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Survey Highlights Career Ups and Downs

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A recent survey of more than 650 bioinformaticists sheds some light on career realities in the field and indicates that despite some grumbling over pay scales and paper-writing, respondents are generally very satisfied with their jobs.

Michael Barton, a bioinformatics PhD student at the University of Manchester, began the survey in July and this week posted the raw results from 658 participants on his blog, Bioinformatics Zen.

Barton says his goal was to generate a picture of what bioinformaticists currently think about their field. His interest, he says, was partly personal, but he also wanted to be able to answer the many queries he receives on his blog about career options and realities. "There isn't really a resource where you can go and find out this information," he says.

Barton acknowledges that he would have liked to have had more participants — closer to 1,000 — and that the responses are likely biased toward blog readers and English-speaking bioinformaticists.

Indeed, the respondents were overwhelmingly from the nonprofit sector, with 498 responses, or 76 percent of the total, claiming to be in academia, government, or nonprofit positions. In addition, participants mainly hailed from North America and Europe. "There are very few results from the Middle East and Africa, which I think is a shame," says Barton.

While the average annual salary for all respondents was $48,302, the average salary for those working in the nonprofit sector was $42,427, but the average salary in industry was $77,407. In addition, industry bioinformaticists published on average fewer papers than nonprofit scientists — 7.9 papers compared to 9.9 in the nonprofit sector.

Despite some differences between nonprofit and industry careers, the "happiness" level appears to be high for both sets of scientists. Respondents in both sectors rated their job satisfaction level an eight on a scale of one to 10.

— Vivien Marx

Bioinformatics Notes

Life Biosystems has licensed entity recognition software from the Fraunhofer Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing for its text-mining infrastructure. The partners plan to develop information extraction algorithms for clinical research which will work by identifying and modeling therapeutically relevant information from clinical/lexical data, with a particular emphasis on drug mode of action and clinical outcomes.
 
According to Genedata, BASF Plant Science has licensed the company's Expressionist bioinformatics software for use in genetic screening programs across North America and Europe. Some of BASF's projects include increasing plant yield and enhancing the nutritional value of plants, which entails analyzing large volumes of molecular profiling data.

Datapoint

$16 million

Amount NSF awarded to the University of Tennessee to create the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis

Funded Grants

$300,000/FY 2008
BioGPS: Extensible Web 2.0 gene portal for structured and unstructured annotation
Grantee: Andrew Su, Novartis Institute for Functional Genomics
Began: Aug.1, 2008; Ends: Jul. 31, 2013
This grant will help Su and his team with development of their Biology Gene Portal Services, a portal based on Web 2.0 concepts. They aim to enable BioGPS to "generate a detailed and rich view of the function of every gene in the human genome" that will help researchers understand basic biological mechanisms and the role of individual genes in human health.

$188,555/FY 2008
Scalable Secure Sharable Computation Platform for Proteomics Data Analysis
Grantee: Erik Nilsson, Insilicos
Began: May 1, 2008; Ends: Apr. 30, 2009
This proposal aims to develop a distribution platform for an open source proteomic database and computational analysis system. Nilsson and his team aim to create a hosted CPAS server platform to "eliminate installation and maintenance issues for both software and hardware, thus increasing the open source bioinformatics tools adoption rate and drastically reducing total cost of ownership for open source bioinformatics tools."

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