Forum:Making a living with bioinformatics
Entering edit mode
4.5 years ago
ruda ▴ 150

Please do not find this offensive in any way. Please do not get discouraged by this post. I mean nothing bad by this post. I just need some advice as lately (for a year now) I am finding it very difficult to "see the light at the end of the tunnel".

I am what you might call a bioinfo expert with 15+ years of experience in various omics (wes,wgs, wga, chip-seq, rna-seq, etc.) disciplines, alignment and alignment free sequence comparison and search strategies, population genomics, clinical research, statistics, information and partition theory and as of recently I have been heavily involved in distributed computing and machine learning. I’ve been working and developing on many different projects but this post is not to advertise myself, rather to get some out-of-the-box opinion on what to do next.

Actually the question is: Were can a guy like myself find some decent work? When I say decent I mean work that can provide enough income to support my family of four. During my careerer I went through all phases of what a typical bioinformatician goes through, from being enthusiastic and advocating “follow your passion, not just the money” completing the circle by being realistic “follow the money, scr.. the passion”. But I never gave up on bioinformatics and still refuse to. So any suggestions are more than welcomed. Limiting factors are:

  1. job needs to be related to bioinformatics
  2. job needs to pay enough so I can support my family
  3. job needs to be remote (because of my family I cannot move – I’m an EU citizen )

I’ll list the things I tried over the years and those I am still working on and why these did/did not work.

  1. Academia: PostDoc positions – though it is nice to be in academia and one does not have to do a lot in comparison to a private sector, salary is way too low and trying to provide for a family on a postdoc salary within EU is simply impossible (I’ve tried that in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and Portugal). I stopped pursuing academic career once my wife threaten to leave me if I take one more postdoc. I mean postdoc is ok if you are young and your family is you and your wife. Once kids come along, medical bills go through the roof and you do not have too much time for research. So, long story short I saw no point in staying academia so I left.

  2. Freelancing: This is the biggest scam of them all. I don’t know where startups get their money for a platforms supporting freelancing. The amount of work put with freelancing in self-marketing and execution of a contract is equal to that in academia and industry combined (if you wish to make a decent living from that). Maybe other areas are more lucrative but with bioinformatics you cannot make a living freelancing. People, especially in academia are used to getting everything cheep in form of a phd students that execute a given task for 6 years (something an expert could do in 6 months) and then try to convey this attitude toward freelancers.

  3. Industry R&D: Done that for 2 years. Industries are large organizations that thrive only due to marketing and their size. It can easily pass months before you get access to data and once you do you have to work day and night to finish a task on time (otherwise an army of bioinformaticians is waiting in line to replace you). Again if you have a family, financially you are ok but then you cannot do what you enjoy, you have very little time to be with your family and the amount of stress due to deadlines and pitching projects up the command chain is much higher than in options 1 an 2.

  4. Startup: I have two startups today. Both specializing in different fields associated to bioinformatics research. In summary: a lot of free time, no deadlines, intellectually challenging (meaning: not boring! ), but also no real money. Everything you make has to stay in the company for reinvesting and profits are usually harvested at the end of the year. I mean both companies are well funded so the true asset is in the company itself, which if i find a buyer will bring significant profits, but for now I have a company in which everyone else is getting paid except the owner. So, is it sustainable, hm maybe in few year it will be but until then I need to make some serious cash. Ergo my primary income at this point comes from consulting.

  5. Consulting: Now this is really good for both family and finances. However, lately less and less people are request consulting services. Golden age of startups is slowing down in EU, reducing the need for consulting services. So I expect not to be making living out of that in the near future.

So this was my path (In the exact order as written). How do you guys make your living? Any out-of-the-box ideas? Or is everyone here under 30, single and in academia :)



career • 4.6k views
Entering edit mode

You should give academia a second chance. Your academic experience seems to be limited to post-doc's. It sounds like you must have had to live with not getting credit (other than money) for work you did based on various things you described above. An ideal position in academia could be as a bioinformatics core manager or data manager, which I assume will pay better than average.

Unfortunately you are severely limiting yourself due to following requirement.

Job needs to be remote (because of my family I cannot move – I’m an EU citizen )

While places are ok with you working remotely periodically, it is very important to be able to stay in direct touch with your customers/colleagues (no, skype/video calls are not a permanent good substitute). Being on site is critical for building collaborations, gaining trust, being able to attend group meetings, think outside the box at coffee machine etc, especially when you are working in a service (core support) role.

Being an entrepreneur is never easy. You are at least doing something right since you said that

I have a company in which everyone else is getting paid except the owner

While you are worried about your own income, keep thinking of those who are dependent on you for their long term well being.

Entering edit mode

Unfortunately, geographical mobility has become almost a requirement to stay employed in this era of short term contracts unless you happen to live in an area with a critical mass of potential employers through which you can rotate.
I understand that moving is not easy with a family but I would suggest to not rule out moving altogether, but only to move for a long term/open-ended type of contract. These are more often than not found through networking so my other suggestion is to make use of the network you've likely established over the years.
It seems to me that someone with your experience shouldn't have difficulties finding a computational biology job. However, you need to differentiate yourself from the crowd and should also consider niches, i.e. areas of biology where computational requirements are high and good candidates may be scarce. These days almost everybody fresh out of uni can put RNA seq and the like on their CV so you need to sell your hard-earned experience and you need to look for positions where your experience will make a difference. Who would want to hire you long term and what for ? Basically this means stop competing with postdocs and look for more senior roles such as head of a bioinformatics support service (sometimes the support service consist of only one person but at least it can be a long term position and can have a potential for growth and new developments). Unfortunately, going beyond a postdoc position usually means taking on a job with more administrative and managerial duties and less hands-on science.

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My experience in the industry is completely different from yours. Also, since you're in the EU there are plenty of laws making sure that you won't be working more than x hours a week. I'm surprised about your medical bills too. Medical care isn't very expensive in the EU. As to stress, in my opinion academia was so much more stressful than industry. It was like 90% writing grant proposals and very little actually enjoyable work..

Entering edit mode

I am under 30, single and in academia. I am already worried about my future after reading this post. :P I was thinking of switching to Industry R&D(because of the money) , but now I am confused.

Entering edit mode
4.5 years ago

Many people here are certainly not under 30, and I know that some are married. There is probably a bias toward people just starting their careers, though. What better way to learn about things than from the community? There is no single supervisor out there who knows everything, and there is neither anyone who is truly 'expert'.

I looked through your list of 5 areas and I have worked or had experience in them all, and across 3 continents. For a period of around 4 years, I was doing freelance work alongside postdoctoral roles and, although very tough and stressful at times, I have now reached a steady point where my work already done provides a neat foundation of experience that provides financial security, without the high levels of stress of a few years ago.

That said, there is still absolutely no way that I could support 1 child, let alone 4. I think that this is more reflective of where most work sectors are, currently. Although salaries are higher than what they may have been years ago, we have become too accustomed with lifestyles that are unsustainable. Most people that I know are just living from paycheque to paycheque, with no real hope of ever buying their own home, let alone have children.

My recommendation to you is to get in touch with recruitment firms and to contact former employers to see if they have any work to be done. I disagree with you that less people are requesting consulting services. Last time I was in that 'market', it seemed to be very lucrative, but high pressure.


Entering edit mode
16 months ago
petrandent ▴ 50

In Europe it is impossible to make a living with bioinformatics, unless you work in a university as permanent staff (lecturer, associate proffessor, etc). I have a masters degree in Bioinformatics with distinction and a degree in dentistry but there are no jobs in this field, and also I cannot find a way for a funded phd. I currently work as a dentist as no jobs in bioinformatics available... I am 38.


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