Work Institution: Maastricht University, The Netherlands
Research Interest: Sequencing Techniques, Programming, Systemsbiology, Bioinformatics, Epigenetics
Favourite Animal: Dogs & Tigers
This blog post is about me and my personal experience on my way to uncover the black box called ‘bioinformatics’ or‘computational biology’. Many molecular biology researchers retreat upon hearing these words, because it is out of their expertise and also follows other rules than traditional lab work. I experienced that myself and I was one of them, until I took the risk to explore the ‘black box’.
The Miracle © Sidney Harris
Before starting this post, I would like to introduce myself and tell you a little bit about my career path: My name is Jana and I was born and raised in Germany. I started studying biosciences in Münster (Germany) directly after receiving my A-levels and with a huge interest in neurosciences. During my bachelors I soon realized that this was not the way to go for me.
Please don’t misunderstand, I still think it is really interesting, but the flame just did not catch on. So, I had to look for another direction. I mean that is the beauty of biology, there is a huge variety of fascinating directions to go, in fact so many that sometimes you can’t decide which way to pick. The typical cross road situation where you have to choose a path and there is no mystical creature that gives you a hint on which way to go if you solve their riddle.
I decided to do my bachelor thesis in a group where they combined computational with ‘wet lab’ approaches in the context of evolution and biodiversity using parasitic organisms. I liked the idea of combining two fields of research, but asked to keep the bioinformatic part to a minimum, since I did not know anything about computers. [And I really mean that. I did not know ANYTHING. Shout out goes here to my friend Andreas, who almost died of laughter after seeing my laptop freezing and crashing, while trying to delete the history and cache of 12 years, because I was too afraid to do it myself.] Unfortunately, my experiments did not work, so the bioinformatic part got bigger and bigger. And telling you the
truth: I hated it. There were times when I dreamed about throwing my laptop out of the window out of frustration.
So, with this experience I was set to never touch a computer for informatic purposes ever again. [Never say never, eh?] Just by pure luck, I took two courses during my masters that completely changed my mind:
I took the risk and indulged myself further in bioinformatics. Fortunately, I had very patient and nice supervisors and slowly realized that this black box of ‘bioinformatics’ is not scary at all. Of course, it takes a little bit of effort and frustration to learn and understand the beauty of bioinformatics. Especially in these times, when with advancing technologies the analyses of produced data become more and more relevant.
I am not seeing myself as an expert in either field, bioinformatics nor molecular biology; I am seeing myself as the person who dared to open the door to the black box and now wants to hold it open and tear down the walls for others to see the light within.
Experimental vs Computational Biologist © biocomicals.com
Long story short, as a scientist there should always be a conclusion at the end. So here it comes: I hope writing about my experiences will help you, whoever is reading this blog post, to develop the courage to take the risk next time you encounter a difficult situation. You never know what lies ahead and I am convinced, that even if it still might not be the right thing for you, it is still a step towards your real passion. I will not add any tacky quote like “The future is yours to make”, but more something like: Not every bad decision is a bad one.
The second conclusion is: BIOINFORMATICS IS NOT THAT SCARY!! It might look like the matrix, but being honest here, who does not like the Matrix?!
Lastly, I would like to finish with a little riddle from one of my favorite books, which always makes me think about me and my decisions made and to make. To reveal the answer, read the titles of the paragraphs closely again.
About the blog
Being a PhD student in a European training network is a life-changing adventure. Moving to a new country, carrying out a research project, facing scientific (and cultural) challenges, travelling around Europe and beyond… Those 3 years certainly do bring their part of new - sometimes frightening - but always enriching experiences.