Forum: Is going back to the wet lab worth it?
4
gravatar for ropolocan
2.5 years ago by
ropolocan520
Canada
ropolocan520 wrote:

Hello Biostars community,

I have a dilemma. I am about to complete my Master's degree. Although I began graduate school with an emphasis on the wet lab, it was clear very early that my interests were in bioinformatics. Since early in my program I became the "pet" bioinformatician of my group and I have spent my own time learning R, Python and bash scripting. I have also taken workshops in bioinformatics for the analysis of bacterial genomes. I spend long days learning more and more and sharpening my skills. I have become useful to my group and other groups in my building. I definitely like bioinformatics better than the wet lab. Bioinformatics is my passion and I can contribute more to my group from that area.

Although I see a future in my lab working as a bioinformatician, as I approach the end of my program the job situation there does not seem as stable as I would like. My lab has a stronger focus on the wet lab and bioinformatics, although needed, is not what drives the research here. Thus, people with wet lab skills are usually better supported. In my case, I only have a few more months of employment guaranteed. After that, it is unclear.

I have received an offer from another lab with much better job stability. The issue (for me) is that they expect me to work on the wet lab besides working on bionformatics. I have told them that the wet lab it is not my strength (I haven't touched the pipette in 2 years), but they say they would be patient and teach me the techniques I need to learn to help them to generate the sequences that eventually will be analyzed by me. They also say that working on the wet lab would make me a better bioinformatician.

I would like to hear your opinions. Does working in the wet lab really make you a better bioinformatician? Or is working in the wet lab a waste of time that would better be spent improving my in silico skills? Thanks for your time.

ADD COMMENTlink modified 2.5 years ago by i.sudbery4.7k • written 2.5 years ago by ropolocan520
7
gravatar for VHahaut
2.5 years ago by
VHahaut1.1k
Belgium
VHahaut1.1k wrote:

Hello!

I think good knowledge in wet-lab technics is essential for a bioinformatician. Most of the thing you analyse come from experiments done by actual people and it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the technics in order to be able to analyse them properly. However I am not sure it means that you have to spend 2-3 years in wet-lab.

The biggest danger if you do wet-lab and bioinformatic at the same time is that you can easily get lost in both of them and cannot become really good in one of the two. In my case I spend long hours in the lab and sometimes I get the feeling that I don't spend enough time looking at my bioinformatic analysis. The reverse is also true. In a perfect world doing wet-lab followed by bioinformatic analyzing your own results seem to work really well. Maybe you can organize something like this?

I would also emphasize that you should consider going where people are there to support your training. The more support you have (on wet-lab or bioinfo) the better you will become.

ADD COMMENTlink written 2.5 years ago by VHahaut1.1k

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer. Thanks for your insights about splitting my time between the wet lab and the dry lab.

In my case I spend long hours in the lab and sometimes I get the feeling that I don't spend enough time looking at my bioinformatic analysis. The reverse is also true.

This. I think this is a very good insight. This is definitely true, and colleagues who work more on the wet lab feel the same way.

In a perfect world doing wet-lab followed by bioinformatic analyzing your own results seem to work really well. Maybe you can organize something like this?

If I end up working there, I am hoping to have an arrangement like that. They are proposing to have me help with the wet lab for some things, but switch to bioinformatics whenever new results come in.

I would also emphasize that you should consider going where people are there to support your training. The more support you have (on wet-lab or bioinfo) the better you will become.

It seems that in this place there would be more support for the wet-lab aspect, and some on bioinformatics (mostly on the biology background of the analyses that I will be working on). As far as programming and computational skills, I would be pretty much the only person with the expertise. This is true for both the lab where I am now and the other lab that is making the job offer.

Thanks again for the valuable insights. I appreciate your comment.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by ropolocan520
4

If you like bioinformatics and dislike wet-lab work, then look for something in pure bioinformatics, or get some kind of assurance that wet-lab work will be a small minority of your time. When I observe people who do both wet-lab/field work and bioinformatics, the bioinformatics part often seems to be dwarfed by the wet-lab portion. I'm sure it could happen both ways, though.

Overall, I think that the handoffs from wet-lab people to bioinformatics people tend to be very messy and inefficient so if you can do both for a given experiment, the experiment will come out much better; biologists often seem to expect bioinformaticians to sort of magically intuit all of the details of an experiment and produce a useful analysis with a severe lack of information. Thus, if you can avoid this handoff by being the person on both ends, you'll get better results. Also, you'll get much more credit than a pure bioinformatician would. Furthermore, I agree that wet-lab experience will make you a better bioinformatician, though I would never call it "essential". Knowledge of what is happening in the lab processes is essential, but I don't think you need to personally spend 400 hours running a single-cell sorter, or loading plates with a multichannel pipette, to learn how it affects analysis.

So there are definitely advantages to doing both, but what's most important is that you like your job. The fact that you worked in a wet lab for a while already gives you the large advantage of being able to communicate better with wet-lab biologists when you're doing their bioinformatics.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by Brian Bushnell16k
5
gravatar for Jean-Karim Heriche
2.5 years ago by
EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
Jean-Karim Heriche19k wrote:

Combining wet lab expertise with bioinformatics/computational biology skills can be valuable as this gives you an overview and understanding of the whole pipeline from initial data generation to publication. However, in the long term doing both is only sustainable if you do computational analysis of your own experiments. Since both running experiments and doing analysis not only take time but also require some dedicated thinking and focus, you usually can't do both efficiently unless it's for your own project, i.e. run your experiments then analyze them or at least when you're in charge of the agenda. From experience, I can tell you that running a series of experiments while processing other people's data is not easy and I wouldn't recommend doing it for an extended period of time.

Also don't rush into a job just because you think it would be more stable. As a French politician said: "Promises only bind those who believe them", so check a few facts: what is the funding situation and longer term perspective i.e. is there stable, institutional funding or is it grants only ? Are they offering you some sort of open-ended/long term contract from the start or just telling you that it's likely they'll renew your contract after the first two years ? Until you sign a contract that you're happy with, keep your options open and keep looking for better opportunities.

Finally, the position you describe sounds like a service position. As someone already remarked on this forum, doing service can be tough: you often don't get praise/recognized when things work but you can be sure to be blamed when something goes wrong. You'll also have to consider how such a position fits with your career goals. In the right environment, this could be a good way to be associated to many papers and exposed to a lot of different scientific perspectives, techniques and technologies if you can learn and adapt your skills to keep up with the different projects.

ADD COMMENTlink written 2.5 years ago by Jean-Karim Heriche19k

Thank you very much for your comments. I was able to learn more about the opportunity in question, and it seems like an opportunity to grow professionally. Although initially the work would be more of a service position, the PI would like to see me grow into other kind of position where I can mature as a scientist. This opportunity looks solid, and the amount of wet lab work I would have to do might be much less than what I initially thought. I do see the advantage in running my own wet lab work, and I told them I was open minded and willing to learn if that was needed. Thanks again for taking the time to write your comments!

ADD REPLYlink written 2.4 years ago by ropolocan520
3
gravatar for genomax
2.5 years ago by
genomax68k
United States
genomax68k wrote:

You need to think about this deeply (sounds like you have a few more months) and decide which of the two (bench or bio) makes you happy at the end of the day. Cast a broader net and take a look at other options for employment (unless you have a need to stick around the same area and need to limit your options). Accepting the first thing that comes along seems comforting but it may not be the best option in the long term. Doing bench and bio at the same time is certainly feasible but you need to have the right smarts to do that and identify the right blend of the two that works for you.

This is one of those decisions where if things work out, you would feel great about it everyday. If it does not, then life may become a struggle (for a while at least) until you climb out of that hole.

ADD COMMENTlink modified 2.5 years ago • written 2.5 years ago by genomax68k

Thank you very much for contributing with your opinion. I appreciate that you took the time to write your answer.

You need to think about this deeply (sounds like you have a few more months) and decide which of the two (bench or bio) makes you happy at the end of the day

Bioinformatics makes me happier, no question. Would combining wet lab work and bioinformatics make me a better bioinformatican? I don't know, but if it does, I don't w

Doing bench and bio at the same time is certainly feasible but you need to have the right smarts to do that and identify the right blend of the two that works for you.

Right now, although I am feeling more or less open minded to do wet lab work, I know that I'm rusty. I think will take me a little bit to catch up to a level where I can contribute. If they just need a "pair of hands", that would be easy, but then what would be the point of re-learning the wet lab skills if I am just going to do what I'm told?

This is one of those decisions where if things work out, you would feel great about it everyday. If it does not, then life may become a struggle (for a while at least) until you climb out of that hole.

This is a very good and interesting way of looking at it. As you said at the beginning of your answer, I need to think about this deeply. Thanks a lot for your comments.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by ropolocan520
3
gravatar for Charles Plessy
2.5 years ago by
Charles Plessy2.7k
Japan
Charles Plessy2.7k wrote:

One thing to keep in mind is that working in a laboratory is not only about doing experiments, it is also about knowing where the material is, which reagents are for common use and which are not, who to ask to access to this and that resource, what are the current standards of security (which can change according to the projects run by others in the same environment), etc.

Thus, going to the laboratory infrequently is a big challenge unless you are either working alone or have a generous support from your colleagues. If you have a concrete experimental plan, difficulties can be overcome, but if the plan is that you will do experiments by yourself "when need is", then I think that it will be much harder than expected.

Of course, what you can learn can be very rewarding and this has been well covered by the other answers...

ADD COMMENTlink modified 2.5 years ago • written 2.5 years ago by Charles Plessy2.7k

Thank you for your answer. You make a very good point here. I will discuss this with the potential employers. Thanks for your input.

ADD REPLYlink written 2.5 years ago by ropolocan520
2
gravatar for i.sudbery
2.5 years ago by
i.sudbery4.7k
Sheffield, UK
i.sudbery4.7k wrote:

I think you need to think about what you want in the longer term future. I am a wet-lab scientist turned bioinformatician, and my interest is in solving biological problems (rather, than say, theory, methods development or database creation). I have recently started my of Lab, which is currently purely dry and it turns out that to do the science I want to do, i really either need wet-lab people and space or find collaborators in my institution that are interested in exactly the same things as me, and are willing to Co-I grants on my ideas, with shared postdocs.

Recruiting good quality wet-lab people and setting up a wet lab will almost certainly prove difficult, but i'm sure it would have proved impossible without a wet-lab postdoc under my belt. And its not just about learning techniques (although knowing how to trouble shoot particular experiments will probably be very helpful), its about learning to think like a wet-lab person. Knowing how long experiments take, knowing whether and experimental result "smells right" or not, knowing what controls are important ...

One piece of advice I'd give if you are is that unless you are going to go the methods development route, don't sell yourself as a technique expert (either wet or dry). Techniques come and go - yesterday's microarray experts are currently looking for new employement opportunities - analysing RNA-seq will go the same way before long. Get yourself a biological problem and sell yourself as an expert on the problem, willing to take whichever route is necessary to solve it.

Of course all this assumes that your career goal is to be a PI at a mid-sized research university. This might well not be the case. Maybe service is where you see yourself. Or in the commercial world. Or running a bioinformatics team at a large non-univeresity research institute. In which case taking the wet-lab position probably less good.

ADD COMMENTlink written 2.5 years ago by i.sudbery4.7k
1

One piece of advice I'd give if you are is that unless you are going to go the methods development route, don't sell yourself as a technique expert (either wet or dry). Techniques come and go - yesterday's microarray experts are currently looking for new employement opportunities - analysing RNA-seq will go the same way before long. Get yourself a biological problem and sell yourself as an expert on the problem, willing to take whichever route is necessary to solve it.

I agree with this comment, particularly the last sentence of the paragraph. Being an expert on a problem could be far more important than being an expert on a given technique, which as you correctly pointed out, could become obsolete in the future. I think that communicating with people who work primarily in the wet lab is very impotant for successful collaborations and day-to-day work.

Thank you for your answer!

ADD REPLYlink written 2.4 years ago by ropolocan520
1
gravatar for natasha.sernova
2.5 years ago by
natasha.sernova3.5k
natasha.sernova3.5k wrote:

Hello! You definitely have to make a choice.

As to wet-lab tecniques - how many of them did you master? As far as I know a particular laboratory usually has some limited equipment

and all its work is organized around it and with it.

It may be sequensing, molecular biology: DNA-work, cloning, protein work, etc. In any case your knowledge will be limited, and you will

have to learn different approaches if you change your lab. Even if you work in some great research institute, you will not jump from one lab

to another one many times. I mean any wet-lab practical knowledge you get is limited.

Being bioinformatician you are rather independent. It doesn't matter if you work with bacteria or eukaryotic cells. You know that the former

ones don't have splicing, the latter one do - you can search for the place where people work with sequence assembly or study protein

structures, etc. You are "theoretician" - computer programs are more flexible than lab-techniques. The same program may be good for

mice, birds, humans and even plants, but scientific lab usually studies only something special - only human immunology, for example, and

you may never see plants again. So - bioinformatics is definitely more flaxible, plus I think you have to select your favorite target.

Mouse or bacterium or human, etc. Good luck!

ADD COMMENTlink modified 2.5 years ago • written 2.5 years ago by natasha.sernova3.5k
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