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Sept. 9, 2002

Frustrated in Gene Town
It was with some bemusement and no little chagrin that I read the Dodge Retort, "Science Still Reigns in Bio-IT," (July Bio·IT World, page 86). Especially striking was Dodge's summary line: "I'd put my money on the biologist with a minor in IT."

I am precisely that biologist with a minor in IT, and I've been unemployed for the past eight months with nary a prospect in sight. I am part of the jetsam kicked out in the massive corporate restructuring at Incyte Genomics (proteome division) at the end of last year. I have a mid-1980s doctorate in molecular biology from Harvard (lots of good that Ivy League taint has done me), more than a decade of molecular biology research in academia, and experience in bioinformatics, both in academic and corporate venues. I have publications, I have taught bioinformatics (most recently at Northeastern University) and I have done bioinformatics. I reside in Gene Town (Boston area), where bioinformatics opportunities are rumored to be plentiful.

Yet still I am not wanted: just four interviews in six months, not counting those depressing "informational" interviews over the phone. And I am not alone. There are dozens of others from the Incyte restructuring in the same plight as myself.

The problem seems to be a complete absence of opportunities. I browse the biology job Web sites daily, only to find no new listings. Those listings that do appear have been listed for months, unfilled. For instance, AnVil has had a computational biologist position advertised for more than six months. I have applied, and I know personally several others who have applied, and still the job listing lingers, taunting us all.

The expectations of employers are always just out of reach. If they advertise Perl programming (which I have) then they want Java programming (which I don't have) when they talk to you. If they request Oracle DBM experience (which I have), then they push it to Sybase or Siebel DBM (as if knowledge of one platform could not be readily extended to another platform). And so on. Even the biology expectations extend beyond reach. If they list experience with sequence analysis (which I have in spades), then they push it to microarray analysis (which I don't have, but could easily learn).

If employers are looking for that "biologist with a minor in IT," then who are they?

Michael Cusick, Ph.D.
Bioinformatics/Molecular Biology
19 Putnam St.
Salem MA 01970
mecusick@aya.yale.edu


IT for the Biologists, by the Biologists? 
Your article "Science Still Reigns in Bio-IT" (July Bio·IT World, page 86) truly intrigued me. As a returning college student recovering from a dot-com, I find myself questioning my own next degree path, and have come to a conclusion that is congruent with your own. I feel that people with my old career title (network admin.) are dime-a-dozen, and are now willing to sell themselves short in a tight job market. IT workers with a solid background in the sciences are able to specialize and streamline functions that benefit a biotech company.

In regard to the question, "Where do you think the best bioscience jobs are?" I have noticed a trend in discussions with scientists that there is not full utilization or complete understanding of the IT equipment or services at their disposal. I feel that IT training for these scientists can empower them to become more productive. Many scientists I talk to complain of databases that are confusing and overwhelming, equipment that is not intuitive, and communication tools that might seem archaic. These problems, I feel, stem partially from a deeper problem - that the software and hardware was designed and constructed by programmers and engineers that might not understand the needs of the scientist. This problem can be solved partially by training the IT designers with a background in biology.

Ideally, I see a large market for this, and I see myself after college aiding in the design of IT functions, both hardware and software, tailored to the needs of the scientists. After the release of these IT functions to the scientists, I feel listening to the scientists as to what improvements can be made to help them maximize their productivity in regard to the IT design will result in great things for the biotech field.

John Morrow
City College of San Francisco



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