March 23, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
Bill Gates recently noted that, were he to drop out of college to go into a hot field today (like he did in 1975, when computers were just taking off), he’d look at artificial intelligence, energy, or biotechnology.
And on January 27, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Priscilla Chan, a physician, and her husband—a few of you might have heard of him—Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, acquired a Toronto, Ontario-based artificial intelligence company, Meta. Meta is able to read and comprehend scientific papers at high speed and provide insights and connections. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, launched with a $3 billion investment over 10 years, has the goal of curing, preventing and managing all diseases by the end of the century.
The point here is that biotech is big right now and getting bigger, and for people into IT, data science, and computers, this is a hot new field. But how, if you’re one of those tech people, do you make the shift into biotech? Here’s some ideas.
IT, Data Science, AI, Etc.
Computer-related jobs in biopharma are exploding. A lot of that growth is related to the boom of big data into the industry. Since the Human Genome Project came along in the 1990s, and the advent of affordable gene sequencing platforms, enormous amounts of data started being generated.
Just a few of the areas where big data analytics is being used in biopharma:
Genomics. Each human genome is made up of three billion base pairs, organized into 20,000 to 25,000 genes, or about three gigabytes of data. Per person. And those genes interact with each other and the environment.
The Human Microbiome. Part of the environment, it includes microbes, bacteria, viruses and fungi. They live in and on the body. The NIH’s Human Microbiome Project has found more than 10,000 microbes in the human body, totaling more than 100 times the genes in the human body.
Crowdsourcing. Note the online game Foldit. In 2011, players created an accurate 3D model of the M-PMV retroviral protease enzyme on the game. Researchers had spent 15 years unsuccessfully trying to figure out the structure.
Synthesizing Diverse Data. Biopharma, just taking the above examples, is working on diverse data such as proteins, DNA/RNA, social, clinical, and environmental. Making sense of that data requires computing power and a lot of it.
Drug Recycling. A researcher at Stanford University, Atul Butte, founded NuMedii, which uses data science to sift through molecular data to discover new uses for old drugs.
And none of that even really touches on all the traditional IT and computing needs of international businesses—payroll, enterprise content management, business intelligence, etc. Like other industries, biopharma has all that as well.
Getting From Here to There
“Here” in this case is wherever you are, presumably working in IT, computers or data science outside of biopharma. “There” refers to biopharma. One of my other writing gigs is as a resume writer, so I have a few thoughts on transferrable skills and how to communicate them on a resume.
As most people working in IT and computers know, jobs can be pretty platform dependent. That is to say, broadly, that if you’ve spent your career working in a Microsoft environment, shifting to a UNIX environment may not be all that easy. With any luck, your technical experience is fairly broad, which can be a plus in changing positions. It’s also good to emphasize flexibility and ability to adapt and learn new languages.
Generally speaking, a resume, after your identifying information, should have a concise paragraph describing yourself—a career summary. It is then followed, in more modern formats, by Key Skills bullet points like: Project Management, or Troubleshooting/Resolution, or Data Security.
In the IT and computer field, it’s also common to include a segment, which could be bulleted, that includes Technical skills. Here are a couple examples:
Here’s an example of a different type of format:
None of these resumes were specifically aimed at biopharma jobs—but they could have been. Part of the trick is, when looking at the job posting, is paying attention to generalities and specifics.
For example, Aduro Biotech in Berkeley, California has a job opening for a Computational Scientist/Bioinformatician. The degree requirements are fairly specific, including a PhD in statistics, biostatistics, computer science or bioinformatics, and 5 years of experience. There’s a laundry list of things they are looking for, so specific it would be a little surprising if there was anybody who fit it exactly. But going through the list, you can pick out things that you might want to emphasize in your own resume, such as:
• Ability to analyze large-scale datasets. The job specifically notes that that’s what the job entails, the data coming from raw microarray data, genomic and RNA sequence data, etc.
• Ability to perform integrative analysis of different types of data.
• Ability to create or modify web-based bioinformatics tools.
• Design and apply bioinformatics algorithms.
Those are skills that are adaptable from non-biopharma IT-related jobs to biotech.
Other key skills in any job include communication, teamwork, leadership, problem solving and troubleshooting.
After those, a resume has work history/professional history with the most recent jobs first. It’s advisable to focus on achievements, rather than just a list of duties.
IT, data science and computer-related jobs are booming in the biopharma world. Recently a biotech entrepreneur, Iran Mazumdar-Shaw, founder, chair and managing director of Bengaluru, India-based Biocon, compared the trends seen with digital companies like Uber, Amazon, Flipkart and Airbnb, and noted that they were being seen more and more in biotech. He told The Economic Times, “Other sectors like healthcare, genomics, big data analytics, e-tailing, travel, education, etc., have not even scratched the surface. These are the future drivers of IT services.”
Mark Terry, a regular writer for BioSpace, is a full-time freelance writer, editor, novelist and ghostwriter specializing in biopharma, clinical diagnostics, medical practice management and resume writing. He has written 1000+ articles and more than 20 books, including the award-winning THE FALLEN. When not writing, he can be found practicing Sanchin-Ryu karate, riding his bicycle or reading.