Bioinformatics research & careers at ABACBS 2017 Conference & COMBINE Student Symposium

Bioinformatics research & careers at ABACBS 2017 Conference & COMBINE Student Symposium
November 21, 2017 Chris Button

Adelaide was the place to be for bioinformaticians last week, with leading experts from Australia and abroad congregating in South Australia for the 2017 Australian Bioinformatics & Computational Biology Society (ABACBS) Annual Conference and COMBINE Student Symposium, hosted at the South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) from 13-17 November 2017.

Research Engagement Specialist Quang Doan attended the first three days of the conference, including COMBINE, where he observed leading bioinformaticians presenting their latest findings.

Showcasing presentations with a predominant health and medical focus, the conference opened with a whirlwind keynote by the legendary Professor Des Higgins from the University College Dublin, recounting his development of the widely used Clustal package for multiple sequence alignment. Strongly emphasising newly emerging methods, the conference highlighted techniques such as single cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), in addition to research on clinical genomics and systems biology research relating to linkages associated with different forms of cancer.

Preceding the main Conference was the COMBINE Student Symposium. COMBINE is a student-run organisation of Australian researchers in bioinformatics, computational biology and related fields. The Symposium provided an opportunity for postgraduate students to share their research and experiences, and also gain insight from a career panel of academic and professional bioinformaticians on how their different career paths evolved.

“It was pleasing to see high-quality South Australian student research such as John Salamon’s development at SAHMRI of a visualisation and analysis tool that spatially resolves transcript data using InstituNet, presented alongside many excellent projects from National groups,” Quang said.

The best Symposium presentation was awarded to Harriet Dashnow from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute for her talk on the development of STRetch, a genome-wide method for detecting and discovering pathogenic short tandem repeat (STR) expansions which have been identified as the causal DNA mutation in dozens of Mendelian human diseases.

Continuing the COMBINE Student Symposium theme, eRSA Systems Analyst Jeremy Hack spoke as part of the careers panel, offering advice to aspiring bioinformaticians on how to get started in the industry.

Jeremy discussed how career paths in bioinformatics don’t need to follow typical academic paths, pointing to his own career which developed within the industry, as opposed to academia. However, he observed, based on the diverse backgrounds of the panellists, that the path to becoming a bioinformatician is typically winding.

“Personally, the anecdotes of bioinformatics veteran Des Higgins were most insightful, highlighting that often the most exciting areas of research are those that are on the cusp of being realised,” Jeremy said. “This illustrates that in young and emerging fields it is important to identify the people and factors that are the driving forces, and to direct learning and outreach in those directions.

The discussion then progressed toward different communication strategies, both old and new, and the impact of positioning oneself both geographically and within a professional network.

The careers panel was popular among attendees, generating useful anecdotes for students to consider while striving towards their dream careers.

Stay tuned for details of next year’s ABACBS Conference and COMBINE Student Symposium.

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