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Closing the skills gap in bioinformatics

World-class bioscience is critically dependent on new computational technologies, methodologies and resources. Bridging the gap between biologists and computational researchers is key to maximising the value of their data.

Vicky Schneider, Head of the 361° Division at The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) leads the management and implementation of bioinformatics training courses that promote best practice in programming, storing, annotating and sharing data. Her recent publication “Data Integration in Biological Research: An overview” in The Journal of Biological Research is the result of a collaborative effort between TGAC, Department of Informatics at Ionian University, the ELIXIR Hub and Biocomputing Group, Sapienza University, which highlights the importance of data integration and management for biologists to share their data efficiently. Standardising data formats will enable more robust analyses, facilitate the reproducibility and interpretation of results, and thus contribute to accelerate bioscience research and innovation.


The Q&A

What are the main training needs you are addressing? How are you doing so?

The training ranges from Python-scripted data analysis to metagenomic DNA extraction protocols. We have a vast range of target audiences reflecting the diversity in expertise and research areas that TGAC is working on, including various non-model organisms. In 2013, we defined the topics covered in our programme following a series of enquiries aimed at the biological research community as well as end-users of bioinformatics.

How did you become interested in this field of work?

I am an evolutionary biologist, with personal experience of data analysis and interpretation in the pre-high-through-put sequencing era! I was curious about how and why certain software was scoring my peaks in one specific way, and how accurately I could use the information I was getting. Working with Prof. Cesareni in the Department of Genetics at the University of Rome Tor Vergata on a molecular interactions database (MINT), I became aware and conscious about bioinformatics and its central role in modern biology. In 2007, I joined the EBI where I worked as the Training Coordinator. While I was there the demand for training only increased, fuelled by the advent of high-throughput technologies and increased variety of bioinformatics data.

Why is bridging the gap between biologists and computational researchers important?

It is more than important, I would say it is crucial! Crucial to ensure that the resources and tools created are used and used properly. It is vital that biologists are aware of their own role and become critical of data and datasets, that they are aware of and use repositories as well as best practice in annotation and metadata. Similarly, computational researchers need to ensure that their advances are efficiently guided by the biological context they are meant to support.

How long have you been at the Institute? What drew you to TGAC?

I have been at TGAC less than 3 years and a major key attraction was the remit of its mission and focus on openness and training. I believe it is the only Institute that has my role in senior management, which shows the commitment and importance TGAC gives to training, public engagement and best practice in e-Science.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The varied interactivity with people across all levels. Designing and delivering activities and programmes that enable biologists to go further with their work, recognise the value of bioinformatics and promote best practice in open science.

What advice would you offer future scientists?

Look proactively for opportunities to expand your skills, do not fear the command line (CLi), get an intro to Linux and empower yourself with the ability to handle your data as well as enhance your computational literacy. Be critical, and take responsibility when it comes to annotating, enriching your data with metadata and sharing it in such a way that others can not only re-use it but fully integrate it into their own studies. When it comes to science and how it’s done, the future is indeed in your hands.

Further information:
Vicky Schneider’s profile on tgac.ac.uk