After 12 years, today is my last day as a professional bioinformatician1. I’m not leaving because I’m fed up. I’ve just been lured away by an amazing new engineering opportunity in the financial sector.
Over my bioinformatics career, I’ve been involved in various large-scale projects, small studies, and everything in between. I’ve taken on more roles than I expected or have trained for, like systems administration, project management, grant writing, manuscript writing, logistics and operations, catering, peer mentoring and counseling, designated driving, bathroom cleaning,2 and secretarying. I’m not trying to sound derisive (ok, maybe except for the bathroom cleaning), but rather to illustrate how naive I was at the outset to expect that I’d only design and write code.
Bioinformatics is already a multidisciplinary field, drawing on expertise in computer science, biology, engineering, probability, and statistics. Also, the lack of an accepted concise definition for the term bioinformatics leads to a mismatch in expectations among biologists and bioinformaticians themselves. We are therefore often asked to perform certain tasks that we deem outside the scope of our role. I’ve ranted numerous times, mostly (but not always) privately to colleagues, about this. Tasks like writing grants were tedious and unfulfilling. Unlike code, they were outside my control and outside of my comfort zone.
But now, on the eve of my departure, having taken stock of my years as a bioinformatician, I am convinced that all that tedious overhead is an essential part of being a bioinformatician. I’ve learned a lot from writing grants and papers, managing projects, and mentoring — and being mentored by — my peers (but not so much from cleaning bathrooms). All of these tasks took me out of my element and forced me to look at the bigger picture. Even when they led to some doubt and discontent, they taught me patience and responsibility. On the whole, they made me a more effective engineer and a better colleague.
I therefore urge current and future bioinformaticians not to resent these non-bioinformatics responsibilities, but rather to embrace them as part of the core of bioinformatics. Stepping outside of our comfort zones — and outside of our job descriptions — is good for us. Some scope creep is acceptable. We can apply our unique skills in logic, reasoning, and management to make our teams and organizations more frictionless and productive. And in taking on these responsibilities, our skills will be honed further.