiving all the blame for things that don't. Depending on the prevailing culture at the institution you join, you may be treated as an equal when it comes to publications or as a paid consultant who has been compensated for the support you had provided. Providing core research support is never going to bring you fame and glory. If you accept that upfront then you may be ready for such a position.

ADD REPLYlink modified 2.5 years ago • written 2.5 years ago by genomax63k
3
while (being asked for support) {
  provide advice;
  be ignored;
  if (analyze bad data) { bang head against wall; }
  answer why results sucks;
  get blame;
  if (regret) { exit; }
}
ADD REPLYlink modified 22 months ago • written 22 months ago by h.mon24k
2

This is soooo god damn true!

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by MAPK1.4k

That's some wise advice. Thank you.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by YaGalbi1.4k
2

I have another type of advice, which some will call rude again (it is not meant to be), so please think about it: the best thing for your career would to learn how to be independent and not ask strangers on the internet what you should do with your life. Seriously. I mean it. What do you want to do? What are you interested in? What is important to you besides a career? Ask yourself these questions and don't just look at the whole topic that .... 'methodically'. There is also value in having a great team around you, or doing something that you feel like helps the world. Or to be able to work and live in another country. Or maybe you just care about money, also fair enough I guess. But only you can and only you should answer these questions for yourself!

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by LLTommy1.2k

Very fair point Tommy. I am playing the direction-less teenager on purpose. I do have some formative ideas on what I want however it is always good to ask questions like this to provoke a sharing of ideas. I believe this is an important question for the ever increasing group of biologists entering bioinformatics with a masters thinking "with only this masters I can rule the world".,,and not realising that the masters is only an eye opener into the depth of knowledge required to make a successful bioinformatician

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by YaGalbi1.4k
2

Don't quote on me but my colleagues in the Core Bioinformatics and Computational Pipelines office of Open Targets said 'with no shadow of a doubt: Computer Sciences'. Perhaps CS gives a wider range of scope for working opportunities including Bioinformatics? Would CS pay more? Dunno. I'm neither CS or Bioinformatician but I work in the Bioinformatics field and would recommend it. I also know someone who told me this week that she started as CS but moved to Bioinformatics and now works at EMBL and is happy with her choices...Whatever you choose, there is always a way back in case you 'change your mind' or the circumstances change. Good luck!

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by Denise - Open Targets4.8k

You should specify what kind of a career you are looking for.

For example, if you want be in academia, you definitely need a PhD. No discussion there. Doesn't really matter in what.

ADD REPLYlink modified 2.5 years ago • written 2.5 years ago by igor7.4k

Is this the only benefit of a Phd?

In certain parts of the world having a PhD gives you intangible benefits, but we won't go there in this discussion.

Studying for a doctoral degree is going to force you to learn to do independent/original thinking. It may help develop your problem solving skills. On other hand, a computer science degree will be more regimental but if you prove reasonably good at it then you would likely not want for a good paying job, as others have already pointed out.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by genomax63k

So if I interpret correctly: a CS degree will provide stability but at a relatively lower wage, while a Bioinf Phd provides a platform for progression into POTENTIALLY a higher wage.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by YaGalbi1.4k
1

Hard to say anything about salaries since that is such a fluid topic and who knows what the current state of the world economy would be in another 2-4 years by the time you are ready to hit the job market. I have seen CS grads make way more than PhD's but for that to happen you need have some CS skills that are sought after in the market. If you are willing to travel/do high stakes short term jobs then rewards can be very high.

ADD REPLYlink modified 2.5 years ago • written 2.5 years ago by genomax63k

you are done with the MSc level. Don't repeat the BSc level in order to gain skills. That's an inefficient way to learn programming - just develop something on your own.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by Jeremy Leipzig18k
2
gravatar for Giovanni M Dall'Olio
2.5 years ago by
London, UK
Giovanni M Dall'Olio26k wrote:

There are few things as demotivating as working 3-4 years on something without getting paid for it, or having any recognition.

In this sense the PhD will allow you to get at least a minimal salary, allow you to produce a few papers of which you can be proud of, and produce some knowledge useful to the public domain.

On the other hand a second degree will take 3-4 years to complete, no salary, and at the end you will not have better qualifications on paper, as you still will not be able to apply for jobs that require a PhD-level instruction. Your work will not recognized except for a short thesis and a degree. At the end of the period you would feel like a person who never actually worked but only studied without seeing the real world.

Sorry to be blunt, but I think you may regret a wrong decision.

In alternative you can also start working in a pharmaceutical company, where you could have a role similar to what you described, and getting trained in the meanwhile.

ADD COMMENTlink written 2.5 years ago by Giovanni M Dall'Olio26k

"I think you may regret a wrong decision" - this is exactly right, and is the reason why I must answer the overall question for myself. Originally my thoughts were to go on to do a Phd, however so many bioinformatics positions that I see advertised require far more computing knowledge than even my MSc bioinformatics provided*. Hence, the scary question of "would I be better of going back to basics and doing a CS degree?".

  • I don't wish to call in to question the quality of the MSc course here - I did my research before joining the course - it is as good as any other out there.
ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by YaGalbi1.4k

so many bioinformatics positions that I see advertised require far more computing knowledge than even my MSc bioinformatics provided

Honestly, your bioinformatics MS probably taught you a bunch of tools that are no longer relevant. The field moves very quickly.

Don't read the requirements so carefully. Requirements are merely suggestions. Many labs would be happy to have someone at least being able to sort Excel sheets.

As with any job, experience is most important. PhD gives you experience. BS does not.

ADD REPLYlink modified 2.5 years ago • written 2.5 years ago by igor7.4k

" Many labs would be happy to have someone at least being able to sort Excel sheets." - ha well hopefully!

Excellent point: PhD gives you experience. BS does not.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by YaGalbi1.4k

From the perspective of a biologist that started to do bioinformatic with its Phd I agree that most of the requirement for new bioinformatic jobs seem to be directed to CS experts. But during your Phd you can learn so much by yourself if you are a little bit motivated. I could have spent 5 more years at school and not learn as much as I learned during my first Phd years.

The only advice I can give you is to focus on statistic/math. It is the main limitation I face compared to a CS expert. The rest is not so hard to learn by yourself.

ADD REPLYlink modified 2.5 years ago • written 2.5 years ago by VHahaut1.1k

Thank you....noted!

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by YaGalbi1.4k

Google sheets would be better so that gene names such as SEPT1 does not get converted into the date Sep 1.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by Denise - Open Targets4.8k

Off topic but thank you.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by YaGalbi1.4k

Many labs would be happy to have someone at least being able to sort Excel sheets.

This sounds like a joke but it is closer to reality than a lot of people think. The discrepancy what is technically possibly and how stuff is done 'in the real world' is somewhere in between funny and shocking.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by LLTommy1.2k
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