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Alternative Splicing Data and Additional Species in Ensembl, Readers' Career Questions, the Value of a PhD, More

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Ten years ago, Genome Technology caught up with a busy Ewan Birney on the eve of an annotated genome data release at Ensembl. At that time, the European Bioinformatics Institute's Birney was busy mitigating the effects of "crashes, glitches, bottlenecks, [and] bugs," behind the scenes of the genome browser, all the while designing an algorithm to better predict alternative splicing in the mouse and human genome data stored there, GT reported. Ensembl's April 2011 release includes data for gibbon, bringing the total number of species for which it houses annotated sequence data to 53. Since 2009, Ensembl has been absorbing many features of EBI's Alternative Splicing and Transcript Diversity database — which is set to be shuttered this year — and now stores alternative splicing and transcript data for six model organisms.

In June 2006, GT reported the results of its fourth annual salary survey, for which respondents shared the ins and outs of their pay and other perks. GT also introduced a new component to its salary-centric cover feature, inviting expert contributors to address readers' careers questions. When asked about the merits of a master's degree versus a doctorate, executive recruiter Linda Kirsch said that "a PhD in the sciences really takes you a long way." Similarly, Rhonda Knudsen, who directed human resources at the Institute for Systems Biology at the time, touted the value of a doctorate, saying that "often [organizations] still weed people out that don't have PhDs."

In 2010, Pennsylvania State University's Ross Hardison said the value of a PhD varies by the person and position. "That would depend on whether they want to be the driving intellectual force in answering questions," Hardison said, adding that "the PhD track is difficult and there are more people looking for positions than there are slots." Indeed, according to the National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010 report, the number of postdoctoral researchers at US universities increased from 34,300 in 1993 to 49,300 in 2006, largely due to growth in the biological and medical or other life science postdoc populations — which collectively accounted for more than two-thirds of all science and engineering postdocs that year. According to NSF's most recent Survey of Earned Doctorates data, fewer life sciences PhDs who earned their degrees in the US between 2007 and 2009 indicated definite post-graduation plans than during any other survey period.

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