My name is Salih Topal, and I am from Turkey. I work as a Senior Bioinformatics Scientist at a biotech company called Foghorn Therapeutics. I enjoy traveling, reading books and hiking. I was always interested in science, specifically biology, during my high school years and decided to start my scientific journey with a bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics. During my bachelor years, I was involved in organizing a scientific symposium focused on Neuroscience and I was amazed by the scientific findings and potentials to cure neurodegenerative diseases presented by professors from all around the world. That was the moment that I decided to pursue a higher degree in Neuroscience under Molecular Biology field.
It was a wonderful opportunity for me to specialize and obtain a master's degree in Neuroscience and decide whether I would want a career in this field or not. During my last year of the Neuroscience program, I did my thesis research in Developmental Neuroscience and most of my findings were highly relevant to Epigenetics, which introduced me further into this field. At this point, I decided to continue with a doctoral degree in Epigenetics. During my doctoral degree, I had the opportunity to combine epigenetics with computational biology.
As a Senior Bioinformatics Scientist, I analyze both in-house and public large sequencing datasets to understand the mechanisms of actions of certain drugs, extract information to build new hypotheses and provide novel ideas or targets for the company to pursue.
Computational Biology consists of various sub-fields including Bioinformatics, AI/Machine Learning, Genomics, Functional Genomics, Computational Genomics, Data Analysis and Data Mining, etc. The following example career paths are for Scientist level positions, which requires for a PhD degree (or similar amount of industry experience). You can also pursue these paths without a PhD degree as Research Associate (Junior/Senior/Principal levels).
Senior or Principal scientist levels of the above paths also require additional roles such as coordinating with other scientists, mentoring research associates or other scientists, leading computational biology efforts of different biological programs.
After the Principal Scientist position, you can continue in the career as Associate Director or Director (or Senior Director). The role of these positions would be managing the whole computational biology (or bioinformatics) team, coordinating with the project leaders from the biology side and maintaining a healthy, interactive relationship between their team and the rest of the research organization.
As a Senior Computational Biologist in Chromatin and Oncology fields, I use following skills on daily basis:
My personal experience with job search was not an easy one. I completed my graduate work and got my PhD degree in January 2020, and started looking for jobs in computational biology field in February 2020, when Covid pandemic started showing its impact in the industry. At that point, I had applied for about 25-30 jobs and had some interviews lined up. However, those interviews were not successful for me, because it was either not the right job, or I did not perform well during the interview process, or they just announced hiring freeze due to the pandemic. When most of the companies announced hiring freezes in April 2020, I had decided to do post-doctoral research in my graduate work lab until the market was going upwards again.
During this time, I also tried to expand my networking, I attended Zoom meetings with people from industry organized by my school, attended some LinkedIn webinars, had informational interviews with some companies. By August 2020, companies started posting jobs again and I started applying for more jobs. It is not easy to find your dream job, but luckily, I saw this post about a computational biologist needed in chromatin/epigenetics field (which is the field that I did my PhD in) and applied for it. The interview process was exceptionally smooth, because I really enjoyed talking with everyone that I interacted with, and my background was a great fit for the job.
So, as you can see from my experience, it takes some time to find a job or even your dream job. However, do not be discouraged! As long as you are persistent in finding a job and keep applying, you will find a job that you really like.
I would tell my younger self to not be scared to ask for help, ask people for referrals or connections within the companies that they are in, because that is an efficient way to get into a company, if there is a job posting related to your field and if you are a good fit for the job.
Computational biology is a very collaborative and innovative field with new tools and softwares being developed constantly. One of the many advantages of this field is that you get to work with scientists from any field, which increases your chance to find a job in various industries. You can also do your research in a lab combining wet lab (benchwork) with dry lab (computational work). This way, you will have both skillsets and it will increase your chance drastically to find a job in industry.