Managing a molecular biology computer resource

Daz darrenp at dibbler.cs.monash.edu.au
Wed Jun 24 00:19:24 EST 1992

As a person in the biocomputing arena - I thought I'd take up your offer
to describe how it happened. I enetered Uni with interests in medical
research, wanted a course that involved a substantial amount of creative
thinking - and so avoided the medicine route (that isn't meant to sound
snobbish but I wanted to avoid rote-learning). First year involved a wide
mixture of Maths, CompSci, Biology, and Chemisty. Second year I was a 
dedicated biologist, doing Biochemistry and Genetics, but also computer
science because I enjoyed the more rigourous thinking environment and wanted
to preserve my job options, being well versed in the possible fates of
research scientists. Third year was hard - I had to take two majors and
CompSci was basically two in its own right - so I took a 50% overload to
continue with Genetics, and all of CompSci. By this stage, my project work
in CS was becoming genetics oriented - so I was quite happy.

Four year (my honours year) was a very painful decision where I had to admit
that Genetics was fascinating, but I didn't live for the wet lab work. I
enjoyed the reasoning at the end of the day, but I liked the cosy, ordered
world of computing (that picture is a little misguided around here anyway).
My honours year in CS had project work that was very biological and there
were other researchers in the department who had strong biological
interests (but no background) who nutured me intellectually.

I don't know whether I had a 'typical' background - I was always a problem
child with too many decisions to make and my heart in too many areas.
According to our University points system, I've done the equivalent of
an extra years work in overloaded subject, over the course of my undergraduate
degree - but it has really killed the steep bit of the learning curve for my
PhD. I'm still a little sad that I'm out there mutating bacteria or
mating flies - but life is interesting, and I get a bit of each world.

I would really like to hear from others (posting is a good idea) - who have
made similar journeys. I suspect that the difficult job situation (at least
in Australia) for biological researchers, and the lure of CompSci would 
have resulted in similar defections. My Genetics professor was always fond of
saying that Genetics was the Mathematics of the biological sciences - and
I think it requires a very analytical mind - so maybe that's why CS appeals.
In a way my decision was just whether to program man made machines, or
biological ones,

Darren Platt, Department of Computer Science
darrenp at dibbler.cs.monash.edu.au
Monash University, Clayton Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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