Managing a molecular biology computer resource

Justin D Diachun diachun at acsu.buffalo.edu
Thu Jun 25 00:32:31 EST 1992

In article <12712 at gazette.bcm.tmc.edu> steffen at mbcr.bcm.tmc.edu (David Steffen) writes:
>How does a molecular biologist "convert" to a career to biocomputing?
>At least one earlier poster who managed a system used by molecular
>biologists argued that it was better to go from computer science and
>pick up the biology than to go from biology and pick up the computer
>science; comments?  Given this alternative path, what training in
>computer science does one start with?

I have been very interested reading this whole discussion since the
topic is where I place my future goals.  I hope to eventually manage a
molecular biology computer facility, and am trying to put myself on
the right course.  My question is to ask the community what my best
direction to take at this point is.  I have read a few descriptions of
of how others entered this field, but of course each person is
different.  What follows describes how I got where I am right now.

I began my undergraduate years intending to be a biochemistry major.
I loved genetics for as long as I can remember, and knew that I wanted
to work in this field.  After about 2 years I got interested in
research and began working in a biochemistry lab, cloning DNA.  I
really enjoyed the lab work, and the exposure I got to the GCG package
was wonderful.  During my lab work, I became interested in the Human
Genome Project, and have continued to follow its developments
carefully up to today.  I always knew that I wanted to work with
computers on some level, but assumed that they would be a tool that I
used to help my work.  I was becoming disenchanted with the
biochemistry major at Buffalo, because I did not enjoy most of the
upper level classes I started taking that did not relate to genetics.

At this time, I tried a computer programming course and knew I was
hooked right away.  I loved programming and knew that this is what I
wanted to do.  I hung on to both fields the next year, taking a double
load of computer, biochemistry, and lab research credits. By the end
of the year, I realized that I was much more interested in the
computer classes.  In addition, the professor I was doing biochemistry
laboratory work with moved out of Buffalo, and I fully converted to
computer science.

I was fortunate enough to obtain a research position at the Center of
Excellence in Document Analysis and Recognition.  This is a huge
project in the computer science department set up by a grant to build
a real time address recognition unit that will be used by the US
Postal Service.  My work was in the Handwritten ZIP Code Recognition
project, writing programs in C for image processing.  I worked at
CEDAR for two years and graduated with a BS in computer science.

So this brings me to where I am now.  In the long term, I want to go
back to biology in the form of biological computing, and hopefully
support a molecular biology computer lab some day.  My short term goal
is to find a programming position where I can apply my experience and
interest in biochemistry and genetics to computer science.  I am
particularly interested in pattern recognition and analysis on DNA
sequences.  I loved working in the lab and would hope to work closely
with biologists, especially to help them utilize computer programs to
analyze their laboratory data.  In fact, I would be happy to go back
into a lab and get my hands wet!

My preference would be to try to slowly progress toward getting a MS
degree while working as a scientific programmer.  I don't know if I
should continue towards a MSCS or if I could jump to getting a MS in
biochemistry.  In addition, I need to pick up some solid experience as
a system administrator along the line.  As far as I am concerned,
unless I am TOTALLY CERTAIN about going after a full time graduate
education on a phd course, it is not the best idea right now.  Will I
have to commit myself to being a full time student for a few years to
pick up a MS first, against my will and better judgement?  I am really
burned out after 4 1/2 years of classes to get my BS degree.

At this point in my career, is it possible for me to get a job in the
field of biocomputing?  My best responses for a job have been from
people that contacted me by seeing my resume posted on the net.
Nowhere that I mailed my resume out to gave me any positive response.
I don't know if I have been unlucky, underqualified, or overestimated
the need for someone such as myself.  I graduated with a 3.33 overall
GPA and a 3.50 in computer science, so I do not believe that this is a
problem.  I realize that I will probably be sacrificing my best salary
opportunities by not going into a straightforward computer career in
image processing, but I know that I really love genetics.  I think if
I play myself in the right way that I will certainly find something.
I am lost as to what to try next.

Any advice on how I should direct myself will be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for suffering through this post.  Your thoughts can help me!

Justin Diachun
diachun at cs.buffalo.edu

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