Bioinformatics, what’s that?

“Bioinformatics is a science game, a challenge combining maths, biology and programming”

Foto: Iris Mestres

Iris Mestres, a first-year student of Bachelor’s Degree in Bioinformatics, explains how she chose this degree and turned passionate about this field she nearly didn’t know before starting her studies.

When having to choose what degree I wanted to follow, I was so lost I couldn’t tell in which field of science I wanted to work in the future. I couldn’t decide if I wanted something more theoretical than practical or vice versa. Does this ring a bell?

I only had the option of choosing eight different degrees before doing the selectivity exam, and among all the options I had –much more than eight–  I decided to give a chance to bioinformatics. But if I have to be sincere, I put it in the eighth position and my reasons were “What jobs will I be able to do after this?”, “What has this career that makes it worth it?” and, what’s more important, “What is bioinformatics?”.

You know what a bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology is, maybe not at 100%, but at least you know what it is about. Same happens with degrees such as Nanotechnology, Physics or Biology, but no one has told you about Bioinformatics.

With the selectivity exam done and being accepted on this degree and having no clue of what Bioinformatics was, I looked it up online to be sure what I was going to do, but it wasn’t enough. When my friends and family asked me I always answered the same: “You know people working in laboratories, making experiments and getting results? I’m going to be the one that makes color plots of them”. I remember a friend of mine told me, “do you even need a degree to do that?”. I felt like this degree was not the best option, even though I wanted to give it a try.

I’ve never been so wrong about something. What shocked me the most were the programming classes as I wasn’t able to connect them with color plots. I can swear that while enjoying these classes like a child, I found no sense in doing them. But I’m making headway with it. Since the beginning, we have had a weekly conference done by someone related to the bioinformatics’ world and I can still see myself after the first four talks –all about the human genome or cancer–. I even thought about giving up and finding another degree, but something changed my mind.

In one of the subsequent talks –which also started about the human genome– the speaker changed the topic and described a device designed to read the DNA sequence and how its program worked and how you can use it. By that moment, it was the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard and in fact at that point programming classes made sense along with the name “bioinformatics”. The speaker showed us how bioinformatics is everywhere, even on the moon! He showed us different real applications for this degree, the things he has done: how from a medical problem he was giving a solution based on bioinformatics.

After this talk, I knew I’ve chosen my degree well. After this talk, I realized bioinformatics was what I was looking for. It involves maths, biology, mind challenges and something new like programming. After this talk, I saw how wrong I was about bioinformatics. It’s not the same making color plots than understanding biology, facing medical problems and creating programs to solve them. It’s not the same to do research on cancer and the human genome than to do interpretation of data to grow plants on the moon.

To sum up my experience, if someone asks me what bioinformatics is, I’ll leave aside color plots, cancer and the human genome. Now I know bioinformatics is a science game, a challenge that combines two things I love –maths and biology– and a new passion, programming. I love it!

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