IUBio

Who should run a biologically oriented network??

Susan Elizabeth Olson so690561 at mbcr.bcm.tmc.edu
Wed Jul 1 13:23:21 EST 1992


Having recently received my BS in biology (1991) from an extremely
computationally oriented school (Carnegie Mellon), I can say that this whole 
issue of who should run a network at a biologically oriented institution hits
very close to home.  Prior to the days in which a program in computational 
biology was started at my alma mater, most of us who went into biology did not
know much about computers, and the introductory (compulsory) programming 
courses were extremely difficult (some of my friends who were CS majors even
agreed that many computer science professors find it difficult to come down to
their (my friends) level, much less our level and teach) so that we were 
somewhat discouraged from taking courses that would help to broaden us and make
us better scientists.  In fact, complaints are still raised by future 
computational biologists that most of their CS courses still don't help them to
write better biology-oriented programs (final programming projects are often to
write games, not sequence analysis packages, or some relatively limited but 
useful scientifically oriented program).  Surprisingly, although both full
fledged biologists and computer scientists realize the importance of the 
merging of their respective disciplines, this has yet to be implemented to any
great degree at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.  The people who
are in these programs right now are some of the best candidates for running a
network, but until they graduate and until the curriculum for computational
biologists is fine tuned, you won't see too many of them around.  Given that
problem, you probably need two people (minimum) to have a strong network - a
CS person and a biologist, two people who are willing to learn how to speak
each others jargon to some degree and can handle the basics in both fields.
Of course this means twice the cost in terms of salaries, etc.,but it is how
the most successful mbcrs (ie GenBank) are operated.  As for individuals
going back and training in another discipline, I'm all for that (I admit that
despite the ubiquitous presence of the Internet at my undergraduate school, I
did not learn how to use emacs or 'speak' Unix until I came to graduate school
this year, and fortunately I have been able to have access to a rare person who
understands both fields and can gauge my experience and skill levels in the
field so that I can more productively use the Internet (ie it's not just for
e-mail and b-boards) ).  I can see how it would be difficult though to have to
do additional training to get a network going (much less how in a few years the
administrator will have users who know more than he/she does in both fields if
people really insist upon hiring computational biologists, and two should be
hired so that if one leaves for a much needed vacation, the entire network is
not left on hold and less accessible to its users.  But even friendships struck
up outside your discipline can be fruitful - I still call many of my best 
friends from college and ask them computer questions, just as they ask me about
what is currently possible using genetic engineering or how evolutionary 
concepts seem to work - these are some of the neatest people to consider hiring
to help you run your mbcr because they are often curious about the "neat stuff"
biologists do (but may have had a poor/uninteresting biology professor or no
desire to do lab work).  I think lots of different kinds of people could do
the job well, but I wouldn't want to put the job squarely on one person's
shoulders.

Susan Olson
Graduate Student
Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Baylor College of Medicine
Houston, TX




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