Forum:Recruitment and Retention of Bioinformatics and Research Staff
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2.5 years ago
wsp ▴ 10

Hello,

I have a question relative to career progression for bioinformatics staff. If you feel that your company, school, or institution does a good job of recruiting and retaining such staff I would like to hear your opinion. What types of job titles are being advertised to attract candidates ? To whom do they report ? I'm mainly concerned with staff who might not necessarily have a PhD (though could) who are actively contributing to research and tool development in support of funded work. This could include programmers, biologists, database administrators, and computational bio/statisticians (and others).

Some institutions recognize the need for retaining such people and have developed a career arc for them. And then there are institutions that view bioinformatics staff simply as replaceable personnel once the funding for a project expires. Anyway, please let me know your thoughts especially if you think you have or know of a good reference model that does this well. Obviously this will vary with the organization and research universities will generally be more reliant upon external funding.

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Let me add some additional perspective. We have problems attracting and retaining bioinformatics personnel because HR tends to want to map bioinformatics positions onto existing job titles that really don't capture the essence of the job mostly because it's easier for them to do that than it is to open a new position title. I've generated a number of job descriptions for my HR department which I think accurately represents what various bioinformatics positions would do as well as what pay grades might be appropriate. I have pointed them to links at other institutions and discussed with them why those titles and reporting structures are more appropriate than say reusing an existing IT analyst title. It's moving along but I have the impression that I'm not the first person to encounter this problem hence my question.

It can be difficult, as a university and especially a department resource, to compete with industry or pharma where pay is typically higher and the trajectory is more defined though obviously people are interested in university jobs. Oh and a couple of more things. I've previously operated a Core facility previously which is a very typical way for universities to concentrate bioinformatics personnel under a particular service umbrella. So I'm not going into this "cold" as I do have ideas about appropriate titles and reporting structures but it's been a few years since I've had to deal with this topic. I'm prepared for the idea that not much has changed but one never knows. There is also the added complexity of finding funding for bioi-informatics personnel even if there is a Core facility since they usually have to write themselves onto grants which signals, rightly or wrongly, to HR that such personnel are "temporary" and "replaceable" which might mean that they don't want to put alot of effort into correctly classifying bioinformatics personnel. In cases where the money is so called "hard money" then the situation is better even though HR still might want to classify a highly skilled bioinformatics person as an "Information Analyst 3" or "Data Manager 2".

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If you feel that your company, school, or institution does a good job of recruiting and retaining such staff I would like to hear your opinion.

Sounds like you have an ongoing dialog/battle with your local HR. If they are bound by (state legislature?) rules then there is not much they/you can do. It takes time to change the "system". If you have a strong supervisor/department chair/dean that can go to bat for your group then anything may be feasible.

What happens at other institutions may be moot unless your HR is willing to pay attention. It looks like you have tried that.

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Changing to a Forum post.

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What's the aim of this discussion? E.g., do you want to collect arguments to bring to supervisors etc.? Are you considering a career change and are looking for institutions that may offer you better prospects? What are the institutions that you think have developed a proper career arc for the types of position you have in mind?

Maybe add some background info about why you're interested in the replies so that we can gauge the level and type of detail that might be useful to you.

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2.5 years ago

This almost sounds like a better question for an HR Professionals forum than it does for Biostars.

It's rough that your organization is try to recruit bioinformaticists with an "IT analyst" title. I would never think to apply to (or even look at) such a role when searching for a bioinformatics position. You're definitely doing the right thing by trying to get them to change it to something more appropriate - escalate it up the chain as much as possible, as there's no doubt it's hindering recruitment efforts.

Your questions are tough to answer because they will vary so much from institution to institution. At my institution, bioinformatics span the gambit from members of sequencing, proteomics, metabolomics, etc cores to staff scientists to students. Most core bioinformatics folks report to the core director (or a manager, depending on the size of the core), but often work directly with PIs on their analyses. Similarly, more and more labs/departments seem to be hiring staff scientist-like positions where a bioinformatics person deals with all analyses for the PI or several labs. Students and post-docs do a serious amount of the bioinformatics work as well, though they don't really apply to your question, as their project timeline(s) are (hopefully) relatively well-defined.

Cores here charge for analyses, which is how most of them pay for their bioinformatics staff, though grant funding certainly plays a role as well. Labs utilize grant funding for it as well, but it should be thought of similarly to hiring a staff scientist for wet lab. HR should have no role in defining a position as temporary unless it's pre-determined to be for a specific project that has funding for a known period of time.

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Thanks for you response. So the position would be not advertised directly as "IT Analyst" - a candidate might respond to a general bioinformatics like description and only when the actually applied would they see the "IT Analyst" title. And even if the money is decent and they take the job they are "branded" with the IT label so their promotion potential is limited to that track. And yes it has been my experience that Core facilities do tend to pay the salaries of their personnel although the Core as a whole generally has to demonstrate its effectiveness in supporting funded research. In "lean times" core members might offer a percent effort arrangement to a PI. The Core system is a common construct for "housing" bioinformatics personnel though we have departments that hire bioinformatics personnel also which is probably where most of the challenge comes in.

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HR should have no role in defining a position as temporary unless it's pre-determined to be for a specific project that has funding for a known period of time.

While true, your institution (and thus HR) is responsible of making sure that employees get paid at the end of each pay period/month. A hiring manager (or a PI) has show that the money is there for a certain duration before a position is even approved. If that period happens to be short/if the money is not guaranteed to last for the proposed duration then HR has to have a final say about the type of the position.