Forum: How much I must feel useless?
gravatar for Molecular_genetics
24 months ago by
Molecular_genetics80 wrote:


Sorry for this irrelevant question; I just thought knowing point of views of people doing bioinformatics could light my mind about the frustrating situation I am nowadays.

I am a PhD graduate in molecular genetics that based on our weird educational system I don't have any wet lab expertise even working with PCR machine. In my PhD I analysed RNA-seq, ribo-seq, miRNA-RNA-seq, exom-seq and microarrays mainly by R, linux and a bit matlab. So, I know how to use tools from installation to obtain results in transcriptomics. But, I don't know matching learning, a deep statistics, math, and well programming. I published many papers on very low impact journals let's say just indexed by Scopus and Thomson router journal with maximum impact 1. So, shortly after my PhD I obtained postdoc as a computational biologist in a university with world rank 17 in molecular biology. Firstly, I was thinking how lucky I am because I studied in very very very low ranked universities in middle east. But, now I am just feeling I am not lucky rather I am a useless person with low intelligence that her overestimated CV by publishing some useless things in data analysis obtained this position. Unfortunately the biological system I am working on, is not compatible with current algorithms in tracing cell states so likely I must develop my own method for analysing this data. This is very unlikely that this current boss extend my contract (even I don't want to be extended as I am just feeling rubbish about myself ). Once my boss told me my ability on analysing data is out of questioning however I am not independent thinker and my CV is an overestimation of my abilities :( :( :(. I don't know , might be my way of describing myself in Skype interviews with him deceived him; if so I am so sorry... If one of you were in my situation, what would you do? resigning and trying to a lower rank university? or?

I am working 15 hours 7 days but this would not compensate the competence I expected to have when I joined this lab

EDIT: I am likely not telling lie in my CV; However I am saying 3 years working experience in R while I just know how to use R for data analysis not coding anything new in R :(

I am listing 14 papers in which I am the first and correspondence author; I know employer would not check in which journals I have published :(

In brief, I am not this much to be deserved this position; the only option would be working hard and hard and move to somewhere with easiest duties :(**

EDIT: You right @h.mon, that demands to wait for the end of my contract to see what would be the decision of my boss in extending my contract (my contract is 1 year will terminated this February), but this is very risky as I am a visa holder in UK from a very poor country and in case my boss just in January decides I am not fit for this lab, I don't have enough time to find a job before leaving the country (I am aware if I back to my home country this is very unlikely I would find any job in bioinformatics overseas, as I mentioned that is all a miracle that I am here because I am not this much). So, I told my boss I am feeling needless and useless here, how likely you would extend my contract? He told he does not know yet as I started just 5 months ago and although I am a quick and good data analysis I am not independent and my CV is overrepresentation of me :( These words feared me a lot (I am aware he is right and fair). So, I decided to leave before he asks me to leave :( I have found another job in very very lower rank university in UK, the probation period for that is 1 year, and I could to try my best to pass my probation period as the contract is 3 years :(

This is a really sad story for whom leaving her position in such a well known lab voluntarily just because I am feeling incompetent

When I told my boss that I am leaving he got angry at me but as @Devon suggested I want to try my chance in establishing a new algorithm before my start date with new employer

ADD COMMENTlink modified 24 months ago by Medhat8.8k • written 24 months ago by Molecular_genetics80

I very much agree with what others have written below, but would like to comment on the following:

But, I don't know matching learning, a deep statistics, math, and well programming.

To this the following quote could apply:

Every great developer you know got there by solving problems they were unqualified to solve until they actually did it. -Patrick McKenzie

Machine learning and programming are both not exactly rocket science, and you should not underestimate yourself. I'm pretty sure you can learn those skills too. Especially for machine learning there are many good tutorials available, which would put you on the right track. It sounds like a huge and daunting thing to learn, but you can do most of it in a couple of python lines...

That said, I of course don't know if it's suitable for the data you have. But just know that you absolutely have the required intelligence to do it. Sounds like you are a fighter, so this is another battle I'm confident you can win.

I am working 15 hours 7 days

And that's just plain wrong. At this moment you are no longer productive. You are working, but you are not working efficiently. Nobody cares about the hours you put in. Don't count the hours, make the hours count. Due to all this overworking and stress you are also not able to take a little step back and look at everything in perspective. You are doing a postdoc, on difficult topics, in a non-ideal lab, and you will be fine in the long run. Don't work so unhealthy long!

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by WouterDeCoster44k

If your boss is expecting you to come up with novel algorithms for tracing single-cell fates then he/she has absurdly unrealistic expectations. I suggest you try to set up a collaboration with a group that has the requisite expertise (for example Dominic Grün here at the MPI-IE). Then you might be able to (A) get the job done, (B) make your PI happy, and (C) expand your own capabilities in the process.

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by Devon Ryan96k

To weight in on the 'learning' programming part:

I wrote my first crappy scripts in my Masters 4 years ago. I enjoyed it, so I took it upon myself to solve challenges that help me learn. For example; rather than write a just-about-does-the-job hack, why not write a script that has a user-friendly commandline front end for example? Boom. You've just learnt argparse in python. Perhaps your data requires the same repetitive task over and over, one afternoon of googling later: you know parallel. Now, 4 years on, at the end of my PhD, I'm being offered jobs in institutions to become a 'proper' bioinformatician - and I haven't published a single 'pure' bioinformatics paper or tool. Those things aren't the real measure of an employees abilities - it's more about how you think. The fact that you don't think you are an independent thinker is probably the biggest source of concern in that whole post - and if that is the case, that is what you should work on first and foremost, in my opinion.

Sure, the finer points take time. But the finer points of RNAseq no doubt eluded you at the start.

Changing points for a second:

A female professor I knew studied a lot of gender equality in our institution. She was the chair of various panels related to the topic. One thing I remember her telling us was that it's an almost universal trait for women to undersell themselves on CVs, and men to do the opposite. As long as you are not lying on your CV, then it's somewhat 'buyer beware' when someone is hiring you. They should have the expertise to get a good feeling about whether you are competent or not. It's merely your job not to willfully deceive.

ADD REPLYlink modified 24 months ago • written 24 months ago by Joe18k

Sounds like you would benefit from talking to a career coach or counselor or something. If you want to continue in bioinformatics, because your heart is there, try to become better at it (learn how to write programs, learn about statistics). But if your passion is not bioinformatics, please consider to switch to something you would like to do until your retirement.

ADD REPLYlink modified 24 months ago • written 24 months ago by Benn8.0k

My passion is all goes to data analysis, I love that :) :)

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by Molecular_genetics80

If data analysis is your passion then join Contract Research Organisation (NGS application service provider) and analyse data for different application NGS data. There you are mainly expected to do analysis. It will definitely involve manipulation of files needed by different software, graphical presentation of result which you can do by R or shell script. Simultaneously opt for online courses for learning advance programming and statistics. Try to extend your limit by working hard but don't over stress yourself by doing work which is not meant for you.

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by toralmanvar900

So you mean I better to leave this job to reduce this negative feelings on myself?

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by Molecular_genetics80

Yes I believe so, rather than working in negatively, it is always better to work in encouraging environment where you get chance to contribute to the organisation you work as well as opportunity to grow yourself.

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by toralmanvar900

Oke this is a big change on a sudden. But you use a lot of sad faces, is it not a good thing that you already have an other job? And possibly for 3 years! Maybe I understand it wrong but a possible contract of 3 years is really nice. Lot of jobs in the academic sector are for sure temporary and not longer then two years. And don't worry about that ranked university part, that does not matter anyways also like Kevin Blighe said.

Well I am happy for you. And like every else already said feeling like this is very normal, every one had these moments one day. Me to and it was not nice, I also thought about quitting with bioinformatics and stuff but I just did not had enough life experience to know that this is normal and these fases are part of the beginning of your life. Do you even realize that you have a Phd and work in an other country? That is insanely good. Don't know where you are from but here it is not that every one walks around with a Phd.

However I am saying 3 years working experience in R while I just know how to use R for data analysis not coding anything new in R

Then you have 3 years of working experience in data analysis with R. Coding new packages and doing analysis are two different things (if I am wrong correct me).

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by gb1.9k

Thanks a lot, very positive and encouraging

You right I am good in using R for data analysis

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by Molecular_genetics80
gravatar for Devon Ryan
24 months ago by
Devon Ryan96k
Freiburg, Germany
Devon Ryan96k wrote:

Firstly, sorry to hear that you're experiencing this. The reality is that there is a large disconnect between what the average bench scientist believes can be done by "generic bioinformatician" and what is actually possible (there's often even a disconnect between what they want and what any conceivable bioinformatician could possibly be capable of doing alone). Situations are further complicated by the common lack of local expertise to fall back on, since many people end up as the lone bioinformatician in a lab. Given that your current position is likely to be relatively short lived, I suggest the following:

  1. Don't resign your position. It's easier to find a job if you have one and I imagine that there are visa and financial issues to worry about should you become unemployed.
  2. Do whatever you can to find other local bioinformaticians. We can help with specific questions (also on slack, where you can create a fakely named account and DM some of us), but we're no substitute for someone local.
  3. Start looking for new positions. What you really want is an analyst position in a core facility with other members. This sounds like the ideal environment for you, since it would likely provide the support structure you need while allowing you to exploit what you're already good at (analysis).
  4. If you start applying for different post-doc positions, make sure there are other bioinformaticians in a group already, or at least others doing bioinformatics as part of their projects. You do not want to be the "lone bioinformatician" under any circumstances.
  5. Talk to a career councillor, that will at the very least relieve some anxiety.

I would like to really stress that you are not alone in facing this sort of situation, it is disturbingly common. Please remember that none of us (even us moderators with large amounts of reputation and experience) are capable of doing everything and we all share many of the short-comings you've described in yourself. That this is not the right position for you at this point in your career does not mean that there isn't a great position out there for you, just hang on until you find it.

ADD COMMENTlink modified 24 months ago • written 24 months ago by Devon Ryan96k

Maybe off topic but this is such a nice sentence:

there's often even a disconnect between what they want and what any conceivable bioinformatician could possibly be capable of doing alone

Sometimes you get good results with all that "magical" code and they praise you like a god. But if the information in the DNA does not match with the expectation of the researcher you do something wrong or it is all your fault. Every one needs bioinformaticians but no one understand them.

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by gb1.9k

But if the information in the DNA does not match with the expectation of the researcher you do something wrong or it is all your fault.

So true. You're thanked for doing your job if an analysis produces what they want to hear and damned as incompetent otherwise. That's exactly when you need local colleagues who can give you support.

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by Devon Ryan96k

Reminds me of this blog post:

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by WouterDeCoster44k
gravatar for Kevin Blighe
24 months ago by
Kevin Blighe65k
Kevin Blighe65k wrote:

resigning and trying to a lower rank university?

...but, people are equally intelligent at all universities, and in many other walks of life outside of research, too. For example, a mother who raises a child is intelligent in her own way; a mechanic who repairs any broken car is also intelligent, a baker who bakes bread each day is intelligent, et cetera. Intelligence is not just reserved to scientists at elite universities. It exists everywhere in different forms, and you are intelligent, too!

If anything, those at lower ranking universities are more resourceful than those at higher ranking universities because they have less funds to manage and need to be more cunning to simply survive. I also note that higher ranking universities have excellent marketing 'machineries', which helps to get these universities' names out to the World but that does not indicate that the research is in any way of higher quality - it may even be of less quality.

If you need help, you should first contact your supervisor and express your concerns. If s/he cannot help, there should already have been assigned to you an independent person in your local department - you can go to her/him, too. Also, there should be other counselling and career guidance services available to you. Finally, there is all of us, here, who give up our free time day after day to help people with problems in bioinformatics.

ADD COMMENTlink modified 24 months ago • written 24 months ago by Kevin Blighe65k
gravatar for Medhat
24 months ago by
Medhat8.8k wrote:

So sad to hear that but:

  • First, do not let where you came from make you feel inferior or lower than others.
  • Do not quit your job.
  • Sit with your boss and discuss what is expected from you? and what is expected from him? (you are working together remember that).
  • Sometimes culture difference leads to misunderstanding, put this in your mind.
  • If you continue working 15/7 you will not be productive and you will get depression, you will go to work, but you will not be working (I was there before).
  • Low and high university ranking does not effect people intelligence (It depends on the team not the ranking of university)
  • Get social, talk to people you need to live normal life or you will get more stressed and depressed (This will not help any one including you).
  • Your lab is not the last lab in the world there is a plenty of labs out there
  • I know the visa issue situation and being foreigner, just trust yourself
  • You can not DM us here but you can do that on slack as suggested above
ADD COMMENTlink modified 24 months ago by zx87549.6k • written 24 months ago by Medhat8.8k
gravatar for RamRS
24 months ago by
Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX
RamRS30k wrote:

I have experience a slightly similar situation, OP. Sometimes, a position is not a great fit for us. There are several factors, one of which is a cultural factor that makes us doubt ourselves and think if we are the ones at fault and if we deceived our supervisor and ourselves into thinking this might be a good thing, only to find out it's not. Neither person is at fault, trust me. Sometimes, things seem like they'd be great but end up not being so good.

My solution is this: People are generally nice and understanding of these difficulties. Try talking to someone you trust and finding a way forward. In the meantime, focus on the parts in your current position that you can do best in, and do your best in them. Do not stress yourself out, develop a social life. Talk to someone and vent. Keep yourself sane and keep looking for a solution - you'll get there. It might take some time but you'll get there.

Beyond this, I don't I can help much. You're better off contacting someone in your field with a similar cultural background as yourself that you see as successful/inspiring.

ADD COMMENTlink written 24 months ago by RamRS30k


Molecular_genetics :

Sometimes, quitting is the right thing to do. I am on a visa in a foreign country too, and I am aware of the kind of pressure a person on a visa faces every day. The fear of being anything but excellent, that our employer might fire us on a whim, it has an unhealthy effect on our lives, but that is the worst case scenario. Remember that people are nice and they do not see us the way we see ourselves. Each person has their own weakness and is too busy to judge everyone else on theirs. I am glad you have another position lined up, and as Kevin says, university ranking does not matter. What matters most when you're starting out is job satisfaction and job security. You need and deserve a nurturing environment where you feel safe to grow, and once you're in a place for 2 years, you'll know enough to trust yourself with handling whatever's thrown at you. Do not despair, you'll be fine. Always have backup plans for visa purposes, but do not let it get to you. Have a strong personal/social life and a healthy work-life balance.

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by RamRS30k
gravatar for h.mon
24 months ago by
h.mon31k wrote:

I am working 15 hours 7 days but this would not compensate the competence I expected to have when I joined this lab

I suspect you are suffering from a mix of Impostor Syndrome and Burnout Syndrome, and this threw you in a downward spiral loop: as you keep doubting yourself, you try to compensate by overworking. But overworking, in the long run, can only lead to stress and diminishing results, which will in turn worsen your Imposter Syndrome.

Don't leave your job just yet.

Take a step back, stop working long hours, and make an effort to fully rest and enjoy yourself. When tackling your tasks, set realistic goals for you and inform your boss about them. By just setting more realistic goals and delivering them, you will feel better, and then your boss can really access your skills, and capability for the job. If you are not a good fit, then your boss you tell you so (and it won't be easy listening to it), but at least it will be based on your technical skills. As it is now, you are (both by you and your boss) being evaluated on your emotional skills, but being unaware of that.

ADD COMMENTlink written 24 months ago by h.mon31k
gravatar for gb
24 months ago by
gb1.9k wrote:

I understand your point but I think you just took the wrong job... A person that can build houses should build houses and not cars. And I think especially these days there are a lot RNA-seq related jobs. And at these jobs you just use existing tools and scripts instead of invent new algorithms. You only need to know some python and bash basics to tie all those tools together. And during the job you run into some programmatic problems but solve them using this forum or stackoverflow and voila you learned something new.

Keep in mind that bioinformatics is a really broad understanding. I am mostly working on python scripts and pipelines, I do nothing with R or statistics. I know some other people that are working with R the whole day and do nothing with python. Some others work on image analysis and maybe did only a few blast searches during the study.

So you have the knowledge and experience but not the right job.


What I wanted to add, speaking of other jobs. It is hard to find, there are jobs of course but I noticed that most vacancies are pretty vage or they ask for a super humans that knows every programming language. You can always send your cv and after that call them to ask what the idea is. It also happens that a hr person writes the job offer instead of the person actually leading the project. And if they say we have lots of RNA-seq data that need to be analysed it is the job for you. If they say we need a new way of making phylogeny trees it is not for you.

ADD COMMENTlink modified 24 months ago • written 24 months ago by gb1.9k

Thanks a lot, very helpful comments for me to sort my mind out

ADD REPLYlink written 24 months ago by Molecular_genetics80
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